At the sound of the tone, please leave a message …

A good many of us here this morning are parents … some are now grandparents, and a few may even be great grandparents. Many of us, then, have experienced some of the delightful gifts that children can bring into our lives – their openness, their honesty, their way of seeing things through eyes not yet clouded with the realities of adulthood.

(cell phone rings 1 time)

Ralph Milton, a retired author, editor and co-founder of Wood Lake Books, tells this story in his book: “The Spirituality of Grandparenting”:
It was a beautiful day and I (Ralph) was sitting on a chair out on the lawn, reading. I had recently decided to retire, but the decision raised a batch of unnamed anxieties.
Along the sidewalk came a girl on a tricycle – about six years old was my guess. We smiled at each other.

(cell phone rings 2 times)

The little girl stopped, gave me a most intense look and asked,
“Are you old?” I’m usually quite quick off the lip, but the child’s question stopped me cold. She waited. Maybe she knew she had asked a profoundly disturbing question.
Eventually, I responded. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Then she said, “Will you play with me?”
Were the two questions connected in her mind? They were in mine. They said to me, “If you are old, I will trust you.” For her, there were none of the bad jokes they throw at people on their birthdays, just: “Will you play with me?”
And suddenly I wanted so much to do just that, to hear more from this three-wheeled philosopher, to learn from her wisdom and to delight in the joy of her life.

(cell phone rings 3 times)

But we lived in a real world, my little friend and I. So I had to say,
“I would really like to play with you, but first you need to go and talk to your mom or your dad, and if one of them comes here and tells me it’s OK, then we can play.”
“My dad doesn’t live with me anymore,” she said very soberly. “I’ll ask my mom.”
She didn’t return. But she had left her gift with me.
She had changed me from a man, fearful of retirement, angry at his age with its limitations and necessities, to a man delighting in his age and all of its possibilities – transformed by the candid, open, affirming trust of a child.
“Yes, I am old. And yes, I would really like to come and play with you.”

The innocent perspective of a child … in their formative years, they have to be taught right from wrong, and what is and is not appropriate; they don’t always know the right questions to ask, or what to do with the information when they get it. They need to be taught. There is so much they don’t understand yet. They need the support and the teachings of those around them.

(cell phone rings 3 times)
(Teresa picks up phone ….listens ….“Speak Lord, …your servant is listening”)

Oh, if only it were that simple.

Oh how I wish it were as easy to identify the voice of God as it is to identify whoever is on the other end of every phone call. Call display will often reveal the identity of the caller without me even answering the phone – and then I can decide to answer it or ignore it – the person can leave a message if it’s important.
I can decide whether or not it’s convenient to take the call at that very moment; I can shut my phone off if the persistent calls become too troublesome.

That’s not quite how it works with God though, is it ….

The first time my phone rang, it was a minor interruption. Not life changing, but somewhat disturbing. The call wasn’t exactly coming at a convenient time …. The second time it rang, a few of you were no doubt rolling your eyes (or felt like rolling your eyes), perhaps not feeling quite as forgiving as with the first ring. By the third interruption, you may have started to become irritated – “for the love of Pete, Teresa, turn off the phone – or at least answer it to find out who it is that seems so determined to get ahold of you right now, while you’re in the middle of something.” And by the fourth call, well, even I was tempted to pick the stupid thing up and pitch it …. and I planned the whole thing!

But imagine if you will, for just a moment … that you were the one up here or anywhere for that matter … busy doing something … and the caller really was God … would you have ignored the call as many times as I did? Would it have taken 4 attempts for you to finally stop, accept the call, and say “I’m here, Lord, and I’m listening”…..
Both of our scripture readings this morning bring us stories of the call of God. From our readings we begin to understand that when the call really is from God, it won’t come based on what our schedule is, or what timing works best for us. And, as in the story of Samuel, the call might be one that asks us to do something that requires courage.
If we take a moment and go back to the beginning of the book of First Samuel, we learn that this child, Samuel, is one of the extraordinary birth stories of the Bible.

Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was married to two women – having 2 wives was not uncommon in those days. Hannah, his favourite wife, is barren – she cannot have children. For years, Hannah begs God for a child and during one of her fervent prayer sessions in the temple, she encounters Eli, the old priest.
Eli tells Hannah that her prayers will be answered. Hannah finally has her long awaited child and just as she promised, she gives the child – Samuel – back to the Lord. While he is still very young, Samuel is sent to live with the priest, Eli, at Shiloh.

The scripture this morning tells us that Samuel lived in a time when the word of the Lord was rare; visions were not widespread. But he lived in a holy place. He witnessed the sacrifices made at the altar. He heard prayers, handled holy objects. He ministered in the house of God. Like his master, Eli, he prayed to God. He served faithfully. He heard the teachings and the stories of God’s love. He grew up in – was immersed in – the presence of God.
And yet, as we hear in our reading, he does not recognize the call of God until Eli helps him. He was young – there was still much to learn.

