God is still speaking! Are we listening?

God is still speaking!  It’s not just a catchy tagline used by our brothers and sisters of the UCC church, the United church of Christ. God is still speaking is a statement of faith–a belief that no matter what, no matter what’s going on, how bad life feels, God hasn’t gone away. That is God’s promise to his people from the beginning, through all the ages, and to today. And as a statement of faith, there’s no way that It can be proven.  We simply, we choose to believe that God is still speaking.   And if that’s what we believe, the next question must be: are we still listening?  After all, we probably know what it’s like to, what it feels like to talk, to speak, and not be heard, not be listened to.  God is still speaking, so how are we listening?


That is one if the tough questions in the story of Samuel and Eli. Samuel doesn’t expect to be hearing The Lord.  Alone at night what he hears is more logically old Eli calling from the other room.  And so time and time again, Samuel runs to Eli, waking him up, ready to listen to him, but Eli the prophet is not the one calling.  God is speaking, but not  to, not through Eli.  Eli is old, but not the good kind of old.  You know that grandfatherly wise and gracious kind.  Eli may be bitter and sad.  After all, his sons have turned away from him; they probably quit listening to him years ago, when they figured how they could live high, and fast and loose, by cheating the people, cheating The Lord.  When they started skimming off the top.  And Eli, well maybe at first he tried to call them back, but you know how it is when your not listened to–pretty soon you just stop talking.  That’s Eli, his physical blindness matches his spiritual emptiness.  He’s just been going through the motions. God’s word is scarce, because for Eli, it doesn’t mean much anymore.


But I’ve heard God’s word. Hopefully you’ve heard it too.  Those moments and times that will stay with you, that mean so much.


Just a few months ago God spoke in the words of hymns, of songs sung by a family around the bedside in intensive care.  Through the voices of Ruth’s children and grandchildren God was speaking, welcoming Ruth into God’s arms, into eternal rest with all the saints in light. And the beauty of it was that the words of faith Ruth’s family sung also comforted them, gave them the peace knowing that as their beloved mother and grandmother died she passed from this life to one with the God who loved her for all her long years.


So god doesn’t confine God’self to these sacred walls and sacred spaces.  God is speaking in places, and especially in the voices those we don’t expect. Samuel was not of the priestly line, he was just a boy.  God should have been speaking to and through the prophet Eli.


That is how our God works. When it seems like the normal channels are shut down, when the leaders, the powerful, the authorities, are not listening–God turns to the unexpected.  Of course, I say this as one of those–as the local church professional.  I’m here to tell you, that I don’t always have the answers, I don’t have a monopoly on God’s word,  and that maybe we should be listening to other voices.  In some churches, some people’s words carry more weight than others.  I have heaRd of congregations making decisions about ministry, about how to proclaim God’s word, not by how faithful it is to Jesus, but by what the big givers! you know the ones who right the biggest checks! or the ones who’ve been there the longest, or the ones that do the most, or do that you know really hard job that no one else will do.  Their word carries more weight.  Ands really if all we judge our actions by is practicality, by logic, by worldly standards, well that may not seem so bad. 


But this isn’t a club, we’re not just another institution, a non-profit.  We’re the church, and the church is God’s people.  And God doesn’t disqualify someone because of how much or how little he gives, doesn’t disqualify based upon age or experience. Intellect or fancy degrees.  There are no better quality people.  God may just be listening for whoever has the most open heart to pour out her Word.


It was last summer, I was outside of our building here, doing some sidewalk chalk evangelism, as we’ve been doing.  I wasn’t alone.  Larry was with me.  We are the church here, and we follow Jesus who is the way and the truth.  And the truth is a lot of people wouldn’t want to really pay attention and listen to Larry.  They allow his disability to get in the way of them really listening to him.  So out on the sidewalk I was finishing writing “God loves you”.  When Larry said to me, that’s not right.  I was confused and worried.  What was Larry going to say to me, what could I have done wrong?  Did I misspell something like Jesus? What could be wrong with God loves you?   Then Larry said, “don’t write that, write God loves everyone!”  In this day and age when so many turn to violence, when it seems we are so divided–rich and poor, republican, tea partier, democrat, black and white, immigrants. That subtle difference is so astute.  Larry’s words were God’s word that this world desperately needs.  It’s not just about me and mine, but all of us together.  God loves all, no matter how great or small.  So God is still speaking, but in this day in our country, in our city, in our congregation are we listening?


Hearing God speak is all about choosing to listen.  You can either choose to listen, or close your heart.  As followers of Jesus, it should be no shock that God speaks outside the regular channels. Jesus spoke the Word of God on the beach, as he ate with sinners, surrounded by hungry people, from the cross, and yes even in the house of worship.  And then, just as today those who heard him had to choose to really listen.


