The Calling of Samuel
Calling – Acts of Random Kindness
Sermon 15th Jan 2012
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.