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2nd June 2024 Sermon

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Have you ever been in bed, just dropping off when you think you hear a noise? A banging, a cry – something that jolts you out of your slumber? I know when I bought my first daughter home from hospital, I imagined all sorts of noises – the snuffling and gurgling sounds that I wasn’t used to hearing – I’d jump up and immediately go and check her to make sure she was alright. The responsibility of caring for a newborn was quite overwhelming – I didn’t sleep properly for months!

The role was slightly reversed for Samuel. He was a young boy with a responsibility to look after the old man Eli but he probably felt a similar responsibility – any noise in the night and he would rush in to check on him.

Samuel was simply a child when God called him. It is a funny and kind of an ironic story. The boy Samuel works with Eli. One evening, Eli is sleeping in his room and Samuel is asleep in the church, apparently, when suddenly a voice starts calling to him, “Samuel! Samuel!” Now, being that Samuel was a child and worked with Eli, I am sure it was not all that unusual for him to hear his voice called throughout the church, with Eli needing him to help him with something. So naturally, Samuel is quick to his feet, and runs to Eli saying, “Here I am. What do you need?” Eli’s startled response is, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” Three times this happens. The Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel runs to Eli saying, “Here I am.”

Well, Eli finally figures it out. If Eli isn’t calling Samuel’s name, then it must be God. So he tells Samuel what to say the next time the Lord calls him – “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Now, here is where the story really gets interesting. Now that God has Samuel’s full attention, here is God’s message to Samuel: Tell your boss, Eli…he’s fired. And it is all because of corruption. Eli and his sons have been corrupting the offerings. They have been stealing from the offerings. Eli’s sons have been taking the best parts of the animal sacrifices offered to God and eating them for themselves and Eli has done nothing to stop them.

And so corruption and an abuse of power had leaked into the church; Eli and his sons have put their desires and needs above those of the people they were serving. And so God called little Samuel – who did not even know the Lord – to be the one to confront this corruption with Eli and his sons.

I like this story. Because it shows us that God calls upon all kinds of people to do God’s work in this world.

When you hear the phrase, “Called by God,” I am willing to bet that most of you think of someone who works in the church or spiritual work. I think that is a pretty common thing, which is what makes becoming a vicar and telling people that you are a vicar an interesting experience.

People start to treat you differently; people start to behave differently around you. As if you are one of those people, like Samuel, whom God has specially called. In fact people ask me the question all the time – what’s your story? How did God call you into ministry? Part of this leads people to thinking you are the holiness police, the moral barometer in the room. I have seen people apologize for swearing around me when I am quite confident they wouldn’t have apologized around anyone else (and as if I don’t ever swear). People will try to act more holy around you or will just start telling you about how much they believe in God, or don’t why they don’t come to church as much as they should!

Complete strangers will do this! But the worst, the absolute worst, or I should say the saddest, is when someone belittles the work they do after knowing what I do. Someone will say, with a tone of guilt in their throat, “Well, um…that’s a really good thing you are doing for people. Me, I, uh, well I chose a little more selfish profession by becoming a lawyer…” Or a bartender…or a contractor…or whatever.

Whenever I hear that, the assumption always seems to be that I, the Rector, do good things for the world and they do not.

That God and I work together and they work alone. That I am closer to God and more holy and more moral than they are. Now, to some extent, I cannot really blame anyone for feeling that way. The church has really set it up to seem that way, to some extent. When I was ordained, there was a whole special service for it. When I was installed here as Rector, there was a whole special service for it. Could you imagine Morgan Stanley having an installation and worship service for the next finance consultant they hire? Maybe some laying on of hands?

So yes, there is an element in which the church and society have made being a church worker into a “higher calling.” But let me be clear, whether you work in a church or at bank, or as a lawyer, or a librarian, or a receptionist or a homemaker, there is no “higher calling.” For all are a calling from God.

Notice how God did not call Samuel into the priesthood, he called Samuel to condemn the priest, Eli.

God calls each and everyone of us into a particular place and role in society, we call that vocation. If you really wanted to be a church nerd, you would call this the “Doctrine of Vocation.”

The doctrine of vocation says that God has called each and everyone of us into our work in the world. Whether you are a farmer, a student, a person who runs a daycare, a machinist, a grandparent, a spouse, a bartender, a repair person…God calls us into these vocations. A person once said, “God will milk the cows through the person whose vocation it is to milk cows.”

We learn through Samuel that God uses other people to help us hear our calling. Samuel could hear the voice of God but he kept thinking it was Eli. And so God uses Eli, the one whom God was angry with, to help Samuel hear the voice of God calling to him. A friend once said to me, “I think God speaks to me through other people. I am not the type of person who sits in silence very well. So I think God speaks to me through the voice of others.”

We are all built differently and God knows this and he will use all the means at his disposal to try and reach us.

God calls each and every one of us into many vocations in life. Not just into a career, but a vocation – as a daughter, a coach, a community member, a volunteer. One other thing, as we learn in 1 Samuel, sometimes God calls us into difficult tasks. Sometimes God calls you to be the voice that names the corruption that is going on, so that you can protect the vulnerable people that are being hurt.

So let us pause and ponder a moment; have you ever considered yourself, like Samuel, as called by God into a certain task? Think for a moment about what you will be doing tomorrow around 10 o’clock. Whether it is job-related, or family-related, in whatever you are doing, consider what it might be that God is asking of you in that moment.

Let’s go into this week, recognizing that God is calling us into the many vocations that we have…and wondering how understanding that changes the way in which we do our tasks, interact with people, and live out our life. Amen.

Rev’d Kia Pakenham / 2nd June 2024

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