1 Samuel 3:1-10
Back when Emily and I were first married, I rode the Metra Northwest Line between Crystal Lake and Dee Road in Park Ridge to get to my office on Busse Highway. Most mornings, you couldn’t count on the alarm to rouse me from my sleep. Instead, it took a good shake from Em.
“Wake up!” she’d say “We have to go.”
Now, the we part of that was because, being budget-conscious newlyweds, Emily would typically drop me off at the train in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon to save on parking fees. I can’t say I complained about the curbside service, either. It was the highlight of a long commute made largely by local trains, the kind that make every stop.
I know many of you make similar commutes and can empathize. So you probably also met my arch nemesis from those days: Boredom.
Some of our battles were epic. I could generally win the those on the way in, but the outbound trip … the trip home was something else all together. I would talk on the cell phone and play “bricks” until my battery died; I’d read proofs from the journals I edited; I’d people watch; I’d try and come up with the sum spent on all the cars in the Barrington station’s parking lot. I’d count the wads of gum stuck under the seat.
But Boredom has an accomplice in the train … and that train was relentless! With the droning noises of the track, and rocking, and the locomotive powered fans persisting like an incoming tide, and the rolling of the vestibule doors, and the rocking, and the chimed-prelude to the constant loop of the man saying “Caution. The doors are about to close,” and the rocking, and the smell of overheated brake pads. And the rocking …
Now, Crystal Lake is not the last stop on the Northwest Line. It goes on to Woodstock and Harvard. The first time I lost, I ended up in the latter.
Sure, Boredom happily put on its coat, stepped out onto the platform at Crystal Lake, and greeted its spouse with a kiss after getting into their car. But I slept my way past mine; past the home of Chester Gould; past the struck sets of Groundhog Day, and past a fiberglass cow bolted to pedestal covered in green astroturf.
I slept through the conductor’s sing-song edict “Back of the train for Harvard. Harvard move to the rear. Last two cars for Harvard.” In my dreams, I paid little attention to him … they weren’t words for me … they were words born from some sort of Ivy League segregation. “I didn’t go to Harvard. I went to a state school” I’d mumble to myself in the dream.
Mind you, my slumber did not please the conductor. His little bird voice became something other-worldly.
“Wake Up!” he shouted. “This is the last stop.”
Startled, I rubbed my eyes, looked out the window at the foreign landscape, mumbled something about manure, and began walking to the back of the train confused and embarrassed. After catching up with the conductor, I asked him jokingly, “Any way I can arrange for a wake-up call next time?”
“You just got one,” he replied.
Samuel got a wake-up call in our scripture reading today … it was a wake-up call intended not just for him, but really for anyone who was listening.
Not more than six years old, Samuel was an outsider in Eli’s house; a miracle child of a couple that could not conceive … a child who, after having been born and weaned from his mother Hannah, was ironically given to the priesthood as an offering of thanks to God for his having been born.
Samuel was given to Eli’s care, for he had been the one who helped his mother through her barren days. It was there that Samuel would train to be a priest, along with Eli’s two sons.
As the story goes, Eli’s sons were really terrible brats who just assumed the family business would just be handed over to them, yet nothing from their life gave people any indication that they knew, believed or feared God.
God didn’t say much in those days to the powers that were … or at least nobody had been listening. If Eli had, he may have known he needed to do something about his kids. If his kids did, they may have gotten inspired to get back on the right path.
Which is why God starts talking to Samuel … the unlikely outsider. At first he doesn’t know what to make of it. Obviously, Eli and his boys hadn’t told him to expect it. The author of the text tells us that Samuel was so young and new that he didn’t even know who God was yet. So when the voice starts calling “Samuel,” he confuses God’s presence in the room for Eli’s. It happens twice before Eli figures out that it is actually God speaking.
It must have been hard for the young Samuel to finally, say “Yes God, I’m here and ready to do what you ask.” This is one of those instances that makes me wonder about God’s vetting process. And it makes me wonder about the weight that God puts on so many when they may not yet have the strength to carry it. But here it is. God … the creator of all … stands before this child and tells him what is going to happen and the role he is to play in it all.
Better him than us, though. Or at least so we think. We aren’t all called by God to hear and act in such ways, are we? The mission of this church to seek God, love all people and change the world is really just idealistic rhetoric isn’t it? We don’t actually have a role in any of that, do we?
