Here I Am Lord
HERE I AM LORD
1 Samuel 3:1-21
It is a dirty job but someone has to do it. That was the premise of Mike Rowe’s show Dirty Jobs. In the show Rowe spends a day with people doing jobs that make society possible yet are the sort of jobs that many of us may look down upon. From cleaning out sceptic tanks to sorting garbage, to collecting road kill, Rowe took his viewers into worlds that few see on a regular basis. Rowe explains how he came up with the idea. Before Dirty Jobs Rowe had been a host on the QVC shopping network and a professional opera singer. But as he tells Guy Raz on the TED Radio hour,” I realized that, while I felt pretty successful working in the cracks of the industry, I wasn’t really doing anything that felt meaningful or personal.” Thus, in 2001 Rowe began the show Dirty Jobs. One of his inspirations for starting the show was his grandfather. To quote Rowe, “ my grandfather, who was 92 at the time and a tradesmen, had never seen me do anything on TV that looked like work. My grand-dad, by the way, was one of those guys who – he could reassemble an engine without looking at directions. He could take a watch apart, and put it together. You know, I wanted to find people who had that gene because sadly, it skipped over me.” Rowe goes on to say, “And we show these people as they really are, which again and again, turned out to be self-deprecating, funny.” Rowe continued by saying, “and so that’s a long way of saying that success – the way it’s portrayed in pop culture, anyway – usually falls into these assumed verticals. And “Dirty Jobs” challenged a lot of those. In his interview Rowe recounts the particular story of Les Swanson from Wisconsin. Les is a sceptic tank cleaner. Rowe recounts one conversation he had with Les on a hot day cleaning out a sceptic tank,
“And one afternoon, we were up to our chest in the most unspeakable filth there is in a pumping station, knocking huge hunks of coagulated cholesterol off the wall. And I look at him at one point and I say, Les, you know, what are you doing here? And he said, well, what do you mean? You know, I’m – this is what I do. And I said, well, what did you do before this? He said, honestly? I said, yeah. He said, I was a guidance counselor and a psychiatrist.
ROWE: And I said, you’ve got to be kidding me. Why did you leave? And without missing a beat he said, I got tired of dealing with other people’s”……well the word rhymes with nap.
Rowe’s show was about hard work. It was about redefining how we define success and purpose. And from a Biblical perspective it was also about Calling. Could a man cleaning a sceptic tank be called by God to do so? How about someone who works for the military, or for Ferguson, or Cox Cable, or as a teacher, or as a paralegal? We read about Samuel’s story and we think that is really amazing. That is great that God spoke to Samuel in that way but he doesn’t speak like that in my life. Often preachers ask what is God doing in your life? And perhaps many of us are just concerned about providing for our families. These bigger questions of God and Calling we leave up to the preachers. We leave it up to the special people who know how to talk about God. But that is not what being called by God is about. John Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformed faith, and the man this church is named after once said there are two forms of knowledge that are essential for life. Knowledge of God and Knowledge of self. The first is primary. We we must know God. There is nothing more important than knowing Him. And When we know God’s character, when we know God’s name, we better know ourselves because he is the one who created us. In our modern minds there is this separation. A separation between the church and the world. A separation between Sunday and the rest of the week. But John Calvin did not believe this to be so. He sought to show how God’s Word works in every area of our lives. And we see that in the call of Samuel today. What does it mean to be called by God? How do we know what we are called to do? Today I want you to understand three things about God’s Call.
- God calls our name and we understand His Word
- Understanding our calling may take a few tries and we need someone to help us
- We must not be afraid to act on our calling.
First, in this story we see that God calls Samuel’s name and Samuel recognizes God’s Word eventually. Here Samuel is, in an explicitly religious life, ministering in the temple of Shiloh and the scripture tells us, “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” We don’t know exactly how old Samuel is at this point. Perhaps he is around ten or so. But he had been ministering in the Temple since his mom dedicated him to the Lord at age three. And yet the scriptures tell us though he ministered to the LORD he did not know God. Eli could teach him all the proper ways about maintaining the Ark of the Covenant but he couldn’t force him to know God. This reveals to us that our primary calling is to know God. And God is revealed to us when He calls us by name.
Our first and primary calling is to know the Lord, it is to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. We must not limit how the Lord chooses to speak. But for the most part God reveals His Son to us as we prayerfully study the scriptures. Indeed, many have had this experience where the Word of God has not been revealed to them until God worked in their lives. In our tradition we believe it is the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, who guides us in all Truth. The Holy Spirit reveals the scriptures to us. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. Maybe this revealing happens over time. Or maybe it happens in an instant. But all Christians must go through a process of conversion. A process of being transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of light.
