Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Calling of Samuel

Calling – Acts of Random Kindness

Sermon 15th Jan 2012

Elspeth Parris

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Samuel’s calling when still a boy, caring for Eli, his master

John 1:43 – 51
Jesus calls Philip and Nathaniel (under the Fig Tree)

A baby cries in the night. A parent get’s up and attends to him; change, feed, comfort. Back to sleep. Job done.

A brother makes a late night phone call to his sister. A personal disaster: wife left, job lost, child sick. His sister listens, cares, comforts.

A phone call comes into the office. A problem needs to be solved. My job, your job, whatever. We get on with it, do our best to solve it.

A cry in the lane behind the house, a woman is hurt, maybe she’s tripped and hurt herself, maybe she’s being attacked. We go, see if she needs help, phone the police or an ambulance if necessary. We go, whether because we are Christians, or just good citizens but we answer that call.

These are all experiences of being called upon by others. But they are callings of the world. It is right to answer these sorts of calls. Of course we must comfort and care for our children, our families, our neighbours. Of course we must carry out the duties for which we are paid. Of course we must play our part in the communities where we live. Jesus said we should ‘love our neighbour’ and that means answering our neighbour’s call upon us – doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. Subject to one proviso, and only one. We are to ‘love God and love our neighbour as ourselves’. Loving God comes first. Listening out for God’s call upon us comes before listening out for our families, our neighbours.

Today’s Old Testament reading is about calling. God’s calling upon us. Do we hear him correctly? Or do we dismiss his call upon us as something we might expect to hear, in the world around us, as Samuel did at first. Samuel responded properly, and immediately to the call he thought he had heard and ran to his master, even though it was the middle of the night. Do we respond to God’s call upon us by turning to the world, turning to those to whom we think we owe obedience, or duty in the world – instead of turning to God and asking Him – ‘Yes, Lord, what can I do for you’.

We can get so caught up in our responsibilities in the world, our love for our children and grandchildren; our sense of loyalty to our employer, our friends and our family; our duties as citizens of state and town. All perfectly valid calls upon our time, our effort and our resources. But they are NOT God’s call upon us.

Perhaps that was what Jesus was talking about on another occasion when he talked about ‘hating’ our family.. We hear in Luke: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. When we think of Samuel, running to Eli, asking ‘what is it, Master?’ when he needed to be saying to God, ‘Yes, Lord – what would you ask of me?’ then it is easier to understand what Jesus meant that day. We have to try to avoid mishearing God’s call upon us as a call from within the world – when it is a call from God.

How do we recognise a call that is really from God? Well one test is to see if we are looking for any gain from it when we answer that call. Not just monetary gain. The baby stops crying, the neighbour will return the favour another time, the brother will care about us just as we care about him, even the simple gain in our own self-respect.

But there is nothing for us to gain in answering a call from God. What could we gain? He’s given us everything already! His love for us is absolute already.

Did any of you ever see the film ‘Evan Almighty’? Evan is a congressman who is not particularly religious. But he gets called by God to build an Ark. A real Ark, requiring huge amounts of timber. The Film is hysterically funny but it’s also making some really powerful points. Evan tries very hard to resist God’s call upon him but God makes it increasingly difficult for him to do so. His colleagues and his family are horrified at what he is doing, once he accepts God’s call upon him, he finds that his colleagues and his family are horrified at what he is doing. But in the end, it turns out that the Ark is needed, and it’s existence is a great act of Reconciliation and Redemption for Evan’s community. A great Act of God to heal a damage that the community had got so used to it had given up hope of trying to do anything about it.

We’re not all called so dramatically as Evan. We’re not all called in ways that cause us the misery that Evan suffered along the way. But the film ends with a wonderful call reminder of a way that God calls all of us – to acts of random kindness. This is a calling that we can all follow. Not a calling to a particular ministry but a calling to all Christians, indeed to all people of all faiths which worship the God of Abraham.

What is an act of ‘random kindness’? It’s an act of kindness which has no payback whatsoever. Maybe you don’t know the people concerned, have never seen them before nor will you ever see them again. You’re not doing your reputation any good by helping that person since they don’t know you. You’ve got nothing to gain whatsoever. It’s an example of what God’s call is like. It’s not likely to be God’s only call on you, but it’s the bottom line. The basic. Get used to looking out for opportunities to create acts of random kindness and you’re opening yourself up to God, creating opportunities to let yourself hear his call, and when he does, you’re more likely to realise that it is his call, and respond to him.

