1 Samuel 3; Isaiah 6:8
Text: Dan Schutte (b. 1947) Tune: Dan Schutte (b.1947)
1. I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
R/Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
2. I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide,
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give My life to them,
Whom shall I send?
The need to have a calling and a sense of purpose is fundamental to any life, but especially the Christian life. Without a purpose, people lose hope. Christ calls everyone into a vocation. He knows our gifts and wants us to use them to serve others as we were created to. Luther's reformation taught that being a Christian meant you had a vocation to serve in whatever position you found yourself.
People’s call stories are always interesting to hear. Some of them are dramatic. One of the more dramatic I have heard was that of Merton P. Strommen, the Youth Director of the Luther League when I was a teenager. A gifted musician, he had thought his future lay in music. So after college he entered the University of Minnesota’s School of Music. One night, he heard the voice of God calling him, like it had called the young boy Samuel, to serve him in the ordained ministry. He said yes. The next day he enrolled at Augsburg Seminary.
The difference his yes made in his life and countless others cannot be told. As Youth Director of the Lutheran Free Church and Campus Pastor at Augsburg, he went on to lead thousands of young people to become active, living Christians. Strommen came to understand the needs of youth for commitment and direction during his research for a doctoral thesis on the beliefs, needs and values of Lutheran youth. This led him to establish what became the Search Institute. It is a remarkable story that he would tell when asked, always with the sense of awe that God could be so direct.
There are those of us who did not have such a dramatic experience, but found ourselves able to trace, while looking back, how the Lord had led us to make this decision instead of that. We could see that it had brought us to the place where we were, and glad of it. I suspect that is a more common story. Strommen and others in youth work knew the church had to find ways to challenge young people to serve Christ. Thus the emphasis churches put on Bible camps and Youth Conventions where young people could meet with others, hear inspiring sermons from Christian leaders challenging them with songs like "Living for Jesus," which they sang fervently with thousands of other young people.
It was also part of their vocations to raise up new leaders to take their places as they would retire. In the late 1970s until 2010, few were better at doing this than Paul Youngdahl of Mount Olivet Church in Minneapolis. His heart was in youth ministry. He spent the summer months at Mount Olivet's church camp, Cathedral of the Pines, near Lutsen, Minnesota, getting to know the campers that came, hundreds, every summer.
He also developed a program with Luther Seminary called Previews. Youngdahl, with Pastor Mary Brown and Luther Seminary, asked pastors to bring high school students who might be thinking of the ministry from the churches around the area to the seminary for a day of challenge and discernment of their calls. These became huge events and had to be broken up into a couple of different days. The Seminary Relations department directed by Kathy Hansen knew this was our future and supported it to the hilt. It is still going on.
I can never forget listening to these young people singing this song. The Chapel of the Incarnation at Luther Seminary, filled to capacity with young people wanting to serve. It was thrilling. One can only imagine where they have ended up in answering the call of God, not just to be pastors, but active Christians, fulfilling their vocation to serve, to bear God’s light to others, to feed them with the finest food and satisfy the hearts of all those around them who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Schutte was born in Neenah, Wisconsin, and went to Jesuit schools. He entered the Society of Jesus in the 1970s, where he began working with a singing group, The St. Louis Jesuits. They wrote English songs for Catholics who were just beginning to worship in English. His group composed many new songs, but this is by far the most popular. He left the order in 1986, but continued to compose and write songs for worship. He is now Composer-in-Residence at the University of San Francisco.
Schutte’s hymn is second on lists of favorite songs, after “On Eagle’s Wings.” In writing it he uses the story of Samuel hearing the call of God, adding the verse from Isaiah 6:8, "Here am I, send me." He wrote it quickly while suffering from the flu. He had been asked by a friend to write something for a deacon's ordination service. Starting on Wednesday, he fussed with it until just before the service that weekend when he delivered it to the friend in time to be sung. The rest is history, as they say. It spoke to that group and quickly spread around the world. It is a blessing to watch young people on the links below singing it, their eyes shining with hope and commitment, their future before them. The choral arrangement by Ovid Young (1940-2014) has made it something of a standard for college choirs.
Dan Schutte singing
National Youth Choir of Scotland
Luther College Cathedral Choir, Ovid Young’s arrangement/look at their faces!
Gustavus College Choir/Ovid Young's arrangement