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Called by God – Br. James Koester

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Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 (9 – 13); Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11; Luke 5: 1 -11

Did you hear it? Did you hear that just a moment ago?

No? You didn’t?

I thought I heard something. Maybe I am hearing things!

There! There it is again! Did you hear it this time?

Ah you, you, back there. You heard it too didn’t you?

So I’m not hearing things, or rather I really am hearing things.

There, there it is again! Very faint. Almost a whisper.

James. James. James

There you heard it too this time, didn’t you?

That’s the problem isn’t it? It always seems to be a whisper. It never seems to be a shout. Or, at least, not for me. For whatever reason, God never seems to shout when trying to get my attention. God always uses his “inside voice” as my mother used to call it: “Jamie,” she would say, “use you inside voice,” whenever I shouted, or spoke too loudly or cried out something. That’s the voice that God always seems to use, at least with me: his “inside voice”. Shouting, and calling, and crying out, and throwing people off their horses is great stuff, but that’s not how I hear God. I hear God in a whisper; in a look; in a turn of the head; in a subtle expression on a face. That’s how I hear God. Not in shouts and cries and loud calls.

It seems that it was easier for those first disciples. It seems that Jesus spoke to them, spoke to them directly, and in no uncertain terms. To Simon Peter and his companions today he says: “Do not be afraid: from now on you will be catching people.”[1] In other places, Jesus was even more specific. He says to those two followers of John the Baptist, Andrew and his companion: “Come and see.”[2] And to Matthew as he sat at the tax booth “Follow me.”[3] It would have been so much easier if that were the case for me. Instead with me there is just a small voice saying over and over and over: James, James, James.

Being called by God is no easy thing. But knowing that you have been called, and knowing what God is calling you to, is even more difficult. How many of us have not, at one time or another struggled with a sense of call? How many of us have not wondered to what and why, or even if God were calling us. If only God were clear. If only God didn’t speak in whispers. If only God didn’t use His “inside voice”. If only God appeared in a poster, like those World War I recruiting posters: I WANT YOU! But that’s not the way with God. God doesn’t shout; at least not to me. God doesn’t cry out; at least not to me. God doesn’t throw me off my horse. Instead, God whispers: James, James, James.

So how then can we know that God really is calling us? Can we even know that God is calling us? Or is it all a figment of our imagination? Are we simply having illusions of grandeur? I have been called by God! Well the answer, at least in my experience, is ‘yes’ to both questions. We can know that God is calling. And we can know that God is calling us. So how? How can we know?

It begins, I think, with desire. Not just God’s desire for us, but our desire for God. One of my favourite psalms (and not, I hasten to add, because as a hymn we sing it to Brother James’ Air[4]) is Psalm 84:

How dear to me is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!*

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;

My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.[5]

This desire of ours is planted deep in our hearts as a result of God’s desire for us.  To paraphrase 1 John; “we desire God because God first desired us.”[6] It is this desire, God’s desire for us and our reciprocal loving desire for God, which opens us up and makes us attentive to the whispered speaking of our names by God: James, James, James. And like love, we don’t simply choose to desire God, we ‘fall in desire’ as we would ‘fall in love.’ And here, desire is different than want. We can want all manner of things, including God, but when we desire God something else happens and suddenly the whispering of our names takes on a sense of urgency: James, James, James and we discover ourselves saying: “I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven.”[7] Like the lover with whom we have fallen in love, when we fall in desire with God our whole life is turned upside down and we are filled with an eager longing for the object of our desire, the very being of God.

But if our knowing that we are being called by God begins with knowing our desire for God, so too do we need to be willing. We need to be willing to be called by God. If you are not willing, or if you have no interest, if you are reluctant or hesitant or resistant you probably won’t hear the voice of God speaking your name, even if shouted from the housetops. Like those first disciples, we need to be willing, we need to be open to the possibility that God may indeed be calling you name.

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and

said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city

of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We

have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets

wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him,

‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him,

‘Come and see.’[8]

Like Andrew, like Simon Peter, like Philip, Nathanael was willing. He was willing to come and see. He was willing to meet this Jesus. He was willing to entertain the possibility that this Jesus was who his friends said he was: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”[9] In spite of his suspicion that nothing good could come out of Nazareth, Nathanael was at least willing to come and see.

In order to hear the voice of God calling us, we must at least be willing, to be open to the possibility that not only does God do these sorts of things, but that God does these sorts of things and that he could very well call me, in spite of, or because of my suspicion.

