Many years ago I had the great privilege of volunteering for ventriloquist, Gail Wenos. She and her counterpart, “Ezra D. Peabody,” made a career of connecting with their audiences, both young and old, with poignant messages about believing in one another, teamwork, and making a difference. They also had a unique way of tenderly sharing God’s love and the powerful, transforming message of the gospel.
Since Ezra found himself traveling with Gail in a carry-on piece of baggage, I remember hearing many stories of encounters that “he” had with airport security. On one such occasion, Ezra’s hands (which were doll hands) caught the attention of one poor soul who was monitoring the x-ray machine. Her gasp and utter look of horror got Gail’s attention. When Gail tried to reassure her by saying, “Those are just his hands,” the woman sputtered, “WHOSE hands?!” After some additional explanation and a closer inspection of the suitcase, Ezra made his grand appearance and put the dear woman at ease. In all his subtlety and charm he shouted, “Lady, I was bathing!”
In the Bible there is another famous person who was found hiding in the baggage. It was Israel’s first king, Saul.
The people of Israel were eager to be like the nations around them. They wanted a king to lead them. In spite of God’s warning, He granted their desire and chose someone for that role. In 1 Samuel 10 we get a front row seat for the anointing of Israel’s first king.
In an encounter that only God could have orchestrated, Saul was out looking for his father’s lost donkeys when he decided to go visit the prophet Samuel for some direction. As soon as Samuel saw him, God told him that this was the guy he was to anoint as king. After assuring Saul that his father’s donkeys had been found, Samuel poured oil over Saul’s head and anointed him ruler over God’s people, Israel. Samuel then gave Saul a list of signs that would confirm to him that God indeed had chosen him. One of those signs was the Spirit of God coming over Saul. Samuel said, “At that time the Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them [a procession of prophets]. You will be changed into a different person. After these signs are fulfilled, do what must be done, for God is with you.” (1 Samuel 10:6-7)
Sure enough, every sign that Samuel spoke of came to pass. In fact, the Bible says, they all happened that day! But when Saul returned home and his uncle asked him where he had been, Saul told him he was searching for the donkeys and went to Samuel for some help. He shared that Samuel told him the donkeys were safe, but he never mentioned he had been anointed as king.
Some time later Samuel called all of Israel together to reveal their new king. By casting lots, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen, and then the clan of Matri, and finally the family of Kish, Saul’s family. But when they looked for Saul he was nowhere to be found. The Bible says, “So they asked the Lord, ‘Where is he?’ And the Lord replied, ‘He is hiding among the baggage.'” (1 Samuel 10:22) They found him and the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
But it wasn’t until about a month later, when Saul had learned that the King of Ammon had threatened the town of Jabesh-Gilead, that Saul took on his new role with authority. The Bible says that God’s Spirit came over Saul again and he was enraged. He and the soldiers of Israel launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites and defeated them. Following this first victory it says, “So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king.” (1 Samuel 11:15a)
Saul was made king of Israel not once, not twice, but three times. It’s almost as if the first two didn’t take! But, I get it. Can you imagine walking in Saul’s sandals? He is just out minding his own business looking for his dad’s donkeys. The next thing he knows, his hair is drenched in oil and he has been pronounced the first king EVER over the nation of Israel. Is it any wonder he didn’t tell his uncle about it? There must have been a part of him that was thinking Samuel was just a senile, old man of God who had prophesied one too many times. Even with the confirmation of all those signs that Samuel gave him, he still must have thought it was a fluke. The fact that he was found hiding among the baggage when Samuel met with all the tribes of Israel confirms either his humility or his reluctance to take on this new role. It’s not until he sees an opportunity where he can really do something to save Israel that he seems to come around to accepting what God had called him to fulfill.
I love what Samuel said to Saul when he first anointed him. He said, “You are a different person, Saul! Once God’s Spirit comes upon you, do whatever He puts in front of you to do. He is with you!” I believe that is God’s message to every believer. He has given us His Holy Spirit not only to come upon us, like it did Saul, but to live inside of us! And that Spirit has given us at least one spiritual gift that God wants to use in this world, in His kingdom, to accomplish His purpose.
But how many of us are hiding among the baggage? How many of us believe either we’re not worthy of the calling God has given us or we’re believing instead that it’s not really us He’s calling?
God has given you a purpose and a mission to fulfill. If you don’t know what that is, ask Him and keep on asking until you are sure of His answer. He has empowered you with His Spirit for a reason, and that reason is not for you to be found hiding among the baggage! He wants to use you and He has gifted you uniquely to carry out the purpose He has for you. You are equipped. You are empowered. As Samuel said, “Do what must be done, for God is with you!”
Ezra may have been hidden in his suitcase when he traveled, but he never shied away from fulling the purpose and mission that God called that little dummy and his “necessity” Gail, to fulfill.
Lord, give us the courage to be who you have called us to be. Use us and the gifts you have given us for your kingdom, that others may come to know you and your love for them. Thank you for your patience with us. Make us good hosts of your Holy Spirit who lives inside of us. In your Son’s most precious name, Jesus, amen.