My story is somewhat like Samuel’s. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. I always had an interest in God but for much of my early life in church I did not hear the Word of the Lord. Christianity didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I didn’t have much interest in reading the scriptures. I always joke, because it is true, that up through middle school I thought Pontius Pilate flew a plane because his last name was Pilate. And I found that strange because I was pretty sure they didn’t have airplanes back in Jesus time. I preferred science as my path to knowing God and understanding the mysteries of the universe. So I became a physics major my first semester at William & Mary. Unfortunately, I wasn’t gifted in understanding complex math, so I almost flunked out my first year of college. And through all my efforts studying physics and calculus I began to notice that physics answered questions of how but not questions of why. It answered how the world worked but not why the world worked that way. And I wanted to know why. Most of all I wanted to know the answer to the question of who? Who was responsible for creating me and this world I lived in?
Around that same time I began participating in an on campus Bible study, mainly because a girl I liked was in it. I found myself entranced by the scriptures. But I couldn’t bring myself to believe that Jesus had rose from the dead and that he was the Son of God, that he was God incarnate. For that meant to me that not only did God exist but that God was at work in history through miracles, and I had never seen a miracle myself. But one night at the end of my sophomore year of college I went on a walk in the rain. I was frustrated with my life. I didn’t know what direction I wanted to take my life. I walked to a lake on campus. I fell to my knees on a dock. I remember the raindrops were so big. And I gave my life to the Lord that night. I prayed, “Jesus I can not stand on my own any longer. Come into my heart and teach me how to love.” And somehow after that I knew something I didn’t know before. I knew that Jesus was alive. I knew that he was Lord. And I knew that he owned my life. I didn’t understand a lot about theology. I didn’t know how God could be three persons but one God. I just knew that I had heard something deep in my Spirit and that I had to follow Jesus.
About a year later I was writing opinion pieces for my local school newspaper. I wrote an article about my conversion. About how knowing Jesus had changed my life and my perspective. I called it The Examined Life based off Socrate’s quote that the unexamined life is not worth living. A day after I posted it online I got an email that said, “High from Australia.” I found this strange because I didn’t know anyone from Australia besides my former roommate. I didn’t really like my former roommate. When I lived with him all the ladies came to the room. After he moved out none of the ladies came to my room. It turned out that it wasn’t my roommate it was a man I had never met before named Glen McCulloch. He had read my article and liked it so much that he had looked up my email to email me and thank me for my article. And the thing was he was a complete atheist. The idea that my words had affected someone on the other side of the Earth shocked me. I had really admired my preacher in College. He made the Word of God come alive for me. But I never thought I could be like him. But those words from Glen McCulloch convinced me that I could.
A couple of weeks later I was driving with my mom and I told her that I wanted to go to seminary. She told me that my grandmother, who had passed away the semester before, always thought I would become a minister. I deeply loved my grandmother. She taught College English till she was 84 years old. She was one of the most intelligent and kind women I have ever known. And though she was a woman of few words her presence left a deep and lasting influence on my life. Knowing that my grandmother thought I would become a minister affirmed my desire to go to seminary. That was over ten years ago. A lot happens in ten years. I have gone through trials in my life that have caused me to doubt my calling and my convictions. It took me longer to find a church and get ordained than I originally had planned. But when I was ordained I learned something new about my grandmother’s prediction. I had thought she had told my mother what she thought about my future as my mother took care of her during the last months of my grandmother’s life. But after my ordination my mother corrected me on that assumption. My grandmother had thought I would become a minister since I was eleven years old. She saw something in me even when I was a child. Something that I could not see in myself at the time. But it all began because I heard the Lord calling in the night and I answered that call. It all began because I valued knowing Jesus over going through religious motions.
So the first thing we learn about calling is that God calls our name and reveals His Word to us. The second thing we learn about calling is that it takes some time to figure out what God is saying to us and we need someone to help us. Notice in this passage that the Lord called to Samuel four times before Samuel got it. And the fourth time the LORD made it super obvious by revealing himself in a visual manifestation. Samuel didn’t get it at first. And his job from an early age was to minister to the LORD. His job from an early age was to know the things of God. If Samuel didn’t hear the voice of the LORD immediately, and his very name means the one who hears God, perhaps that gives us permission to take time to figure out what God is saying to us. Perhaps that gives us permission to figure out our life, to figure out our vocation. Perhaps you have heard the term vocation before. It is more than just a career or a job. The word vocation comes from the Latin Vocare which means to Call. We are more than what we do. But often what we do is deeply connected to who we are. Often what we do can bring fulfillment to our lives if we are following who God uniquely made us to be.
