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In spite of the advent of computers, the telephone seems to have become a necessity in the world of today that people cannot do without. Nevertheless, at times it is a nuisance and an intrusion, especially during a family meal or the daily readings. We have a choice as to how to respond: drop everything and rush to answer, let another family member answer, or simply ignore it and let it ring.

Advances in technology have removed some of the negative factors; there is the answering machine and a device whereby one can see who is calling. Hence it is possible to choose to listen to the call at a more convenient time or not answer should it be an undesirable call. Our response to calls we choose to take is a two-step process: first acknowledge it by picking up the receiver to identify the caller; second concentrate on the content of the message and respond accordingly.

A direct call

God has no need of man’s inventions; should He so choose, He could speak to humankind directly as He did in days gone by. A classic example of this is when Samuel was awakened by a voice calling his name: “And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; that the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I” (1 Sam. 3:3-4). The boy heard the call and was ready for action but he was in ignorance of the caller and the correct way to respond. This happened three times until Eli recognized divine intervention and gave direction to his willing pupil: “Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, ‘Speak; for thy servant heareth’” (I Sam. 3:9-10).

As parents know, the young are often difficult to rouse from sleep, tending to turn over seeking further rest. Not so with Samuel; when the call came, he was immediately alert. He did not consider it to be at an inconvenient time, or that someone else should respond, but answered eagerly: “Here am I” and proceeded to listen with focused attention.

A message of doom

Sadly, the message was one of judgement: “And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day, I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever” (I Sam. 3:11-14).

Naturally, this message of impending doom for Eli and his family resulted in a sleepless night for poor Samuel. He lay fretting how best to impart the awful news. In the light of morning when his mentor called for clarification, there was no hesitation. Again Samuel’s response was: “Here am I”. There was every excuse for feigning tiredness but the youngster understood Eli’s need for openness and bravely divulged the grim truth.

The phrase ‘Here am I’ is usually identified with the calling of Samuel, although it is used elsewhere on at least 14 separate occasions, each time demonstrating a keen acknowledgement that undivided attention is sought and a willingness to be of service.

Testing under duress

Interestingly, the phrase is found in Abraham’s trial of obedience: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am…” (Gen. 22:1). The call for attention from the Lord was received and acknowledged immediately.

The incident is so familiar that perhaps the edge of our credulity is blunted. Abraham had been told to journey with his son to a distant place in the knowledge that he must take his life. For three days they traveled, carrying the articles necessary for sacrifice. The stress must have been such that the faithful man would have constantly prayed for strength. Even so, when this beloved only son broke into his focused thoughts wanting information, his father immediately gave him attention and answered: “Here am I my son.” Then came the dreaded question: “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Out of the depth of his extremity, Abraham acknowledged the need for a truthful, yet gentle answer: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb…” (Gen. 22:7-8). Finally the patriarch determined to carry out the will of God and nothing doubting, raised the knife.

One can only begin to imagine the turmoil of his mind, when in the very act of obedience, the angel of the Lord called from heaven: “Abraham, Abraham.” How would we have responded? “I’m doing what you asked of me, what more do you want?” or “Cannot this wait until I am finished?” Abraham was of a different caliber, he immediately stopped what he was doing and acknowledged the call, once again saying, “Here am I.”

The ensuing message was joyous: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad…for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” Then came the prophecy upon which our hopes are fixed: “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Gen. 22: 11-14). It was not for Abraham to provide a sacrifice; this was to be the prerogative of God Himself, who on the same spot centuries later would give His only beloved son for the sins of the world.

Outworking of obedience

Consider also the example of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph. One day Jacob called to his teenage son: “Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send thee unto them” (Gen. 37:13). Now teenagers are not known for their eagerness to carry out onerous tasks. Joseph could well have been expected to resist the request to seek the welfare of the brothers who had long taunted and envied him. His answer however was positive: “Here am I.” Neither father nor son had any idea that this spontaneous obedience was to trigger a chain of events culminating in the saving of his brethren years later.

Moving forward in time, it must have been a disillusioned Moses who turned aside to investigate the burning bush. He had been a willing champion for the nation of his birth, but the time was not right. The ‘prince’ had first to be a shepherd to learn humility and patience, prior to delivering his people in God’s name. Keeping sheep had not quenched his zeal, for when he turned aside and the angel of the Lord called: “Moses, Moses” the reply was an unconditional: “Here am I.”

Now let us turn to the prophet greater than Moses, the one whom we have come to remember this morning. Jesus did not just say the words: “Here am I,” he lived them. From a young child the Lord acknowledged his destiny: “Wist ye not that I must be about my father’s business” (Lk. 2:49). When his work of preaching the kingdom of God was almost finished and knowing what lay ahead, he: “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51). Anticipating his imminent ordeal, he prayed, “Not my will but thine be done” (Lk. 22:42). The Son of Man was obedient unto death, ready to do whatever was required of him even to offering his life.

Call of the trumpet

The exemplary behavior of Jesus and the stalwarts of faith is in complete contrast to the reactions of Adam and Eve, and Jonah. The former both hid upon hearing the voice of the Lord in the garden; Jonah rose up and fled from His presence. In which category are we? God calls us to His service in many different ways. Do we hear, acknowledge and recognize His voice with: “Here am I” or are there so many distractions in our lives that we fail to hear or respond? Are we metaphorically hiding or fleeing and saying, I’m here but not now; I’m busy, can you call back later? Rather let it be: “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I, send me” (Is. 6:8). If we are prepared to respond to this message in the manner of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and young Samuel, then when the last call comes and the trumpet shall sound we will see these willing responders in the promised land.

Brian Carrick, Toronto East, Ontario

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