A Prophet | 4th after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

15 The LORD your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to. 16 That’s exactly what you requested from the LORD your God at Horeb, on the day of the assembly, when you said, “I can’t listen to the LORD my God’s voice anymore or look at this great fire any longer. I don’t want to die!” 17 The LORD said to me: What they’ve said is right. 18 I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites–one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will holda ccountable anyone who doesn’t listen to my words, which that prophet will speak in my name. 20 However, any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods– that prophet must die. (CEB)

A Prophet

Our text today occurs in a section of Deuteronomy called the Torah of Moses where Moses authorizes a series of leadership roles: judges, king, priests, and prophets. These leadership roles are to guide Israel so that the people may maintain their peculiar identity and vocation as the people of God.

This is a continuation of Moses’ speaking to the people, telling them of God’s commandments, statutes, ordinances, and promises that the Lord himself had spoken to Moses on the mountain. In order to help the people remain faithful to the Lord, God promises to raise up for them a prophet like Moses who will speak the word and will of God to them.

This promise was to fulfill what the people of Israel had asked of God on the day of the assembly, when the people had gathered around the holy mountain to hear the voice of God speak to them the Ten Commandments. When they heard God’s voice, the people were afraid, and they believed that if they heard God’s voice again they would die. The voice of the Lord was too great, too powerful, for them to hear with their own ears. The sight of God’s glory in the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness was more than the people could endure. So, the elders of the people went to Moses and asked him to intercede on their behalf: they wanted him to go and hear the words of the Lord and then tell them what God had said them. If Moses would do this for them, the elders promised that the people would listen to Moses and do what he relayed to them as God’s word. (c.f. Deuteronomy 5:22-33).

It almost sounds like that trope in a movie where a group of people comes to a really scary part of the haunted woods, and they nudge the little guy and say, “You go first. If you die, we know it’s not safe.” And the little guy’s like, shrug “All right,” and marches right in.

God thought the people’s request was a good idea. God said to Moses, “What they’ve said is right. I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites– one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut. 18:17b-18 CEB).

God expected the people to listen to the words of the prophet and heed the prophet’s words as the words of God. Anyone who disobeyed the word of the prophet who spoke in the name of the Lord was guilty of disobeying the Lord, and God would hold that person accountable. And any prophet who spoke in the name of another god, or who put himself in the place of God by presuming to speak a word that the Lord had not commanded the prophet to speak, that prophet would pay the penalty of such arrogance with his life.

That’s why none of the prophets ever wanted the job when they were called to the role of prophet.

Throughout the history of Israel, God raised up prophets to speak God’s word and will to the people. Occasionally the prophets made predictions concerning the future but, by and large, prophets spoke out against the evils of immorality, idolatry, unfaithfulness, disobedience, unfair economics, injustice, exploitation of the poor, and bad politics. The prophets didn’t predict the future so much as offer if-then statements. If you keep doing this bad thing, then this is how things are going to go down. But if you turn away from that bad thing and do this good thing, then this is how things will go well for you. The prophets were less about predicting the future, and more about laying out the consequences of evil human activity for everyone to see and understand.

God was faithful in sending prophets to the people but, wouldn’t you know, the prophets were often met with resistance. It was dangerous to be a prophet in Israel. Prophets usually had very short lives because people didn’t often like what they had to say, especially those who were part of the establishment in those other three vocations: the judges, the kings, and the priests.

In a society like ours where we like true authority to rest with our own personal autonomy, it can seem odd to us that God called and authorized—and still calls and authorizes—certain persons for certain purposes. This holy authority runs against our modern cultural assumptions. People in our culture want to think that we are the authority. We like to believe that we’re in charge, that our way’s the right way.

The Israelites weren’t all that different. When a prophet spoke out against something they were doing, they often reacted like any one of us would: as though they were offended that some Bozo-the-prophet was trying to set them straight. Those in positions of power and authority had an especially difficult time accepting the words of prophets because prophets challenged their authority.

