Call Waiting

Call Waiting

1 Samuel 3:1-10


Does anyone remember those old Verizon commercials

with the guy who roams from place to place

asking again and again,

“Can you hear me now?”

The story of how the young boy, Samuel,

was called by God to be a prophet

reminds me of that commercial.

Young Samuel was sleeping in the Temple at Shiloh,

near where the Ark of the Lord was kept.

The Ark of the Lord was a kind of chest

that was said to contain the stone tablets

on which were written God’s message

in the form of the Ten Commandments.

To the Israelites, the Ark was a concrete reminder

of God’s presence and of God’s covenant with them.

A little like the way baptism is a visible reminder

of God’s covenant of grace with us.

So sleeping close to the Ark

should have made for terrific reception

when it came to receiving a call from God.

The fact of the matter is,

that all of Israel at that time was

what we would refer today as a “dead zone.”

A place where there was little or no receptivity to God’s Word,

and plenty of dropped calls.

The text says that,

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days;

visions were not widespread.”

Reception was not good,

when it came to hearing the Lord speak.

Even in the Temple.

Eli and his sons were priests in the Temple,

and for that reason, if God was going to speak to anyone,

they were the logical choice.

But Eli’s boys were using their position,

not to serve God,

but for their own personal gain.

It actually describes them a scoundrels,

with no regard for the Lord or their duties as priests.

They didn’t want to interrupt what they were doing

to hear what God had to say

or to act upon what God called them to do.

For all that, the text says that,

“the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”

God hadn’t given up on calling,

Even though nobody was picking up the phone

on the other end.

A common feature on most calling plans nowadays is “call waiting.”

When I am having a conversation with someone over the phone,

I get a signal to let me know if another call

is trying to get through.

When I hear the signal, I can switch over

and respond to that other call.

That’s the purpose of Call Waiting.

But, in reality, here’s what usually happens.

When I get the call waiting signal,

I don’t want to interrupt the conversation

I’m already in the middle of,

to answer it.

In that moment, Call Waiting feels more like

an intrusion than a convenience

The same thing happens when God tries to communicate with us.

Often you or I are engaged with the busyness of life

so that when we hear the Call Waiting beep in the background,

we decide that our current “call”

is more important than anything God has to say to us.

We put God on hold.

Baptism is our reminder that God is calling

each and every one of us.

And it is our commitment to stop whatever else is going on

and listen to what God has to say.

Samuel is the perfect example of how God sometimes calls

the least likely people to serve.

Not only was Samuel just a boy,

the text says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord,

and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

When a child is baptized,

he or she isn’t able to make a commitment

to a relationship with the Lord.

Like Samuel, the Word needs to be revealed to them.

A baby doesn’t know instinctively what a phone is for.

They have to be taught what it is and how to use it.

The first way they learn is by observing adults.

They hear the phone ring and see someone pick it up

and have a conversation and they become curious

about what they’re missing.

It’s the same way with prayer.

Families and church families are where children

learn about a relationship with God.

And the example we set of how important

that relationship with God is to us,

the better the odds that they will want

to explore it for themselves.

The first few times Samuel hears the voice of God

calling him in the night,

he thinks it is his mentor Eli calling for him.

He rushes to Eli’s room and says,

“Here I am, for you called me.”

The first couple of times this happens,

Eli tells him to go back to bed.

But by the third time,

even old Eli catches on that something unusual is going on.

He tells Samuel to go and wait for the voice to call him again.

And when it does, he is to answer,

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Luckily, God doesn’t give up easily.

One more time, God dials Samuel’s number.

And this time, Samuel does what Eli told him.

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The connection between listening

to what God has to say to you

and living as fruitful followers of Jesus

cannot be overstated.

I think that we do a lot of talking to God about what we want,

and not enough time allowing God to interrupt us

over what God wants.

The Bible encourages us to call on God in prayer with our needs.

But it also instructs us in listening to God’s call to us.

One way of listening to God is by

being quiet and meditative.

Taking the phone off the hook,

both literally and figuratively,

to remove anything that might distract us

from hearing the still, small voice within.

Another way is through reading scripture

as if it is written directly to you;

like a personal text message from God.

Sometimes God’s voice can be heard

by being attentive to what is going on

in the world around you;

situations that cry out for God’s presence or intervention.

God’s call seldom happens in a vacuum.

It usually comes as a summons to address

some concrete situation

and with a definite purpose.

Samuel was called to be a prophet

at a pivotal time in his nation’s history,

to restore the integrity of the priesthood

and to oppose injustices that were being done.

This weekend, Americans remember a man

who answered God’s call to prophetic ministry

at a critical juncture in our nation’s history:

Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather,

brother, and uncle

were all preachers.

When he became the pastor of

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, however,

like young Samuel, King still hadn’t had

a firsthand experience of God.

But then Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus

and Martin found himself in the middle of a boycott.

Although he was only twenty-seven years old,

he quickly became a leader of the Civil Rights movement.

Late one night, the phone rang.

A voice on the other end of a telephone line

threatened King and his family with violence

if he didn’t back down.

Martin couldn’t go back to sleep.

He was ready to give up.

But, he went to his kitchen

and took his problem to God in prayer.

Then he listened for God’s reply.

What he heard was the quiet assurance

of an inner voice, saying,

“Stand up for righteousness,

stand up for truth.

God will be at your side forever.”

By interrupting the conversation

he had been having with his fears

in order to listen to God,

King discovered the courage to do

what God was calling him to do.

Too often we think of God’s call only as it relates to

preachers, prophets and missionaries.

You might be wondering

what this message has to do with you.

But, God calls all of His children

in many ways and for many purposes.

It is not necessarily the most qualified who answer,

but the most receptive, and the most willing.

Last week, Pete Janhunen came to my office

and told me that he was feeling called by God

to a ministry of visitation.

Pete’s stroke has left him with physical limitations

around his sight, his hearing and his ability to get around.

But, he said that something he COULD do

is spend time with people who can’t get out much.

Now, he and his service dog Deacon are bringing

a ministry of presence to people who need that.

It’s true that some are called to preach

or to carry the gospel to distant, dangerous places.

But some are also called to serve Christ in other ways.

To teach church school,

to knit hats and mittens,

to use their musical talents,

to write letters to Congress,

or to bring a meal to someone who needs it.

You name it – Jesus has called someone to do it.

With one exception.

None are called to be just spectators.

We are all called to participate.

When we gather in worship

or are praying in solitude,

we should be actively listening for how

we are each called by our God.

Is there a call waiting for you,

that you haven’t answered yet,

because it intrudes on some area of your life

where you are a little too comfortable to be disturbed?

Is there a call waiting for this church

as we move into 2015,

that we’re afraid will interrupt

our carefully planned agendas

if we answer the signal?

Is God hitting the redial button

and asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Whenever and wherever the call comes,

may our response be like Samuel’s:
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”