Kurt Jacobson
7 min readJan 14, 2024

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“Conversations With God”

January 14, 2024

John 1:43–51

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.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” ***

We are constantly in conversation. Whether we like it or not, we hear the voices of the world calling to us. Just look at the voices of top news stories this past week:

2023 declared hottest year on record.

Yemen Houthis vow strong response after new US airstrikes.

Zelensky says Western hesitation on aid emboldens Putin.

Packers grab the last NFC wildcard berth by beating the Bears.

Such voices call us into conversation with our own values, hopes, fears, and concerns for a confused society and dangerous world.

Voices of people call us into conversation. “Mom, can I have a cookie?” “Dear, should we increase our retirement contributions this year?” “When can we get together? Such voices call us to be accountable for our relationships with others.

Voices which live only within call us into conversation with thoughts and feelings: insecurity, uncertainty, sadness, mistakes, shortcomings. We hear the voice of our loneliness and longings. We hear too the voices of deep joy, contentment, wonder, gratitude, and awe.

You see we are constantly in conversation. And let me add one more. We are also in constant conversation with God.

In the Old Testament reading assigned today (1 Samuel 3:1‑10) the boy named Samuel hears a voice which begins a conversation with God. In the midst of night, he hears his name spoken.

Samuel thinks it must be old Eli calling so he jumps out of bed to respond. “Eli, did you call?” (Eli was a devoted high priest who served 40 years as judge of Israel to regulate the affairs of the people).

“No, my son. Go back to sleep.”

The voice came again, calling his name.

“No, my son. Go back to sleep.”

By now Samuel finds it impossible not to listen for the persistent voice calling his name in the night.

“Surely you called me!”

“No, my son, I did not.” But this time, Eli wakes up to the possibility of another conversation about to take place.

“Go lie down, and if the voice calls to you again, say ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

When the voice came again, Samuel began a conversation with God which challenged and changed the lives of his people and radically changed his own life forever.

The voice of God calls us, too. But it is challenging to make it out amidst all the other voices of our lives.

In the Gospel today, the first of Jesus’ followers are called to follow into a life of discipleship. “Follow me,” Jesus says; and so it begins. A voice calling common, ordinary people to take a risk and engage in conversation which will change the course of the world.

We discern the voice of God calling in our own lives by daring to believe that God can call us into a life beyond our best imagining.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He heard the call of God which asked for faith and vision that our nation could become free of racism and prejudice, free of its need to oppress some at the expense of others. His call from God demanded that he appeal to the conscience of America. It demanded a wake‑up call and a reckoning for the soul of the nation. King pursued this conversation with God with relentless conviction, passion, and vigor. He had to ignore the calls of violence from some of his own people. He pursued the way of non‑violence as the only route to justice. He had to rise above the demands of the dominant culture which condemned his dream and tried to tarnish his integrity.

In his sermon, “Our God Is Able,” King tells the story of a conversation with God in which he is the angry protagonist, listening for the response which comes at last.

“The first twenty‑four years of my life were packed with fulfillment. I had no basic problems or burdens. Because of concerned and loving parents who provided for my every need, I sailed through high school, college, theological school and graduate school without interruption. It was not until I became a part of the leadership of the Montgomery bus protest that I was actually confronted with the trials of life. Almost immediately after the protest was undertaken, we began to receive threatening phone calls and letters in our home. Sporadic in the beginning, they increased day after day. At first, I took them in my stride, feeling that they were the work of a few hotheads who would become discouraged after they discovered that we would not fight back. But as the weeks passed, I realized that many of the threats were in earnest. I felt myself faltering and growing in fear.

After a particularly strenuous day, I had settled in bed at a late hour. My wife had already fallen asleep and I was about to doze off when the phone rang. An angry voice said, “Listen nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I could not sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In this state of exhaustion, with my courage almost gone, I determined to take the problem to God. My head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that night are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now, I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength or courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face them alone.”

At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, “Martin, stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.”

Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me an inner calm.

Three nights later our home was bombed. Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My experience with God had given me a new strength and trust. I knew now that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life.[i]

King dared to trust in the sound of God’s voice. He dared to come forth and see. He was one who answered, in the words of Samuel, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” And it changed the world.

How might we do the same? Do you hope for God’s voice in the midst of the noise of your own life? Do you hear God’s voice amid the distractions of the world? Do you listen for the word under the words?

Our hope comes in the voice itself, for it is the voice of a gracious and present God who sent the dove to rest on the head of Jesus at baptism with the words, “With him I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

This is not a voice clamoring for attention like all the others. This is a still, small voice arising from the heart of love. This is a clear, strong voice, like the one King heard, arising from the depths of our fears: “Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the earth.” This is the voice which arises out of the dark of a thousand nights and speaks our name with love. “Samuel, Samuel.”

The voice of God is a persistent one. Just as God called Samuel and Peter and James and John, God calls us and seeks to be an active participant in the conversation of our living. God’s call can be very personal; but as we have seen in these stories, our personal conversation can have implications for how we live and how others can be affected by our conversation with God. For Samuel, the outcome of the conversation was becoming a prophet of his people in tough, strenuous days. For the disciples, it was bringing the good news of a new way of living and thinking beyond the law into the realm of love to a people sorely in need. For Martin Luther King, it meant envisioning and working toward a day of equality and freedom for all people, regardless of race, color, class, or creed.

It is not ours to predict where our conversations with God will lead us. I do know that God is persistent in God’s faithful love toward us. Even when we are hard of hearing or choose not to listen, God takes our hand and leads us into places we would never dare or dream to go on our own.

[i] From King Institute, Stanford University. Sermon from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL, 1/1/56

Images: 1) Allio Jenny, Fine Art America 2) Stephen Chambers, ArtLiquid.com

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.