Sometimes people listened, but often enough they simply killed the prophet so that the word that the Lord wanted them to hear was extinguished. Yet, what they should have done was take some time to breathe, ponder on the prophet’s words, do a little self-examination, and honestly consider their own actions.

But no one likes it when someone points out our faults or tells us we’ve done something (or are doing something) contrary to the will of God. And, let’s be honest, every scandal that hits the clergy or leaders of any Christian church denomination erodes the authority of clergy and church leaders everywhere. Those scandals, and other matters, can cause us to wonder why God would give an assurance of holy authority to fallible human beings.

Yet, the holy authority of the prophets was one that counterbalanced the hereditary authority of the priests and kings, which could become inflexible, detached, and unresponsive to the actual needs of the people. It also served to counterbalance those times when the people, themselves, grew apathetic and got too comfortable with not caring for others. Because the office of the prophets wasn’t based on hereditary succession, it was an authority that could pop up in any person in any tribe at any time.

In the fullness of time, God did something different. Instead of sending another prophet to speak the word of God, God sent his Word, his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to speak to us directly. This time, God’s people would hear the word of God from God himself! God himself came into our world. Taking on flesh and becoming one of us, he lived with us as an example for every eye to see. He spoke the words of the Father in a unique way, because he himself is the Word of God incarnate. He taught with authority as no other prophet or scribe or Pharisee had done before because he himself was and is the authority. God raised up a prophet like Moses, and yet a greater prophet than Moses.

Jesus is the Light of the world, which enlightens every person. Those who are illumined by the light of Jesus walk according to the ways of God. They live in the light and are strengthened against the works of evil. They stay on the path of righteousness. They do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the God who calls us out of darkness.

Jesus and his disciples went to the city of Capernaum in Galilee and entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and taught. Mark tells us that the people were astounded at his teaching because he taught them as one having authority—like Moses himself. When a man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue, the demon recognized Jesus’ true identity as the Holy One of God. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and cast it out of the man. The people in the synagogue were already impressed with Jesus’ teaching, but this casting out the demon episode was like making a half-court shot when the game was already won. It was icing on the cake. The people said, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” (Mark 1:27 CEB).

Still, many people didn’t like what Jesus taught, and like so many prophets before him, he was killed for speaking the word of God to the people. But as I said before, with Jesus, God has done something different. On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead. Forty days later he ascended into heaven. And in the fullness of time our Lord will return to establish his kingdom forever.

God has raised up for us a prophet like Moses. Yet, Jesus of Nazareth is more than a prophet. He’s our advocate in the judgment, our high priest, our king, and he’s God’s Son. He has authority over all things: over unclean spirits, forgiveness of sins, setting certain people apart for certain tasks in life, and he has authority over us.

Jesus spoke out against the evils of immorality, idolatry, unfaithfulness, disobedience, unfair economics, injustice, and exploitation of the poor and marginalized. He called people to repent and turn instead to a righteous life of faithfulness, obedience, love, justice, and mercy. Before anyone realized he was the Messiah, people were amazed that he taught with authority.

While Moses liberated the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, Jesus liberated the whole world from the power of sin and death. Jesus redeemed us on the cross and offered salvation to everyone. The world has been a mess since the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The human race, even all of creation, needed a savior. God sent Jesus to make a way for us, to allow reconciliation with God to happen, because we needed it. We needed to hear that love casts out fear, that loving each other is how we love God and is the right way to live, that seeking justice for the oppressed and the poor is how we serve God, and that right living is more important than proper ritual.

In Jesus Christ, God has raised up for us a prophet like Moses to teach us how to live now and how to have life after we die. It’s up to us to heed the words of the prophet, to change our minds, hearts, and purpose, and to live in a way that points others to the kingdom of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher

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Followers | 3rd after Epiphany

Mark 1:14-20

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers. (CEB)

Followers

The words that mark an end to John the Baptist’s ministry and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus foreshadow what’s to come later in Mark’s Gospel. The words aren’t flowery, congratulatory, or even joyful. They give us pause. They’re ominous. “After John was arrested.” Jesus’ ministry began after John was arrested.