So not only does our desire for God come into play as we seek to hear God calling us, but so too does our willingness to hear God, even when God whispers: James, James, James.

But there is, I think, one more thing. There is one more ingredient to our ability to hear God calling us. We need to be ready. We need to be ready to respond to the call of God. I am always amazed by the immediate response that those first disciples made when Jesus first called them: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”[10]

Nor for Isaiah was there any question. He was ready, and ready in that moment: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”[11] His response was as immediate as those first disciples, because he was ready: ready to go wherever God sent him, even where he probably did not want to go.

There was no question for the disciples of saying to Jesus: I can’t, I’m not ready, come back tomorrow, or next week or next year. There was no question of Isaiah saying to God I can’t, I’m not ready, this is too hard. No, when they were called they came ashore, left everything and followed him. No, when called, they went.

To be perfectly honest, that for me is that hardest thing. I have a real desire for God. I am really open and willing to hear God speak my name and call me. But am I ready to follow where he leads? That’s the hard part, and I think Jesus knows that, because he keeps calling and slowly but surely I get myself ready to respond to whatever is next.

So what about you? Do you desire to be called by God? Can you hear God whispering your name even now? Are you willing to be called by God? Can you hear God whispering your name even now? Are you ready to be called by God? Can you hear God whispering your name even now?

Can you hear it, even now? Can you hear Jesus calling you? Can you hear Jesus whispering your name?

I think you can. I think you have. I think you do. I think you are.


[1] Luke 5: 10

[2] John 1: 39

[3] Matthew 9:9

[4] Hymn 517; How lovely is thy dwelling place; Tune: Brother James’ Air, J. L. Macbeth Bain

[5] Psalm 84:1

[6] 1 John 4: 19: We love because he first loved us.

[7] Psalm 18: 1

[8] John 1: 43-46

[9] John 1: 45

[10] Luke 5: 11

[11] Isaiah 6: 8

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16 Comments

  1. Janet on February 6, 2017 at 08:38

    These inspiring words make me wonder. How many times have I missed God calling my name? Have I been dismissive of His gentle calling to respond to something as simple as the reflection of pain or hurt in someone else’s eyes? Have I let the noise of every day living drown out God’s voice? I pray that I can quiet myself to hear God calling my name, giving me direction in things both big and small.

  2. Margaret Dungan on January 27, 2016 at 14:26

    Dear Br. James.
    That voice is calling, “Respond to Br.James”
    Yes, we both have the same favorite Psalm and your “word” is just exactly how I hear the call but my answer does not always come as quickly as it should. But the one who calls does not seem to hold any grudges. I hope that will be part of the lesson that I take from this.grudges are so sneaky and so clinging.
    Thank you for making this day special.
    Margaret D.

  3. Fronie on January 27, 2016 at 14:21

    I have a desire for God, am willing to be for God, and am making myself ready to serve God’s people in a pastoral way. I have wondered for a long time, “Am I really called?” Thank you for this message for me to ponder on my journey of discernment. I am listening to that whisper.

  4. Michael on January 27, 2016 at 08:16

    Do I hear his whispering (maybe). Am I willing( not really sure). Am I ready ( hope so, but doubtful). Have no idea why he would call me to begin with

  5. Robert Herrick on January 27, 2016 at 06:33

    James, Just as fresh today as it was 6 years ago. Carry on.

  6. Anders on November 11, 2014 at 09:12

    I hear you saying that Jesus, his father and the holy spirit, are falling in like, in love, in desire with me as an individual and in community in different ways on different days and we need to be open and listening. Am I ready to give up my stuff and even hard-held precedents and beliefs to follow? Is my church community? Or do my proper ways, white picket fences and other charming defenses keep me locked in away from being ready, from the church being ready? Thank you.

  7. Robert Shotton on January 24, 2014 at 17:11

    A most interesting and telling sermon. I have often been guided, but will have to learn to listen harder.

  8. Selinafrom Maine on January 24, 2014 at 12:39

    Oh, Brother James, could you maybe be collaborating with the nominating committee of St. Peter’s Church, Rockland, Me.? The minute I finished reading this sermon on “call” ,my phone rang with acall from Jim Bowditch of our nominating committee , asking me to serve on the vestry! I tried but how could I refuse? Please pray for me and for St. Peters.

