The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
1 Samuel 3:8-9
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
Last week, I learned a new word.
Hineni. The word is “Hineni” - a Hebrew word which means, “Here I am.” There are other ways to put it: Do with me what you deem best. I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice. Whatever you want, Lord: I’m reporting for duty. Do with me what Thou wilt.” That’s what Hineni means. I learned this word at a Pastors’ ZoomConference. Excellent material; great presentations; fun people to watch it with. That’s where I finally, at long last, learned the word “Hineni.”
It need not have been that way. If only I’d had the sense to take Hebrew as well as Greek, I’d have learned this word almost 40 years ago. But when the academic adviser at Duke Divinity School issued the call to freshmen to please consider seriously taking both languages, my Inner Sloth responded - and said, “Sounds like way too much to me. Greek for now: Yes. Hebrew? Maybe later.” Exactly when or where I thought there would ever be another opportunity to learn Hebrew...who knows? But that opportunity never came. And I still regret it. Because I love languages. And I love the Hebrew Scriptures. But when that call was issued to me, I hesitated. And we all know what they say about hesitation: “She who hesitates, is lost.” So I lost that opportunity - because the call scared me. It sounded like more than I could handle. Little did I know, at that point in my life, that every call - at least, every call from God - is going to be too much for us to handle...without God, that is. But there, of course, is the secret: the call of God never comes without the empowerment of God, for those who answer, “Hineni.”
In Sunday’s OT lesson, God calls the boy Samuel to be his prophet, his personal mouthpiece; and when Samuel gives his Hineni, God mightily empowers his prophecy. The Lord never lets even one of his words “fall to the ground.” (That’s the power of coming when you’re called.) In the Gospel reading, Phillip calls Nathanael... a skeptical soul if ever there was one. Upon hearing that this man whom Phillip claims to be the long awaited Messiah is actually none other than Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael replies: “Oh, yeah? Really? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip is too smart to argue with personal prejudice; he simply replies, “Come and see.” Nathanael does; Jesus pronounces him to be an Israelite in whom there is no guile, no deceit; Nathanael wonders how Jesus could know who he is, to which Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip ever called you.” Gobsmacked, Nathanael proclaims Jesus to be “the Son of God, the King of Israel.” To which Jesus replies, “You believe, because I told you I saw you under a fig tree? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Stick with me, kid, and you will see far greater things than this.” Whether Nathanael stuck with Jesus, we do not know, because in the instant after his confession of faith, Nat slips out of view; we never see or hear from him again. Phillip; well, he’s a different story - we see him over and over. Phillip has been called and gifted to bring other people to Jesus, and he keeps on answering that call. Phillip works no miracles and preaches no sermons; he is known for only one thing - bringing others to Jesus. He introduces people to the Lord, and lets Jesus take it from there. That’s his calling, and Phillip gives his Hineni to God by continuing to issue his own invitation, “Come and See”: Ela Na Deis. Come and See, and you will never be the same again. Come and See, and soon you’ll be lifting up your own “Hineni.”
Please note that these scripture lessons aren’t really about a call to ordained ministry as we currently understand it. Yes, the Lord does indeed appear to be calling Samuel into full time ministry: raised up as a priest trainee, Samuel is called by God to be a prophet. But what about our other call story? One perfectly ordinary person who has responded to Jesus’ call (Phillip), calls another perfectly ordinary person (Nathanael) to come and see the One whose call he himself has just answered. Two ordinary people, whose lives will forever be extraordinary because they have answered the call of God with their own “Hineni.”
So, as Protestants in general, and Methodists in particular, have always affirmed, every baptized Christian belongs to “the priesthood of all believers.” If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a calling. All Christians are called to ministry. It’s right smack dab in the middle of the baptismal ritual: the call to resist evil, in whatever guises it might present itself; the call to serve the Savior in union with everybody else who has ever said “Hineni” - and the call to serve as Jesus’ representatives in this world. That’s the call, overall. What your personal and particular call might be, I can’t tell you. But God can, and will. Someday, when you least expect it, when you’re minding your own business, the Lord will call you to become a part of His. It may be a call that will leverage the gifts and strengths God has given you; or it may be a call that will display God’s power made perfect in your worst weakness. It may be a call that will remain essentially the same for a lifetime; or it may be a call that will change and evolve in God’s own good time. It may be the call you’ve been waiting for all your life; or it may be a call you could never have imagined. But one thing is for sure: wherever God calls you, whenever God calls you, however God calls you, it will be a call that requires a response from you. May your response be “Hineni.”
A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalter for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood