Another pastor and I were sitting at the gate waiting to board our plane when I think I heard these words over the loud speaker: “Robert McDowell, please come to the desk.” Since it was noisy in our gate area, it was difficult to hear the words clearly.
My friend was seated next to me and so I asked him, “Did my name just get mentioned over the speaker?” And he said, “You know, I’m not sure, but it did kind of sound like your name was mentioned.”
Just then, there it was again, but it was still kind of difficult to hear. I looked at my friend and I said, “I think I heard my name again.”
So I decided to go up to the desk. I told her that it sounded like my name was called over the loud speaker. And she said, “No sir. I didn’t call for your name.” And I said, “But I think someone called my name and I just want to make sure that everything is ok.” She again assured me that my name wasn’t announced.
She told me to check with security which wasn’t that far from our gate, which I did. They gave me the same story. Nobody had called my name over the loud speaker. I checked to make sure that I still had my wallet and my car keys which I did.
When I got back to the gate and sat down next to my friend, I said, “I’m positive that someone was calling my name.” And he said, “Yeah, I know. That’s really strange.”
I never did find out why I heard my name called in that airport. It’s still a mystery to me.
Does it make you a little nervous to think about the possibility that right now, even in this very moment, God just might be calling out your name? It can be a little unsettling when we hear our names spoken. And we might wonder, “Did I just hear someone calling out my name?”
I say this because of our scripture readings for this morning. In the Old Testament, we read about the young boy, Samuel who was under the care of Eli. One night, Samuel hears his name. I wonder if when he heard this voice that he didn’t just pull up the covers and hide under the sheets.
But then he thought. “Hey wait a minute. Maybe Eli called my name. Maybe that voice that sounded like it was right above my head was really Eli.”
When we’re scared, that’s what we do, don’t we? Look for a good reason why we’re hearing voices. So Samuel jumps out of bed and runs as fast as he can down the hallway hoping that Eli will say to him, “Yes. That was me you heard.” But no. Eli says, “What are you talking about Samuel? I didn’t call you. Go on back to bed.”
I’m guessing that Samuel didn’t like that answer from Eli. Can you imagine poor little Samuel? I don’t think I’d want to go back into that room after hearing voices!
Maybe you heard of the story about the little boy who couldn’t sleep because of the loud thunderstorm one night. He woke up crying in the middle of the night and his mom came to his bedroom. And he was holding the covers close to his chin and with his voice shaking, he said, “I want you to sleep with me tonight, mommy.”
And his mom said, “Oh, you’ll be alright sweetheart. I need to sleep with your daddy.” After a short pause, the little boy said, “The big sissy!”
If I would have been Samuel in that situation, I would have said to Eli, “Let’s see you go into that room and see how you like hearing your name called in the middle of the dark night with all of the other spooky sounds.”
But Eli just sends Samuel back to his room. And when he gets back into his room, and probably just praying that he wouldn’t hear anymore voices, there it was again! “Samuel. Samuel.” So he jumps out of his bed again, runs down to Eli’s room, and Eli tells him for the 2nd time, “Little Sam, go back to your room. It wasn’t me. Just go to sleep.”
Well, as we’ve already heard from our scripture reading, Samuel went back to his room after hearing his name called out for the 2nd time & then a 3rd time. And it was after this 3rd time that the wise elderly man of God, Eli, realized what was going on.
God was calling Samuel’s name. And so, this time, Eli does a very wise thing. He simply tells Samuel to go back to bed and this time, if he hears that voice again, to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Isn’t this one of the best things that we can do for one another in the church? To help each other not only hear God’s calling, but to respond to God’s calling. We need each other to listen for God’s voice because hearing our name called out in the middle of the night can be a scary thing.
Listening and responding to God’s call might cost us something. Later on in Samuel’s life, he will realize the high stakes that are involved in saying yes to God. Such is the life of a prophet of God.
I think of the twelve disciples of Jesus and how they responded to his call to come and follow him. Little did they know that the road of discipleship would lead them to a wooden cross on a hill called Golgotha on which the one who had called their names to follow him would die, but it would also lead them to an empty tomb of victory.
When Martin Luther King Jr., heard God call his name to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, I wonder just how much he realized the danger he would face in responding to this call. Here he was with a wife and a young family. So much to lose. And how much would be gained?
In his pursuit of nonviolent means to bring racial equality to all of our country, he was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse.
Over an eleven year span from 1957 to 1968, Dr. King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action. He also led massive protests in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world providing what he called a coalition of conscience.