When I started looking at the readings for today I couldn’t find a connection between them apart from the simple fact that they were about being called. Finally, as I got to the end of my thoughts on Samuel I’ve found the link I was searching for – a link to the Gospel. For each act of random kindness is a prayer, creating an opening in the world for God to act, within us and within the person who receives our kindness. And so in our acts of Random kindness we are ‘under the fig-tree’ – a figurative description used in Jesus’ time to denote a time of prayer, a time of study, a time of spiritual dedication.

Jesus sees us under the fig-tree as we devote ourselves to recognising God’s call upon us to acts of random kindness – and seeing us there, he calls us to follow him.

The Three Days of Grief – a fictional account from the point of view of Mary Magdalene

I just can’t believe it! They’ve really killed him. He’s dead. How could God have allowed it? He was so special. Some of the others say that he’s the messiah, I don’t know if that’s true or not, I only know that he was the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I wasn’t in love with him or anything like that, he was too special for that. I just couldn’t help responding to his amazing kindness. Nobody had ever been kind to me before, I was used to being someone who everyone tried to pretend didn’t exist.
And then he came along and entered my emptiness and suddenly there was colour in my world. I came to know what it is to be loved and cared about. For the first time in my life I mattered. How could I matter to him? When he was so good and perfect and I was numbered among the ‘unclean’. To everyone else I was just a bit of dirt, to sweep away at passover with all the other crumbs and ensure the house is clean. And he made it clear that to him I was as important as Peter or John. And now he’s GONE. And my life is empty again. All the colour is gone.
That’s what it was like before I met him. Everything was colourless and dull, shot through with the strong colours of sheer horror. Never the light of the sun, never the brightness of happiness. All just grey and horror. When he came it was like the sun came out. And I blossomed like a flower. And now all my petals are closing and and the flower is dying. Does my life just have to go back to the way it was? Will anyone remember that he treated me as a person like anyone else or will I become a non-person again? I just can’t bear it!
I’m still allowed amongst the others at the moment. They’re all hiding in the upper room of a house, where they had supper with him just before it all happened. They let me be with them but I’m trying not to be noticed. If they notice me they might throw me out – and then I’ll have nothing.
Mary came over to speak to me, the other Mary, his mother. She’s nice, not like the others. Kind. She asked me if I’d help her to prepare some simple kind of food. Its not easy for any of us to eat when we feel like this. The most amazing food would taste like straw now. But we have to eat somehow so Mary thinks we should do something simple. And it would be good to have something to do.
We made some bread. We’re not supposed to, no work on the Sabbath that’s the rule, but He said that was less important than caring for ourselves and others. It was good, working together in our mutual unhappiness. It lifted the feelings a bit, unhappiness is better than misery. Kneading dough was good too, I hadn’t realised how angry I was until I took it out on a lump of dough. He talked about women making bread, said the Kingdom of heaven was like bread, the way a tiny bit of yeast can rise a whole baking. Oh, he understood even the endless tasks that women have to do. He cared about everything! Today though we made unleavened bread, we’ve lost track of time so much we can’t remember whether we’re allowed yeast bread yet or not, its not allowed at Passover.
We took the bread in to everyone to share. John found some wine and then Peter remembered what he had said about bread and wine. That each time they break bread or drink wine they should do so in his name and remember him. Peter picked up the bread and said, ‘He said the bread was his body, and that when we eat it we should remember him, let this bread be his body too and let us eat it in his name’. And he passed the bread bowl around. Then he picked up the wine jug and said, ‘He said the wine was his blood, and that when we drink it we should remember him, let this wine be his blood too and let us drink it in his name’. And he passed the wine around too. Everyone was crying now, not just me.
They passed the bread and wine to me too! It was James, he was sitting next to me and when it came to him he simply passed it on as if I was one on of them. Oh, the Lord’s blessing on you James! I didn’t expect to be included in this remembering him in the meal. I’m just the servant who does the work, and I was treated as one of the group! Oh dear, I’ve been using my headscarf to wipe my eyes and even to blow my nose and its all horrid now. I’ll never manage to behave like a respectable Jewish woman. Oh, but he would have understood!
The other Mary came and took my arm, ‘come’, she said, ‘lets go and find somewhere to clean up’. She took me out the to the back of the house where there was a pitcher of water and poured some for me to wash my face with. I don’t know how she manages it, how can she be so caring when she must be in terrible distress too? I washed my scarf out too and we wrung it out together. Luckily its warm enough today it will dry quickly if I can manage to stop crying all over it.
Mary suggested I try to have a bit of a sleep and by the time I wake up my scarf will be dry. She’s right of course and I am exhausted but I can’t imagine sleeping. She said she’d had a word with the men and they had arranged a corner where we could have some privacy to sleep. So we laid down. To my surprise I did sleep.
* * * *
Morning at last. It seemed a really long night. I kept waking up, but seeing the other Mary just close by was comforting and I was able to just lie still and remember him. It’s really early. Only just light. That colourless time before the sun comes up. It matches the way I feel. Mary had said we should go this morning to clean him and lay out his body. We couldn’t do it before or we’d have been unclean for the Sabbath. I woke her as gently as I could, she had been awake most of the night and had finally fallen asleep.
We went to the garden where Joseph had had him put. He’s a good man Joseph. He comes from Arimathea and he’s quite wealthy and important but he followed our Lord too. He had been able to persuade Pilate to release his body, its not usually allowed for someone whose been killed as a criminal. Aghh, our beloved Lord a criminal, how could they have done it! Anyway, Joseph got his body and he had had a tomb already prepared for when he dies himself but as he doesn’t need it yet he allowed the men to put our Lord there. Blessings on him for his kindness.

