First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
January 14, 2018
“Invitation”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (NRSV)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John 1:43-46 (NRSV)

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

 

When I was a kid, I didn’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties. (Awwww……)

I think it had to do with the fact that my family didn’t attend the church of the prominent religion in the area. We also weren’t involved in sports or girl scouts or any of the usual things that kids do that would have increased the likelihood that we’d be invited to birthday parties. I simply didn’t know a lot of kids so I didn’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties. I’ve also come to realize that I may have been seen as the weird kid who lived down the street, probably because of the church I didn’t attend, the activities I wasn’t involved in and that I didn’t frequent the birthday parties.

And when I finally did get invited to one, it was quite an awkward disappointment. I didn’t know the games. I didn’t understand the social order of things. I really didn’t know any of the other kids that were there. So, being a “shy” kid, I just kind of went through the motions, took my party favors home and life went on. I realized that my life was not any better when birthday parties were a part of it so it was no big deal.

But, I still liked getting the rare invitations when they came. What kid doesn’t like getting mail addressed specifically to them? What person, regardless of age, doesn’t value the idea that they are invited.

The readings today are about invitations: The voice of God calling out an invitation to young Samuel in the night; Jesus offering an invitation to the disciples: “Follow Me.” One disciple inviting others: “Come and see.” How do we hear and see those invitations? How do we understand that those invitations are addressed to us, just as they were to those of old? Like Samuel, do we misunderstand the invitation and think that it’s intended for someone else? (Who me, no, you can’t be calling me, it must be some other kid named Samuel). Like Nathanael, do we doubt the authenticity of the inviter as he brashly challenges, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was apparently someplace that might be considered the wrong side of the tracks.

(Hmmmm in today’s culture, what might replace the reference to Nazareth? I know… Someone who drives the wrong pick-up [insert Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota…..]), how about someone who cheers for the wrong football team…. How about someone who comes from the wrong country…. Speaks the wrong language…. Has the wrong color of skin.)

Theologian and Seminary professor, Deb Krause describes God’s call as “an invitation to a lifelong relationship with God….[1]” An invitation to a lifelong relationship with God.

Call isn’t about a job. It isn’t about a career path. Call is also an invitation into being… being in relationship with the one who invites us, even in the midst of life’s challenges and adversities, into the assurance of God’s presence. The call of God is an invitation to be grounded in the deep awareness of God’s divine purposes of justice and peace for all of creation. And sometimes that means that we are called to open ourselves up to the presence and stories of others… others who we might have, at one time, considered to be the weird kid who lived down the street.

Tomorrow, our nation celebrates the life and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Years ago, when the Federal government was considering creating a federal holiday in remembrance of Dr. King, one of my colleagues (this was pre-seminary days when I was a nurse), one of my Caucasian, colleagues commented that she wasn’t sure why we needed a federal holiday in honor or Dr. King. The comment that took my breath away was something like, “what has he done for us, anyway?”

I think her comment has been one the most effective invitations I’ve ever received into understanding the significance of what people like Dr. King have had to offer the world. And when I say “people like Dr. King” I’m not just talking about his race. I’m talking about people who live into their call and passion for justice and righteousness and carry as their motto the call from the prophet Amos to “let Justice roll down like waters.” The call of God is an invitation into being people of justice. For those who follow in the way of Jesus, it goes all the way back to our baptism and confirmation when we accepted that invitation to be Christ’s disciples.

When I say “people like Dr. King” I’m talking about people who channel their intelligence, not into answers but into questions that lead to life as God intends it and ask, like the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require?” and then be quiet long enough to hear the answer.

When I say “People like Dr. King,” I’m talking about people who have the courage to hear that answer: “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” The call of God is an invitation into being people of deep reflection and action about the intersection of life and faith and to do so in such a way that we know, we know, in our heads, in our hearts, and in our gut, that walking in the way of Jesus is as much about opening space for the realm of God to become real on earth as it is in heaven. Isn’t that the prayer we say every week? If you don’t already, perhaps we should be saying it and living it daily.

When I say “people like Dr. King” I’m talking about people who understand that faith is not just about their eternal well-being but the well-being of creation in the here and now. God’s got the eternal thing taken care of. The call of God is an invitation to let God take care of loving and caring for us in eternity and rely on God to give us what we need to love and care for even…., especially…., the “weird” ones in our midst.

When Jesus brings a child into the midst of the disciples and charges them to care for these “little ones” he’s pointing out that the world has a tendency to marginalize some and elevate others but in God’s realm, it isn’t to be so. The resurrected Jesus reveals that when the poor and homeless, the imprisoned and hungry are cared for, it’s Jesus himself that has received that care. We might see them as “different” or “weird.” God sees them as beloved and invites us to see everyone as God does.

We should remember that Jesus made it to heaven and did something others has not. He came back to tell us what it’s like at it has nothing to do with angels sitting on puffy clouds singing the inhabitants into serenity. It has to do with caring for those the world tends to forget.

And that’s where Dr. King’s race comes in. What Dr. King has done for us, for me, is further extend Christ’s invitation to hear the stories of those whose stories have not been told accurately throughout history. And to hear them, whenever I can from their perspective. And when people are empowered to tell their stories from their perspective, they are most likely telling their stories the way God would tell them. The call of God is an invitation to, not only tell our own stories but to listen deeply to the stories of those whose lives are not the same as ours – not less than, simply not the same.

It is part of what being a follower of Jesus is all about. For when we hear the call to faithfulness as an invitation, it is an invitation to a new way of life, not a narrow way but a way that is broad enough for everyone. Everyone.

 

[1] New Proclamation Year B 2006