Present and Accounted For

There's no substitute for "being there." Just showin' up is often more than ½ the battle. "With you in spirit," just doesn't cut it, and we all know that down deep. We teach it from an early age. Tomorrow's the first day of school around here; today's the first day of Sunday School right here. And what's the first thing we do, pretty much? We take attendance… we call the roll. Neal Jeffrey leads a wonderful adventure in discipleship called, The Man I Want to Be. (Our UMM will be sharing this adventure and I invite all our men of every age to share it.) He begins with an admission. He's a stutterer. But a very good one, he adds. "It's no big deal unless you're trying to say something," he jokes. It's affected him all his life. 'Answering the phone as a kid. He'd pick up. "Hello." He'd get all twisted up. So he'd just hang up! At school, roll call was a challenge. "I'd get counted absent alotta days." For a boy named Jeffrey, "There's not a lot of time between Jackson and Johnson, so you gotta be quick," he notes. He wasn't. ARE WE when God calls our name? This late summer roll-call Sunday's a good time to reflect on being present and accounted for. We don't want to be counted absent when Jesus is calling, not here, not now, any more than, "When the roll is called up yonder," as the old song goes.

First things first. Before we can let it be known where we are, we gotta get to the right place and listen for our name to be called! Place. So important. And so easily set aside in our times. Now, like so many of us, Hannah was a conscientious parent. Our Bible presents her as a mom who prayed-and-prayed for her child to be born. And when Samuel was given to her by God, she knew just what an extraordinary miracle/blessing he was. Gee, there are many of us in this room who've waited the same wait, prayed the same prayers and felt the same giftedness in the arrival of our children and grandchildren. Sarah knew what to feel, and just what to do. She took her son to the Temple. She gave him over to Eli, the priest. Surely, Hannah knew that God is everywhere. But she wisely noted God may not always call for us just anywhere. Afterall, says scripture, "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision." Does that register with you? Does that sound like the days we live in? Hannah made sure her Sammy lived where God was longed for, listened for, said to speak, and heard to say some sacred words. I didn't stutter like Neal Jeffery. But I will tell a school story. High school. Our principal, Omar Jones, a tiny holy terror of a man. Holy in love for us. A terror how he sometimes showed it. He'd get on the PA system and read out your report card! He'd also warn you if the cops were on campus in the days when some kids wanted to roar away in muscle cars. He'd read out your attendance records. "So-in-so, & So-in-so…, missed so many days this term. That's so many total days, classes, hours, minutes they never heard a word the teacher said. Just what did they expect to hear to lift their life?!" This summer, I'm embarrassed to admit, marked 40 years since my classmates heard these words. But they remembered. I remember. And to a person we are still… grateful! Sunday School begins today. Everybody here's a child of God. Who here really doesn't need to hear a word the teachers say? Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, all our teaching days. If you've got kids, know kids, have grandkids (nephews, nieces, cousins), neighbors: send 'em, bring 'em, drive 'em, corral 'em, cajol 'em, whatever! To Sunday School, youth group, kids choir, teen choir, work camp, VBS and all the rest. Why? Cause no heart can be present and accounted for where God is most likely to speak his Word, who is absent, or just "with you in spirit" which means, "not here in fact."

The question's not 40 years old, it's eternal, "Just what do you expect to hear to lift your life?!" All my life I'd heard that expletive, "Holy Hannah," and often wondered why she was. Because she had a heart for getting to the place (with her loved child) where God was ready to speak. I hope in your family, somebody'll be sayin', "Holy Barry, Dolores, Bill, etc.," and speaking of you, this very year!

Place is only ½ the story. Listening's the other ½! Samuel had had practice. He was ready when God spoke. Granted he didn't get it quite right at first. Few of us do. But he kept listening. He didn't tune out. He tuned in. There's a lesson for us all. He had to set aside the expected. 'Couldn't be God calling him, 'must just be Eli. He had to put aside whatever had been said of him by those all 'round. ('Tell you this, he was unlikely the only youth or person in the Temple court. Others had opinions of him and feelings about him. We can only imagine how Eli's grown sons might have felt of this supposed boy-wonder.) Samuel put it all aside, bad and good, and set his ears for the voice of God alone, in the end. He opened his ears and his heart to the notion that God could and would actually speak to him, call him, personally!

