From the Archive: Called by God – Br. James Koester

In this sermon, originally preached Feb. 7, 2010, Br. James Koester encourages each of us to trust that God is indeed calling us and urges us to be ready to listen, even when God uses his “inside voice.”

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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  1. Ruth West on October 28, 2018 at 00:34

    Yes, I did and I do hear Him calling my name. I cannot respond with big plans, purity of mind and intention, but I have heard, and I am taught to follow, one day, one moment at a time. Thank you, for the challenge to listen.
    I loved this sermon. REW

  2. Bobbi on October 27, 2018 at 14:54

    Thank you, James for articulating that God is calling me to participate fully. Although I have known for many years that God is calling me to pray for people, I have only wanted to following the call on a part-time basis. Your message helps me embrace this as a full-time call. It feels joyfully life-changing.

  3. Diane orecchio on October 27, 2018 at 10:56

    Brother James,
    Thank you for those words. For me, it felt so good to read-what a wonderful way to begin my day.
    I smiled often while reading and thinking about it.
    Thank you for sharing,

  4. jane goldring on August 1, 2011 at 11:21

    james thankyou for that message. i think it is a two way street we have to take time and listen for god calling us and we have to call on god for our help and guidence. god does help us in what situations we are called upon and guide us through them. jane

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