“Call and Response”

1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (The VOICE)  
South Presbyterian Church – December 15, 2013 – ADVENT 3
Service of Ordination and Installation of Deacons and Ruling Elders
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift (PCUSA) 

       I’m going to say (or sing) some things and I want you to say (or sing) whatever comes next. Ready?

          The Lord be with you.         And also with you.

        (sing) Come, share our sacred space.   Ashe, Ashe.

        … world without end.          Amen.

        God is good …                   All the time.

        And all the time …              God is good.


        We have just engaged in a very ancient form of prayer and communication known as Call and Response.

        Call and Response is pretty much what it says it is:  someone calls out something and someone else responds.

        These things that are said and responded to are often well-known by the people engaging in it. Some are particularly Christian:  

Christ is Risen    He is risen, indeed.

Others are known to specific groups … or clubs … or FAMILIES. There are some things in families that are particular to them … catch phrases that have evolved over the years.

But today we are lifting up a DIFFERENT kind of Call and Response. This is one where someone is literally CALLED … somebody … in THIS case, SAMUEL … hears his name being called and he thinks it is his teacher, Eli.

So he goes running to Eli in the next room because Samuel is Eli’s apprentice … his STUDENT … his disciple. Eli is learning FROM Eli and so he is listening for his master’s voice even when he’s SLEEPING. He is ever-ready to respond.

He hears his name being called in the middle of the night. There’s nobody there but the two of them so he rushes to his master’s side.

But Eli hadn’t CALLED him. He was just sleeping in the next room, so he sends him back to bed.

Samuel does as he is told.


Presumably, he does back to sleep, and the same thing happens again. He hears his voice … he goes running in to his teacher’s room … “Here I am.” And Eli says … “I didn’t call you.”

But FINALLY, Eli realizes that the boy is NOT having auditory hallucinations and that someone IS calling Samuel and that “someone” is God. So he tells him the next time he hears it to answer and say, “Speak, Eternal One, your servant  is listening.”

And, as we know from the reading … it happens just as Eli has said.

This passage is one of my favorites in the whole Bible and it’s known as The Call of Samuel because it is where God calls this young boy to become a prophet and to lead the people of Israel.


ALL of us are called at one time or another … in one WAY or another. For some it’s a CAREER call … so-and-so is called to be doctor or a teacher;  others are called to a ROLE … she felt really called to be a mother or so-and-so is a perpetual STUDENT. They must really be called to the practice of learning.

Personally, I think that most of our Presidents are called to be president or they wouldn’t be able to survive the horrible, grueling process of getting elected. But with ALL of us, the question comes up … WHO is doing the calling?

If the answer is money and greed, then the calling takes on a whole new dimension and does not serve the greater good.

If, on the other hand, the caller is GOD or JESUS or the SPIRIT, then you can pretty well be assured of  2  things:

  1. The job won’t be EASY but it will be REWARDING, and
  2. You might be able to say no for the time being because we all have free will, but  (sing it) “sooner or later, love is gonna getcha.”  Sooner or later, God’s love will win out and you will end up saying yes!


Well, today we are lifting up five from among us who have said YES to God:  1 Ruth, 1 Sonya, 1 Summer, and 2 Barbs. Called by GOD to serve as leaders of this congregation.

You hear me say this every year, but it is important enough to repeat yearly:  Along with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, this day of Ordination and Installation is, in my opinion, the most important day of the church year.

Why?    Because this is what makes us Presbyterian.

Presbuteros, the Greek word for ELDER, is where we get our NAME “Presbyterian.”  You can tell what’s important to groups by their Names … the Roman Catholic Church?  “Catholic” means universal. All the churches will do the same thing all around the world, and this church is centered in ROME, not in eastern countries as the Orthodox churches are.

Baptists … the practice of baptism by immersion is VITAL to every Baptist church.

Methodists were originally named because of the METHOD by which they worshiped when the brothers Wesley were at Oxford.