The next words should make us scrunch our eyebrows and leave us wondering if we heard them correctly. “Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news.” Jesus began his ministry in Galilee? It wasn’t really a center of anything. Aside from the Roman cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias, The Galilee was mostly small villages like Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. The area wasn’t a seat religious or a political power.

In fact, Jesus mostly ignored the places of power and authority in Judea. We have no record of him ever stepping foot in Sepphoris, though it was only a few miles north of Nazareth. Sepphoris was known as the ornament of the Galielee and served as Herod Antipas’s capital until he built the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee around A.D. 20. There’s no record of him setting foot in Tiberias either. Instead, Jesus preached his message of God’s good news throughout those small towns and villages. Sometimes, he preached the good news along the way as he travelled from place to place.

Jesus’ message wasn’t about religious or political power. Jesus came to preach God’s good news. The prophet Isaiah described it this way: “The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement” (Isaiah 61:1-3 CEB).

So Jesus preached to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners of empire, the mourners. If Jerusalem, where Jesus was rejected, was a portrait of religious authority and Roman political power, The Galilee region was a portrait of God’s kingdom. Jesus chose Capernaum as his home base. The only big thing it had going for it was that it sat at the crossing of a Roman road and smaller local roads. But a lot of towns did, too. There wasn’t anything particularly special about Capernaum or Galilee.

Then, we get to Jesus message, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15 CEB). Other translations render Jesus’ words as, “The time is fulfilled” (NRSV, RSV, KJV), which makes it sound like something has been accomplished, finished, completed, and done. But the story is just beginning. It’s not that history and circumstances were awaiting some kind of ripeness before Jesus could show up on the scene. It’s more the idea that the coming of Jesus brings the fullness of time with him. Time, itself, has come to a fullness of its meaning.

The entry of Jesus into the world brings a new era, a new age, a new time and reality. We’re living in a time-between-the-times, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will inaugurate a new time in which God’s kingdom reigns, and the values of that kingdom are lived.

What does Jesus mean by saying, “here comes God’s kingdom”? There’s some leeway on the meaning of the Greek word ἤγγικεν (engiken). It can mean has come near or has arrived. There’s obviously some difference between the two. When I turn onto Lincoln Avenue in Evansville, it might mean I’ve come near to my Grandmother’s house, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve arrived. So, which nuance of ἤγγικεν (engiken) is meant here?

Oddly enough, both are true. Jesus made God’s kingdom present from the moment the Word became flesh at the incarnation. The kingdom of God has come near. It is here, now, as a present reality. The whole world is invited to live in that kingdom as followers of Jesus.

At the same time, the fullness of that kingdom is a future reality. It’s near, it’s here, but it’s not all the way here yet. It’s now, and not yet. The fullness of God’s kingdom will come with the return of Christ. It’s a reality the disciples were told to pray about, and it’s something we pray about every time we say, “Your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. The kingdom has come in Jesus Christ, but we’re still awaiting the final fulfillment of that kingdom.

Then, we’re told to repent and believe in God’s good news. That word, repent, is another one of those church words that we hear a lot, but sometimes our minds just gloss over the meaning. The Greek word means to change your mind or to change your purpose. But it’s not just a head thing, it includes a nuance of the heart. When we change our mind or our purpose, we have to come to grips with the fact that we might have been wrong beforehand. We might even feel bad, a little or a lot remorseful, about how we acted before we changed our mind or purpose.

On Thursday, I talked on the phone with a friend of mine who had a change of mind and heart over the past year. He’s a great guy. Every time we hang out, we’re laughing, and I mean borderline hysterics. He’s quick with a joke, and his sense of humor is sometimes so deadpan that it takes the rest of us a second to catch on. Then, we’re just in stitches. He’s also a person who had given up on God, the church, and Christians. When we talked on the phone, he told me that he’d been doing drugs and he drank too much. But, he realized that, because of these things, he wasn’t being a good husband or father. His marriage is rocky. He realized he couldn’t keep doing this stuff. So, he changed his mind and his purpose. He’s trying to get better. He’s doing rehab. He’s trying to be the husband and father he knows he should be.

