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Summary: Who are the Elis and Philips in our lives? Do we realise that God calls us often through the least likely of people and circumstances?

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Sermon for 2 Epiphany, Yr B 19/01/2003

Based on I Sam 3:1-10 & Jn 1:43-51

“Who is Calling?”

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

This Sunday I want to begin by complimenting the international ecumenical committee for their wisdom and inspiration in selecting the biblical passages that they did—since all of them fit together so beautifully like a fine, seamless garment! All of our texts celebrate and affirm the primacy of God’s plan for each of our lives. Each of our passages insists that God has a purpose for our lives and CALLS US, GIVING EACH OF US A VOCATION. According to The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition, the word vocation comes from the Middle English word vocation and the Latin vocation, singular of vocatio, and means a call or summons. It is “a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.” It is “a function or station in life to which one is called by God.” (p. 1599)

As I pondered our first lesson today from I Samuel and our gospel, I discovered that at first, neither Samuel nor Nathanael really knew who was calling them and giving them their vocation. It also occurred to me that in both cases, it was thanks to others who pointed them in the right direction and told them that IT WAS GOD CALLING THEM. That caused me to wonder whether we HEAR AND RECOGNISE GOD WHEN HE CALLS US AND GIVES US OUR VOCATION. DO WE HEAR, DO WE LISTEN TO, DO WE RECOGNISE GOD’S VOICE CALLING US? DO WE REALISE THAT OFTEN GOD’S CALL COMES TO US VIA THE VOICES AND LIVES OF OTHER PEOPLE? WHO HAS SERVED AS OUR ELI OR OUR PHILIP BY POINTING US IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? SOMETIMES IT IS OFTEN THE LEAST LIKELY OF PEOPLE WHO HELP US HEAR AND KNOW THAT GOD IS CALLING US. The following story demonstrates this very well.

It was in the days of sail, long before electricity, when oil lit the lighthouses along the coast of downeast Maine. Jarrod lived with his Uncle Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper at the Dorris Island lighthouse off Portland. Because the island was uninhabited except for Uncle Ephraim and Jarrod, they were alone most of the time unless Mr. Toomey came from the mainland to deliver supplies. It was lonely, but Jarrod knew Uncle Ephraim’s job was important, because it was his light that kept the coastal schooners from the rocks and shoals and certain destruction.

Both Jarrod and his uncle were lonely. To deal with it, Jarrod read a lot; Uncle Ephraim drank. The boy tried to keep Ephraim from drinking—though it seldom worked—by asking him questions about being a lighthouse keeper. That was Ephraim’s “calling,” which not only gave him the greatest life satisfaction but which, he declared—next to being a member of a coastal lifesaving station’s crew—was the most vital job in the coast.

“Never let the light go out,” the old man urged his young charge. “Many lives depend on us, on this light. While you’re here you must devote your life to its keeping.”

Though he wasn’t the actual lighthouse keeper himself, young Jarrod heeded his uncle’s words as a sacred trust. Jarrod was only nine, and this was his uncle’s job, but Jarrod imagined himself to be the assistant lighthouse keeper. He paid attention and learned how to fill the lamp properly.

Uncle Ephraim began to drink more heavily and more often. He complained of pains in his side and stomach. More liquor was the only medicine that seemed to cure the aches, but it also practically incapacitated him at times. Jarrod tried to keep him talking, even scolded him about his “calling,” about his responsibility, but it was to no avail. Ephraim kept drinking.

One black night Jarrod checked to see if the dory was secure, then stood outside a moment and looked up at the light. When he did, he saw something flicker.

The light! The oil was low and almost gone! He’d only seen it that way once before, when Uncle Ephraim had let it get down so he could show him what the danger signs were. Yes, Uncle Ephraim was an excellent lighthouse keeper and knew the job well. But now Uncle Ephraim was in a heavy drunken sleep. Jarrod ran inside.

“Uncle Ephraim, Uncle Ephraim!” he yelled. The old man only grunted suddenly. “Uncle Ephraim, the light! It’s going out!” Jarrod yelled again. “You’ve got to fill the bowl, Uncle Ephraim!”

The breakers sounded louder outside, their crashing muffling the old man’s response. It sounded like he’d said, “You, body.”

“Me, Uncle? Should I do it? Can’t you?”

The answer the second time sounded like he said, “You, boy.” Ephraim tried to stand up, the liquor was having its effect.

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