Step Forward

(Preached at AFUMC on 1/18/2015)

Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

So today, the lectionary Scriptures for each Sunday begin to focus on discipleship. I think it’s a perfect time for it-two Sundays ago, we renewed our covenant to God, and then last Sunday was Baptism of the Lord Sunday-we remembered our baptisms and received the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to take that bold step into covenant with God, following our baptisms. So these next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about what it looks like to live a life of a baptized child of God, following Christ in discipleship.

And we’re starting this season by talking about Samuel’s call story. Samuel was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. He was the spiritual leader of ancient Israel during a big transition in which the nation went from being a loose collection of cities that were ruled loosely by judges to a strong nation ruled by a king with absolute power. The first king of Israel, Saul, and the most famous and successful king of Israel, King David, were anointed by Samuel. So he’s a really big figure in the Bible. In fact, two whole books in the Old Testament are named after him and focus on his life and the effects of everything he did. Just a really important guy.

And I think it’s important that we are starting this season of focusing on discipleship by talking about Samuel’s call story because that is how any kind of relationship with Christ starts. It’s how any life of discipleship starts, it’s how any of us come to follow Jesus-we are called.

So let me set the stage for you, alright? When this story’s happening, Israel is at a very dark time, spiritually speaking. Eli is the high priest, the spiritual leader of the whole nation, and he seems to be godly enough. But he has his sons assist him as priests, and his sons are awful. They feast off of the animal sacrifices that the people bring to the temple, they abuse those who come to worship. They actively lead the people away from God. You know the news stories you hear every so often about a pastor caught in a sex scandal or embezzling a whole bunch of money from their church? That’s the kind of thing that’s happening. The sons of the high priest are just wreaking havoc on the people’s spiritual lives.

Now Samuel had been living in the temple and assisting Eli the High Priest since he was two- or three-years old. Before Samuel was born, his mother hadn’t been able to have kids, so she prayed to God that if God would give her a son, she would commit that son’s whole life to be in service to God. So when Samuel was born, she kept her promise, brought him to the temple and left him with Eli.

So we come to our Scripture for today. Samuel has been Eli the High Priest’s assistant since he was 2 or 3 years old. It’s been 10 years since he was committed to the Lord by his mother, so he’s now 12 or 13 years old. It’s night; Eli the high priest is lying down in his room, and Samuel is lying down in the temple of the Lord, keeping watch over the room. As he’s lying there, he hears a voice call out “Samuel, Samuel!” Now Samuel thinks it’s Eli calling him, maybe Eli needs something. So Samuel gets up and runs into Eli’s room and says “Eli, what do you need?” And I picture Eli almost asleep when Samuel runs in, so he just waves Samuel away sleepily and says “Go back to bed, I didn’t say anything.” So Samuel goes and lays back down. Before long, he hears his name called again. He thinks it’s Eli and does the same thing as last time with the same results, it’s still not Eli calling his name. And it happens yet again, Samuel hears his name called, runs into Eli’s room, and asks him what he needs. And I picture Eli being really annoyed right now. “I just want to sleep, but this stupid kid won’t let me fall asleep! Just go back to sleep kid, I didn’t call you!” But Eli has an idea and tells Samuel “Samuel, I think it’s God calling you. I think it’s God calling your name! So here’s what you need to do-Go lie down again, and if you hear your name called again, say “Speak God, I’m your servant and I’m ready to listen.” So Samuel went back to bed. He heard his name called again, so he said that, “Speak God, I’m your servant and I’m ready to listen.” And God spoke to him.

Now there’s this whole thing that God says to him which is also important to know, but this week, I want to focus on the actual call from God, that moment where God called Samuel, when Samuel heard God call his name. Like I said at the beginning, Samuel would grow up to become a widely known and respected prophet of God; he would lead the people through this huge time of political transition and anoint the first kings of Israel. He would also lead them through a time of spiritual renewal. Again, like I said earlier, Israel was at a spiritually dark time. Not even the priests followed and worshiped God. But God would raise Samuel up to renew the faith of Israel, to bring Israel back to the altar of God to worship there as God’s chosen people.

Now, if young Samuel had known all of this, how do you think he’d feel? Terrified, right? I know I would be! Wouldn’t you? But Samuel doesn’t know this because God doesn’t need Samuel to know this. God just needs Samuel to listen to his voice and take the first step into what God is calling him to. When God first called 14 year-old Samuel’s name in the middle of the night, God wasn’t calling him to save Israel. God wasn’t calling him to immediately start Israel’s political transition. God wasn’t calling him to anoint Saul as king, and then when Saul didn’t work out to find David and anoint David as king. That’s a huge calling. That’s giant. That’s terrifying. But that night in the temple, when Eli was lying down in his room, Samuel was laying down in the temple, and the lamp of the Lord hadn’t gone out yet, God wasn’t calling Samuel to any of those huge callings. God was calling Samuel to listen to him. God was calling Samuel to hear his voice and just take that first small step forward in discipleship.

