God Keeps Knocking

CALL TO WORSHIP: Our Gracious God has called each one of us into His presence. He longs to know us better. He is ready to hear our prayers and praises. He has things to say to us. Are we ready to respond? Lord, speak; Your servant is listening.

Long ago, the boy Samuel lived in the temple. Let us close our eyes as we imagine being inside the temple at night. The work of the day is over. It is quite dark; the lamp is burning low. We settle ourselves down to sleep. Our muscles relax. Our breathing becomes slow and even.

Let us pray. Lord of every part of our lives. You are closer to us than our own breathing. You are the light that lights our ways in the darkest places. In this quietness, in the dark behind our closed eyelids, we invite You to make Yourself known to us.

Come, Gracious God, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, and transform this hour of worship; so that it may be not just a list of activities, or a comforting routine; but a time when we are open to all that You want to say and do. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen

HYMN 666: MASTER SPEAK! THY SERVANT HEARETH -StF.

PRAYER OF ADORATION:  Lord, you know all about us. You see our every activity, whether we’re up and busy, or relaxing. You know where we go. You even see what we’re thinking. You know what we want to say, even before we have said it.

Lord God, You are amazing; You are more wonderful than we can understand.

You are all around us; in front of us; behind us. Sometimes, we can even feel Your touch.

Lord God, You are amazing; You are more wonderful than we can understand.

You made the way that we think and feel. Forming us before we were even born. How incredible our bodies are! How amazing, the way that they work, bones, muscles, flesh and skin, all moving together, directed by the brains that You gave us.

Lord God, You are amazing; You are more wonderful than we can understand.

You understand everything about us, yet Your thoughts are beyond our understanding. We cannot measure them or count them. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all is that we can count upon Your love. You, the creator of the universe, the maker of us all, loved us so much that You sent Jesus to be made as we are, and to live as we do. Such love fills us with awe and wonder.

Lord God, You are amazing; You are more wonderful than we can understand. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: THE CALLING (JOHN 1: 43-51)

Have you ever thought about what you might like to do when you grow up? Yes? Tell me about it. What kind of job would you like to have?

Thinking about jobs is a lot of fun, isn’t it? There are so many different ones to choose from – and so many really important jobs. When I was younger I wanted to be a whole list of things – a scientist, a movie star, a doctor. I think I might have had a different idea every week!

Eventually you’re going to find something that is just perfect. There are lots of jobs you could do – but someday you’re going to find something you think you should do – almost like you need to do it.

When people find their perfect jobs – something they decide they were meant to do – sometimes they call it something other than just “a job.” They call it “a calling.” Almost as though God had called them to say, this is the thing for you.

Over the past couple weeks we’ve read several stories about John the Baptist. In each of those stories he’s told the people that he isn’t the Son of God, but that someone much greater is coming.

In today’s reading John has started to tell his followers that this person, Jesus, has arrived. And now Jesus is helping them to find their calling. He tells them “follow me” and helps them to understand that their calling – their special job in life – is to help him spread his teachings.

And whether you choose to be a minister or a movie star or a doctor – you can share in this special calling too – by leading a good Christian life, by helping others and following Jesus’ teachings. It’s a calling to us all.

Can we pray?

Dear God, You have called us to be your people. Help us to do your will during the week ahead. Amen

HYMN 250: JESUS CALLS! O’ER THE TUMULT – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: Today in our readings, we will be hearing how God called Samuel, and how Jesus called Nathanael. Remembering how they responded to Your call. Let us now come to God to say that we are sorry.

Let us pray.

Loving Lord, You spoke to Samuel when he was quiet and still. Forgive us for being so busy that we do not give time to listen to You.

When You called Samuel, he did not come straight away because he did not understand. Forgive us Lord, for the times when we know that You want to speak to us, but close our ears to Your voice.

You spoke to Samuel, even though He was only a boy. Forgive us for making our own judgments about who You will and won’t speak to, or use.

