I have always liked today’s first reading – the story of how a young boy named Samuel was called to a life of service to the Lord. It was the only story I knew where a young child was the center, the protagonist, the “hero” of the story. I remember my Catholic school religion teacher telling me what I was supposed to learn from the story: always go to church – after all Samuel heard God’s voice in the temple. Always obey my parents and adults – Samuel did exactly what Eli, the temple priest, instructed. Always keep your heart open to God and then act – Samuel invited God to speak to him.
I was thrilled and excited that God might call upon me! I mean I could be on God’s team, the one at bat in the bottom of the ninth inning – one swing away from the winning hit. I would answer the coach’s call, come in off the bench, take the basketball and make the final shot. I might be chosen to anchor the swim relay to a great come-from-behind win! …At the same time, my thrill and excitement gave way to somewhat terrifying thought that God might actually call upon me. What if I struck out, missed the shot, or finished last?
There was a part of me that was scared that Samuel’s story might happen to me. I knew that even kids have a role to play in the Kingdom of God. I knew if God ever came to me in the night, I was supposed to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” But I feared that if I heard a voice in the night, I would be terrified, unable to say a word, would likely run in terror into my parent’s room, crawl into bed between them, and refuse to move until daylight.
What about these days? What if I heard a voice calling to me in the night? At first, I would wonder if someone in the house was just watching television with too high a volume. I’ll probably do everything but believe that God is talking to me. There is an old saying that when you hear hoof beats, do not assume it is a zebra, go with the simpler, more likely answer – it’s a horse. In the end, I will say “Alexa, what time is it?” And when the answer comes back, “It’s 2:47 am,” I am so totally rolling over and going back to sleep. I am ignoring it. I am screening the call.
We do it all the time. If cell phones had been around in the time of the Bard, William Shakespeare, he might have written: “To be or not to be. To answer or ignore, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of continuous cell phone calls. Or to take arms against this ocean of calls and by swiping left, pressing “ignore,” to end them. To send the caller to voice mail and return to life undisturbed. No more! End the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks of the cell phone’s call.” Apologies to the Bard.
The cell phone rings and we have a choice. Sweep right or sweep left. Answer or Ignore. As Christians, we believe God longs to speak to his children. As people, do we hope God calls someone else? Someone more holy, someone more talented… someone other than me. And yet God calls. Maybe we are not paying attention, not ready, faint of heart…whatever. But in my experience, God is pretty persistent. The call will come and come.
There we are, suspended in time, pondering whether to answer the call, our life flashing before us. A life that has unfolded and is unfolding…how? Uneventfully? Unremarkably? Unexceptionally? Maybe so, but there is thrill and terror as to what unexpected life lies on the other side of “sweep right.”
The apostles, in their own way, swept right. Their lives turned upside down. Their career track shifted. Their goals changed, even if that meant that sometimes, their father would mend his nets alone. Even if that meant that sometimes, people would question their sanity. Even if that meant that somewhere, a cross was waiting for them.
A dentist, a paralegal, a nurse, a parishioner, a jack-of-all-trades, and others swept right. God’s call led them to Haiti. Their experience was not as our President recently described. It was eventful, remarkable, exceptional, and filled with the Spirit of God. They answered the call and saw the kingdom of God in a humble, holy people. The Lord spoke; they listened.
A lawyer with passion, a former college football player, a social worker, a parishioner, and people of good heart, all swept right. God’s call led them to work in foster homes and reach out to children whose childhood is in jeopardy. They answered the call and saw the kingdom of God in the light finally shining in the eyes of those almost forgotten. The Lord called; they answered.
A job recruiter, a sales person, a retired doctor, and people of good heart answered. They saw the kingdom of God in the hungry being fed. An IBM executive answered and saw the kingdom of God as he visits the imprisoned. A nurse, a homemaker, a judge, a cancer survivor answered and saw the kingdom of God in the hospitalize and homebound.
What about you? The call will come (again). Will you sweep right? You might be the one to take the final shot, to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth, to anchor the relay. Only one way to find out.
Sweep right and say, “Speak Lord, for you servant is listening.”
Sweep right and hear the Lord say, “Come and you will see.”
May the wonder and grace of that remarkable, exceptional, and amazing life be yours.