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The Man With Two Umbrellas

Sermon
Defining Moments
First Lesson Sermons For Advent/Christmas/Epiphany
The late Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton, who for many years preached at the Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, tells a wonderful story about the man with two umbrellas. He said that when he crossed the Atlantic one summer he noticed a dark-skinned man sitting in a deck chair, reading the Bible. One day he sat beside him and said, "Forgive my curiosity, but I am a minister. I see you come here every day and read your Bible. I assume you are a Christian, and I am interested to know how it happened."

"Yes," replied the man, setting aside his Bible. "I'm very glad to talk about it. You see, I am a Filipino. I was born in a good home in the Philippines, and some years ago I came to the United States to one of your fine universities to study law. My first night on campus, a student came to see me. He said, 'I have come over to welcome you to the campus and to say to you that if there is anything I can do to help make your stay here more pleasant, I hope you will call on me.' Then he asked me where I went to church, and I named a church that was prevalent in the Philippine Islands but I wasn't very committed to it. He said, 'I can tell you where that church is. It is not easy to find; it's quite a distance away. Let me make you a map.' So he made an outline of the way to the church and he left.

"When I awakened Sunday morning, it was raining. I thought to myself, 'I'll just not go to church this morning. Surely, I can be forgiven for this. It's my first Sunday on a new campus; it's raining hard, and the church is hard to find. I'll get some more sleep.' Then there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, there stood that student. His raincoat was dripping wet, and on one arm he had two umbrellas. He said, 'I thought you might have a hard time finding your church, especially in the rain. I shall walk along with you and show you where it is.' As I got dressed to go, I thought, 'What kind of fellow is this?' As we walked along in the rain under the two umbrellas, I said to myself, 'If this fellow is so concerned about my religion, I ought to know something about his.' I asked, 'Where do you go to church?' 'Oh,' he replied, 'My church is just around the corner.' I said, 'Suppose we go to your church today, and we'll go to my church next Sunday.' I went to his church and I've never been back to my own. After four years, I felt it was not the law for me but rather I felt a call of God to the ministry. I went to Drew Seminary, was ordained a Methodist minister, and received an appointment to a Methodist church in the Philippines. I am a bishop now of the Methodist church in the Philippines."

The most important man in this story is not the Methodist bishop but the man with the two umbrellas. Now to the biblical story before us. What made the young Samuel so open to the call of God that strange night in Eli's house? "Speak, your servant is listening" (v. 9). The young boy answered quickly and easily after he had figured out who was calling to him. But he did not arrive at the conclusion as easily as we make it sound in sermons and Sunday school lessons. Samuel had been under the wing of Eli, the priest of Shiloh and a judge of Israel, ever since he had been weaned. Eli was overseeing his service as a lifelong Nazarite. Eli had no joy in his own two sons, Hophni (tadpole) and Phinehas (the Nubian), for they were reprobates and had no regard for God, even though they were priests of the Lord. Naturally, this made Samuel more an apprentice or, even more, a surrogate son (v. 16). It pleased Hannah, Samuel's mother, for this was the child she had prayed for and had promised to God.

During the nights, Samuel heard a voice calling to him, and he awakened the old priest. "Here am I. You called me?" "You are mistaken. Go back to bed," the old man said. This occurred the second, and then the third time. Finally, as Eli was dozing off and the wise old priest was thinking that perhaps this was not an event that could be ignored, his spiritual senses kicked in and he knew something unique was transpiring here. "Go back to bed and hear the divine revelation." The source of the interruption was none other than the God of Israel. Samuel would not have been able to respond to the call of God had it not been for the influence of old Eli.

The influence of one life upon another is powerful. We are all tremendously affected by what other people do or say. There is an invisible pull of one life upon another. For example, in a Nazi concentration camp where Martin Niemoller was imprisoned, a Nazi agent was placed in a cell next to that of Dr. Niemoller in the hope of converting the Christian minister to totalitarianism. After some days of observing God's prisoner (as he was called), his habit of devotion, his unfettered faith in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, the Nazi officer called for a copy of the Bible, whereupon he was promptly removed from the jail.

Once, in the Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., a tiny tube containing less than 1/2,000 of an ounce of radium was accidentally dropped and broken on the hardwood floor. With a camel's hair brush, they swept up the radium. Then they washed the floor to get the rest of it. But enough remained to render four more washings necessary. Each yielded more radium. Finally, a carpenter scraped the floor three years later, the shavings were burned, and the ashes were found to be strong in radium.

We cannot get rid of influence. The Bible tells us that no man lives or dies to himself (Romans 14:7). To influence is to sway, to affect, to be acted upon by mental, moral, or spiritual power. The Bible illustrates influence as a leaven (Matthew 13:33), as sound spreading forth (1 Thessalonians 1:8), or as salt (Matthew 5:17), cancer (2 Timothy 2:17), ointment or fragrance (Proverbs 27:18).

