Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Vocation is a word many people use to describe a job.
But a vocation is more than our work.
It is our life.
 Vocation literally means “calling.”
It isn’t something we have chosen to do.
A vocation is our response to an invitation from God.
God invites all of us to life, to joy, and to peace.
But God invites each of us as an individual
            to follow our own personal path through life.

Today we will celebrate some of us being called
            to live a Christian life in the sacrament of confirmation.
We will celebrate the call of some to worship
            as Episcopalians on the rite of reception.
We will celebrate your priest’s call to serve
            as pastor of this church family,
            your vestry’s call to govern the operation
                        of this congregation.
We will celebrate the calls of Sunday School teachers
            and others.
Each of us is called by God.
We are grateful to those who listen.

Today’s lessons are about listening to God’s call.
Our Old Testament lesson is about the little boy, Samuel.
The Bible says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,
            and visions were not widespread.”
Now that doesn’t mean God wasn’t speaking.
The Bible tells us that God speaks creation into being.
The fact that we are here shows God is speaking.
God’s Eternal Word is what sustains the universe.

So if the word of God was rare in those days,
            it means no one was listening.
We don’t know why they weren’t listening,
            but we know why people are not listening today.
We are just too busy.
Our minds are busy.
Our heads are full of thoughts.
We are always planning, imagining, dreading, hoping,
            remembering, trying to figure things out.
We are busy of body, and even busier in our minds.

A great rabbi, Martin Buber, called it “commotion.”
He meant our constant activity and inner chatter,
            our busy minds.
“Commotion.” Noise. Distraction.
This is why we cannot hear God whispering.

Just so, in Samuel’s day, no one was listening.
Even little Samuel did not intend to listen.
He did not expect God to speak to him.
He just staying in the holy place
            because his mother had given him to the priest
                        to be a servant in the Lord’s house.

The Bible calls it “the Temple of the Lord.”
But it was not the great stone and timber building
            we think of as the Temple.
Solomon would not build that until over a hundred years later.
Samuel and the blind old priest Eli lived in a simple structure,      
            little more than a tent.
But it was holy because the Ark of the Lord was there.
And in front of the ark there was an olive oil lamp
            on an ornate gold lamp stand.
That lamp was called “the lamp of God.”
It burned all night every night
            as a sign of God’s presence.

Samuel lay down to sleep each night
            in the presence of God.
He lay down before the ark
            with the lamp of God as his nightlight.

Probably he had already been asleep
            and had awakened early.
It was before dawn because the Bible says,
            “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
So he awakened in that magical mystical pre-dawn darkness
            to hear somebody calling his name.

It never occurred to Samuel that God might speak to him.
So he replied to Eli.
And Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
Again Samuel heard the voice and replied to Eli.
Again Eli said, “I didn’t say anything. Go back to bed.”
It happened a third time, and this time Eli got it.
He said, “It is the Lord calling you, Samuel.
            If he calls again, answer him.”

The Bible says, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord,
            because the word of the Lord had not yet
                        been revealed to him.”
That was about to change.

The next time Samuel heard his name spoken
            in the lamp illumined night,
            he prayed, “Speak for your servant is listening.”
And so Samuel became the prophet of God
            and the leader of Israel.
The Bible says, from that time on
            he let none of the Lord’s words fall to the ground.

Now the point of the story is simple:
If we spend time in the Lord’s presence,
            just being still and paying attention,    
                        we will hear our calling.
It doesn’t take any complicated spiritual disciplines.
It is just being quiet and paying attention.
Very simple. But not many of us do it very often.
We are too busy.

We are too busy doing a million little things.
We forget to do the main thing – to find out our purpose.
We get so caught  up doing things,       
            we forget to ask why we are doing them.
We miss the call of God,
            and if we miss the call of God,
                        we miss the road to joy and peace in life.
A great Christian writer named Walker Percy once asked
            “Is it possible for a man to miss his life
                        the way he might miss a bus?”

Of course that is what happens to many people.
It is so easy to miss our life
            because we did not take time to notice
                        what we are living for.

And what is all this commotion about?
Do we think it makes us important?
Or maybe we are keeping busy to avoid something.
The spiritual teacher, Henri Nouwen, used to say,
            “a busy heart is a dead heart.”
Why would we want to deaden our hearts?

It takes a special kind of courage to be still
            and get to know the Lord.
We do it by praying and then just staying quiet awhile,
            paying attention to the thoughts and feelings
                        that follow prayer.
You see God’s main way of speaking to us
            is through us, through the stirrings in our souls.
It’s the being still and noticing that comes hard.

We may get bored or anxious or restless
            but we can trust God to show up for us
                        if we show up for him
-       if, like Samuel, we come together at his altar
                  each week;
      then pray each day, and spend some time in silence –
            then little by little we discover something.

We may not hear a voice like Samuel did,
            but we get a sense of God’s deep peace.
We get a sense of how God loves us
            and loves the other people around us.
Eventually, we want to be of some service
            to each other for the sake of mercy
                        and the love of God.
It does not come as a burden or a chore,
            but as a chance to live life a little deeper.

These callings we celebrate today
            are examples of what happens
                        when we do not let the Lord’s words
                                    fall the ground.
We take vows to live a holy and faithful life.
We commit ourselves to the service of God
            and each other.
We sink our roots deep into faith.
And we find our way to joy and peace.