God has brought us to this place, we are in a house of worship.  We come expecting, looking, eager, and listening for God’s Word.  And that God is speaking in so many ways, in the different voices that speak the words of Scripture, in the words of forgiveness that are spoken as we enter worship, as I’ve mentioned before in the music.  But that’s not all.  God is still, God is even speaking in a way that sometimes gets overlooked and missed, is in the sharing of Christ’s peace. This isn’t “hi how ya doin?”, an excuse to get up, an interruption in worship.  At the sharing of the peace, God is speaking, as we repeat the words of Jesus, words spoken to his followers–peace be with you.  Jesus is saying to us today in the voices of so many different people who gather.  These are God’s words spoken by Jesus’ people.  Today, listen. Really listen.  Listen to the voice of friends, of family, of strangers, listen to voices young and old, listen for God speaking with all the accents of her people.


Today, the Word of God for us, is here, it’s all around, it’s in your homes, out on the streets, in the world.  Faith is about listening, because God is still speaking!  Amen.

Epiphany 2 – January 15, 2012

Remember folks a sermon is an spoken event. This is basically what was preached yesterday. Please disregard grammar irregularities!

It didn’t happen up here at the altar, and I’m not a young boy, but I know what young Samuel was going through. Just last week, at about mile 11 in the half-marathon, I’m rounding the corner and heading up an overpass about to run into Epcot park, and I thought I heard someone call my name. I tried to look around, because I thought I heard it again even over the sound of the music playing in my earphones, and it was different from the anonymous person cheering me on, reading my name off my race tag. No, it sounded like someone was really calling out my name to get my attention, saying it over and over again. The thing is I knew it wasn’t Brad and the boys they were going to stay back at the hotel, but it could have been one of the at least three other folks from Milwaukee I knew running that day too. So in my attempt to find out who was yelling Donna, Donna, Donna I turned completely around 180 degrees and started running backwards.
So, I know that confusion Samuel felt hearing his name being called over and over again. It took old Eli’s words, his guidance and wisdom to tell the boy to stop running and listen—to utter one of the best prayers ever spoken by the faithful—“Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. God was calling Samuel. This young person named after the God who heard the prayers of his—Samuel (meaning God hears or God has heard), now he was to listen to the call of God.
There are several things that are good for us to pay attention to in these words, this story—because God is still calling, God is still speaking, but sometimes (a whole lot of times, if we’re honest) we don’t listen. I think one of the main things that keeps us from hearing God’s voice is that we think so very little of ourselves. God couldn’t possibly have a word for me or for our little congregation; God couldn’t possibly want me want us to do something. Maybe we think we are too young or too old, too small but Samuel was young and Eli was old—and it took both of them to hear and discern the call.
Maybe we think calls are only for those special spiritual giants people with names like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is today. Or Martin Luther, or Moses, Paul, Philip, Nathanel, (from today’s Gospel reading) and Peter, James, and John who we’ll hear about next Sunday leaving their boats. Yes, there are those biggies. There are those folks who seek out or are found by the spiritual spotlight, but that doesn’t mean God’s call is limited to them. No, we believe that the call to be a disciple, the call to follow Jesus, the call to be an actor, be a factor is to all of us. God is calling you.
Another problem though is that it is hard to hear God’s voice amidst all the other noises. It would be so awesome if God’s voice rang out crystal clear like a bell, silencing everything else. Perhaps you’ve experienced what I’m about to share with, as a mother—if I am away from my kids—say they are on a playground or outside, and I hear “mom”. My ears perk up and I am at attention, I am alert to that cry—that call—even though sometimes it may be from some other child. It would be great if we could hear God that closely, that clearly, and be attentive.
Of course there’s the opposite experience as well. Where I as Mom can tune out and tune off that lets call it repetitive whine, that badgering, and begging of a certain young one. You know when I want to be left alone, or when I have do something else, or when I know it’s not really that earth-shattering important. We are pretty good at tuning out the stuff we don’t want to hear. We like to turn away from what disturbs us—from what we don’t want to see. All the bad news, the unpleasantness. So maybe we put in headphones, or listen to our favorite radio station, or watch videos on youtube or tv. Or just turn the tv off and go read a book. Sometimes, wee go out with friends and try to move to better neighborhoods.
Perhaps with all that turning away we are missing God’s call to turn around. You see, God’s call doesn’t always or even mostly come in the comfortable and in the pretty. It’s not just the beautiful sunset and beautiful tones of sacred music which contain God’s voice. You see God’s call isn’t for us to just continue on as is. It isn’t for us to seek out our own pleasure. This is what our faith teaches, within the persistent cries and whines of a child God is calling me to lead, to guide, and to raise a child to become a person who is respectful and caring of others. God’s voice is heard in the cries of the oppressed, the hurting, the lonely, the abused. Our calling is to have a hand in ensuring that from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest that as preacher and theologian Peter Gomes says, “People may take everything away from you, they may deprive you of everything you have of value, but they cannot take away from you the fact that you are a child of god and bear the impression of God in your very soul. You cannot be destroyed and that cannot be denied.”
You see, God’s call does come to us, and does call us to stop and turn around. We stop going through life as if it’s just about us, as if it’s just about getting by or even getting ahead. We don’t have to think that following Jesus is just about, about leaving it all behind in some dramatic way—that can no longer be our excuse. God’s voice, God calling our name is calling us to drop those things that entangle and ensnare us—that hold us back—whether it’s drugs, or racism, or poverty, anger, or grief. God’s got more in store for us in this life, God’s calling us to listen. Amen.