He is perhaps most remembered for the peaceful march which he directed to Washington, D.C. which consisted of a quarter of a million people and at the end of that march he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
During the evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though Dr. King was killed by a bullet that night, his dream for equality lives on. His dream for a just America and a just world lives on.
Did you know that Dr. King’s dream is rooted in God’s dream? A world where there is no hatred. A world where there is no hunger. A world where there is no racism. A world where there is no injustice. A world where all people are treated with respect. A world where medicine is available to all people. A world of hope. A world of promise. A world of God’s love. A world of forgiveness. A world where all things are made new.
Can you imagine such a world? This is the world that God has intended from the very beginning. This is the world that God is calling you and me to build and reclaim for God.
And God does this by calling each of us by name. It might not be an audible voice in the night as it was for Samuel, but God does call out our names to come and follow Him and make a difference in the world. To bring hope where there is no hope. To bring light to where there is darkness. To build a better world. A just world.
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a young man who was visiting a friend in the hospital. The person he was visiting was in the same hospital room of the church member that I was visiting.
I noticed that he was reading a bible and so I said to him, “It looks like you are a person of faith.” And his eyes lit up as he told me a little of his faith journey and how he had been baptized in his early teens.
He said that when he got older, he kind of let his faith slide, but now he was really close with the Lord.
And then he told me something really interesting. He said, “You won’t believe what happened to me this past summer.” He went on to say that he was driving down the road when he said that he felt that God was calling out his name.
He said, “It was the strangest thing. I could tell that God was trying to get my attention. It was like God wanted me to stop at a church somewhere. But I kind of shrugged it off and kept driving. And I drove past this little church. But the more I drove, the more it became clear to me that I should have stopped at that church. And so, I turned the car around and went back to that little church, but the only person that was there was this painter. He was painting the outside of the church building. And I asked him if the pastor was available.”
And he said, “You just missed him. He left.”
“And so I was pretty down because I felt like I missed out on something big that God wanted me to do. I got in my car and kept on driving down the road when I felt God calling me again. And this time, I could sense that God wanted me to cash a check that I had in my wallet and give $20 of that check to somebody who really needed it.”
You should have seen this man’s eye’s light up as he continued his story. He said, “I know this all sounds far fetched, but honest to God, this is exactly what happened to me that day. After I cashed my check, I got in my car and started to leave when I noticed this handicapped woman and her son on the sidewalk along the road. And I could tell that God wanted me to help them.”
“And so I stopped at the next parking lot and parked my car. As soon as I got out of my car, this little boy had already run up to me. Without even saying a word, this little boy gives me this big hug and says…He says to me… ‘Thank you for helping us. Thank you for helping us.’”
“As I was being hugged by this little boy, I kept asking myself, ‘How did this little boy know that I was going to help them?’ And I gave this boy’s mother the $20 and I said to her, ‘I believe God wanted me to give this to you. God bless you.’”
After he told me this incredible story, this man paused, looked right into my eyes and said, “If that isn’t strange enough, after I got in my car and drove away, I felt that the Lord was telling me to tell a pastor about what had just happened. I felt it so strongly. And come to think of it, you are the first pastor that I have told this story. I think you’re that pastor.”
I just kind of smiled and nodded. And I thought to myself, “Here’s someone who truly believes that God called his name, and somehow I got drawn into his story.” And now, guess what? You have all just been included in this guy’s amazing story.
But isn’t it true, that we often become part of each other’s stories as we listen and respond to God’s calling in our lives?
We all get swept into this story of God calling Samuel’s name. Our name is called. We’re nervous and we’re scared. The stakes seem high. And we’re left with a choice.
Do we dare follow this God or do we hide under the covers?
Small Group Discussion Questions
January 14, 2018
I Samuel 3:1-10 & John 1:43-51
In our Old Testament reading from I Samuel, God calls Samuel’s name in the middle of the night. Eli, the Priest who is watching over Samuel, helps him to realize that God is calling his name.
Who has helped you to be open to hearing God calling your name? How have you been like Eli in helping someone else hear God’s calling?
This week, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he responded to God’s calling in his life to work for civil rights and racial equality. Dr. King responded to God’s calling at great peril to his life. Listening to God’s voice can be risky business.
What helps you to deal with any fears you may have in responding to God’s calling in your life?
When Samuel heard God calling his name in the middle of the night, he was experiencing what we have been calling, a “Thin Place Moment.” These are moments when God is present in a very real way.
Share a time when you experienced a “Thin Place Moment” in your life.