Calling My Name


Rev.Dr.Joyce Antila Phipps

Old First Church

October 22.  2017

Text: John 10:1-15

      In the movie Babe, Arthur Hodgett a farmer wins the orphaned piglet at a county fair and brings him home, puts him in the barn, figuring he will make a nice Christmas dinner. Making friends with the various farm animals, Babe has the wherewithal to escape such a fate. Babe decides to become a sheepherding pig. For any of you who have seen this delightful movie, you will remember that Babe becomes successful because of how he develops a relationship with the sheep.

      Early on in the film Babe warns Farmer Hodgett about rustlers and feral dogs. Following several incidents wherein the border collies that herd the sheep show their jealousy at Babe’s successful attempts to do the same, by the end of the film. Babe has become a champion sheepherder and won the border collies over to his way of herding the sheep.

       Unlike the border collies that had herded Farmer Hodgett’s sheep by nipping at their back legs. Babe develops a relationship with the sheep by learning their names and calling them by name.In other words.  Babe has learned a secret of management, not to mention relationships: that one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. This is not just feel good film, for there is sadness but all’s well that ends well in this film.

Naming is not only important in relationships. It is critical. One needs to be acknowledged not only as a “nice woman” but by name.Everyone has a name including the dead and their surviving family members. Not acknowledging a person by name makes that person feel and become irrelevant destroying the possible success for really important tasks.

       Not only do we want to be recognized by name.  but we want the name to be at least properly spelled even if the name is difficult to pronounce. When my father was sent to the American School for the Deaf back in 1918, the school misspelled his last name, adding an extra “l” and based on that misspellin, the school assumed he was Portuguese or Italian, and packed him off to Catholic mass. Even at the age of eight, my father knew he was supposed to be Lutheran and once the spelling was corrected, so was the religious denomination.

       In the parable this morning, Jesus points out that the sheep know the thieves from their true owners. They know the shepherd because he calls the sheep by name.Most of us have been raised in an urban culture and so this parable seems a bit farfetched. Certainly our pets know our voices and they respond to the sound of our voices when we call them by name.

       Animals develop relationships with us in a variety of ways.I know I’m not the only person in this room who speaks to the deer in the morning.They hear the sound of a voice they recognize just as much as our cats and dogs do. Some of the young people I know through the 4-H clubs tell me about how their animals will respond to their name when called–sheep, cows, though I have to admit that I wondered about chickens who respond to a stimulus for food.

       The parable can also be viewed as a lesson in how we build and maintain relationships. Each of us has our own way of developing relationships. Some are more successful than others.One thing is clear, however, in the process of developing a relationship with another person, namely that we make the other person feel essential to our well-being.

      Developing a relationship is more than an art; it is a spiritual exercise. It means that rather than con-centrating on ourselves that we put the other person first.It also means that we are genuinely interested in the other person.We develop relationships with individuals and with larger groups, such as families, churches, and even society. Our particular interests become secondary.

      This is difficult because it is part of our human nature to think of ourselves first. Thinking of ourselves first is in some measure derived from our basic instinct for survival. There was probably a time in our distant human history that our self-interest enabled us to survive. I think then we expanded the definition of who we considered part of “ourselves” to family, tribe, and group to the point where it becomes internalized. The question then becomes how broadly we consider who is part of “us.”

      We see that in the development of who becomes part of “us” in Hebrew Scripture. There is first the family unit and its connection to the tribe. When Abraham looks to getting his son a wife, he sends his most trusted servant to Aram-Naharaim, an area scholars believe lay between the two rivers, the Tirgris and the Euphrates, called the city of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, to get a wife from the same tribal family. It is still not uncommon among many cultures to marry within the extended tribal family.

       The “us” develops into the group called “the people Israel,” first described in the Book of Exodus as the descendants of Joseph and his brothers who “multiplied and grew exceedingly strong.” This is still a tribal identification. The text says that the new king in Egypt became concerned that the Israelites were increasingly numerous and so taskmasters were set over them who oppressed them through forced labor.

       Fast forward to the nineteenth century and the concept of “us” has developed into the nation state. Nations now identify themselves through their common characteristics. Historically, the origins can be traced back to the fall of the Roman Empire as tribal groups such as the Picts, Angles, Gauls and Visigoths among others emerge and begin to form the people we now call Scots, English, French and German. The tribal base morphed into broader based groups usually united by language.

      Relationships developed along the nation state lines and indeed, some of our own nativism in the United States developed as a reaction to the changes in society from the influx of immigration. Even between 1770 and 1790 when the first Census was completed, the pop-ulation almost doubled from 2.1 million to just shy of 4 million. Although some of this growth came from natural increase, much of it was the result of immigration, some willing, some forced. Native Americans were not counted originally.

       Developing relationships among people we consider like ourselves is more difficult than developing them with those who are different both in ethnic group and religion. There was a time when Catholics and Protestants did not even talk to each other, but now in some areas even the Roman Church has joined Protestants on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation in joint commemorative worship.

       In developing relationships with others, we need to remember to call their names. This is more than just saying Joe or Mary, or even names for our pets. This is part of recognizing the intrinsic worth of every living creature from that sand crab on the shore to those persons we eschew because of political differences. It means recognizing that the other may be very much like ourselves.

       It’s just as difficult to establish a relationship with God who like the shepherd in this morning’s reading does call our names. Sometimes we do not know that our names are being called. We may have an expectation of what God’s voice should be like but it is sometimes masked through the voices of others. That’s when it’s most difficult to hear.

      In 1 Kings, there’s the story of Elijah at Mount Horeb listening for God’s voice, which came to him not in the earthquake or the fire, but in a low whisper, a still small voice, the sound of a gentle blowing, the very breath of God. Another way of speaking of God’s breath is to speak of God’s Holy Spirit, or Wisdom, the Spirit of inquiry and discernment. And certainly when we ask questions, we do hear God’s voice, not in definitive answers but in the spirit of inquiry.

       Here we hear God calling our names. As I said earlier, naming is critical in developing relationships whether it is with others or with God. Just as we name God in our lives so, too, does God name us, not in the same way that we often name others.We are named human encompassing all of humanity regardless of ethnic group, language, race, religion, and even evil as well as good. This last is the most difficult to accept.

       How is it that we can find God’s voice through evil? This past week the white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. He was obviously hoping for anti-nationalist violence to help build his movement of hate. However, protests were peaceful and open. The violence was caused by three of his supporters who began firing weapons at protesters. Fortunately, no one was hurt unlike Charlottesville.

We find God’s voice in the response of people to the hate he preaches and in peaceful nonviolent response to his message, his movement is diminished. Even those who hate need care and ministry; for I honestly believe that in the end care and concern will win the day. We hear God’s voice in our care for others no matter who they are or what they profess. This is probably the most difficult way to hear and respond to the voice.

      We cannot shut out the people who differ from us. As Christians we must believe that God’s Holy Spirit can transform lives, even the lives of people who hate everything that is different from themselves. We need to call them by name, both individually and as a group that stands not for inclusion but for hate.

       In the movie, Babe wins over the border collies by showing them a better way to herd sheep. In our lives, we need to learn how to talk to those who would destroy our society in order to build a society that is stronger and more unified.In this way we respond to the call of God, who calls us by name.

       Let us come together in prayer: Holy Spirit of Wisdom of God, help us to learn how to call others by name and to respond in a spirit of love and care. In the name of him who cared for us all, even Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.