Do any of you remember the day that you first heard God’s voice? Or really any time that you’ve heard God’s voice? Not necessarily an audible voice, but still a voice, inside your head, speaking to your soul, calling your name. Maybe you didn’t recognize the voice at first, or maybe you recognized it right away. Maybe you felt God calling your name in worship last week. Who remembers what we did last week? We remembered our baptisms, right? It was the First Sunday after Epiphany, and every year in the Lectionary that’s the Sunday that we remember the Lord’s baptism, so it’s the perfect time to remember our baptism.

Now I think the lectionary is set up that way for a reason. This week and the next several weeks, we’ll be focusing on discipleship, and that focus will only get deeper and deeper through Lent all the way up to Easter. We’ll be focusing on what it means to follow Christ in our daily lives. But we started this by remembering our baptisms. We started this by remembering that we are baptized daughters and sons of God. You have been baptized and you are now baptized, the waters of baptism cover your whole life. The next time you trip up, the next time you hurt someone, the next time you do something so wrong that you don’t think you can ever be forgiven, you are still baptized. So now step forward and lay claim to your life as a baptized daughter or son of God! Your old life died as the waters of baptism covered you and your new life in Christ Jesus was born. So claim this life! Step forward and claim this life and the salvation and redemption and renewal that comes with it!

In the covenant of baptism, Christ calls us to step forward into a life of discipleship. When you heard God calling your name like Samuel in the temple that night, God was calling you to take that next step forward in discipleship. Now we’re going to go more into depth next week about what discipleship really means, what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But the basis of a life of discipleship is a life spent in full pursuit of Christ, a life spent following Christ. You might be running after Christ, you might be walking after Christ, you might only be able to crawl on your hands and knees, inch by inch after Christ, but you are following Christ. That is a life of discipleship.

So today, I would like to start out this focus on discipleship by giving you a few opportunities in which you can take that next step forward. Christ calls us forward, always forward in discipleship, and there are a bunch of opportunities for you to take that next step forward in following Christ.

One big opportunity is just starting tonight. I’m going to be starting a Bible study tonight at 6:30 here at church and for the next four weeks we’ll be talking about spiritual disciplines-what they are, why they are important, and real practical ways that you can include them in your life. So committing to being a part of the Bible study would certainly be a step forward in discipleship, and during the Bible study throughout the next four weeks, you’ll learn other ways to take another step forward and another step forward. Just a really great opportunity. So if you’re free on Sunday nights at 6:30, or if you’re not but feel like God is calling you to move a few things around in your schedule to make time for this, join us for this study.

There are also opportunities here on Sunday morning with our three Sunday school classes. They’re a great opportunity to learn more about the Bible and our faith and a great way to do that in community with other members of this congregation. So if you want to do that, all you need to do is come an hour earlier on Sunday mornings-Sunday School starts at 9am.

If you’ll notice in your bulletins, there is a new addition this week. You’ll see it under the heading “Lectionary Scriptures for Next Week.” The four Scripture passages listed under that heading are the Scripture passages that lectionary has for next Sunday. I’ll be preaching on at least one of those passages of Scriptures. So this is kind of a unique opportunity for you because it’ll be kind of like you’re getting a sneak peek at what the sermon will be for next week. I won’t tell you which one I’m preaching on, so it could kind of be like a guessing game, you know? We’ll be continuing to put those in the bulletin every week, so another opportunity for you to take that next step forward in discipleship is to commit to read those Scriptures throughout the next week. Maybe you could try to guess which Scripture I’ll be using next week, see if you’re right or not. And I think this accomplishes two things.

First, a lot of people say they want to read the Bible more and have more knowledge about the Bible, but they don’t know where to start. Here is where you start-read the Lectionary Scriptures for Sunday throughout the week. A great way to order your Bible reading

Also, it will prepare you for Sunday worship. If I’m going to be preaching on at least one of those scriptures from the Lectionary and you’ve already read through that Scripture a few times and digested it and thought through the lessons you can find in the Scripture, you’ll be prepared to hear what I have to preach and the lessons that God wants you to take away from worship into your own life. Make sense?

A life of discipleship also involves service, and there are ways you can take that next step forward discipleship through service here in this church. The biggest way is Commodities Distribution. They unload this Tuesday at 4pm and they distribute this Wednesday morning from 9-11am. It’s a great way to serve your community and show the people of this community the love of Christ through serving them and just giving them a helping hand.

I realize some of you can’t be there during either of those times, so an opportunity for you would be to pray for the Community Outreach Center. Work’s being done on it, and it’s looking really hopeful. But it still needs prayer. So maybe you’re feeling called to take that next step forward by committing to praying for that building.

There are a LOT of opportunities. That might have felt a little overwhelming, but I’m not saying that you have to do all of those. Pick one to try out for this week. Maybe for this week, you’ll commit to coming to Bible study tonight. See how you like it. Or maybe, just for this week, you’ll commit to reading the four lectionary Scriptures throughout the week. See how you like doing that, see if you can guess which one I’m preaching on next week. Just pick one and try it on for a week. If it doesn’t work for you, try another one. If you don’t like anything that I’ve said, think of another way to step forward in discipleship, those are certainly not the only ways to step forward.

But the bottom line is, Christ calls us forward in discipleship. God has called our name. We responded to that call and have been baptized and through baptism, we are enabled to live a life following Christ in discipleship. So this week, take that next step forward. Let me know what you did next week, let me know how it went.

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