It’s For You

Heritage Presbyterian Church

January 17, 2021
Second Sunday After Epiphany
Scripture readings – 1st Samuel 3: 1-10 and John 1: 35-51

Remember back before cell phones…most of us had one phone centrally located in our homes with an extremely long, stretchy cord.  This enabled us to take phone calls in various rooms, as long as they were somewhat near the central location.  Another thing that happened was the familiar refrain of, “I’LL GET IT!” whenever the phone rang.  This alerted the household that its members didn’t need to get up or run to the hall; the call was being answered.  This was often followed by “IT’S FOR YOU, MOM!!!” because my mother got more phone calls than the rest of us combined.  I guess you know who ran my childhood home…

With the advent of second extensions, cordless phones in the early 1990’s, and today’s explosion of cell phones and other electronic devices that can make and receive calls, we have moved way past the old days of yelling, “IT’S FOR YOU!” whenever a phone call came through.

This is convenient, I think.  It’s very, VERY odd for someone else to receive a legitimate phone call on my cell phone.  That phone is MINE, so virtually all the calls are also MINE.

Yet I’ve noticed an unusual literary trick that is being used by some of my favorite authors.  A main character will be in a place where he or she is not usually.  He or she is checking on something, traveling to talk to someone, or snooping around hoping to discover something; a phone rings and another character – the bad guy, the good guy, the victim, the cops, somebody – will take the call; the other character will listen for a minute with a strange expression on his or her face, then hold out the phone to the main character and say, “It’s for you…”

I love it when that happens!  And with cell phones even appearing in the pages of my favorite novels, it is beginning to happen more often…an expected twist to the story that continues to catch me, the faithful reader, by surprise.

So, you would think I would be used to this by now, and it wouldn’t surprise me.  Instead, I delight in the sudden appearance, the sudden twist in the plot, the unexpected turn the narrative takes.  That’s entertainment!

But I have also noticed that – just as it was back in the days of one phone in a house – often, when you receive a call, something needs to be done.

This is pretty clear in the familiar story of the call of Samuel.  But if you only get the portion that we heard for today, you miss other parts of other calls that affect the one young Samuel received.

First of all, the temple priest, Eli, has forfeited the word of the Lord – and it was given to his very young charge, Samuel.  Eli’s two sons, who had been raised in the traditional way to take the place of his father as the next priests in the temple, were instead living lives filled with selfish indulgences.  Scripture calls them both “scoundrels” – a word whose meaning is hard to mistake and one that doesn’t come up very often.  Because Eli either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop them, Eli forfeited the word of the Lord.  Moreover, Eli was now dependent on Samuel to learn the word of the Lord.  Samuel was initially reluctant to share this word with Eli because the word was against Eli!

In other words, “Eli…this call is NOT for you!”

Next, Samuel received the call from the Lord; but because of his youth and inexperience, Samuel needed Eli’s guidance.  Both Eli and Samuel stood together “to face the hard, powerful word of Yahweh.”  [Interpretation Commentary: Samuel by Walter Brueggemann, page 26] Now that the call was received, a new beginning was made.

Next, did you notice all the different calls that were sent and received in the first three chapters of the Book of Samuel?  Or do you know all the calls that were NOT sent and received?

Here’s a short list:

  • Samuel’s mother, Hannah, called on the Lord to bless her with a son and to mend her broken heart.
  • Hannah’s husband, Elkanah loved and supported Hannah’s decision to take their son, Samuel, to the temple and leave him there to work, learn, and serve.  Elkanah did not receive any call, but he also didn’t interfere.
  • Eli’s sons were called to follow the tradition of their father, the temple priest Eli, but instead they angered the Lord with their disrespect toward the work of the priests.  The Lord did not call either of them.
  • Eli wasn’t called either, but he was still expected to serve as Samuel’s mentor – and he answered that call well.
  • Samuel was the last and most important recipient of a call from the Lord.  Actually, the Lord literally called Samuel, but Samuel needed Eli’s help to accept it properly.

And what did Samuel actually do after he received this call?  What was done once Samuel understood “It’s for you, Samuel!” was the word from Yahweh?  

  • Samuel became the judge for all of Israel and served them for 40 years;
  • Samuel anointed Saul as the first King of Israel, despite Samuel’s misgivings about following the wishes of the people;
  • Samuel anointed David as Saul’s replacement.

To the end of his long life, Samuel understood the Lord had called him.  And Samuel faithfully answered that call.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we have ordinary men receiving a call from the Lord Jesus, and all of them answered it, albeit in different ways.  Look at this list:

  • John the Baptist saw Jesus coming so he identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God.”
  • Later, when two of John’s disciples were standing next to him, Jesus passed by and John pointed those disciples toward Jesus and away from himself.  Don’t miss what happened there!  The Baptist received his own call, but it was to send his own followers away and toward the one whom the Baptist had prepared for.  The Baptist handled his own call perfectly.
  • So Andrew and probably John were the first two Apostles called by Jesus but sent by John the Baptist.
  • Then Andrew called his brother, Simon Peter.
  • Jesus traveled to his home turf of Galilee and called Philip.
  • Philip then called his friend, Nathanael.  But Nathanael at first disputed the call.  He actually said, “Can anything good ever come from Nazareth?”  Great way to refuse a call, but Jesus was persistent.  After some quick conversation about what Nathanael had been doing before Jesus even met him, Nate was onboard.

That’s all we have at this point of the Gospel narrative…just five Apostles acknowledging that “It’s for you!” is actually for them.

But that’s not all…it’s just all we have in this part of John’s Gospel…more evidence that proves it’s a good idea to read more of the Bible than just what is handed to you each week during worship.  Because a little research will reveal the other Apostolic calls:

  • John called his brother, James.
  • Andrew called Levi, who was also known as Matthew.
  • Philip called Didymus, who was also called “Twin” but who is known throughout history as “Doubting Thomas.”
  • James the Less and his brother, Jude, were both fishermen who were called by the other James and his brother, John.
  • Simon the Zealot was called by Peter.
  • And finally, Judas Iscariot was called by Nathanael.

Each of these people – all of them real, living human beings, not just characters in a really good story, answered the call from the Lord and served.  Some did so heroically, some failed miserably, some did their best, and some could have done much more.  But all were called by the Lord to walk with him and to help bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  All were ordinary people whom God called to do extraordinary things.

The same call goes out to each and every one of us; it’s not just reserved for people in the Bible. Perhaps you just don’t want to get up off the couch when the call comes – you are content to let others yell, “I’VE GOT IT!”  Perhaps you will answer if you must – maybe no one else is around and you can’t just ignore it – but your plan is to get someone else to take that call as quickly as you can.  Perhaps the call is really and truly not for you; but you could serve the same role as Eli did and support the ones who do answer that call.  You could stand with them, mentor them, advise them, be their friend because sometimes a call from the Lord is a tough thing to accept…

As I said last week, perhaps each of us is not called to do great things or even small things, but each of us is still called to do good things.

So when the call comes, be ready to yell, “I’VE GOT IT!” 

When the call comes, be ready to hear, “IT’S FOR YOU!”

When the call comes…be ready.