We thank You, Lord, that when we are really sorry, You tell us that we are forgiven. You called Samuel several times before he understood that You were speaking to him. Keep calling to us, and show us how to listen and to obey You. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

READINGS: 1 SAMUEL 3: 1-10 AND JOHN 1: 43-51

HYMN 673- WILL YOU COME AND FOLLOW ME– StF

SERMON: GOD KEEPS KNOCKING (1 SAMUEL 3:1-10 AND JOHN 1: 43-51)

In a time when unemployment is high, and its burdens experienced by many, matters of job and career receive more attention than usual. Indeed, even when the economy is less troubled, we are a people preoccupied with matters of career and job. And we think we know what these mean.

A job involves paid employment, or by extension a job can be any significant responsibility we take on. A career is what happens as a person undertakes a series of jobs over time. Career carries with it a sense of increasing experience, and often greater responsibility and reward.

But to these two realities a third must be joined to fill out the picture. We can have a job, or even a career, or we may not have them. But we always have the third reality, which is a calling.

The celebrated sociologist Robert Bellah sees it this way: a calling links what we do to a larger community wherein we contribute to the common good. A calling links the person to the public world.

Another way to look at it is that someone would still follow a calling even if he or she has no need for the money or position that accompanies it. People follow a calling because they believe it is right for them to do so. The work may be hard and not particularly successful, but they find it rich with meaning and significance.

Here again, Robert Bellah is helpful. He tells us: “The notion of calling is an effort to make real the reign of God in the realm of work.” That realization involves the recognition “that we all need each other, and that our real reward is our sense of contribution to the common good.” [Robert N. Bellah, “Economics and the theology of work,” UME Connexion, Spring 1985, p. 11. This article was originally published in The New Oxford Review, November 1984.]

The American novelist Frederick Buechner makes a similar point when he asserts that “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep happiness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” [Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (Harper & Row, 1973), p. 95.]

A calling is there when you don’t have a job.

A calling is there when you’ve never had a career.

A calling is there when you’ve never had paid employment or after you’ve retired from the world of work.

A calling is there even when it seems less a career or a job than the picking up of a particular cross.

It is a calling because someone calls you, and keeps calling you, so that the phone in your heart rings incessantly.

It is God who calls us, calls each one of us by name. The one who sustains us in existence also summons us, that in concert with the rest of creation we may enter into fuller and more authentic life.

All well and good. But for many people, the notion of calling is completely off the screen. Their work experience has been unhappy, and though they may make a living, it drains them of their life. Or if they have known success and satisfaction, still they lack the language to speak of themselves as called to what they do.

I would assert, however, that God keeps knocking on their door, asking them to do what they do as somehow partners with him in rehabbing creation so that it more closely resembles the divine intention.

Indeed, there is something about a calling that almost guarantees we will find it hard to recognize. God is mysterious. The divine voice speaks with power, but often softly. We must entertain possibilities, be open to surprise.

Consider what happens to Samuel. He’s a boy who lives and works in the temple during a period when the religion of Israel has run out of gas. One night God calls to Samuel, speaks to him by name. He thinks it’s the old priest Eli. Eli, for his part, thinks the kid’s having bad dreams.

Finally the priest wakes up to the realization that God, who hasn’t spoken much to his people lately, is speaking to this particular boy. Eli still has enough faith to tell Samuel to listen and obey when the voice speaks again. Samuel heeds the voice, and grows up to become a pivotal figure in the tumultuous history of Israel.

Or consider Nathanael. One day Philip shows up, waving his arms and exclaiming that he’s just met the one long promised in the law and the prophets. Nathanael’s answer is a sneer. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” When the messiah arrives, certainly he won’t appear in a crossroads too small to have its own McDonald’s. But his own encounter with Jesus spins Nathanael around fast and pushes him in the right direction. He had felt God present one time while sitting under a fig tree. He had told no one about it, yet Jesus mentions the incident right away. So Nathanael becomes a disciple. Jesus invites him to follow, and that is what he does.

Nathanael is surprised, and so is Samuel. Not without difficulty, they recognize their callings. One’s a kid, the other’s a smart aleck. The purpose of their lives comes to light. There’s hope for the rest of us too.

