January 15, 2012
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
Here I Am
Rev. Leanne S. Walt preaching
“Where are you?” is one of the very first communications from God to humans. In the book of Genesis, as they are wandering around in the Garden of Eden after their encounter with the serpent and eating from the tree, God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” Strange, you might think, considering the question is coming from the all-knowing, all-powerful God who created Adam and Eve not long before and placed them in the garden.
Strange, perhaps, but I’m willing to bet that if there is one question that each one of us has ever heard God asking us personally, it is “Where are you?” Or, “Who are you?” But if you truly know where you are, if you know what spiritual, emotional, and geographic place you occupy, then you know who you are. In many ways, the journey of our faith is a daily answering of this very question, “Where are you?” The scary part is that once we have told God where we are, we will have given ourselves up – we will have been found - we will have been discovered, and we will have to answer God’s call and allow God to use us in this world.
* * * *
As he explained it to me, Joe was the one always doing the asking. From the time he was a small child, he never took anything at face value and he had a lot of questions. He was a “Why?” kid – every adults’ nightmare – the kind of kid who never let a simple answer go at that. We have all known these delightful children:
“Why do we need air to breathe?”
“Because we need oxygen.”
“Well, little Joey, because we need energy.”
“Because we need to think and talk and move.”
“Because that’s how God made us.”
“Because God wanted us to be able to think and talk and move.”
“Because God wanted us to interact with other people and the world.”
“Because that’s what God wants.”
“Because I said so.”
He was no different when it came to his faith. He had a lot of questions. He had a lot of questions for the Church and for God. Though he was raised Lutheran, he kept his distance from the Church in his adult life, remaining skeptical of its purpose, value, and most of all, of its truth. Joe believed that there was a God and he held deep faith in a higher power. But, he struggled with the idea that this guy came along 2,000 years ago, walked the earth, and claimed to be God. More than that, he had a huge problem with Christianity claiming that this guy, this Jesus character, is the only way to God.
But then, something monumentally life changing, earthshaking, utterly astonishing happened to Joe…he had children. He and his wife had children and something happened inside of him which inclined him to feel that it was important to expose his son and his daughter to a community of faith in God.
So Joe and his family began attending the congregational church in town and he continued to surprise himself on this new spiritual adventure because for some reason he found that as time went on, he was becoming more and more involved in this community. Joe had volunteered to be a youth group leader, thinking that this would be a good way for him to participate in the life of the church and for him to be around teenagers, the dreaded age that his kids would someday soon reach.
On this particular Sunday, youth group was coming to a close and Joe had volunteered to stay with the kids until their rides came so that they other adults could head home. Eventually, all of the teenagers had gone home with their parents but there was just one girl, Kathleen, still waiting for her ride. Being so new to the church, Joe didn’t know much about Kathleen. She was quiet and seemed somewhat mysterious. She looked like she was about 14 or 15 years old. He asked her some questions to make small talk while they waited and after a while, she said to Joe. “You know, no one’s coming for me.”
He asked, “Is there someone we can call?”
“No,” she said.
Joe offered to drive her home and on the car ride home, the young girl explained that she lived with her aunt and uncle. Even though he was curious about her situation, Joe tried not to ask too many questions. But in the comfort of their silence, she began to share a bit of her story. She told Joe that her mom had a drug problem and was living on the streets, so her mom’s sister had taken her in. Kathleen said that she was scared of her uncle and that she wasn’t allowed to leave the house except to go to school and to church. Joe began to wonder how much of what this girl was telling him was actually true.
Then she asked him a question, “Do you ever think about what it would be like to be dead?”
And there it was, the question striking like a lightening bolt to his chest, as if descending from God himself, asking, “Joe, where are you?”
After dropping this young woman off, Joe called the minister of the church and explained what had happened on the car ride. Joe asked if any of this could be true. Was this girl’s situation really as bad as she made it out to be? The minister confirmed that her life at home was not good.
