1 Samuel 3.1-20; John 1.43-51
+ When I taught theology at the University of Mary, one of the topics we often discussed was vocation. Vocation as opposed to avocation. Vocation is a good thing to discuss. A vocation is something we are called to do. The root word of vocation is “voce” meaning “voice. It is a calling. It is we are called to do. Our deepest desire. An avocation is the job we do which is in addition to our vocation.
Sometimes, luckily, a person’s job happens to be their vocation. Like the priesthood. Or being organist. Or a teacher. Or an artist.
I often ask people: what is your vocation? Not “what do you do?” Rather, what is your calling? What were you meant to do and be?
Sadly, most vocations do not actually involve an actual “voce” or voice. We do not get the opportunity that Samuel has in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures. Though, we often get to respond in the same way.
“Here I am. Do with me what you must.”
In today’s Gospel, we also find a calling—a vocation, again with an actual “voce.” We find Philip saying to Nathaniel, “Come and see.” And we find Jesus telling Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than these.”
For most of us, who are not mystics, we have still seen our share of miracles in our lives—at least if we kept our minds and hearts and eyes open. No doubt, there have been many miracles. No doubt, there have been saints—true, living saints—that you have met—and still continue to meet—and walked beside. And although you probably have not seen heaven literally opened or angels literally “ascending and descending,” you’ve probably, once or twice, seen the veil between this world and heaven lifted. And you probably have seen angels ascending and descending in the guise of fellow travelers along the way.
Like Nathaniel, who would have a series of low points in his own life (legend says he would die a particularly horrible martyr’s death of being flayed alive, forced to walk, skinless in the desert, before being beheaded), through it all, he kept looking. And in looking, he saw.
This is what it means to be a disciple—a follower of Jesus. Despite the setbacks, the illnesses, despite the people who are out to trip you up, there are also the rewards—the high points that are better than any other high points.
Our lives as Christians is probably our greatest vocation. Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus—being a minister of Christ And being a disciple is a difficult thing at times. No one, when we became Christians, promised us sparkling, light-filled moments and rose gardens every step of the way. Actually, when we became Christians, we became Christians—all of us—in the shadow of the Cross. When we were baptized, we were marked with the Cross.
That was not a quaint, sweet little sentiment. It meant we were baptized into following Jesus wherever he led us in his life and ours—the good times and the bad. And as a result, we have faced our lives as followers of Jesus Christ squarely and honestly.
This is no cult we belong to, that promises us that if we do this and that we will be freed from pain and suffering. As followers of Jesus, we know that, Yes, bad things are going to happen to us. There will be illness, there will be setbacks, there will be broken relationships and conflicts with others, there will be loss and there will be death. And we know that there will be many, many people out there who want to trip us up and who want us to fail.
Following Jesus means being able, in those dark moments, to look and to see. When surrounded by darkness, we can see light. When stuck in the mire and muck of this life, we can still look up and see those angels descending and ascending on the Son, the One we have chosen to follow.
As I look back over these past many, many years, I realize they have been the most productive and fruitful years of my life. More than anything, as I look back over these last years, I find God weaving in and out of my life. As I look back, I find God, speaking to me, much as God spoke to Samuel in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures.
God, whether I was listening or not, was calling me again and again by name. God is calling each of us by our name. God is calling to us again and again. And what is our answer? Our answer is a simple one. It simply involves, getting up, looking and seeing, and saying to God,
“Here I am.”
Here I am.
And when do that, we will find that, like Samuel, God is with us. And—in that glorious moment—we will know: God will not allow one of our words to fall useless to the ground.