Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Called by Christ

Posted by John Montgomery on January 27, 2009


Called by Christ

I Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

How very quickly the Bible moves from Christmas, the birth of Jesus, to his manhood and the beginning of his short ministry. Last Sunday the Rev. Stansbery preached on the baptism of Jesus, reminding us of our own baptisms, each baptism, even that of ours, being an anointing and an appointing. The Sunday prior to that was Epiphany, a Greek word meaning the showing forth, the manifestation of Jesus to the wider world as represented by the magi, the Wise Men. Perhaps in some churches they sang AWe three kings of Orient are,@ bringing back memories of Christmas pageants.

But today our Bible lessons, the one from the Old Testament and the other from the New,

tell us of God’s calling to individuals. The earlier account is about the response of a little boy, the latter of Christ’s call to disciples. One might wonder why both selections are read, for surely we think that the gospel narrative is more important. And yet I think that the reason the two are linked together may be simply to affirm that the God who spoke to young Samuel continued to speak through Jesus Christ and even today speaks to you and me.

Of course, when I touch on these three subjects, I feel a little like juggler with several balls up in the air, knowing that he=s going to drop one of them. But my main theme will be that God calls each of us to different5 tasks, calls us to a transformed life, calls us to transforming life around us, hopefully to final judgment of our lives as stated in scripture:

Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.

– I –

So I think, first of all, it is helpful to touch on the Old Testament story about the child Samuel. It comes to us from the early days of Bible narratives, probably a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, even before there were kings in Israel. The Hebrew people were not really a nation but were a loose confederation of tribes held together by some common history and a religious faith dating back to times of Egyptian bondage and the Exodus with Moses. Prophet-Priests also serving judges were both religious and civic leaders. One such priest, Eli, was raising the child Samuel in a sort of religious apprenticeship as a fulfillment of his mother’s vow to God.

Now in those days there was no temple. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in a large tent called the Tabernacle. In spite of their religious heritage the people had become unfaithful, even including the sons of the priest Eli. The child Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle; perhaps he was a sort of guard for the holy objects or tending to the lamp guarding them.

Oh, what strange things happen to us of a night time, not necessarily evil events like the old saying of Aghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night.  But have you ever heard voices in the night? No, it=s been a long time since any of us heard the voice of the kids – “Mommy . . . Daddy” – when we were sleeping so soundly. But maybe the voice is a thought that just won’t go away. Maybe it is a worry that won=t go away. Perhaps it is the voice of conscience calling us to regret some unkind word or act.

Or maybe it is the voice of God. Samuel wakens again and again, thinking that Eli was calling him. The old priest finally discerned that God was seeking to speak to the boy and instructed him to acknowledge the voice of God. Samuel did this, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” And then came the message of doom which Samuel relayed to Eli, a message not only about the nation but even about the evil family of the priest.

One can only wonder: are children more open to religious influence than we imagine? Do we wrong them to discourage them in religious profession? We remember how Jesus used the example of a little child. Are not the gifts of our children and grandchildren like the very summons, a call from God to encourage and sustain them in wholesome and holy living, to gently guide them in the ways of faith? Surely we do not want those whom we love to miss the blessings of God, to fail to hear God=s voice or ignore his calling.

-II-

Our second Bible lesson fast forwards ten centuries. John=s gospel gives us a slightly different account of Jesus beginning to form his disciple band. Peter and Andrew had been recruited. We remember that in an earlier gospel Jesus had taken them from their fishing industry by saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus was at their home town of Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee. There he found a man named Philip and enlisted him with the simple invitation, : “Follow me.”

Was there not, is there not, something compelling about the message and personality of Jesus Christ? Who else can give such a command and we obey? There was and is something in him that speaks to the deepest needs of the human heart. I remember a poem from other years:

If Jesus Christ is a man, and only a man I say,

To him will I cleave, to him will I cleave away.

If Jesus Christ is a god, and the only God, I swear

I will follow him through heaven and hell, the

earth, the sea and the air.

Indeed, when one has such a feeling, it is good news which must be shared with others.