Influence is not an option for us; we all have it. The option is the kind of influence or how we will exert our influence. Everyone is contagious. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, knew this. She wanted old Eli to influence her boy. He was mature in the faith. He was someone with whom Samuel could be close. This kind of closeness makes one God's usher, leading souls God's way by a relationship of trust, friendship, mutual support, and loving honesty. I strongly believe the living Christ is present in this influence. Christ gets between the two people in the influence, the witness and the listener. Christ himself finally meets the other person, using the witness only as an usher. This is a sacred witness because Jesus is present. He lives and this is the reason the miracle happens -- the miracle in which we, the talker and the listener, are both converts. I must look again at Christ because the other points to him as well. It is an experience that can only be called a "miracle of betweenness," a factor in the Christian faith. This kind of influence, or the miracle of betweenness, enabled Samuel to hear the call of God for his life. Whether or not Samuel would have found his way without Eli is a matter of speculation. The fact is he did have the influence of Eli which held him so that he could hear the call of God.

The call of God is indispensable for the Christian leader. It is a time for us to understand that we are discussing the most sacred part of a minister's life, the holy of holies, the place where he loses control of the direction of his life and Someone else takes over. Paul Scherer has said, "We should ... clear out of the road all the nonsense we have picked up, if any, in the matter of the call of the Christian ministry. There is such a call and when it comes, it comes straight from God. I believe with all my heart a man must hear it and feel its imperious constraint before he can ever give himself with any wholehearted devotion and abiding wonder to this stewardship of the gospel."1

The apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11 regarded the office of pastor as a definite appointment of the Holy Spirit. He was also certain that a divine call by Christ had placed him in the ministry (1 Timothy 1:12). A pastor who sees his ministry only as a vocational choice soon learns the folly of his choice. Any man who selects the ministry as a profession will be studying insurance after the first meeting of his official board. The call of the eternal must ring through the rooms of his soul as clearly as the sound of the morning bell rings through the valleys of Korea calling the people to prayer and praise. Ralph Waldo Emerson has said that men whose duties are done beneath the lofty and stately domes acquire a dignified stride and a certain stateliness of demeanor, and I believe that is also true of preachers of the gospel. Understanding that one is called and an acknowledgement of that call give a compass that guides the Christian leader in his intellectual journey. It is an aimless life that does not have this compass.

The Bible is filled with accounts of God calling people in a special way and to a peculiar service. Those who are called of God stand in the best biblical tradition. God called Moses (Exodus 3:10). God called Isaiah (6:9). He called forth Jeremiah (1:5). Saul of Tarsus was dramatically converted and became a chosen vessel in Acts 9:15. To the eleven Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last ..." (John 15:16). The scriptures make crystal clear the fact of the divine call given by God to specific people for specific purposes is beyond debate. The mistake we make is to demand that God speak the same way to each of us. There is only one "road to Damascus" experience in the New Testament, but there are many conversions and many are called. Paul's experience on that road is not a model for all conversions and calls. That he was converted and called is all that matters.

In the Bible we see Amos, a poor herdsman from Tekoa. As his campfire burned, he heard the call and saw the beckoning hand. "The Lord took me from tending the flock and said, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel' " (Amos 7:15). He spoke with passion against the years of dark doings in high places, wealth breeding laziness, rampant injustice.

But Isaiah was a friend of kings, cultured and courtly. "In the year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord." Mourning the fall of the king, he heard the voice of God. His answer was, "Here am I. Send me."

Jeremiah, brooding about vocational direction, heard the voice of God saying to him, "Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet" (Jeremiah 1:5). It was a clear call, greatly feared and reluctantly accepted. The biblical evidence has no set pattern, but a strong sense of "the hand of the Lord was upon me" is apparent. The manner of one's call may be different, but there is always a sense of divine initiative.

Now we come to the real issue, which is whether we are one-umbrella Christians or two-umbrella Christians. A one-umbrella Christian denies his call and influence. But a two-umbrella Christian answers God's voice and understands his call and the power of influence and focuses it properly. Anyone can be a one-umbrella Christian. A one-umbrella Christian is a consumer of religion; he just picks and chooses and consumes it. But a two-umbrella Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. A one-umbrella Christian says, "My needs first." A two-umbrella Christian says, "The kingdom of God first." A one-umbrella Christian says, "What meets my convenience comes first." But the two-umbrella Christian says, "What reaches people for Jesus Christ must come first." A one-umbrella Christian says, "My group, me first." The two-umbrella Christian says, "The kingdom first," and he makes his decisions based upon the kingdom, not on his own selfishness. We need to be two-umbrella Christians. A one-umbrella Christian says, "How little can I give and get by?" A two-umbrella Christian says, "How much can I give when I realize what he gave?" A one-umbrella Christian samples sermons and lessons, becomes a gourmet of religion, but a two-umbrella Christian follows Jesus. Wherever he leads I'll go, whatever commitment it takes -- that is what the two-umbrella Christian does.

This has only been a way of describing discipleship in the light of our call and influence. We must pick up the second umbrella. We need to move from comfort to discipline. We need to move from consumerism to dedication. We should remember that Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Two-umbrella Christians change their world, thus fulfilling their call.

____________

1. Paul Scherer, For We Have this Treasure (New York: Harper Brothers, 1944), pp. 4-5.
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