God calls you by name

“God calls you by name” January 17, 2021

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scriptures

1 Samuel 3:1-10

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am. ”  And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

“God calls you by name”

God speaks and calls Samuel four times, “Samuel! Samuel!”, but three of those times, Samuel thinks it is the elder priest, Eli, who is calling him. It is not until the fourth time, after Eli tells Samuel that it is God, that Samuel responds to the call with “Speak, for your servant is listening” . At first, Samuel does not know God’s voice, but he soon learns to recognize God’s voice and realizes that God is the foundation of his future prophetic work.

The question before us today is: God speaks. Do we listen?

We will be remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday this Monday. He was a pastor and civil rights activist. When people remember Dr. King, one of the first things they may think of is his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered before the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 for the March on Washington, D.C. for Civil Rights. He was a gifted orator. But he was so much more than an effective communicator. He had a deep concern for the racially and socioeconomically oppressed who suffered under the unjust hands. Dr. King believed “that activism prefaced by prayer can be most effective.” That is something that we get to see very clearly in his life.

In January 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott, he received a threatening phone call late at night. He couldn’t sleep. We all know of his experience sitting at his kitchen table and praying to God. He was at a breaking point of exhaustion and about to give up. He spoke to God and says that he experienced the Divine and “could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.’” 

He needed God to speak first. Then he could act. He listened prayerfully then proclaimed prophetically.

The Gospel reading for today, John 1:43-51, is also about God’s call. Jesus calls the first disciples. 

Today’s message is about listening to God calling out your name and heeding that voice. How many times has God spoken to us, but we didn’t know it was the Lord?  How many times have we recognized that God was speaking, but we didn’t hear his message because we were too busy?  To hear the word of the Lord to us, it is essential that we pray from the heart. It’s possible that we don’t hear the voice because of distractions. There’s noise that prevents us from listening. “Noise” is also a technical word. Here is the technical definition of noise: 

  • Irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.
  • Random fluctuations that obscure or do not contain meaningful data or other information.

Noise can prevent us from listening. There are all kinds of things that can keep us from listening well or listening at all. Some of these things are outside of us, sometimes they are within us too.

(Illustration)

A man suspected that his wife was getting hard of hearing / going deaf. So he decided to test her in his way to understand the scope of the problem.

 And so he devises a little test to know the extent of this problem. Once when his wife is in the kitchen, cooking, this man stands at a little distance and calls out her name and says “honey, what’s for supper?” There is no response and the man feels a little bit convinced that she is going deaf, but then he wants to know the extent of the problem. He goes just a little closer and then he calls out again asking “honey, what’s for supper?” And again, there is no response and the man is now almost convinced that his wife has really gone deaf but wants to take his trial a step further in order to assess the exact extent of the problem. He goes really close behind her and then almost shouts out her name and says, “honey. What’s for supper?”
She turns around and says “for the THIRD time we’re having chicken!”

Sometimes we don’t realize that when we can’t hear anything the problem is with us. We are either deaf to what really is going on, failing to perceive reality, have selective perception, or we think that the problem is outside when really it is within us.

But there are more than physical causes of why we don’t listen or can’t listen to God’s voice in our life. We can be deaf because of these other things that won’t let us focus on God and listen well:

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Failure
  • Shame
  • Etc.

It’s important to realize that God calls out in love and that we must make an effort to listen and to respond.

God may be calling out to you today for any of these reasons:

  • To have fellowship with you (Rev. 3:20 says: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me)
  • To instruct you in the way of blessings
  • Caution you against some dangers and pitfalls
  • To encourage you and assure you of His presence
  • To get you to relay a message to someone or testify and witness (even prophetic witness)

I hope that this simple reminder about God calling out to us by name will make us more aware of His love for each of us. The other reading from Psalm 139 in our lectionary set today talks about something that the Psalmist speaks about beautifully in the image of us being ‘knit together in our mother’s womb’. That is the kind of intimacy and love and concern and complete knowledge of you that God has when He calls out your name.

Become aware of God’s presence and His love for you. He’s talking to you in different ways:

  • God’s Word
  • In Prayer
  • Through people, our friends and family
  • Circumstances – failures, accomplishments, etc.
  • Nature
  • Dreams & Visions
  • Small, still inner voice

And like Samuel responded to the Lord’s call, may we be able to obediently respond by saying “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. I pray that God would bless us with the keenness of hearing to shut out the distractions and noise, and listen to His voice and respond in an attitude of obedience, love and surrender.

God bless you.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to listen for your voice, to listen to your voice, and to heed your call. Help us to fight off distractions and noise so that we may discover the beauty and joy of you talking to us. Amen.

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