Philip hunts up his friend Nathanael. His joy bubbles out AWe have found the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Jesus the son of Joseph.@ In studying this all week, it suddenly occurred to me: was Jesus so little known that he must be identified, not in his own right but as  “Joseph’s boy?” And now archaeologists and historians tell us that Nazareth, where Jesus lived for thirty years, was a tiny undistinguished village. No wonder Nathanael would skeptically say,

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Most of us have a certain doubting streak in out nature. When I was a youth, some of us looked down on many Southeast Missouri communities. After all, I had lived in bigger towns. I had gone to high school in St. Louis. I was proud that my father was one of the best known Methodist ministers in the state. But, when I grew older And was a minister myself, I really got to know many of the folk from those towns. Still later in my ministry when I served twelve years as district superintendent of two districts, both of which had number of small town and open country churches, it was a lesson in humility. I found devoted Christians, wonderful folk, whom my father used ro call “God’s good people.” Well, move over, Nathanael, you’ve got company.

But what a glad surprise awaits you when skepticism dissolves into blessed friendship.

Philip was not discouraged. He didn’t allow Nathanal”s skepticism to turn him away, He said very simply,  ‘Come, and see.” And when Nathanael did turn to Jesus, the real key was not what he saw but rather what Jesus saw in the future disciple. . When Jesus said to him, “Look, An Israelite without guile,” he didn’t mean Hey, here’s a guy who”s trying to take you.”  No, he looked instead into the depths of Nathanael’s soul and discerned one sincerely seeking to be more and do more with his life.

In the summer of 1980. I was privileged to be a part of the American Summer Institute at St. Andrew”s University in Scotland. Dr. William Barclay, the noted Bible teacher and preacher, was scheduled to be on the faculty. Alas, he was ill: and I missed the opportunity of a lifetime to meet him. But I was interested in what he wrote about Nathanael’s reaction to Jesus in his Daily Bible Study commentary.

“Here is a man who understands my dreams! Here is a man who knows my prayers!

Here is a man who can translate the inarticulate sigh of my soul! . . . This must be

be the Son of God, God’s promised, anointed one and no other.”

Dr. Barclay goes on to imagine that Jesus may have smiled at the enthusiasm of Nathanael. But, Nathanael, there is more than my just understanding the longings of your heart. What you can see and do will be as wonderful as Jacob’s ladder reaching to heaven. So it can be for those who answer the call of Christ. So it can be when we know the thrill and accomplishment of living and working for him.

“Called by Christ.” Let me give some random thoughts about that. Perhaps you might share some of your own with me, your own feelings, your own experiences. My father was a devoted student of the Greek New Testament. I am privileged to have his textbooks, glossaries, New Testaments. At times I find that he wrote notes on some pages or by some passages, insights into what he read and understood. When preparing this message, I recalled what he had told me about the Greek word used for Acall.@ It does not mean an order or summons; rather it means an invitation.

Right now we are in the inauguration season in our land. For many people the most prized piece of paper is an invitation to various events and parties in the nation’s capitol. People would be willing to buy, bargain, borrow (maybe, even steal) for such.. Yet the greatest prize of life is the gentle, loving invitation – if you please – the call of Christ.  “Come, follow me.”

This call is no casual invitation. Drop by – come if you have time sort of thing. I looked up some New Testament references to the call of Christ. Paul and other writers speak in terms like these.

The prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

“The hope of your calling.”

“Called us with a holy calling.”

“Partakers of a holy calling.”

When we are called by Christ, it means that we are expected to do and be our best because what we are and do may well be life changing not only for others but for us as well. It makes us partakers of Christ=s blessings; it makes us partners with Christ…

Suddenly I stopped in my writing. All these high sounding words! But we live at Parkside Meadows, a retirement community with independent and assisted living, yes, even nursing home for some who might need it. It is easy to say, I’m limited, I’m “on wheels,  my strength is limited, what can I do?

Well, there’s always prayer.

There’s a need for kindness to others

There’s a call to live in and for the promised Biblical hope.

There’s a daily opportunity to fulfill both ends of the Great Commandment(s), love of God and love of neighbor.

In my younger years we often sang a “Sunday night song” which many of you probably remember.

Perhaps today there are loving words

Which Jesus would have me speak;

There may be now in the paths of sin

Some wanderer whom I should seek.

O Savior, if Thou wilt be my Guide,

Though dark and rugged the way.

My voice shall echo the message sweet,

I’ll say what you want me to say

If Christ calls us to this or other kind of service, even in the autumn years of our lives, what will our answer be?

– J. C. Montgomery, Jr.

(Preached in the chapel of Parkside Meadows Retirement Community, St. Charles, MO, on Jan. 18, 2009, and in the Assisted Living Facility on Jan.20.)

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