The Greatest Calls In History (A Sermon on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos)
Theo Nicolakis, St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church, Peabody MA
+ In the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.
If you tried to summarize the entire Bible into one theme, what would that theme be? One answer to that question was proposed by the late rabbinical scholar Abraham Heschel. For Heschel, there was one dominant and prevailing theme that pervaded the entire TENAK or Old Testament. That theme was "God in search of humanity." The entire Bible is a living record of God's search for the lost, continually calling his people back to Him .... God continually calling humanity back.
The Bible is a living testimony of some of the greatest calls in history. When we think of these calls we immediately think of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and others whom God called into his service. Yet today, I would like to explore three calls in particular, which the bible highlights.
The first call I would like to explore is the call of Moses. We read in the book of Exodus that when God called Moses, the Israelites had been enslaved for over four hundred years. Yet even in the midst of their despair, their trials, and their sufferings, God did not forget his people. God chose Moses to deliver his people from the bonds of the Egyptians. Yet how did God call Moses?
One day, while tending his father-in-law's sheep, God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush and called him to deliver his people. Yet Moses, even though he saw the miracle before him, was reluctant. Moses did not listen to God at first. He tried to evade God's call to him. Moses told God that he was incapable of accomplishing the feat of delivering the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. To that God responded, "I will be with you." Again, Moses tried to evade God's call by saying that the Israelites would not believe him. To that God allowed Moses to perform signs as proof-the ability to turn his staff into a snake, to turn his hand leprous, and to make the water of the nile turn to blood." Even still, Moses tried to evade God's call by saying that he was not eloquent and that he was "slow of speech and slow of tongue." In other words, Moses, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament had a speech impediment. To that, God told Moses that he would give him the words to speak to Pharaoh and even allowed Moses to bring along his brother Aaron. Finally, Moses relented and accepted God's call.
While God's call to Moses was quite dramatic and came to Moses when he was about eighty years old, the second call which we will focus on is quite different from the first and concerns a small boy. This second call is found in the opening chapters of the Old Testament book known as 1 Samuel.
Samuel had been brought to the temple when he was still a child by his mother, Hannah. Hannah had dedicated her son to the Lord and entrusted Samuel to Eli, the priest. One evening, when Samuel was twelve years old, and both he and Eli were sleeping in their rooms, the Lord called out to Samuel by saying, "Samuel! Samuel!" Thinking that Eli, the priest had called him, Samuel ran into Eli's room and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Eli said to Samuel, "I did not call you, lie down again." So Samuel returned and lay down. The Lord then called again, "Samuel!" Samuel then got up, and went to Eli again and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But Eli said, I did not call, my son; lie down again." The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. Again, for a third time, Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me."
When Samuel came for a third time, Eli perceived that it was God who was calling Samuel. 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 again and lay down in his place. For a fourth time, the Lord returned again and called "Samuel! Samuel!". This time, Samuel responded, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Samuel responded to God's call and God revealed Himself to Samuel.
The third call which we will explore today is indeed the calling of all callings. There is no other call in the entire history of the human race as great as this call, and there is no response which impacted the fate of the human race as much as this response. Only this call, this event, could allow the church to temporarily suspend the solemn and penitential character of Lent to celebrate this momentous occasion. This event , this call, is, of course, the Annunciation, Ο Ευαγγελισμος της Θεοτοκου-the call of the virgin Mary.
Recorded in the gospel of St. Luke, the story of the Annunciation tells us how the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth. There, the angel Gabriel was sent to a young girl who was probably in her early teens-to a young virgin whose name was Mary. When the angel appeared to Mary he said to her, Χαιρε, κεχαπριτωμενη, ο κυριος μετα σου. Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David."
Yet unlike Moses, Mary did not try to evade God's call. Unlike Moses, she did not ask the Lord to chose another. Unlike Samuel, she was not confused as to who was calling her. No, on the contrary, Mary responded with the greatest response ever uttered. That response was simply, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
Tomorrow, the Orthodox Church universally celebrates this day of days, this feast of feasts. For through the call and response of one girl all humanity has the opportunity for salvation. Tomorrow, the church commemorates this day to remind us that God has called us as well.
These three stories prove God has called you. Make no mistake. God does not care about your age. Are you as old as Moses or as young as Samuel? God has called you. Are you male? Are you female? It makes no difference, for God has called you. God has called you as he called Moses and Mary. God calls you regardless of your race, regardless of your talents, regardless of your poverty, regardless of your wealth. God calls you regardless of your strengths, regardless of your weaknesses. God has called you because you are His sons and His daughters.
As we saw, the way God calls individuals is varied, yet the call is always personal and the end is the always the same. In very rare occasions, this is done in a dramatic way as it was to Moses. More often than naught, however, God comes as he did to Samuel. Most often, God comes to us in a quiet whisper, for as God Himself said, "be still and know that I am God." Remember, no matter how God reveals himself, the calling is one and the same. God has called you to serve him. God has called you to be a Christian. This calling-to be a Christian-is as great as the call of Moses and as profound as that of Mary's. Therefore, go and respond to God's call. Open up your hearts and allow God to enter and as you leave here today. And every day, remember to pray, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."
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