>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, January 18, 2009.  The text for this week’s message is 1 Samuel 3:1-10.

Today’s message is the first of two that focus on the subject of calling.  To start off with this week, I want to ask you a question.  Have you ever wondered if God has called you?  One of the biggest struggles I have ever had in my life involved laying down what it is that I wanted to do with my life and accept the fact that God was calling me to ministry.  But, when I ask this question, I’m not asking you if you ever wondered if God called you to ordained ministry.  I’m asking if you have ever wondered if God has called you?  We all struggle with the question at some point – what am I going to do with my life?  And just to clarify, this is not a question that is limited to those who are younger.  I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands, but how many of you still ask yourself this question from time to time?  I want to take some time today to tell you something that you may already know, but it’s always good to hear.  You have been called.  It may or may not be to full-time vocational ministry, but there is no doubt that you have been called by God.  To begin exploring the notion of calling, I think we can take a few pointers from the story of Samuel.
The story of Samuel begins with his mother Hannah.  Hannah was married to Elkanah, who also had another wife by the name of Peninnah.  Hannah and her husband were unable to bear a child, a fact that was used to provoke her by the other wife.  Hannah does what so many people do who are having difficulty bearing children – she prays to the Lord.  On one occasion she vowed that if she could only give birth to a son, then she would dedicate that child to the Lord.  The Lord granted her prayer and she named the boy Samuel, which means God Hears in Hebrew.  Just over a year later, she brought the boy back and fulfilled her promise to dedicate him to the Lord.  So she left him in the care of Eli.
Eli was the priest who was in charge of the tabernacle where the ark of the covenant was kept.  Essentially, he was the high priest.  Eli had two sons, who were not good people  In fact, the writer says that they “were worthless men.”  His sons were abusive of the sacrificial system and used it to take whatever they wanted when people came to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.  The writer also states that they were engaged in sexual immorality.  The bottom line is – they weren’t good people by any stretch of the imagination.  And this brings us to Samuel.
Samuel grew up at the tabernacle.  And it is interesting that in 1 Samuel 2, when the writer is talking about Eli’s sons, he also makes it a point to say, on two occasions, that Samuel grew in stature and favor with the Lord and with other people.  It is almost as though the writer knows what is going to happen next and wants everyone to know, basically, that Eli’s sons are scum and Samuel is a great person.  Samuel’s story really begins to pick up steam in chapter 3 though, which brings us to today’s passage.
The writer begins by telling us that Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli, and that this was a time when people did not hear much from the Lord.  This brings up a couple of  interesting points that apply very well today.  First of all, there are times when it seems like God is completely silent.  It seems like God is not around because we don’t hear from Him very often.  But the truth is, God doesn’t just randomly take a vacation and leave his answering machine on until He gets back.  God is present at all times.  Even when it seems like He is being unusually quiet, God is present.  And this is something that we forget about all too often.  Too often we think that God doesn’t hear us because we don’t hear Him.  
God hears our prayers, but many times He doesn’t necessarily answer them in the way that we want Him to, so we just assume that He doesn’t hear us at all.  These are times when our faith is really tested, and these are times when we find out just how deep our faith really is.  A true test of faith is not whether or not we have it when things are going well; it’s when things are going bad that we get tested the most.  These are the times when it helps to know that we are surrounded by so many brothers and sisters in Christ who can help us through these difficult times.  And when things are going well for us, it should serve as a reminder that we need to be available to help those who are around us as well.  That’s what it means to be the body of Christ.
Now secondly, Samuel is already ministering when his call occurs.  We don’t have to sit and wait for divine direction in order to start ministering to people.  Often we are called to do ministry right where we are.  In going about our daily business, we have so many opportunities to minister that we often just miss them because we are so caught up in the daily grind.  Take just a minute and think about the different places that you go during the week and the different things that you do.  Where are the opportunities to minister in your daily routine?  Who do you talk to over the course of a given day?  How can you minister to them?  You don’t have to be an ordained minister who works full time in vocational ministry in order to minister to other people.  In fact, one of my goals in ministry is to be not needed.  Notice I didn’t say “unwanted,” that’s totally different, and I hope I never get to that point.
