Samuel’s Calling and Prophetic Activity

January 20, 2019

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson using 1 Samuel 3.1-20 and Ephesians 4.1-16 at Mattins on Sunday 20th January 2019, the 3rd of Epiphany.

I start with a rhetorical question: should a cathedral congregation be growing? Or to focus the mind somewhat, should this congregation be growing?

Church growth is very much the name of the game in the Church of England, these days, probably because a century of decline can only go on for so long before people start asking difficult questions, like, ‘If hardly anyone goes to church these days, how do we pay for it?’

The theological answer to church growth is that you don’t have to be big to be church. Where two or three are gathered in my name, said Jesus, there I am in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). But there are plenty of parables of the kingdom that seem to indicate that growth is healthy and natural: for example, the seed that falls on good soil reproduces itself, 30, 60 or 100 fold.

The Apostle Paul uses the image of the church being the body of Christ, and in his letter to the Ephesians he suggests that growth of the body is natural and normal. He says in our reading this morning that we must come to maturity, to the full measure of the stature of Christ, and that we must grow up, and not be like children, so that we all promote the body’s growth building itself up in love.

In today’s reading we have fairly clear instructions on how the church grows:

  1. Listen to your calling
  2. Understand the gifts God has given you
  3. Use those gifts to fulfil your calling to serve others.

Let’s consider these briefly one by one.

Soon after taking up my post here at the Cathedral I came across a couple who missed their calling. They had both felt called to minister in the church when they were younger but, for one reason or another, it never quite happened. Now they felt too old as deteriorating health inhibited their ability to train. My heart sank. Faithful Christians, who somehow missed the boat, and never got to fulfil their calling. What a tragedy.

The little boy Samuel didn’t miss the boat. It was his good fortune to have a spiritual father, in the person of Eli, who knew how to recognise and respond to the call of God. Samuel thought Eli was calling him, but Eli knew it was God. ‘I did not call you, my son’ he said. ‘If he calls you again, you shall say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:9).

Not everyone who is called by God becomes a great prophet like Samuel. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, ‘I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ I beg you. He says. Don’t miss out on the calling God has for you. Paul isn’t just writing to one or two people in the church in Ephesus he is writing to the whole church. Everyone has a calling.

It’s one of the things that we will remember about Bishop Jonathan – how he has worked out his calling – vocation  was one of his most important words – he helped people live out their vocation.

Secondly, whoever God calls he also gifts.  Verse 7 says, ‘Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ We are all made in the image of God, and God graces us with skills, abilities and particular spiritual gifts that are mentioned in various places in the bible (e.g. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). A short list of gifts and their associated ministries are given also to the Ephesians: apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors. However our gifts don’t have to be put to use in the church – most of the gifts we have been given are for serving other people in business, in society, in our leisure. Understanding what gifts God has given you can be transformative in your life, as you begin to realise how they can be used to fulfil your calling.

Last night, on one of the three screens that people were watching on television I caught a glimpse of a show I’d never seen before – The Greatest Dancer on BBC1. The telly is full of talent shows. Why? Because there is so much talent out there waiting to be discovered and it makes great entertainment when people’s talents are appreciated. God has gifted everyone and it’s our job to help people discover their gifts.

Thirdly, Gifts are given ‘to equip the saints for works of service for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:12,13)

We have over 800 people involved in serving as volunteers in some capacity in the cathedral. When we allocate volunteers to particular ministries we try to match calling with gifts and service.

Perhaps you volunteer in some capacity, or perhaps not, but my question to you is, how are you growing in unity of the faith, in your knowledge of the Son of God, how are you growing in Christian maturity, and attaining the full measure of the stature of Christ through your serving?

God has given us all the resources we need to grow a congregation, to grow the church, to grow a cathedral.

In this season of Epiphany we celebrate the unity we have as the body of Christ. It was his body that descended to the depths of hell from his death on the cross, and then ascended to the glory of heaven on high. It is his body that we are baptised into, when we become a member of the church. And we contribute to the growth of his body as we discover our calling, using the gifts he has given us to serve others.

Amen. May it be so.