Here I am. Where will you send me?

January 14, 2018

Rev. Dr. Alan Baughcum

Day’s Ferry Congregational Church, Woolwich, ME

1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51

After this sermon we are going to sing an old hymn, probably 70 or 80 years old now. It’s title is Lord Send Me ….. actually I remember it from the refrain ….. Here Am I, Lord Send Me. I like it because it is easy to sing and I was actually able to remember it from so long ago.

It may well be the least known of all the dozens, maybe hundreds, of hymns with Here I Am or Here Am I or Lord Send Me in the title. I could not even find a recorded version of it on YouTube. That makes it really rare!

Most of those songs are ways of joining with the great prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, verse 8 (NRSV) when he responded to God’s call to become God’s prophet, to speak for God: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

We heard the story of God’s call to Samuel. A young boy, Samuel was confused. He needed help to figure out what was going on.

Folks like me who feel like God may be calling us to ordained ministry also need help. The UCC has set up a pretty elaborate procedure to help candidates for ordained ministry “discern” whether God is calling and exactly what God is calling us to. The process requires lots of time, lots of prayer, and the involvement of other, experienced Christians who can advise on whether they also see God calling the candidate.

We make a mistake however if we associate God’s call only with a call to ordained ministry. Right about now in the Second Congregational Church in Newcastle, the congregation is commissioning a man to ministry as a missionary in Zambia.

Maybe we have made too much of the whole notion of a “call.” At bottom a call is simply a summons from God to engage in particular behaviors. Not all calls involve becoming an ordained minister. The ancient prophets of the Old Testament were not ordained ministers. The prophet Amos, for example, was called for the sole purpose of going to those in charge of the nation of Israel, the northern Kingdom, and warn them that God was going to punish their idolatry and disobedience to God.

In my own life I have increasingly come to the sense that God is always calling. We just are not listening!

Henry David Thoreau wrote about listening. He wanted to listen to nature and find out what the divine was trying to communicate through material Nature.

The first thing he figured out was that in order to listen, we have to go out into Nature. Thoreau liked to go out on the Concord, Assabet, and Sudbury Rivers and spend the night in a boat on the water, just floating.

The next thing we need to do is to shut up! Stop talking …. it is hard to hear God over the sound of our own voice. It is hard to hear God over the sound of our own headful of thoughts, chasing each other endlessly. We need to quiet ourselves, internally as well as externally, in order to hear God’s voice, which may very well come as the silence after a storm.

When we do hear God, what is it we are likely to hear? I believe it will be some version of Jesus’ commandments to love God and to love our neighbor.

Many years ago I was running an errand in Atlanta. Can’t remember now what the errand was. But in the course of my running around, I discovered that I had forgotten my wallet and had no money. And of course it turned out that I needed a dollar …. just a dollar ….. maybe I needed to put some money in a parking meter ….. maybe I needed to make a phone call at a pay phone …… anybody remember pay phones? What I remember now simply is that I really needed that dollar.

I went into a store …. an eyeglass store I think. One of the salesmen behind the counter heard me explain my situation. He reached into his pocket and handed me a dollar. The man did not know me at all …. I was a complete stranger to him and no doubt sounded a little frantic, maybe a lot frantic! But without question he gave me what I needed.

I do not think that the man had a specific call to give me a dollar. I think he was responding to a much more general calling to care for his neighbor. Still, to me, it is a perfect example of God presenting someone with a need to which the person responds with generosity and care.

This story has none of the drama or power of the Bible stories of God’s calling of Moses, Abraham, Samuel, or Isaiah. And yet it is a story that has stuck with me for decades. It has been an example to me when I am presented with opportunities to respond to the needs of others.

Despite the fact that the world’s population is now over seven and one-half billion people, I do not think that God mass produces human beings. I think each of us is custom-made. And not all of us are going to have the call experience of the ancient prophets or that of the disciples when called by Jesus or of Paul when he was knocked down and blinded on the road to Damascus.

When we come before our Savior for judgment, I do not think that Jesus will say to us, “Why weren’t you more like Moses, or Abraham, or Paul?” I think that what Jesus is more likely to say to me, “Why weren’t you more like Alan?”

God does not expect us to be a Moses or Paul, or even Jesus. What God wants is for us to be the person God created us to be. God wants us to be the human being …. fully human, fully alive, fully obedient, and fully joyful …. that God intended when God made us.

Let me tell you a call that came to a friend of mine. He had a major heart attack that required quadruple bypass surgery. He was very afraid during that time but came through it well. A couple of days after the surgery he experienced a vision or a dream in which he was very conscious of having been given a gift, a gift of second life. And then, says my friend, words appeared to him, almost as if on a television screen, “DON’T SQUANDER IT!”

Good advice! How do we follow the advice?

First, like Thoreau, we need to get out into life. We need to find ways to move around and participate as best we can in life. Probably cannot do it just sitting on the couch watching football games on television. Yikes, I hate to hear myself saying that!

The world is full of needs. We cannot be aware of those needs without being out among our neighbors. I am thinking of all the opportunities people in this congregation have taken to volunteer and serve our neighbors, whether that is as a volunteer at the hospital, at the Food Bank, at the Habitat store, and so many others. I am grateful to the service provided by our volunteers and am encouraged in my own ministry by the example I see of our people responding to God’s call in their volunteer activities.

In whatever we do, let us remember to be open and receptive to what is going on around us. That man in the eyeglass store could have ignored me and my need for a dollar. I had nothing to do with his job …. I was an intrusion …. not a customer …. no money to be made off of me. And yet he was open to the interruption. He was receptive to my need.

What we do in this regard should not just be a matter of individual behavior. We need to make sure that our institutions ….. all our institutions: government, business, the church, all of our institutions …. are involved in the life of our community and open and receptive to the needs that come our way. That is going to require some systemic changes in the way we operate corporately but surely God’s call cannot be ignored when we gather into human organizations rather than act individually.

Does all of this seem daunting? Plunging into the life of our community, listening, being receptive and responsive to the needs that come before us …..

Well, maybe it is a little daunting. Perhaps, however, it will help to think of that salesman in the eyeglass store. Just a dollar …. and yet here we are, 50 years later and more than 1200 miles distant …. still talking about that gift and what it means.

Let us pray: Dear God, in matters large and small, help us to avoid judgements that separate us from one another. Rather, help us engage in our common life together in ways that will allow us to hear your call for our lives and respond to the needs of our neighbors. Bless us now as we sing our hymn of commitment and help us to take that commitment with us as we leave this sacred place. Amen.