We can start to perceive our calling. If we have begun, we can continue to recognize it. Almost certainly, it involves surprise. The reason for this is that God has better things in mind for us than we can ask or imagine.

Better things than our society says to us.

Better things than our family says to us.

Better things than we say to ourselves.

Notice I did not say things more profitable or glamorous or respectable. I said better things. Again, as Buechner puts it, there exists that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. God wants to lead us there, and so calls each of us by name.

Maybe you know people who are aware of that place. Maybe you are such a person yourself. The job may not pay well, and the career is nothing to write home about. But God keeps returning you there where you do something significant to meet the world’s hunger, and experience happiness deeper than you think you deserve. You realize you’re not just earning a paycheque or developing a resume, you’re answering a call. It does not shrink you, but stretches you instead.

The path may be littered with surprises. When Albert Schweitzer died, I was not yet in this world, and didn’t really know who he was. Since then I’ve learned. He was a theologian and scripture scholar whose work was bold and innovative. He was an organist of exceptional ability whose recitals drew enthusiastic audiences. You’d think somebody of this sort would figure he had found his calling, and that would be that.

But Schweitzer didn’t stop listening, and God didn’t stop calling, and the surprises kept coming. In his late thirties he abandoned his promising academic career and headed off to equatorial Africa to serve as a medical missionary. He went to a place where there were no great universities where he could teach, no great organs for him to play, but plenty of sick people for him to help. Later his hospital was destroyed, but that did not end his commitment to Africa. He recognized his call to build it a second time. Deep hunger and deep gladness met repeatedly through the decades of his life.

We can look at how others were called, and learn from their example. We can profit from the stories of Samuel and Nathanael and Albert Schweitzer. We can be inspired by the stories of those who led our nation to greater freedom and justice: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks. We do well to take courage from how they responded to God’s voice speaking to each of them.

Finally we must hear and heed our own call. Each of us can listen intently, for God speaks to us, perhaps through a still, small voice; perhaps through the turmoil of daily events. To hear our call is always an instance of grace.

HYMN 566: TAKE MY LIFE, AND LET IT BE– StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Today, we have heard about how You call people to serve You. In our prayers, we will remember those who have tried to listen to Your voice and to respond.

Let us pray.

Lord, speak to Your people; And help them to be ready to listen.

Lord, as we pray, we remember that the whole world is Yours, and You can be served in all kinds of work. We pray first of all for those who have felt a call to serve You in government, whether locally or nationally. Help them to keep their consciences clear as they deal with complicated business. Help them to remember that they are there to serve.

Lord, speak to Your people; And help them to be ready to listen.

We pray for those with artistic gifts, who open our eyes to new truths through the skill that You have given them. Help them to fix their eyes on You, so that all that they create may be inspired by the Maker of all.

Lord, speak to Your people; And help them to be ready to listen.

We pray for those who have learned about Jesus the healer, and have felt called to be doctors, nurses or scientists, or to serve in the caring professions. Give them kind hearts as well as skilful hands, as they cooperate with You in Your healing work.

Lord, speak to Your people; And help them to be ready to listen.

We pray now for those called to serve in Your church; for ministers, priests, preachers, and teachers. May they study diligently, and speak Your word boldly. We pray, too, for those who hold church office of any kind. Help them to remember that their skills come from You, and that their work is an act of service to be offered, not a right to be claimed.

Lord, speak to Your people; And help them to be ready to listen.

Finally, we pray for ourselves. Some of us may have come into one of the groups that we have prayed for just now. But all of us are known and loved by You, and called into Your service. Help us to be listening people, so that we may live as You intend.

Lord, we are Your people; Speak to us, and help us to be ready to listen. Amen

HYMN 545: BE THOU MY VISION, O LORD OF MY HEART -StF

BLESSINGS: Lord God, You called us here and You have been with us by Your Spirit.

Now, as we go from here, go with us, and keep calling to us, so that we may learn more of You day by day.

The blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon us and remain with us always. Amen