That’s repentance. When you realize something’s not right, you change your mind, you change your heart, and you work your butt off at living life in a new direction.

The fact that God’s kingdom has come has consequences in the lives of those who receive and believe in the good news Jesus proclaims. We’re called to change our hearts and lives, and to trust in God’s good news. If we want to understand what the values of God’s kingdom look like, we look to Jesus. He loved those whom the religious authorities and other people rejected. He told the supposedly righteous religious authorities that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. He loved and accepted everyone, and encouraged people to change their minds, their hearts, and live in a new direction.

If or when we mess up and turn back in a moment of weakness or despair, that invitation to repent—to change our mind, our purpose, our heart—is always there. Repenting and believing, believing and repenting: these are ongoing aspects of every Christian’s life. It’s exactly what played out in the lives of the disciples. In our text, we see four of them make immediate decisions to follow Jesus, but we also know that they lived the rest of their lives making mistakes and repenting of those mistakes. To believe and repent takes both faith and courage.

When Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, and offered them an invitation, “Come follow me, and I’ll teach you how to fish for people” (Mark 1:17 CEB). The difficulty with translating this verse from Greek into English is that one way gives us a task, while another way gives us an identity. If Jesus teaches us how to fish for people, that’s a task. Tasks are important. Tasks get things done. But the problem with tasks is that they have a beginning and an end. When we’re done with the task of fishing, we can move on to other tasks.

But a better translation takes into account the Greek verb that means to be or become. Jesus tells Simon and Andrew, “Come follow me, and I’ll prepare you to become fishers for people” (my translation). If Jesus prepares us to become fishers, that’s an identity. That promises a lifetime of fishing. One of my buddies in Churubusco, Indiana is a fisher. Fishers are always fishing. Every time my friend has the chance to be on the water fishing, he’s going to be on the water fishing.

Now, the difference between fishing and becoming fishers might not seem like a big deal until we realize that Jesus is talking about discipleship—following him. Is discipleship a task, as in something we do, or is it an identity, as in something we become, something we are? I think it’s a matter of our identity. Following Jesus prepares us to become fishers for people. It prepares us to love the way Jesus loved, to accept people as Jesus accepted people, to serve as Jesus served, to sacrifice for others as Jesus sacrificed for others.

Sometimes following Jesus requires us to move in new and unexpected directions. My bachelor of science degree is in Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management with an emphasis in Environmental Policy and Compliance. My call to ordained ministry changed the course of my life. Now, I’m a pastor. Another call, my call to write, got me learning how to become an author. Now, I can’t stop writing books. And pursuing that call has opened a whole new world for me. (The friend I talked with on the phone who’s trying to get off the drugs and alcohol, I never would have met him if I weren’t pursuing my call to write).

Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. We’re told that James and John left their father, Zebedee in the boat with the nets and the hired men, and followed Jesus who prepared them to become fishers for people. Then, the disciples prepared others to become fishers for people.

Jesus proclaimed God’s good news that the kingdom of God has come. We’re invited to follow Jesus, to take on new identities, to live our lives in new directions. Jesus calls us to change our minds, change our hearts, change our purpose, and believe that God loves us—that God loves all people—so much that God became a human being to announce the good news in person.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Rev. Christopher Millay

Samuel and Eli | 2nd after Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was serving the LORD under Eli. The LORD’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 2 One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the LORD’s temple, where God’s chest was.

4 The LORD called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.

5 Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.

6 Again the LORD called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”

7 (Now Samuel didn’t yet know the LORD, and the LORD’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

8 A third time the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

Then Eli realized that it was the LORD who was calling the boy. 9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.