It’s night time, and Samuel is bedded down in the temple with the ark of the covenant while Eli sleeps in another room. Three times Samuel hears someone calling his name and each time he answers “Here I am” and runs to Eli, assuming his master needs him. The first two times Eli tells him “No, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” But by the third time, Eli realizes that God is the one calling Samuel, and he tells the boy to “go, lie down, and if the Lord calls you, you shall say ‘speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’

So, with Eli’s help, the young boy finally hears what it was that God wanted to say to him. Samuel learned the fate that was to come upon Eli’s family. He learned that he was to speak the word of God to others, starting with the difficult task of telling Eli of God’s impending punishment.

As I look at this familiar story again, I wonder … where am I in it? Where am I in this story? I’m not a confused 12 year old sleeping on the floor of a temple – a temple that undoubtedly reeked of the stench of sacrificial blood, burnt offerings, and incense used in a futile attempt to mask the smells ….sleeping next to the vessel that Israel carried into battle at the head of her armies, one that was said to contain all of the sacred relics of the nation’s past – a grave yard of sorts …
No, I’m not that. I’m in the “over 50” club – not a young child anymore.
But like you, I wake up in a world that reeks of terrorist attacks in Paris, police officers being shot in Alberta, teenage girls being kidnapped and forced into prostitution …a world where guarding the treasures of the past, at all cost, often dictates the future.

And – like Samuel – I believe that I … we ….live in a special place … one that allows us to come together every week, like we are doing this morning, to hear the stories of God’s love.
To pray. To serve God, in God’s house and in God’s world. To help one another recognize that it may be God calling, so we need to stop, listen, and let God do the speaking. We need to be each other’s Eli.

And I ask myself, am I in this Samuel story ..
… when, in the quiet of the night, a voice comes … not one that calls out my name 4 times – that would totally creep me out … but one that comes from a thought or an idea that eventually finds its way to the front of my consciousness and keeps coming back…?
… or when something from a dream sticks with me for days … is God trying to call me, or was pizza before bed not such a good idea? …
… are we in the Samuel story when we feel that inner niggling … that nudging that some would simply attribute to “intuition” …? … calling us to action that might be outside our comfort zone …

God calls us in many ways …gentle ways …subtle ways …personal ways. And each time, that call could be mistaken for something else – until we listen, and follow. That’s when we begin to discover the strength of God in them and behind them.

The ‘call’ story in today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus is often the one in search of us. As he prepares to leave for Galilee, he ‘found’ Philip – he looked for him … just as God sought out Samuel … and says to Phillip, ‘follow me’ … and in turn, Phillip seeks out his friend, Nathanael and invites him to “come and see”.

I believe that God calls each and every one of us – seeks us out and calls TO us – not just to “follow”, but to “come and see” … to do and say certain things at certain times … to walk a path similar to the disciples and apostles before us.
I believe God does call us in our dreams …
… in the voice of our family, our colleagues, our friends
… when we stop to read the Bible, stop to take in and appreciate the greatness of the world around us
…God calls when we are trying to decide what to do
…when we reach out to support someone in need … the Syrian refugees in Turkey; initiatives to abolish homelessness; being compassionate and caring as local churches make the painful decision to close…
… when we decide to no longer remain silent about hunger, domestic violence, discrimination, bullying …
….God calls us when we pray …

Is the word of the Lord rare today, in 2015? I don’t think so.
I believe that God continues to call us – for a purpose … a good purpose …it’s not the calling that has stopped.
It’s perhaps the listening that we struggle with. And in being prepared to hear God’s call at any moment, of any day, in any circumstance, from even the most unlikely of sources ……
Like a 3 year old on a tricycle, bringing a most unexpected message of excitement and possibilities in a new stage of life …
The calls continue … sometimes, we will be Samuel, needing help to recognize the caller … and sometimes there will be a difficult message to carry … Sometimes we’ll be Eli, helping to identify the caller as God … and sometimes the message we hear may not be the one we would like … so we have each other ….
Sometimes, we will be Phillip, extending that personal invitation to “come and see”.
And always, we are called TO a life with God, in Christ

I want to leave you with a poem written by Andrew King, based on our readings this morning:
THE ONE WHOSE HEART IS SEARCHING

Samuel on his bed beside the lamp,
its flame describing in slow pulses
the flickering hope of a lonely, quiet yearning;

the hollow stillness
like a silent pond where
a searching voice could be heard like a dropping pebble.

And in the dark and in the emptiness
the One who is doing the calling,
the One whose heart is searching,
is the unheard God.

*

Nathanael on the ground
under the fig tree, looking up through its leaves at an empty sky.

The leaves sift the sunlight,
its harshness is filtered,
but the shade over his soul shows little gleam of joy.

His heart nearly closed in its quest for truth,
his horizons have dimmed, no corners of hope discerned.

But there is One who remains watching and looking,
and the One who is searching for him is the unrecognized God.

*

You and me on our beds,
our couches, you and me by our lamps.

You and me under spreading trees,
or peering at the sky through windows;

you and me at our office desks,
fingering the plastic of keyboards;

you and me in our living-rooms,
or sitting at our kitchen tables;

you and me, so yearning for hope,
so longing for meaning, truth, or joy –

may we become aware of the One
who is searching for us;

awake to the One
who knows and calls our names

longing for us to listen:
the God of promise and of invitation.

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