So much of this past week’s service reminded me of my childhood and my hometown of Bristol, Connecticut. I realize it might seem a stretch that stories set in an ancient time and in a very different part of the world could remind me of growing up in a blue-collar town in Central Connecticut, but they did.
First, the Old Testament reading of Samuel and Eli took me back to my early catechism classes. It was one of my favorite Bible stories because it was one of the few that featured a kid as the main character. Then later in the service, during the Gospel, I found myself thinking about my father. In particular, I was reminded of my dad in John 1:43-51 where Nathanael says to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” My father would often say something similar about the town adjacent to ours: nothing good ever came out of Terryville. Truth be told, people from West Hartford said the same about Bristol. Like Nathanael, my dad tended to carry a little local stereotyping around with him. But of course, something good comes out of all these places. (Certainly, Nathanael couldn’t have been more wrong.) Love, charity, kindness, compassion, integrity. These can be found in every locale.
Maybe the sense is that nothing spectacular or special comes out of certain places. No big-name celebrities or world-class athletes. But are these necessarily the things we want to tag with the trait of “good”? I mean, Bristol used to proudly proclaim former football player Aaron Hernandez a favorite son. We have discovered we need to be careful who we anoint as “special.”
The bottom line is that we are special because God loves us. It’s that simple. It doesn’t’t matter where we come from, if we are from the Terryvilles and Nazareths of the world or the New York Cities or Romes. If we are the 1 percent or the 99 percent. God’s love makes us special. Period.
Ok, simple enough. But maybe now I’m thinking that some people seem a little more special than others. Doesn’t Samuel – who answers God’s call unafraid and yet with great sensitivity to his father –seem really special? And how about Martin Luther King Jr.? Look at his life and read his quotes. All that prejudice and hatred he endured, and yet so many of his quotes talk about love and forgiveness. Certainly he’s extra special. Or the health care providers in Africa who treat Ebola victims? Aid workers in war-torn countries? Journalists who risk lives in the name of freedom of expression? Political opposition leaders in autocratic countries?
Do some of these people seem a little more special than us? Not in God’s eyes. Maybe these are people who have just answered the particular call that God has made to them. Perhaps my call isn’t to be an aid worker in Syria, but yours is. Maybe my call is something I haven’t even thought about or touched on in my life yet. I won’t know unless I quiet my heart, and listen to God’s voice. We certainly heard this in every part of our service this past Sunday.
It is hard not to look at ourselves in comparison to others. It’s such a human way of doing things. If I’m honest with myself, I do it at least twice a day. Yet, to hear God’s call we don’t need a checklist in our hands or to comparison shop. We need to open our hearts, and listen.
I am thinking of another thing my father used to say, when we would wonder why someone did something ill-advised or baffling. My dad would say “that’s between him and God.” I get it now. Don’t worry about that guy. You do your own talking, and listening, to God.
- Do you find it hard to hear to God’s call on your life?
- What exercises can you do to help you quiet your heart and listen?
- Do you ever feel like others seem to have found their calling but you are still struggling to hear the call?