I Samuel 3:4-10 Matthew 4:18-22
The Rev. Tom Herbek
October 18, 2015
Before the boy Samuel could learn anything else or do anything else, he had to learn to listen. We must learn to listen to the voice of God, a message that we cannot possibly understand- unless we listen. We miss so much when we don’t listen. But listening is very hard. We take classes in writing, and are carefully taught to read. If we have trouble speaking, there is speech therapy or public speaking classes. How many people get training in how to listen?
We act as if listening were unimportant. The most famous people are the ones who talk, not the ones who listen.
Over 50 years after his family had moved to the U.S. from Germany, Walter Kissinger was asked why he did not have the same heavy German accent as his brother Henry, the famous member of his family. Walter Kissinger replied, “I am the Kissinger who listens.”
My grandfather Jordan was a wonderful storyteller who had this great laugh and warmth about him, but what I loved most about him was that he listened to me, a boy in elementary school, as if I were the only person in the world.
We all need someone in our lives who listens like that, who stops what they are doing and really listens. We are all called to listen- to God’s call, to the uniqueness of the people around us, but we are also called to follow.
We must listen to the call, as Joan Chittister suggests:
The path to the wholeness of the self commonly leads through a labyrinth of possibilities, a maze of gifts. The fact is that coming to fullness of life is seldom a straight line. It is a matter of learning to listen to the call – to the magnet of the heart within us – to assess our own gifts, to follow our own passions, and to find, through them, the happiness that flows from the fit between passion and purpose.
Happiness, I have come to understand, comes when what I choose to be about in life is actually worth spending my life doing. My life. This one life, with all its passions and with all its gifts.
– Following the Path
There is not just one path or one way to answer the call for any of us. There may be many ways to answer God’s call. As long as we are listening, we may find ourselves moving from one thing to another in stages in our life, and each one gives us something invaluable.
My own life has not been exactly a straight line by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, the various stages have taught me much. Some people have done so many different things, it’s really hard for them to answer the question, “What do you do?” Robert Fulgham is one of those people. He is an ordained minister, teacher, author and artist. He writes:
What I do is kind of complicated and takes such a long time to explain that I often avoid the question and just pick something simple that’s true but not the whole truth. Even this tactic has left me painted into difficult corners. On an early-morning flight to San Francisco I told my seatmate that I was a janitor, thinking that she might not want to pursue that and would leave me to read my book. (When I think of how I have spent my life and how much of it involves cleaning and straightening and hauling trash – I don’t get paid for it, but that’s what I do a lot.) Anyhow, she was fascinated.
Turned out she wrote a housewife’s column for a small newspaper and was glad to spend the rest of the flight sharing her tips for tidy housekeeping with me. Now, I know more about getting spots and stains out of rugs than I ever hoped to know. Turned out, too, that she was a member of the church where I was to speak on Sunday. I didn’t know that until I stood up in the pulpit and saw her there in the third row. And it further turned out that she knew who I was all along, but was creative enough to think that if I wanted to go around on airplanes being a janitor, I probably had a reason.
Another time I was bumped into first class on a flight to Thailand and was seated next to a very distinguished-looking Sikh gentleman. Lots of expensive jewelry, fine clothes, (probably a high-caste bazaar merchant, I thought). When he asked me the what-do-you-do question, I replied off the top of my head that I was a neurosurgeon. “How wonderful,” said he with delight. “So am I!” And he was. A real one. It took a while to unscramble things, and we had a wonderful conversation all the way to Bangkok, but for ten seconds the temptation to be also deaf and dumb had been great.
Having learned my lesson, the next time I got on a plane and sat down next to someone who looked sympathetic, I told these stories and then suggested we play a game – just for the fun of it – and each make up our occupation and pretend all the way to Chicago. The guy went for it. So he declared he was a spy, and I decided I’d be a nun. We had a heck of a time – one of the great conversations of my life. He said he couldn’t wait until his wife asked him, “Well, dear, how was your flight?” “There was this nun dressed in a tweed suit…”
But it was the middle-aged couple from Green Bay who had occupied the seats behind us who were blown away. They had listened to the nun and the spy in stunned silence. They really had something to say when asked, “How was your flight?” As the man passed me in the concourse, he said, ‘”Have a nice day sister.”
-It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It
Fulgham is one of those people who really enjoys life and lives every moment of it. The call of God for him is always new. The call of God is whatever makes us come alive, and that may certainly change over time. When fishing no longer does it, we too must listen and follow God’s call, wherever it leads.
One reason we follow the call and leave the boat is because of the one who calls us. And it is because he offers us a chance to become fully alive. Here is some ancient wisdom that each generation discovers anew: “Don’t fret about what the world wants from you. Worry about what makes you come more alive. Because what the world really needs is people who are more alive.”
The call is not from up there, out there, or far away. The call from God is deep within us. The call from God is a reawakening of a part of us long since buried. It is a call to become fully alive and fully ourselves. It is a call to leave the past behind, our boat, even our father, even though that past is extraordinarily powerful.
We think there is a timetable on that call, and that after a certain age, we just can’t go through the changes necessary to follow. I like what Joan Chittister says about that:
Clearly, “It’s too late for that now” is too great a burden to bear. When is it too late to start over? Never. Not as long as we are alive and seeking even more out of life. Grandma Moses knew that and began to paint in her late seventies; Beethoven, deaf as stone, knew that and went on composing long after he could hear what he wrote; Ronald Reagan knew that and left a career in film for a career in politics at age fifty-five and for the presidency at sixty-nine.
Life is lived in stages. Everything in one stage is simply a prelude to the next, where the lessons will be even more life-giving than before and past learnings will take on new value.
We are always becoming, never at any given moment totally and finally complete. The only answer, then, to the question of whether we should start over again is to do what we must in every stage and be ready, when the time comes, to go on living fully in the next one.
But, what it ultimately comes down to is that we find that part of us we always hoped to find – the part of us that is the essence of God within us. In those strange places, we sense God’s presence with us. As once was said: “The sign of God’s presence is that your feet are where you did not expect them to be.”
The call is a call to surprises – surprising goodness, surprising love, and that surprising potential that lies within each of us to become all that God has created us to be. Maybe that is why they left the boat and even their father, to follow the God of surprises, and so can we.
It is never too late to listen, to respond by saying: “Speak, Lord, I am listening.” And then, it is never too late to follow the call into new places and meet new people, and to discover new talents that we never knew that we had.
It is never too late to come fully alive. And one of the great surprises of following the call may be that we discover, in new ways, the presence of God in us and in the people we meet- every day.