Wake up, friends. We forget that all people are called by grace through baptism into the ministry of Christ. We forget that we are to all be light. Even though we may not have been offered into the priesthood at birth like Samuel, we are all to be the priesthood of believers, as Luther said. All the baptized are called in some way to fulfill the role of a priest … those who, like Samuel, listen for the word of God speaking … and all are to do it in their daily living.
“Not me” you say?
Don’t be so sure. Because I believe wake up calls to deeper participation in God’s redemptive work often come in questions … questions like:
When will peace come?
Why are there so many poor?
Why are people so mean?
What would it be like to work for a company that cared?
Why are there so many addicted?
Why does she make so much less than me for doing the same work?
Why aren’t all people treated with respect?
Why are so many youth stressed and depressed?
Why is this product so inexpensive?
What kind of world will my child inherit?
Now, if you’ve never asked any questions like these, continue to sleep and enjoy your rest. I give you permission to take a nap. Say “hi” to Harvard for me when you arrive.
But if you ever asked a question like that … even if only to dismiss it as impossible, or to say “I can’t do anything about it,” Wake up!
Questions are the dreams that lead to an awakening of call. Questions are the dreams that lead to the emergence of a new grace. They are the Word of God being uttered by the Spirit in your own voice … the relentless prodding of God’s will.
If you have ever asked questions like these, wake up, because God is calling you to something greater. And that calling comes in the twist … the move from a question, to an answer sought (or question re-framed); from an epiphany to a reality; from imagined to lived.
The calling becomes real when you let the Spirit of God transform darkness into light. Instead of asking the looming and dooming questions, calling empowers you to do something, small or large to bring about change. Calling is a resistance to the assumed-always. It is a defiant-fist raised. It is the humbling reality of knowing your life is a gift to be shared. Wake up!
Instead of saying: “When will peace come?” The called individual asks “How can I share peace?”
Instead of wondering: “Why are there so many poor?” The called individual asks “What am I doing with my wealth?”
For the called it is not, “Why are people so mean?” but rather, “How can I be more loving?”
The called say:
Because God is, I am light;
Because God is, I am change;
Because God is, I am hope.
Because God does, I stand with the oppressed;
Because God does, I value creation and will defend it. Wake up.
This is the way the waters of baptism change our vision when we wash the sleep from our eyes with it. This is the light of truth that awakens us. All of us.
There is a risk, though.
On one of my last trips to Lithuania, I had a terrible case of jet lag. Recently, when I was watching video I shot for the documentary film I have been producing on their nation, I was startled by the questions I asked and the answers I got from people during interviews. I don’t really remember much from the first few days.
But I do remember the nights. I remember the silence standing in an alley in Vilnius at 2 a.m. because I could pirate a wifi signal and make a Skype call home. I remember the empty hallways of the hotel in Kaunas … the late-night bus ride to Taurage.
While I was awake, the world that surrounded me slept. Third-shift workers will tell you the same thing … that being wide awake from 1 a.m. until sunrise gives you a unique view of the world that surrounds you … and how isolating it can be to live as a person awake while the world that surrounds you sleeps.
So there is a risk in waking up to what God is asking of you … in waking up to the life God is calling you to lead. You may just awaken to find there are a lot of people around you who are still asleep. For Samuel, it was his caregiver and adoptive family who were still asleep to the truth of God. For us it could be the same.
This is why it is important for us to be together … this is why it is important for us to be in community. This is why the Christian faith isn’t just a Sunday-only proposition. Because in a world that praises the autonomy of the rugged individual, it is important for the sleepwalkers to see us living differently … living in the dependent, loving and trusting way we were created to live: awake and together.
While the challenge of God’s grace always involves a living calling, the good news of that same grace is that we have a place and people with whom we can live.
As we celebrate and challenge each other to hear how and to what God is calling us in this new year, may we learn to trust the light of Christ that exists in our gathering together … in worship and fellowship; in small groups or large programs.
May we not only hear and live the calling, but also support each other in those callings. Through the grace given at our baptism and re-energized through faith, may we grow … together … into the true life of light that God has called us.
So, consider this a wake up call. Hear God’s voice today rousing you from your slumber. Be it a nap or a deep sleep, feel the light of God on your eyelids announcing the new day has come … the day of justice and redemption … the day of salvation. We who dreamt in darkness have seen a glimpse of the great light who has come and is rising again.
The train is moving and the last stop will come. So wake up. Wake up and live the life that you were created to reflect. Wake up and make the dreams that never leave you a witness to God’s relentless love. Wake up and stand as light. Wake up and be all that is good and right and true. Wake up.