Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Call of the LORD

Readings: Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

"Hey, you!"

"Here I am."

The call of the LORD and the response of the whole person, simple and immediate. "Here I am," was the way you declared that you were not only present, but accountable and responsible. You declared that you were ready to do your superior's bidding.

But in the case of the young Samuel, "Here I am," was not enough. Samuel thought that Eli had called him. Eli instructed him to be more specific. The next time Samuel hears the still, small voice of the Lord, he answers, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

Then the channel of communication opens, and the Word of God changes his life, and the lives of the people around him. The LORD calls Samuel to his calling, the mission in life he was always supposed to have, the mission that will truly make him all he is meant to be and to become. He is not called to be a reasonably respectable temple priest who never appears on the stage of history. No, he is called to be Samuel, the bearer of the LORD's news, both good and bad, the king-maker, the anointer of King Saul.

Sometimes being called out of your present life and into your new life is a fantastic experience for you and all those around you. Consider the case of Paul Potts, the shy, fat, young mobile phone sales clerk, who has the gall to appear on a tryout for a television talent show and declare that he is about to sing opera. The three judges look at each other as if to say, "Oh, God, I hope this won't be unbearably bad. And then the guy gives this performance:

By the time he's done, some members of the audience are giving him a standing ovation, some are in tears, and the judges are in slack-jawed wonder. His life and ours are changed from this day forward. He wasn't meant to be a sales clerk after all. He was meant to be an opera singer.

Sometimes being called out of your present life can lead through the doorway of death. Pat Tillman felt called to leave his career as a professional football player and become a Corporal with the United States Army Rangers. It was his way of responding to the challenge of Islamofascism to Civilization after the 9/11 attacks. He was killed by "friendly fire" in an ambush on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who dared to criticize the Nazis after they had taken control of Germany. Although he had escaped Germany, he felt called to return, to put his body on the line against genuine moral evil in his native land. He was eventually sent to a concentration camp, and when the camp was about to be liberated by the Allied invasion of Europe, he was executed. Some years before that, Bonhoeffer had written a book called The Cost of Discipleship, in which he said that when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Sometimes physical death is the risk we are called to take, sometimes not. But we are always called to die to our previous way of life, to our previous notions of what is important, to our previous values. For all people of all cultures in all times and places one universal truth is that our values are not God's values.

The call to be all that we can be is the call to step outside ourselves, to enlarge our values, to risk who we are so that through us God may affirm who God is.

So Jesus says to Philip, "Follow me."

Into what adventure, into what peril? Into what glory? Philip has no idea, but he has a strong feeling that whatever the cost, this is the man, and this is the moment. He gets his body up and follows Jesus.

Simple, in a way, for Philip. All he has to do is get up and go. For us, following Jesus is not so obvious and so immediate. The nature of our call can sometimes be obscure.

But there are things we are called to avoid. Since we take God with us in whatever we do, we are called to avoid doing things we prefer not to drag God into. We are to avoid obsession with minor points of religious law and observance, to the exclusion of our awareness of God's presence. It was that obsession that got Christ crucified.

We are also to avoid the abuse of our own and other people's bodies, including the abuse of our sexuality. As the Apostle Paul says in his first (surviving) letter to the Corinthians, we are not our own. We were bought with a price - the price Jesus paid on the cross. And he paid that price because, God has known you better than you know yourself from before the foundation of the world.

This is effectively a commandment to be caring and respectful toward ourselves and each other. For that is how we are to be recognized by the world, that we have love one toward another.

Now you are called to follow your God. Where the adventure leads, I can't tell, except that ultimately we are promised Heaven. But the point is that if we shrink from the call, we will shrink spiritually, we will be less than we were meant to be. We will die inside. If we say, "Yes, here I am," and follow our call, we will have abundant life, even if it is in the midst of outward deprivation and suffering. For we will all surely die. The only question is whether we will truly live before we do so.

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