1 Samuel 3:1-10
Names are important. Of course, we all have a name... and most of us put a little thought into the names we give to our children... because we know that names are more that just identification tools used in conversation to distinguish between people. If that’s all names were for, then numbers would do... we would all be known by our Social Security number!
But numbers won’t do - because most of us are quick to complain (and rightly so) when we’re treated like a number. Names are personal. They’re not just labels, or identifiers... our names are expressions of who we are.
If you say someone’s a “Napoleon” - you’re saying they’re a little dictator. If you call someone a “Hitler” you’re probably not referring to their lineage. You mean they’re evil. I’m sure before the 20th Century the name Hitler had no negative connotation what-so-ever, for the most part. But now it does, for sure. In the same way, if we think of Mother Teresa, we’re probably thinking of more than just a mother whose name is Teresa! Her name calls to mind her deeds... her life... and we think of a person who loves and cares for the needy.
My full name, as most of you know, is Gerald Wade Ledbetter, Jr. (that’s a mouthful to say the least!). Most people are a little surprised, or humored, when they find out my name is actually “Gerald” because most people know me as “Jerry.” Gerald is a little heavy... especially when you’re a child. Of course, every now and again, I’ll have a family member who slips up and calls me “J’Wade” - which is a good ole’ Southern amalgamation of the names “Jerry” and “Wade.” So whenever I answer the telephone, I can immediately tell if I know the person on the other end, or not... because most people call me Jerry, or “J’Wade” - it’s only those who don’t know me, who call me Gerald - usually a salesperson.
Of course, this brings us to an important point. Simply knowing a person's name is not the same as knowing that person by name. Have you ever been talking to a telemarketer and before you knew it, they were calling you by your first name? Now, I’m a friendly enough person, most of the time… but there’s something a little manipulative about that, to me. Because it seems they’re more-or-less just pretending to know you on a first name basis, so they can sell you something.
So why am I rambling on about names? Well, because God knows each and everyone of us by name. In fact, he not only knows our name, he knows us “by name.”
The author of Psalm 139 praises God by saying, “O Lord, you have searched me... and known me.” Then he goes on to describe just how well God knows us! God knows us when we’re sitting down, and what we’re rising up... he knows my thoughts... God is familiar with all my ways! The Psalmist seems overcome by how intimately and thoroughly God know us.
Tammy and I have been married for over 30 years now. And, I probably know Tammy better than I know anyone else on the face of the planet. But I still can’t read her mind! Of course, I think she can read mine. But the Psalmist declares that God knows what you and I are going to say even before we say it. God knows our thoughts!
Even before we existed God knew us. Just like in our Psalm today, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Even while we were being formed in womb, God knew us. God knew us because he was the one knitting us together, forming us. The Psalmist even says it before we were created God had already recorded all our days... God's knowledge of us is so awesome, so complete, that we can’t understand or comprehend it.
So it shouldn’t surprise any of us, that God called Samuel by name. The Bible tells us the chief priest Eli, and his sons, had stopped listening to God. As a result the people were wandering away from the faith. But the temple servant boy Samuel was ready to hear. And God knew more than Samuel‘s name.
God knew Samuel inside and out. He knew Samuel would listen, and proclaim his message to the people. The sons of Eli wouldn’t… And Eli was too old to carry all by himself… So God called Samuel. The Bible says Samuel was “attending the flame in the temple” when God spoke. The flame of the temple was a lot like the flames on our altar candles today. It was a reminder of the presence of God. So Samuel was basically doing the same kind of thing that we do when we light our candles on any given Sunday morning.
Of course, as the scripture goes, one night God spoke… Calling “Samuel, Samuel.” But Samuel thought Eli was calling him… and that’s not surprising. Eli was a father figure to Samuel. But, it wasn’t Eli who was calling Samuel… It was God!
Can you imagine: God’s voice must’ve sounded like the voice of a loving father. God knew Samuel like a loving father knows his children...
This same God, who knew Samuel by name... is the very same God that Nathaniel encountered in Jesus.
Philip, who’d met Jesus just the day before - came to Nathaniel, saying, “I have found the one... the one that the prophets said was coming... the Messiah - Jesus of Nazareth!” But, if you noticed from our reading a few moments ago... Nathaniel wasn’t so sure. After all, you know what they say about Nazareth? “Nothing good comes out of Nazareth!” But Nathaniel was curious enough to meet Jesus anyway!
And when he met Jesus, he was surprised, to say the least. He was shocked... because Jesus already knew him. Jesus knew Nathaniel by name - despite the fact they’d never met! And not only that... but Jesus also knew what kind of man Nathaniel was... a true Israelite (a person looking for the coming of the Messiah), in whom there was no deceit.
I’m sure Nathaniel was thinking, “How could this possibly be? How in the world could Jesus know me when we’ve never even been introduced before?”
But then, I imagine, Nathaniel may have remembered that song (or Psalm) from the Synagogue... a song they sang often... “O Lord, you have searched me and known me, you know my thoughts from afar.” And instantly Nathaniel knew Jesus must be the Messiah! So he cries out, “Truly, you (Jesus) are the Son of God!”
What an amazing thought: God knows you and me by name - just like he knew Samuel and Nathaniel. Our Father in Heaven has searched us, and knows us. God knows our comings and our goings... our ups and downs... our flaws and perfections. God is intimately acquainted with all our ways... he even knows our thoughts!
And that can be a scary proposition!
The Almighty God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is aware of things about me that are so dark, so hidden from the light of day, that I even hide them from myself!
I’m afraid that if others knew me like God knows me, they wouldn’t like me very much. But God still loves me. In fact, God called me to serve him, just like he called Samuel. Each, and every day, God calls out, “J’Wade, J’Wade!” Not like a telemarketer - not even like an acquaintance... but like a loving father... God knows me, by name.
And God knows you, too.
Are you listening? Can you hear God calling?
“O Lord, you have searched me, and you know me... you are familiar with all my ways... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
This is the Word of God for People of God.
Thanks be to God.