Twelve years later, I was hearing this story in a cafe over coffee and bagels. After a sermon I had preached on call at my home church, Joe felt compelled to share with me the story of how he and his wife were called - not only called to the church - but called to Jesus. As Joe describes it, the day he met Kathleen was the day that he became a Christian. That was the day that he welcomed Jesus into his heart; like an old friend who had been there all along, waiting patiently on the doorstep for that door to ease open. How many times God had knocked on the door and called out to this man, “Where are you, Joe? I need you,” he can’t be certain. But on this particular occasion, Joe decided to respond, “Here I am.”
Joe’s response to God resulted in he and his wife asked this young woman to live with them and their two children; they invited her into their home and after a four year long court battle with her aunt and uncle, Joe and his wife were granted full custody of Kathleen. Because of their hospitality and open hearts, this young woman attended college and is now living on her own.
* * * *
Like Joe, God did not call the young Samuel just once. God did not call Samuel two times. God did not call Samuel three times, but it was the fourth time that God calls out in the middle of the night while this twelve-year-old boy was asleep on the cold temple floor, “Samuel! Samuel!” when Samuel finally answers, “Here I am!” and just as his trusted elder mentor Eli had instructed him, Samuel tells God, “Speak for your servant is listening.”
Time stands still as Samuel eagerly awaits the specifics of God’s call for him – a great and prominent moment in the life of our Scripture – but the task Samuel receives causes him to question whether or not he should have given himself away to God in the first place. God, it turns out, wants Samuel to speak out against the house of Eli, his beloved teacher and friend, and name the fact that Eli’s sons have been using their status as priests to satisfy their own desires, eating the meat of animal sacrifices and sleeping with women who come into the temple to worship.
And yet, this is how we can say we know it’s God’s call because it’s not one full of lollipops and candy, sweet rewards or immediate bliss. This is how we can discern God’s call from our own willful desires. From God’s call to the reluctant Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Jonah’s call to proclaim judgment to the people of Ninevah to Jesus’ call for us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the prisoner, to love our neighbor, to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us – God’s calls are never small tasks, easily achieved and crossed off a neat list. For when God calls us, it is for the purpose of bringing about the good news on earth and this will always be a tall order. This will always be a challenge.
Always, but especially on this holiday weekend, we would be remiss to note Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in any conversation about Christian call and vocation. One, who indeed stands in our great line of prophets, offered a bold “Here I am!” in response to God’s call, “Where are you, Martin?”
“Here I am! Here I am! Here I am!”
And God said to this young black man from Atlanta, “Martin, go, go cast my dream, no matter what the cost.”
You might say that for most of us, we claim no special place in history; that we assume no place in the line of great saints or prophets. We do our jobs, raise our families, care for our homes, go to school, come to church. We get through the day or the week or the month or the year as best we are able and we try to be good people along the way. And yet, who will speak the truth to power, if not each one of us sitting here? Who dares to stand and give voice to God’s proclamation of good news on this earth, if not each one of us sitting here? Who will lift up the last and least among us, if not each one of us sitting here? Who will greet the stranger if not each one of us here? Who will lead the lost if not each one of us here? Who will cast a dream for the oppressed if not each one of us here?
When we stop our questioning, when we relinquish our excuses, that dreaded, wondrous, petrifying and glorious question will come to us, “Where are you?” And when it does, whether in the depth of the night or in the blinding light of the sun or on an impromptu car ride with a stranger, we will wake up to accept the truth of God’s call. We will wake up to the challenge of our faith, the reality of our task to bring about the good news on this earth. We will give ourselves away to God, shouting “Here I am! Here I am! Here I am!”
In response, we will hear that sweet assurance that we have been searching for all along from the God who walked alongside Adam and Eve in the garden telling us, “Beloved, here I am. Here I am. Here I am."
 Duprè, Judith, Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life (New York, NY: Random House, 2010) 297