When I was in college, our chaplain encouraged us to go to this event called, “Exploration.”
It was a conference for young people who felt like they were hearing a call to ministry – a place to explore what that meant for their lives.
I don’t remember a single thing about the conference, except for one worship service.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño was preaching and before her message she read aloud for us the call of this young man we hear about today.
But even though Bishop Carcaño is from Texas, she doesn’t have a Texas drawl. She is Latina. So what sticks in my mind is her calling out, over and over again through the scripture and her message:
“Samuel! Samuel!” (heard phonetically as Sam-well!)
Hearing her say that name in such a different dialect helped me to hear the entire passage in a new way. It snuck into every corner of my mind.
The entire drive home, I thought about all of the people throughout my life who had been calling me to ministry: my pastor, a youth leader, teachers and fellow students. I realized that like Samuel, I thought I was simply hearing the voice of my pastor or my teacher. I had never stopped to consider before that weekend that perhaps it wasn’t just a human voice after all…. Perhaps God was speaking to me!
So I love this call story. It helped me to hear my own calling into ministry in a difficult time of my life.
Today, as we continue our exploration of The Light in the Darkness, I notice as I read again this passage how God calls to us in the night, in our darkness, in our times of difficulty and asks us to serve, to lead, to go.
Samuel has been serving in the temple with Eli and that night is charged with the duty of keeping the lamps burning through the night in the part of the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept.
As we learned with the peace light from Bethlehem came through, it is not easy to keep a lamp burning over night. You worry the oil will go out or the wick will burn through.
So Samuel is sleeping there on his mat in the temple so that he can get up periodically and check on the lamp.
And there in the night… in the dark… God speaks to him.
We don’t know how old Samuel might be in this part of the story, a boy is all the scriptures say, but he has spent his entire life in the temple. His mother Hannah was barren and prayed with all her might for a child.
“Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” (1:11)
Her prayer was answered. So Hannah and her husband brought the child before God and left him in the care of Eli, the priest.
Out of her struggle and despair, God blessed them with not only Samuel, but five other children.
So Samuel grew up in the temple, under Eli’s care.
But I think too often we focus on how Samuel heard his call and forget to pay attention to what he was called TO.
In that time, Eli had two sons: Hophni and Phinehas, and they were the worst pastor’s kids you have ever met.
When people came to the temple to offer sacrifices, some of the meat was always given to the priests for their service. But the boys wouldn’t wait until the sacrifice was nearly over and then take their share, as was custom… but they would grab a chunk of the choicest meat right off the fire. Today, it would be like if the pastor’s child stopped the offering plates as they were being passed, took out the largest bills they could find so they could go spend it as they pleased, and then allowed everything to proceed. And they did it with threat of violence.
Not only that, but they also sexually harassed the women who served at the temple.
And Eli didn’t stop them.
Oh, he said once or twice, “you probably shouldn’t do that,” but he never actually stopped them from doing so.
And God promised that this injustice would end. God promised to establish a new, trustworthy priest and that the sign of this prophecy would be the death of Hophni and Phineas on the same day.
So God waited until Samuel, who had dedicated his life to God’s service, was nearly ready. And God called him in the night with the vision that the injustice and outrage of Eli’s household would end.
Can you imagine that?
Can you imagine growing up in a place with a vision of what was good and right and true, and yet every day having those in power and in leadership stomp all over those ideals?
That was life for Samuel. He knew the struggle of his mother. He knew he was meant to serve the Lord. And every day, he watched as Hophni and Phineas drove people away from the temple, and took advantage of them. He watched as Eli did nothing to stop it.
Yet somehow, he didn’t allow the example of his mentor and peers to turn him away from his path.
Can you imagine what it would be like to find yourself called to do something?
To proclaim a different future?
To speak light out of the darkness?
I have been inspired by the stories of young people around the world who are doing just that.
Julia Bluhm is a 16 year old dancer who saw young women around struggling with their image based on photoshopped and unrealistic images of what it meant to be a woman. So she stood up to Seventeen magazine and asked them to commit to unaltered photographs and a diverse range of girls in their magazine. In 2012, the magazine committed to never change the size of a girl’s face or body and to show real girls n the magazine.
Malala Yousafzai was just 11 when she started promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. She was targeted for assassination and survived and continues to work to ensure all children have access to education and rights for children and young people. When asked by Jon Stewart about what gives her courage to keep going, she talks about how she decided early on to speak the truth, even in the face of someone who wants to hurt her:
If he [the Talib] comes, what would you do Malala? …If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others…with cruelty…you must fight others but through peace, through dialogue and through education…then I’ll tell him [the Talib] how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well… that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.
Can you imagine proclaiming a different future? Speaking light out of darkness?
Today is Human Relations Day and we celebrate this Sunday in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day
So with Samuel, we choose to seek the light of service and sacrifice, rather than to simply stand by and do nothing when we witness wrongs.
The United Methodist Church is committed to standing with those who are on the margins and who are struggling.
Rev. I Maliik Safir, whose church works with those gripped by addiction in Little Rock, sums up the work of Human Relations Day by recalling Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan: “to meet the poor, the disadvantaged and the underserved at the places where others have robbed them and help them to recover from the wounds of social inequality.”
But I think this Sunday needs to be about more than putting a few dollars in the special offering envelope to support these important ministries. You should do that, by the way… take out that envelope and give whatever you can to help us continue to serve in these places.
But God demands more of us than simply our financial resources.
I think this is also a day when we are called to look at the world around us and ask what is happening in our midst and how are we called to proclaim a different future.
In the dark of the night, where do you hear God calling you?
Has something kept you up at night, calling you to do something?
Have you felt the tug of your heartstrings around something you are reading in the news… issues affecting Des Moines and Iowa?
Is it around issues of incarceration? Racial disparity? Poverty? Mental health?
Are you called to advocate for others?
Speak truth to power?
Is there something at work or school that just doesn’t feel right? Can you do something about it?
Sit beside someone who is struggling?
If you are… take it to the Lord. Cry out that you are ready to hear. You are listening. Ask what God wants you to do.
And feel free to come and talk with me or Pastor Todd if there is a place you think we, as the church, should be responding. Because together, we can work to let the light of Christ shine in the darkest parts of this world.
As Dr. King said:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Let us be people who are not afraid of the darkness.
Who go to the darkness.
Who listen in the darkness.
And who work to let the light shine.