  9. Fiona Martin on January 24, 2014 at 11:59

    Just a little thought from the other side of the Atlantic…….we may not be called today to the same thing as we were called to yesterday. You are right (George 1st July) we need to learn to use these two God-given ears. With Jesus every day can be a new adventure.

  10. Mark Lobb on July 1, 2013 at 13:47

    Powerful, just plain powerful.

  11. George E. Hilty on July 1, 2013 at 13:16

    This meditation, along with the recent readings about Elijah and the “still small voice”–not in wind, earthquake or fire–and some recent podcasts by other brothers about the necessity of silence and listening–all hit home. Now retired, I recall a much clearer sense of a call to ordination in my teen years. I chose a different career–law–and now hear that small voice calling me to use some of my training to equip myself as a disciple, particularly in studying scripture with the particular attention to detail that lawyers learn. And to use writing to pass on some of what I learn. The trickiest part for me is to listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth. Could that mean that we are to be focused twice as much on listening to Him and to others as we are to be spouting off our own ideas and thoughts? With Brother James, the call I hear is a quiet one. Shutting up the cacophony of inside voices trying to get my attention for distracting pursuits is a recurrent necessity. An Anglican rosary, with some of the suggestions in the accompanying pamphlet from FDBD (the Jesus prayer and the Trisaigon), help quiet the chorus so I can listen. With practice, it becomes true that this sheep comes to know His voice.

  12. Mino Sullivan on July 1, 2013 at 12:55

    Dear James,

    Thank you so much for your inspiring words that so clearly unpack, step by step, God’s call to deeper prayer, love and surrender to his purposes for our lives. It is your last step, “being ready” that challenges. The heart’s longing is ceaseless, but to prepare the physical aspects of home and life, as well as the emotional aspects of a lifetime of relationships feels overwhelming.

    We New Englanders are responsible folk; we do not leave messes for others to clean up. It must be time to buckle down and start cleaning out my home.

    Thank you for the nudge,
    Mino

  13. Christina on July 1, 2013 at 11:00

    The difficult thing is making a choice. The disciples, when called, beached their boats and followed Jesus. They didn’t appear to sit on the beach wondering whether they should follow or not.
    But, for me, the difficulty has come about with the choices. Should I do this, or should I do that? What turns out to be the ‘right’ decision keeps nagging at me. God’s choice? //A number of years ago, I was faced with this conundrum: should I go and join neighbours for a social afternoon, or should I go and see an old friend in hospital. It was obvious that he was not going to live much longer. I dithered. But, I came down on the side of going to the hospital. On the drive over there, I had a very strong sense of Jesus driving with me. The afternoon was unforgettable. He was unconscious, but I talked about the happy times that my husband and I had spent with him. Before I left, I felt we shared the words of the Lord’s prayer; it seemed as if there was a flicker of consciousness on his face. . Later that evening, John died. I believe it was the choice that was meant to be but I had been faced with the decision: this, or that.
    Christina

  14. DLa Rue on July 1, 2013 at 08:00

    I believe we’re all on a discernment process, all through our lives, so 35 years is as nothing! (thinking of the above….)

    The reference to ‘Brother James’ Air’ reminded me of the late James Madden of this community, whom I knew and counseled with briefly before his too-early death from cancer.

    “Ah, yes,” a friend of mine used to say, smiling.

    “Brother James…the one with the air….”

    (RIP + to him….and gratitude for the wisdom both Jameses have imparted at various times.)

  15. Paula Toland on February 10, 2010 at 20:36

    At this year’s ordination service, Mally Lloyd urged us to tell our priests what we think about their preaching, something I am quite comfortable doing in person but don’t remember having done in this format. I love good preaching, and I want to tell you that this sermon speaks to me, even in written form, in ways that resonate deeply. I am in discernment, for about 35 years, of call to ordained ministry and will be entering the postulancy June 1st. One of my greatest challenges has been to find the place of comfort with acknowledging and then witnessing to God’s call on my life. Sometimes that has been the quiet voice, sometimes what I call the “holy 2×4”, but always it has been what I needed when I needed it, and the blessing has been that I have been able to experience it when I have been open to it. I, too, find the openness easier than I do the action that responding to call requires – thus the 35 year discernment process ;).

    Thank you for your wisdom and your witness.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Paula

  16. Mary Ann on February 10, 2010 at 18:52

    Thank you. I think you can, I think you have, I think you are, I think you do. Thank you for those words

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