Our text today shows us that key to discerning our calling is the principle of vision. To quote the text, “ And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” The word for rare here could also be translated as precious. The Word of the Lord was precious. It wasn’t that the people didn’t have some form the scriptures to study. It wasn’t that they couldn’t go to church on Sunday or hear a good sermon. It was that there was no vision. In this case the word vision is very literal. Prophets had not seen anything from God in a long time. But in general we can say that there was no inspiration, no unction, no quickening of the Word of God to be applied to our daily lives. We human beings need vision. I can tell you the goals of a company or a church. But it is a vision, it is a story, it is imagination, that inspires people, not a list of goals. Proverbs 29:18 puts it well, “where there is no vision the people perish.” Any group of people needs a sense of who they are and where they are going or else they lose themselves.
An essential part of vision, as this passage tells us, is the place of mentors in our lives. An essential part of God’s Will in our lives is having people who have been there and can look out for us and guide us. Now Eli, in this passage, isn’t the best mentor. Two times he doesn’t recognize that the LORD was speaking to Samuel and he tells him to go back to sleep. But if it were not for Eli it seems Samuel never would have gotten it. Eli taught Samuel to hear the LORD, and he had the humility to accept the Word of the Lord from Samuel even when it went against his own family. Eli showed Samuel that he had the ability to hear God. Apparently, he gave Samuel the confidence to step out on his own.
We see this in the sports world all the time. Recently, I was listening on NPR about the story of South Korean Golfer Se Ri Pak who retired this year. In the 1990’s she rose to fame in the LGPA and inspired an entire generation of Korean Golfers. Before Pak Golf was seen to be mainly a male and white sport. Tiffany Joh, another Korean golfer said this of Pak, “I can say with 100 percent certainty that I would not be playing golf had I not switched on the TV that day. I’m Tiffany Joh. I’m 29 years old. This is my fifth year on the LPGA tour.” Daniel Coyle, the author of, “The Talent Code,” says this is an example of what he calls, “ignition.” We see someone like us who is doing something we thought we never could do and we think, “wow I want to do that to.” That’s how I felt about my preacher in College. Before I heard him the Word of God was rare in my life. But after I heard him the Bible became real to me and I knew I wanted to do the same for others. We never know the power our actions and our words can have on a single life. And each of us has an opportunity to do that. To make disciples in the name of the Lord Jesus. To share our lives with the next generation. To give people hope. To look inside another and see their potential and to bring it out.
When I was in Pierceton, Indiana the Lord taught me a lot about serving in little ways. One of the things I did was I got involved with Big Brothers and Big Sister. I became a lunch buddy to a boy in fourth grade named Dominic. Now many boys at that age don’t have much to say. And Dominic certainly had some anger and other social issues that challenged his academics. I didn’t know all that I could do to help him. But one thing I did was I taught him how to play chess. Now I am a pretty bad chess player. But I am good enough that I can beat a fourth grader who didn’t know how to play chess, which was certainly a confidence booster for me. But by the end of my time with Dominic he had researched for himself how to play chess and he often beat me. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out at my first church the way I had planned them too. And I had to leave Dominic far sooner than I would have liked. I had to leave the kids at my church far sooner than I would have liked. But I knew for a variety of reasons that it was time to go. But before I left I gave Dominic and the kids at my church this bracelet that I wear. It is from a local company in Indiana named Mudlove that makes bracelets out of Mud and uses the proceeds to drill wells in Africa. The bracelet says blessed. I wanted my kids to know that even though I could not stay with them that they were blessed. I don’t know what will happen to them but I hope I spoke the Word of the Lord into Dominic’s life and the lives of my kids in Indiana. It is my hope that during my time with you here that I do the same. That I provide for you a vision that propels you to where God is leading you in your personal lives and in your life as a church.