For a pastor to be “not needed” means that the people of the church are mature disciples who really are the ones taking care of every aspect of the church.  The simple truth of the matter is that one day, I’m not going to be here.  As sad as this sounds, and I hope that it is not for several years, one day, I’m going to get moved or retire.  If the ministry of this churches is built solely around me and my personality, it is going to be a very difficult day when I’m no longer here.  The ministry of this church is bigger than me; it has to be.  Because if it is not, then we aren’t doing all that we can do to serve God in our community.
I firmly believe that all Christians are called to make disciples.  In Matthew 28, Jesus doesn’t specify that this call is only for those ordained in ministry, but, rather, it’s a call for all disciples.  Jesus’ disciples knew what it took to make disciples because they had spent the last three years going through that process themselves.  At some point, we are called to go the next step down the road of our journey of faith, and that is to follow Jesus’ command to make disciples.  But that doesn’t mean that all Christians should go into full-time vocational ministry.  
I mentioned John Newton last week before we sang Amazing Grace.  I read something else about Newton that said one of his greatest contributions to history was that he told William Wilberforce to serve God where he was rather than enter the ministry.  At the time Wilberforce was in Parliament and gave serious thought to leaving so that he could receive orders as an Anglican priest.  Newton encouraged him to serve God by staying in Parliament, and Wilberforce spent the next 20 years trying to abolish the slave trade in England, which he did successfully in 1833.  I want to emphasize two things for you right now.  First, you are called to ministry.  Second, the ministry that you are called to do can be done right where you are.  Again, think about the people you see each and every day.  Where is the need?  How can you serve God in your context?  Everything that we do as disciples of Jesus Christ should be viewed through this lens.
Okay, back to the text.  In verse 3, the writer mentions that the Lord calls out to Samuel when the lamp of God had not yet gone out.  The lamp of God was placed inside the tabernacle, and it typically burned from evening to morning.  Even today, a lot of churches will have an eternal light hanging around the altar area.  It is used to signify the presence of God in that place.  When the writer points this out, he is signifying that it is not yet dawn.  It’s early in the morning, or late at night, I guess that depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?  Anyway, the point is, the sun hasn’t come up yet.  And this brings up another point.  God doesn’t wait until it is convenient to call us.
I can imagine that Samuel is very groggy and tired when he first hears his name called, but did you notice his reaction?  He gets up and runs to Eli.  Even though the timing had to have been quite inconvenient, Samuel gets up and runs to respond to the call that he hears.  The simple truth is that God doesn’t wait until we are 100% ready in order to call us.  He often calls us when we least expect it, but we need to respond in a way similar to Samuel.  I don’t want to go too far down this road because our response to the call we have received is something I want to focus on more next week.  So for now, I just want you to think about Samuel’s response, and how that applies to us today, and we’ll dig into that more next week.
So, finally, after this happens three times, Eli has an idea of what is going on, and he tells Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears,” which he does.  This brings me to my final point this morning.  Sometimes, it takes somebody else to pointing out God’s call in our lives in order for us to see it.  Often it is just a gentle nudge that helps open us up to whatever it is that God is doing in our lives, but sometimes it takes another person to point out the obvious in order for us to really see it.  Hopefully, that is a little bit of what has happened in this morning’s message.
Hopefully, this is a gentle nudge that helps you to realize that God has called you.  First and foremost, God has called you to be in an active, vibrant relationship with Him.  In The Call, Os Guinness writes, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him and for him.  First and foremost, we are called to Someone, not to something or to somewhere.  Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere and in everything should think, speak, live and act entirely for him” (p.31).  Essentially, we need to keep in mind that our primary call is to be in a relationship with the God who created us.  All others calls that we have in our lives are secondary to that call, and, in fact, come out of that call.
So, I want to close this morning by reminding you of something that you hopefully already know by this point in the message.  You are called.  You are called to be in relationship with God, and to develop that relationship with Him.  I want to reemphasize the challenge that I put before you over the last week or so.  I want to challenge you to spend just 15 minutes a day reading your Bible.  I don’t care how much or how little you read in those 15 minutes, I just want you to spend some time in God’s word.   Think about it for just a minute.  How much time do we spend on a daily basis just flipping through the channels?  How much time do we spend each day reading the newspaper?  How much time do we spend each day checking our e-mail?  Now, surely, we can find 15 minutes in our schedules to read the Bible and start to listen for that unfamiliar voice that guides us and speaks to us in love.