10 Then the LORD came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

11 The LORD said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! 12 On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household– every last bit of it! 13 I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about– how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. 14 Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the LORD’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”

“I’m here,” Samuel said.

17 “What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.

“He is the LORD, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”

19 So Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail.
20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the LORD’s prophet. (CEB)

Samuel and Eli

Have you ever noticed how many call stories there are in the Bible? I think these call stories are records of some of the most powerful moments in human history. They’re really amazing stories because the infinite God of creation calls seemingly insignificant human beings to do God’s will. Many of these call stories are theophany events: moments where God reveals God’s self in some powerful and unusual way.

In Exodus 3, Moses was called in the great theophany of the burning bush. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah was given a vision of God seated on the throne in majesty and glory. In Luke 1, Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced the visitation of the Angel of the Lord. In Acts of the Apostles 9, Paul was blinded by a heavenly light and saw the risen Lord Jesus appear to him. These are all powerful call stories.

And yet I find this—perhaps less impressive—call story of the boy Samuel to be closer to my heart than any of the others. That’s because there are some similarities between it and my own call story, but also because there appears to be a similarity between it and the state of the world today. In the very first verse of 1 Samuel 3, something is mentioned that I think many Christians find relatable. We’re told, The LORD’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” (1 Samuel 3:1b CEB).

And as if to put an exclamation point on this scarcity of the Lord’s word and lack of visions, we’re given this example of the boy Samuel who hears a voice calling his name. But, instead of recognizing the voice for whose it was, Samuel thinks it is Eli. He runs to him saying, “I’m here. You called me?”

This happens twice before we’re told as a side note, “Now Samuel didn’t yet know the LORD, and the LORD’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7 CEB). And poor old Eli didn’t get what was going on either. All he knew was that this kid kept waking him up.

It isn’t until the third time that the Lord calls Samuel, and Samuel mistakenly goes to Eli yet again, that Eli perceives that the Lord is calling Samuel, so he tells Samuel what to say, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” So, on the fourth try, the Lord finally gets Samuel to listen to the word of the Lord. As we find out by the end of the chapter (verse 21, which the lectionary left out), “The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh because the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the LORD’s own word” (1 Sam. 3:21 CEB). So the drought and scarcity of the word of the Lord ended to some degree, because Samuel became a reliable source for the hearing of God’s word.

As I said, many Christians would probably agree that the word of the Lord is rare in these days; visions are not widely known. But I don’t know that I would agree with that take. If we look closely at what was going on in Samuel’s day, we discover that things were not as they should have been with Israel’s religious life. Eli’s sons were cursing God and doing all kinds of wrong things while they were serving as priests. Eli knew about it, and yet did nothing to stop the evil they were doing.

You see, I think the word of the Lord was probably as active as ever, but people simply weren’t able to hear because they weren’t listening. How can we hear the word of the Lord if we aren’t even listening? How can we hear when the din of the world around us so easily drowns out the voice of God? If you remember from the story of Elijah, God didn’t speak in the fire, the earthquake, or the wind. God spoke in the sound of sheer silence (c.f. 1 Kings 19:12).

When it comes to hearing the word of the Lord, I bet we all have a bit of a learning curve just like Samuel had. When Samuel heard this voice for the first time, he didn’t recognize it for what it was. But we’re told that, “So Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail” (1 Sam. 3:19 CEB). Samuel didn’t follow after the ways of Eli’s corrupt sons, he listened ever more closely for the voice of the Lord so that he could hear when the Lord spoke.

I know I’ve mentioned my call to ministry before, but call is important in the life of the church, so I’m going to tell it again. My call began when I was serving as an acolyte at Central United Methodist Church in Evansville. There were moments when I sat in the front pew in my acolyte robe as my pastor preached and I heard God speak to me. I heard God say that I would do what my pastor was doing. But at the time, I didn’t understand what this voice was. All I knew was that such thoughts scared the heck out of me because I’m an introvert and there was no way on God’s green earth I was ever going to stand up in front of people and talk. I was just a boy, and I didn’t recognize the word of the Lord even as that voice spoke to me.

