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Called to Serve – A Reflection

January 16, 2021

This rock juts out into the Chippewa River on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. On a Friday evening in October of 1980, I received my call to ministry while praying on this spot. Thirty-three years later, Denise and I visited the University and we spent time in reflection on the rock. The young college junior had no idea where that call would take him, or the adventures he would experience. Speaking of calls, the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel focus on God’s call.

The first Scripture reading is from the first book of Samuel and is the story of his call to serve the Lord. There is an interesting back story that is told in chapter one about Samuel’s mother Hannah and the family he would be born into. Samuel’s mother was his father Elkanah’s first wife. Elkanah most likely married his second wife Peninnah because Hannah (his first wife) was barren. Despite this, Elkanah loved Hannah deeply and showed favor to her. This didn’t set very well with Peninnah, especially since she had borne Elkanah the children he wanted, including sons who would carry on the family name. Every chance that Peninnah had, she provoked and tried to irritate Hannah. On the last trip to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, Hannah broke down in tears and refused to eat. Her husband didn’t understand why she was upset and tried to remind her how much he loved her. When Hannah went up to the temple to pray, she was seen by Eli who was sitting in the doorway to the temple. As Eli watched her praying and weeping bitterly. Eli thought she was drunk and essentially told her to go away. She told him that she wasn’t drunk and that she was deeply troubled. Without asking her what she was troubled about, he sent her away with a blessing, asking the Lord to grant her petition. Her deep longing was filled when the Lord blessed her with a son. Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord’s service and that was how young Samuel ended up in the temple serving Eli.

A few years later Samuel is serving in the Lord in the temple. The call narrative opens with the words, The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. (1 Samuel 3:1) The voice of the prophet had been silent in the land for a long time. When Samuel heard the voice calling his name, he thought it was old Eli calling for him. After the third time Samuel woke him up, it finally dawned on Eli that the Lord was calling Samuel by name. He instructed Samuel to answer the Lord and Samuel responded to the Lord in the way Eli instructed him to answer. Here I am.

Samuel’s first task as a young man was to tell Eli that God was going to judge him and his house for the iniquity Eli knew yet didn’t do anything about. What a way to start his prophetic ministry. Samuel faithfully served God for years and lived through the tumultuous time of King Saul and King David. He had no idea what was in store, but the one promise he knew was that God would guide him as he did God’s difficult work. Samuel was honest with Eli and with the people even when the message wasn’t good. His honesty and truthfulness were honored by the LORD as revealed in verses 19-20: As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

The next call narrative is found in John’s Gospel and is the call of Philip and Nathanael. As Jesus was walking to Galilee he found Philip and asked him to “follow me.” Philip immediately had to go tell Nathaniel all about it. We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. (John 1:45) Philip’s excitement must have been somewhat dampened by Nathanael’s less than exciting reply. Really? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47) Both of the calls have a deeper connection. Samuel was trustworthy and truthful while Jesus said that Nathanael had no deceit in him. Central to the call of both Samuel and Nathanael is being truthful. Having that sort of integrity should be a part of any call to serve the Lord.

When God called the young college junior into ministry, he knew that he had been called to be a USAF Chaplain but had no idea where that call would take him. Have there been times when I have struggled with that call? Of course, there have been times where I have struggled. Now I find myself shepherding a flock through a global pandemic. Is it easy? Not at all. Is it easy for the congregations that I have served during the pandemic? Not at all. I have tried to be honest and loving with those whom I have walked alongside of through the years. Does it always happen? No. But I am not going out on my own in this call to serve. It’s not Michael’s message, it is the Lord’s message that I try to live out in my own life and ministry. Through it all by God’s grace I have been able to respond again and again, Here I am, Lord.

During these turbulent times, God is calling us to be a witness to the love, justice, and mercy of God. Christ-followers are being called to share the truth about love, justice, mercy, and peace to a broken and hurting world. With so much mis-information and deceit out there, we are called to share the truth of God’s call to be that witness in these uncertain and difficult times. We are being called, sisters and brothers. The time is now… how do you or will you respond to that call of the Lord? Will your response also be Here I am, Lord?

  1. Great message and wise words about sharing truth, love, justice, mercy and peace in our broken world.

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