When we got to the garden there was no-one there. The others had warned us there would be soldiers as the priests had asked Pilate to put a guard so that no-one could take the body away and say he was still alive. But there weren’t any soldiers. No-one at all. That eery early morning silence as if Mary and I were the only people in the world.
The tomb was round a sort of corner, behind some bushes. We went round the bushes and stopped, stunned. We hadn’t known how we would move the stone away from the tomb, we had thought to ask the soldiers to help us but as there weren’t any there we had no-one to ask. But the stone had already been rolled aside. We couldn’t understand what had happened. We were very fearful but we went forward, we had to do what we had come to do. We couldn’t leave his poor body in all its filth and blood any longer. We wanted to clean him up and anoint his body with sweet oils. So we went into the tomb.
Its EMPTY. There’s no body there. What have they done with our Lord? Who’s stolen his body away? How could they do this to us? There were tears pouring down our faces. We are just poor women who wanted to do right by our beloved Lord and master. He who they had killed as criminal but who we knew to be better and more Godly than all their priests and pharisees. They had done this, those cruel ones, they must have done. No-one else would take our Lord away from us. They’ve already taken his life, now they have to take his body as well. Oooooogh!

Mary and I stood there with our arms around each other crying and howling. Nothing could have been so dreadful as this. It was the final misery for us. We couldn’t even be allowed to honour our Lord in his death.

Eventually we turned away. We had to go and tell the others what we had found. My poor old headscarf was soaking again and I’d be ashamed to be seen in public. At least its so early there isn’t likely to be anyone much around.
Oh, there is someone though, it must be the gardener. We rushed up to him. ‘Sir, ‘we asked, ‘do you know where they’ve taken him? Our Lord who was buried here on Friday?’ ‘Please Sir, if you know, please tell us so that we can clean and anoint him for his death? ‘ We were crying again, but somehow, seeing him, we had felt new hope.

‘Mary’, he said to me. And suddenly I recognised him. I fell to my knees. ‘Rabbi’, I cried in joy, for that was what I called him, for he was the teacher of my soul. I was so overjoyed I couldn’t really take in what he said but I knew he wanted me to tell the others that he was still alive and that he would come to them. Then he was gone and we were left in glorious happiness. Our Lord and teacher is still with us.
We rushed off to tell the others. Over the following days he came to meet with our group a number of times before he was taken off to heaven by angels to be with God his father. But now we knew he would be with us forever and the priests and the soldiers can’t do anything about it. And I am his forever so I need never feel myself to be a not-person again. He has told me he loves me and I belong to him now. So I don’t need to hide in corners any more. I can be me, myself, Mary of Magdala, beloved of the Lord. Isn’t it wonderful!
He said he came to give us life, that we might have it to the full. And he has given me my life. And I give it to him so that I can always belong, and always be beloved.
Praise to him!