Presbyterians … we are named because of the importance of our elders.

You see … at one end of the Christian spectrum are those with top-down authority … the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans … popes or bishops and their councils have organizational authority over the congregations.

At the other end of the spectrum are Baptists and Congregationalists where each congregation has organizational authority over itself. They elect and appoint their own leaders.

If a person wants to become a priest in one of the top-down churches, he or she must be approved by the Bishop who is a direct representative of either the Pope or a council serving in the role of the leader.

If a person wants to become a leader or minister in a Baptist church, for instance, all he (and in some forms of the Baptist church it could only be a HE) would have to do is say that he is called by God. It’s a very private calling … which is why every once in a while you will hear of some child … 7, 8 years old … being called Reverend (meaning “the Revered one” or “the chosen one”) and preaching!

But in the middle … between those two extremes … we have Presbyterians and the Reformed Church of America where we elect our leaders and then they are ordained by the next highest group or judicatory.

So as Presbyterians, I could not just wake up one day and say, “God calls me to be a minister. Give me a church and I’ll start preaching.”

WE believe that the call of God must be born out by the PEOPLE of God … a community has to AGREE that God has called you. And THEN … whoever is going to ordain you gets to question you … EXAMINE you … and make sure that THEY feel God is calling you.

And sometimes they don’t.

In the case of Ministers … what we call TEACHING elders like Jane and me … we are ordained by the Presbytery which, ITSELF, is a group of Elders and Ministers in a geographic area. Whoever ordains gets to do the examination because it’s on THEM to discern if, indeed, God is CALLING this person to this ministry.

So ministers, in order to be ordained, work with a committee of the Presbytery made up of elders and ministers (and right now our own Nancy Rice sits on that committee for the Presbytery … others have been on it before … Ann Finger … are there others???) to help candidates discern and move through a call PROCESS. And ultimately, they are examined on the floor of PRESBYTERY in order for their call to be validated.

But with Deacons and Elders, it is the local SESSION in each church that is charged with that discernment. So where we are today is that each of these five people … the 1 Ruth, 1 Sonya, 1 Summer, and 2 Barbs … have each decided on their OWN that God is calling them.

They are like Samuel who have heard the Voice calling in the night and said “Here I am, Lord.”

But that’s not enough. That’s just the beginning because THEN the Nominating Committee had to think about it and pray about it and present their names to YOU.

Then YOU thought and prayed about it and spoke through their ELECTION last month. And after THAT the SESSION met with each one individually, prayed with them and examined them about why they feel God is calling them NOW in their own lives and now in the life of THIS CHURCH … and the Session felt led to say YES to each one of them and agree with them that God is calling them.

It’s so COOL! This Presbyterian thing is so COOL because we don’t leave it up to just one person!  God’s will gets born out in COMMUNITY.

So here we are … about to bring on board our official new LEADERSHIP for this congregation. These are the people who will receive and interpret God’s will for us for the next two and three years at a very crucial time in our life as a church. You can’t GET much more exciting than that, and THAT’s why today is such a big deal.

But here we are on the third week of Advent. We have crossed the half-way point to Christmas and the theme?  JOY!

We have so MUCH to be joyful about … not the least of which is the fact that God has chosen who will lead us and minister to us.

Now, let me just say here that Mark was also elected, but because of family changes, he has not been able to meet with the Session yet, so we are putting his ordination and installation on hold until after the holidays when things slow down a little bit and then we’ll figure out where we are going with that. For the next month or so, the Session will operate with 8 instead of 9 people and that’s okay for the short term.

So … Samuel said yes to God.

And these 5 women said yes to God.

And ALL of us, as the time approaches for the birth of the Christ Child into our lives anew … ALL of us are being invited to say yes to God … each in her or his own way because each one of us is called in SOME way. That’s what it IS to be Christian. And TODAY, this is what it is to be Presbyterian:  Call and Response.

May God’s Grace be upon us with what we are about to do.  Amen.



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