Derrick McQueen, a member of our LGBTQ Inquirers and Candidates Retreat community, preached this sermon on the opening night of our 2013 Annual Retreat. It was the first of three sermons inspired by 1 Samuel 3:1-10. Derrick's sermon looks at the first three verses. Read the second sermon of this series by the Rev. Dr. Joan M. Martin, Ph.D. and the final sermon by the Rev. Brian Ellison.
“The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.” As I read this over and over I couldn’t quite name what I was feeling and then the other day it hit me, I was feeling anticipation. I reasoned; if the lamp of God has not yet gone out, then there must be some something about to happen, and that something will need to be illuminated. Makes sense then that Samuel is lying down, for if the light of the temple had gone out Samuel would not just be lying down, he would be fast asleep. But there’s something else, Samuel is in a part of the temple where the ark of God is— and if he is where the ark is, he is in the presence of God Godself. And we know that whenever someone is in the presence of God-- something fierce is about to happen. So we wait with baited breath for what comes next. But like any good cliffhanger we must wait another day to see what the ends gone be.
And so as any good fan of a really good storyline we are left with no choice but to keep watching this episode, looking for clues, making up scenarios of possible plot turns and twists. Like an ardent follower of the hit television drama “Scandal” we call up our friends or even get together with them to re-watch the episode online just to get an inside track for the conversations over coffee during week, until the next episode.
So for right here and right now, in this place, let us practice our suspension of belief and let’s not read ahead in the text. All we have is Samuel’s story up to this point. We know that his mother Hannah was without child and prayed for God to give her a son. And we know that she promised to lend this son over to the service of the Lord. God hears her plea. We know she conceives and so names her son Samuel, translated by some as “heard of God or I have asked him of the Lord.” And we know she makes good on her promise and turns him over to the temple priest Eli. Now as an older boy, Samuel finds himself in the business of ministering to God, lying down in God’s presence. Okay, let’s go with that. Now, what are we left with? What can we get out of tonight’s episode that can give us meaning without looking ahead at the next installment? I would propose that we take what we have in front of us and meditate together for a few minutes on the idea, “The Rest, of Your Own Call.”
This episode in Samuel’s life is amazing to read. We are actually able to catch a glimpse of what it is like the mere moments before it is someone’s time to own their call. It’s like we get a glimpse of the infinite yet fleeting “in-between” moment. It’s hard to fathom and grasp just what those moments are like but if we were to imagine . . . maybe they are like the space between inhaling and exhaling where we are deeply breathing yet not breathing. Maybe they are like the moments between heartbeats, as we receive new life with each thumping beat. Or maybe they are like those moments when the sun peaks one last time over the horizon before it seems to sink into the sea. Whatever we might imagine they are moments of rest, death, life, and new identity. We get to catch Samuel in it tonight. We get to catch Samuel in between, in between when a call on his life becomes his own call.
A professor I know tells a story in her field education class of a student actually named Samuel who had been born to a mother much like Hannah, she was unable to conceive and prayed to God that if she could just have one male child she would turn him over to God and dedicate his life to ministering to, to serving God. As you can imagine, this Samuel of a more recent time found himself torn between his mother’s promise of the call on his life and asking himself, “Is this really what I want?” He had never really owned, his own call. The point of the story is that both of our Samuels had to come to a point in their lives when the question was not about whether or not they were called, but what was their own call. That’s really what we’re here for these during these few days, we are here to discern owning our own call in this fleeting yet infinite place of rest, in the presence of God’s grace, in the company of God’s people.
Let’s try to clear up what we can learn from tonight’s episode of “Samuel”. Let’s own up to the fact that we collectively are Samuel tonight, complete with our praying Hannah’s supporting us from afar. Oh we are here to contemplate, clarify and consider our own call but it’s also important claim our right to call ourselves-- Samuel. You see, first we need to know that we have been, are and will be first and foremost ministering unto God. It doesn’t matter if you have lived your life in the hallowed halls of church or on that fast learning track of the streets. Here, right now we must embrace the fact that our lives are claimed by God through grace long ago. And whether your friends say to you, “I always thought you would be a minister,” or whether they say, “You? A Minister?” Either way or any way in between your life is an example to others as to how good God is and just how God works. So by living your life and accepting God’s grace you minister unto God by your very being. You may serve God in many different ways; in your church, in your community, fighting for social justice or any combination thereof—but it’s really very simple, you serve God just by being you. You have been called before you even felt the tap on your shoulder you may have tried to ignore.
Second, tonight you take your place in the presence of God. During this time of vigilant rest, take time to see around you, that in this space, this very place is an ark of God. God lives and breathes in this place. At times it may be as quiet in these woods as the inner chamber of the temple, but be on the watch, for the lamp has not yet gone out. In your rest, in this place, consider tonight your cliffhanger. For where is God in this in-between moment of stillness? Hold on to the anticipation of what is to come, what might . . . just what might be revealed in the next episode of our sojourn together? Friends you have been called we know, now you are called to the rest, the rest of your calling awaits you and this is just another rest stop on the highway.
Third and perhaps most important, know that you have been called for a time such as this. We all can picture a single image or headline, or hear the stories of our hurting world. If we were to lift them up right now I’m sure we could come up with something different from every person in this room. We are living in the days where the Word of the Lord is rare. We have churches, we have church growth plans, we plan ways to reach out to folks who are spiritual but not religious. That’s all well and good, but the church and the world are still in need of those who bring the Word of the Lord. This Word is rare not because people are not speaking it.
The notion behind this part of our text leads us to understand that the Word of the Lord is rare or withheld because God is an understanding God and God’s very breath is so dear that it is withheld because God waits to share that word with those God understands to be ready. God understands that the smallest of our towns and neighborhoods are in need visions, visions that can spread from place to place. Within the past three years we have seen some major advancements in church and society for the moral and civil equality of our communities. These visions of change started small and ended up widespread. Look around you. Many of those visionaries, the ones that God understood to be ready to speak this Word, are in this very place amongst you right now.
One of my favorite books to turn to when thinking about discerning call is “God's Yes Was Louder Than My No: Rethinking the African American Call to Ministry.” It contains story after story of African American clergy thinking back on their call stories. There is one thread that is common among them all. The call was placed on their lives long before they knew it. It is only in mapping your journey do you see the overwhelming hints. Maybe it was a quiet older person in church who smiled at you and said, “God’s got plans for you.” Or maybe it was someone who stared you down from across a table saying, “God could never use you.” Or maybe for me it was the first time I sang a solo with the choir as a child and tears of joy streamed down my face and I wondered why I was crying. Whatever the case may be, you are here now.
We are here . . . now . . . knowing that we are called. We are here, now, for the rest. For in the rest, we will pray together, we will sing together, we will play together, eat together, share secrets together, tell stories together . . . In this in-between fleeting yet infinite moment we will help each other find our own call story. And so the meditation we have been on together on this night is called, “The Rest of Your Own Call.”
We leave Samuel, resting near the ark, in the presence of God. Will Samuel find his own call? Will Hannah’s call on his life become his own understanding of call? Will he be able to own his call? Tune in for the next episode of Samuel. I promise you it will be worth the wait. See you next time. In the meantime keep the buzz going. Let’s keep talking to each other about the “The Rest of Your Own Call.”
Take the rest—for you are in the fleeting infinite moment of the rest—in the presence of God—poised like Samuel, and with the many prayers of many supportive Hannah’s, to own your own call.