So first we learned that God calls our name and we respond to His Word. Then we learned that it may take a few tries to understand God’s Calling on our lives. Finally, we learn that we must not be afraid to act on our calling. Nancy Berber, author of Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment, says there are three components to hearing God’s call for our lives willingness, attentiveness, and responsiveness (Berber, 6). Samuel was certainly willing but he had to learn to be attentive. Once he learned to be attentive he was afraid to respond because of what it might cost him. For a child in the ancient world Samuel had it pretty good. He had three meals a day. He did not have to work night and day in subsistence farming to survive as many families of the time had to do. But now God was calling him to rebuke his mentor. Fundamentally he was calling Samuel to bite the hand that fed him by calling out Eli on the behavior of His sons. Samuel knew he could lose everything if he did. And he had no backup plan. This was the only life he had ever known. He didn’t have his Father to teach him a useful skill to survive outside of the Temple. If Eli did not receive God’s message Samuel knew that he would most likely be cast out of the Temple. He knew he was behind the curve in the ways of the world. He wouldn’t be much help to His family in farming. Perhaps His family just wouldn’t be able to afford a child who didn’t know how to plant and harvest. Perhaps he could not go home and he knew it. Perhaps Samuel knew that the being faithful might mean starving to death on the streets.
Being faithful to our calling means that we must fear God over man. Being faithful means that we must value what is right, we must value integrity, over what is profitable, what is expedient, and what brings us the most wealth and power. In Mark chapter 10 Jesus tells his disciples that he must die and rise again to fulfill God’s Will. But Peter says to Jesus this must not happen. Jesus replies to Peter, “ Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then he asks one of the most famous questions in all of scripture, “ what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to forfeit his soul?” Being Christians, in our life, in our work, it will cost us. One of the things that I love about being a pastor is part of my vocation is to come along side people in their vocations. A little like Mike Rowe, I get to spend time with people in their daily lives. My social circles are not limited to what I do or what hobbies I have. Because faith binds us together I get to learn all sorts of things. I get to see the risks, the rewards, and the tremendous investment it takes to be a modern farmer in today’s America. I mean have you seen a modern combine? Those things are huge and cost more than a house. I get to learn about cattle trading and how to raise livestock, something I never thought would happen as a son of two college professors. I got to work with two women who had adopted children with disabilities and I got to learn about their struggles. When I was in Indiana I got to meet a woman named Julie who after the death of her husband decided to become a missionary to Liberia. Julie is one of the most Faith filled people I know. She was willing to do anything God asked her to, that is except go to Africa. But God worked on her heart and she has served faithfully even in the midst of the Ebola epidemic. I get to know a friend in Richmond, who attends the inner city church I volunteered at. He is a financial planner, but he left his well paying job behind to go out on his own, because something didn’t feel right inside. He has a wife and four kids to provide for. But when I talked to him he didn’t seem worried. I met a man at the church I attended in Harrisonburg, VA. He is Sri Lanken and originally raised as a Buddhist. But he came to Christ. And because he came to Christ he decided that he could not officiate a relative’s Buddhist funeral, which was expected of Him in that culture. He faced animosity from his own family for his faith and his convictions. I have seen the Word of the Lord working in the lives of so many. His Word is precious but is not rare if we know what to look for. If we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear as Jesus would say.
And I see the Call of the Lord working in the lives of those who attend Calvin Presbyterian Church as well. Often when I meet and interview with churches I ask people what they love about their church. What I heard from folks at Calvin is that you all are family. You stick together through thick and thin. You have faced your fair share of trials. But what I found interesting is that many of you also came into the church through the preschool. I found that to be fascinating because my last church had a preschool but despite our best efforts we could never get parents to attend church. And as I talked to people here at Calvin again and again I heard that people came not just because their family comes here. They came because there is a different Spirit in this place. Certainly, we come to churches because we like the people, or the music, or we want our children to be raised in a community of faith. But that doesn’t keep us there. What I heard when I interviewed with you is that many of you come because there is something here more than the people. Something that has drawn you that you do not have an exact name for. Perhaps you are like Samuel in that you don’t know your Bible as well as you would like. You don’t feel confident enough or articulate enough to tell people about what Jesus may mean to you. But like Eli, my call, my vocation, is to see the call of the Lord on people’s lives and to bring that out of them, to give them a vision so they may do the work that God has called them to. And I am here because I see that the call of the Lord in your lives and I believe we will do great things together. I want you to know that whatever place you may find yourself in, may you feel close to Jesus or far from Him, may you know your theology or have more questions than you have answers, I want you to know that the Lord knows your name. And he is calling to you in the night. Have you heard Him? Have you heard Him calling in the night? If so it is time to set aside our fear. It is time to rise up and say, here, here, here I am Lord.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.