1 Samuel 2:1-20 Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-17 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51
As a priest I have often been asked to share my “call story,” and as a seminarian, sharing our “call stories” was practically a part of our introductions to one another. Now I didn’t say, my name is Jim and on March 24th of 2000 God called me to ordained ministry. It don’t happen like that. But as students we were curious about how others knew they were called and so we asked each other to tell our stories.
I don’t recall a single story that mirrored Samuel’s call – hearing God’s voice calling out our names. And, no one talked about the day Jesus walked up and said simply, “follow me” as he did to Philip in today’s gospel reading. Many of us experienced our sense of call over time, unrecognizable at first – and in that way mirroring Samuel’s experience.
Over and over again in the discernment process, I had to write my spiritual autobiography, which is similar to an autobiography but focuses of events in our lives that have shaped our spiritual development. A key moment in my spiritual life occurred when I was driving a keg beer truck to deliver beer to, ironically, Mountain Home.
As I was driving, I became aware of a feeling that something was missing from my life. Then, while stopped at a traffic light, I said out loud, “there has got to be more to life than this.” The thought seemed come out of nowhere. The rest of the day, between stops, I reviewed my life and realized that I was happiest when I had been working for a church mission program repairing homes. I was not attending church at that time in my life, so I decided to start attending again. I was Methodist, but decided I should try different churches.
When I got home that evening, I told Cathy that is what I wanted to do, and she suggested we try St. Paul’s in Fayetteville. That was it for us, the liturgy and the music at St. Paul’s captured us and we never went anywhere else. All three of our children were baptized there and sang in the choir.
At various times while attending services, I would find myself thinking I could be a priest and I could lead a congregation – thoughts I would immediately dismiss and wonder where these thoughts came from. This morning’s reading from 1st Samuel reminded me of those thoughts – Samuel heard God call, but did not know the voice he heard was God calling him. I now know the thoughts I was having were God calling me, just as God had called me back to church. These seemingly random thoughts are what moved me to do what I had not dreamed of doing.
Priests can go on and on about our call stories, but I am sharing this portion of mine because I do not believe these types of experiences are not unique to Samuel, priests and deacons. I believe that each of you have a call story, too. God calls each of us to minister – not necessarily to be ordained ministers, but to help others or the church in some way.
Many of the call stories I’ve heard have actually involved someone asking them when they were going to seminary – even before they had taken the first official step of discernment. You may have had a similar experience, though not about attending seminary. Has someone ever walked up to you and asked you a question that caught you off guard? A question that may have left you wondering why they asked YOU that question. These experiences are like the one Philip had when Jesus found him and said simply, “Follow me.”
Most of us, however, are not so quick to follow as Philip did. We are not so quick to recognize that it is God speaking to us through someone, or planting that thought in our heads. It literally took me decades before I responded to God nudging me to become a priest, and then to go, once again, to Mountain Home to be the priest of St. Andrew’s.
God’s call seldom leads us to where we expect to go and to do the things we expect to do with our lives. God transforms us – both individually and collectively. I believe God is now transforming St. Paul’s and calling many of you to support St. Paul’s in new ways.
Our youth have begun meeting twice a month, and a women’s group is forming. At my last count we have 36 signed up to participate in our small group dinners, and a class on our Episcopal Faith is being formed. This class, or classes if needed to accommodate people’ts schedules, will serve as your confirmation class if you wish to be confirmed when the bishop visits in June.
Our schedule is so full the last two weeks of January, that I had to delay a kick-off for our small group dinners until the first week of February. Some of you have asked how these dinners will be formed and how they will work. So, here’s what I have planned to divide our members into groups. On Wednesday evening, February 7th, we will have a potluck dinner in the parish hall for everyone who wishes to participate.
Since each group is to meet for dinner (or lunch if that works best) once a month, at the potluck you will placed into a group according to when, you can attend dinners. We may have six groups of eight meeting on different days of the week.
Once the groups are decided, you will be given some time at the potluck to work out your group’s schedule. The dinners can be potlucks with a different member serving as host each month, or you may decide to meet at restaurant for some, or all of your meals – whatever works for your group. These gathering may be for fellowship, or you may decide to include a devotion, study, or worship.
There is still time to sign up and, if you cannot come to the potluck, let me know and I’ll be sure to include you in one of the groups – just let me know the days of the week or month you are, or are not available.
So, as you can see there are ways you can become more involved in the coming months. I simply ask you to pay attention to the thoughts that seem to come from nowhere and the questions or requests others make that catch you off guard. Then consider that these might be an answer to a prayer, or God trying to get your attention so that you might go a direction you had not planned, a direction that might lead you to a deeper relationship with the one who created you.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray to sit with our unexpected thoughts and consider what you would have us to do in our lives. Lead us, we pray, in the direction you have set before us that our lives might be filled with your grace and love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.