Sometimes the phone rings but when you pick it up it’s dead. Sometimes the voice – which may be in Basingstoke or Bangalore wants to sell you a new mobile phone contract or insurance. You can block the calls but they still get through. Yesterday I had an E Mail telling me that I had won £3,987,470 in the National Lottery. I just deleted it. We are all consumers and the pressure from people who want to sell us things is insistent and persistent.
Insistent and persistent. It was when the Lord called Samuel for the third time – and when Samuel went to Eli for the third time that Eli realised that the call was the call of God. And he tells Samuel to be a servant with open ears – ‘Speak for your servant is listening.’
Jesus calls Philip. Philip tells Nathaniel. Nathaniel says, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ He means, ‘This is a nuisance – you have lost the plot – just put the phone down – put the junk mail in the bin.’ And yet the openness and the clarity of the meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel is such that he sees heaven itself.
This is Elspeth and Eve’s confirmation day – it’s a day about the things which we do in church. But also I suspect that, for them and their families and, indeed, for this congregation, it is also about other things, other stages on the journey, other things to be thankful for, other things to hope for.
And we ask – all of us – whether it means anything to talk about the insistent, persistent call of God. After all, the whole point of living in a secular society is that it denies that such a thing exists. I am going to offer you three ways in which I think it makes sense.
I think first of the beginning of Jeremiah where God says: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.’ We may not hear it but it is always there. Second, this call is about being part of the family of God here in church. It may seem at times lost and pointless, a shadow of what God call it to be – yet here week by week, year by year, in prayer and praise, in friendship and service, we attempt to stay tuned in to the voice of God and his call upon our lives. And third – and to me the most important – is the distinctiveness of what God’s call does to people – all kinds of people – who feel the call of God as an insistent, persistent presence in their lives. What I can see is that the call of God makes it possible for somebody to act against the grain of how the world is – to live in a world of secular, acquisitive consumers but to act consciously in ways which are loving, generous, forgiving, sacrificial. That may happen in family or community. It may attract attention or be totally unseen. It may have obvious consequences or seem to have none at all – it doesn’t matter because God looks after all that.
God’s all – insistent and persistent. What matters is that we take Eli’s advice and respond ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’