In Bible times, Samuel was not the first or last to learn these lessons. No generation back then was immune. Why should we believe we are? We read of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, James and John. Some suppose these first-meetings with the Master. Others say probably not. For sure, Peter and Andrew hadn't shown themselves disciple-material before. Understand, disciples were those who'd memorized not just the expected first 5 Bible Books, but the entire of Hebrew scripture, and besides, shown a willing ability to become copies and carriers of the person and word of the rabbis they followed! They were the extraordinary, "best of the best" of their times. These guys were just… fishers… and maybe not the best at that. (After all, we have record they were prone to cast their nets on the wrong side of the boat!) James and John were grown men still apprenticed to their pa! But they had two things right. They put themselves where God was heard and seen. (From synagogue to seashore.) And they listened and recognized when their name was called, regardless their feelings of themselves or others.

Are you practiced at listenin'?! Do you honestly believe that God may just be calling your name? Are you ready, like Samuel, or Peter, Andrew, James or John? Were your last name Jeffery, do you have confidence you could sing out, "Present and accounted for, Lord," should yours be the name he's calling between Jackson and Johnson? If the question's not direct enough for you personally, let me put it another way. "Are you smitten, yet?" "Smitten of God?" Still don't get it? This'll help. Pastor Greg Tolle writes of taking his TV for repair in a new town. His bride's along. The repairman asks their occupation. "Pastor and wife (a teacher, as yet no new job)." The guy seems to change direction from their TV to the parsonage newly weds. "Are you smitten?" he asks the woman first. She's flustered, Tolle's certain she'll say how adorable he is! The guy quotes Ephesian 5: 22-25. He means, not smitten (puppy lovin'), but sub-mitting, each to the other, in the full love Christ has for all who gather around his name, enough to die for them? He wants to know if they are listening when God-in-Christ calls their name as a married couple. Hmmm. Are we listening like that? Churches have to practice listening for the call, too. Like Nichols-Bethel, a little church in the Smokey Mts. felt called to build. They did, aided by a land-bequest from a deceased member. A week before opening, county inspectors said, "Not without doubling the parking!" True story! No land but a sheer rock hill behind the building. Pastor called a prayer meeting. 24 of 300 came, prayed 3 hours. Pastor assured, "Come next Sunday, we'll be open!" Monday, a rough fella appeared at the preacher's door. "Excuse me, Sir; I'm from Acme Construction, building the new shopping center. We can't do anything else without fill dirt that needs to settle right. So we gotta have it ASAP to keep goin'. Will you sell us some of that hillside behind the church? We'll be willin' to pay top dollar if we can move it this week!" Church opened the next Sunday. Are we ready to believe like this? Pray like this? Expect like this? Listen like this, at the very most surprising moment when God-in-Christ calls our name?

Do you want to be present and accounted for when God in Christ calls. Do you want to sing out your name when the roll is called, here first, yonder later? Permit me to close with a few very practical pointers that will help our ears to tingle when God's ready to do a new thing!

  1. Get where God shows the action is: regularly! For you,
    your family, our family. Cliché, yes, but true. Church &
    study are the place to be. Holy Hannah's wholly correct.
  2. Crack the Book. Don't just hear about it. Hear from it!
  3. The only way to be more like Jesus, to be a disciple, is to
    know Jesus more and more. You are most likely to meet
    him among those already walking with him. Make one
    special friendship with one special friend of Jesus. Stay
    close. Keep Listenin'.
  4. Be a special friend to somebody else for Jesus' sake!
    Their questions sharpen your answers, for you, for them.
  5. You're never too old, or too young, to hear/answer him.

"All present and accounted for, Sir." Let this be our answer when God in-Christ calls!

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