Imagine for a moment that you are a parent with a child, or maybe you share a room with your brother or sister, or maybe your partner, and all of sudden that person runs into your room, wakes you up, says, ““Hey, did you say something? Did you hear that?” And you say, “No, dear, it was nothing. Just go back to sleep.” Now imagine that happening three times in a row! After the third time, you might start thinking something was up yourself.
That’s how it was for Eli, the priest, when Samuel started to here the voice of God. Samuel was simply a child when God called him. It is a funny and kind of an ironic story. The boy Samuel works with Eli. One evening, Eli is sleeping in his room and Samuel is asleep in the church, apparently, when suddenly a voice starts calling to him, “Samuel! Samuel!” Now, being that Samuel was a child and worked with Eli, I am sure it was not all that unusual for him to hear his voice called through out the church, with Eli needing him to help him with something. So naturally, Samuel is quick to his feet, and runs to Eli saying, “Here I am. What do you need?” Eli’s startled response is, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” Three times this happens. The Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel runs to Eli saying, “Here I am.”
Well, Eli finally figures it out. If Eli isn’t calling Samuel’s name, then it must be God. God is the one calling out to Samuel. So he tells Samuel what to say the next time the Lord calls him – “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Now, here is where the story really gets interesting. Now that God has Samuel’s full attention, here is God’s message to Samuel: Tell your boss, Eli…he’s fired. And it is all because of corruption. Eli and his sons have been corrupting the offerings. They have been stealing from the offerings. Eli’s sons have been taking the best parts of the animal sacrifices offered to God and eating them for themselves and Eli had done nothing to stop them. And so corruption and an abuse of power had leaked into the church, in which Eli and his sons put their desires and needs above those of the people they were serving. And so God called little Samuel, who did not even know the Lord, did you catch that part? God called little Samuel, who did not even know the Lord, to be the one to confront this corruption with Eli and his sons.
I like this story. Because it shows us that God calls upon all kinds of people to do God’s work in this world. When you hear the phrase, “Called by God,” I am willing to bet that most of you think of someone who works in the realm of the church or spiritual work. I think that is a pretty common thing, which is what makes becoming a pastor and telling people that you are a pastor a pretty humorous but also a frustrating experience.
People start to treat you differently; people start to behave differently around you. As if you are one of those people, like Samuel, whom God has specially called. In fact people will ask that question all the time – what’s your call story? How did God call you into ministry? Part of this leads people to thinking you are the holiness police, the moral barometer in the room. I have seen people apologize for swearing around me when I am quite confident they wouldn’t have apologized around anyone else (and as if I don’t ever swear). People will try to act more holy around you or will just start telling you about how much they believe in God and prayer each day. Complete strangers will do this! But the worst, the absolute worst, or I should say the saddest, is when someone belittles the work they do after knowing what I do. Someone will say, with a tone of guilt in their throat, “Well, um…that’s a really good thing you are doing for people. Me, I, uh, well I chose a little more selfish profession by becoming a lawyer…” Or a bartender…or a contractor…or whatever.
Whenever I hear that, the assumption always seems to be that I, a pastor, do good things for the world and they do not. That God and I work together and they work alone. That I am closer to God and more holy and more moral than they are. Now, to some extent, I cannot really blame anyone for feeling that way. The church has really set it up to seem that way, to some degree. When I was ordained, there was a whole special service for it. When I was installed here as pastor, there was a whole special service for it. A stole was placed over my shoulders. Could you imagine Federated Insurance having an installation and worship service for the next risk consultant they hire? Some laying on of hands. Instead of a stole, they give you a pair of khakis to wear. So yes, there is an element in which the church and society have made being a church worker into a “higher calling.” But let me be clear, whether you work in a church or at Federated, or as a trucker, or a librarian, or a receptionist or a homemaker, there is no “higher calling.” For all are a calling from God. Notice how God did not call Samuel into the priesthood, he called Samuel to condemn the priest, Eli.
God calls each and everyone of you into a particular place and role in society we call that vocation. If you really wanted to be a church nerd, you would call this the “Doctrine of Vocation.”
The doctrine of vocation says that God has called each and everyone of you into your work in the world. Whether you are a farmer, a student, a person who runs a daycare, a machinist, a grandparent, a spouse, a bartender, a repair person…God calls us into these vocations. A person once said, “God will milk the cows through the person whose vocation it is to milk cows.”
And here is the thing, God can call you into more than one vocation at the same time. A friend of mine, who is seeking to be a pastor, has been interviewing with churches in the past couple of months. And throughout that process, he has had to discern where God was calling him and it has been particularly difficult because at times his vocation were conflicting. There was a church that wanted him as the pastor, but because of some circumstances, he would have had to live apart from his wife. His vocation as pastor and as husband were in conflict. So he had to discern which vocation was God calling him to attend to. One thing that he learned in that process, which we also learn in our text, is that God uses other people to help us hear that calling. Samuel could hear the voice of God; he kept thinking it was Eli. And so God used Eli, the one whom God was angry with, to help Samuel hear the voice of God calling to him. My friend said to me, “I think God speaks to me through other people. I am not the type of person who sits in silence very well. So I think God speaks to me through the voice of others, who have helped guide me through this process.”
God calls each and every one of you into many vocations in life. Not just into a career, but a vocation – as a daughter, a coach, a community member, a volunteer. One other thing, as we learn in 1 Samuel, sometimes God calls us into difficult tasks. Sometimes God calls you to be the voice that names the corruption that is going on, so that you can protect the vulnerable people that are being hurt.
So I want you to consider this: have you ever considered yourself, like Samuel, as called by God into a certain task? Think for a moment about what you will be doing tomorrow around 10am. Whether it is job related, or family related, in whatever you are doing, consider what it might be that God is asking of you in that moment.
Let’s go into this week, recognizing that God is calling us into the many vocation that we have…and wondering how understanding that changes the way in which we do our tasks, interact with people, and live out our life.