That voice came and went over the years until I was in college. It was almost mid-February in 1996 when the voice of the Lord came again with a vigor and an intensity I’d never before experienced. It was absolutely inescapable—almost to the point of being annoying. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on. I recognized it as the same voice, the same feeling, the same sense of call to ministry that I’d experienced as a boy sitting in the front pew at church, and I just hoped it would go away as it had each time before.

But I also tried to understand what it was telling me. I finally recognized it as the voice of God calling me to ministry on St. Valentine’s Day while I was trying to study chemistry. I knew that God was calling me to ministry. And, for a few seconds, I know that I registered my protest, I tried to push back. I thought, there’s no way you could want me to do this, I can’t talk in front of other people!

But then God argued back with the overwhelming weight and intensity of that voice, and I can’t even quote what God said in that moment but it was an audible declaration—I heard it—and all I could do was push my chemistry book back, throw my pencil aside and—with, I admit, some degree of frustration because of the fact that I couldn’t seem to change God’s mind about it—say out loud, “All right, God, I’ll do it!” And once those words were nearly shouted from my lips, I felt a profound sense of peace.

Sometimes I wonder if the voice of the Lord is rare in these days, or if we just need to learn how to listen. That was my call to ordained ministry, and it was a profound event. But not all calls to ministry are calls to ordination or preaching. Long before I was called to ordained ministry I was called to the ministry of all Christians, which is also called the Priesthood of all believers, through my baptism. When I think about it, that might have been an even more profound moment in my life, though I don’t remember it at all.

You see, it was at my baptism that the Lord took me and, when I was nothing more than an infant, filled me with the grace of God, mysteriously incorporated me into the body of Christ, united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, marked me as God’s own with the seal of the Holy Spirit, placed me in a covenant relationship with God, and forgave me of my sin.

We United Methodists believe firmly, along with the ancient position of the church, that baptism is something that God does, not something that we do by choosing to be baptized, and not something the pastor does to us by applying the water to us. Baptism is an act of God through the church and it’s a means of grace where the one being baptized receives the grace of God.

That’s why I think my baptism was a more profound moment in my life than my call to ordination. Without my parents placing me in the care of the church through my baptism as an infant—much as Hannah placed her son, Samuel, in the care of the house of the Lord at Shiloh right after he was weaned—how would these later calls have taken place? How would my call to ordination have come without the faith of my parents first offering me to Christ in the mystery of holy baptism? How would Samuel’s call as a prophet have come without his mother’s offering her son as a nazirite to God?

Baptism is both a call to ministry and a call to a new and different kind of life in Christ. Every baptized person has been called by God to the ministry of all Christians. Our Book of Discipline says, “Very early in its history, the church came to understand that all of its members were commissioned in baptism to ministries of love, justice, and service…all who follow Jesus have a share in the ministry of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.” That’s a call! We who follow Jesus Christ are called by God to move beyond ourselves and carry the Great Commission into the larger world around us.

We’re called by God, but sometimes we still find the word of the Lord difficult to hear. If we don’t feel particularly called by God to anything, then maybe we need to listen better. We live in a multitasking world of short attention-spans. When we have conversations with people, we’re usually doing something else, too. Talking on the phone while flipping through TV channels, talking to a coworker while checking our e-mail, talking to our kids while working on a project.

We live in a time and place where we’re losing the art of listening. When was the last time we focused solely on the person we were talking to without pulling a smart phone from our purse or pocket? (I’ve seen elderly people eat together at restaurants while each were on their smart phones, so it’s not just a young-people thing). When was the last time we focused solely on what God is trying to say to us?

This story of Samuel’s call can serve as our invitation to hear again and to recognize again the call of God upon our lives. We are called by God to ministries of love and service. The word of the Lord might not be so rare in these days as we think. We simply need to be better listeners to what the Lord is saying.

Where is God calling you?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Pastopher