“Hearing God’s voice”
Last Sunday we looked at being called by God, being thrown to the ground (so to speak) and having our purpose redirected by God. But what if we haven’t experienced such drastic divine redirection? What if we haven’t heard Christ Jesus call our name—not even once, much less twice? What if the Holy Spirit hasn’t come a-calling? What then?
Today we will explore the realm of “ordinary” discernment. How do we know what Jesus is calling us to do? How can we hear God’s voice? How do we know the voice we hear—the inspirations we have—are from the Holy Spirit?
Today’s gospel lesson answers these questions, in a way. Jesus was in Jerusalem, and not on any old street corner. Jesus was walking in The Temple. And Jesus wasn’t walking any-old-where in the Temple, either. He was in the Portico of Solomon, the person who had so long ago built the Temple as a place in which God would “dwell” until the Messiah came. And the day wasn’t any-old-day, either. This was the Festival of Dedication, which we know as Hanukkah, the day when Jews celebrate the rededication of God’s earthly dwelling.
Can you see the set-up here, the irony? Jesus-the-Messiah, the Christ, was by his very stroll on THIS day in THIS place fulfilling scripture at the precise moment when some would-be discerners approached him and asked him if he were the Messiah. How many clues did they NEED to know that Jesus is the Christ? Hadn’t Jesus healed the sick? Hadn’t Jesus opened the eyes of the blind? Hadn’t he raised the dead, for God’s sake? How many MORE clues did these people need?
I won’t be too harsh, though. Maybe these discerners hadn’t themselves seen Jesus himself do these miracles. And perhaps they needed something TRULY convincing, like Jesus being raised from the dead. The Resurrection convinces YOU, doesn’t it?
But the people who approached Jesus were confused, ambiguous, not convinced. And they asked Jesus to tell them plainly “yes” or “no”—no parables please—was he the Messiah.
We would like that, too, wouldn’t we? Overwhelming and convincing proof that Jesus is the Christ, that there is a God. But God’s doesn’t give us proof. If we had irrefutable proof about God, proof about Jesus, would we truly have free will to accept or reject God? And could we mere humans ever be able to totally and fully understand God?
One of my friends had a tag line on all of her e-mail messages, a quote that said, in essence, if God hates everyone who we hate, this is a sure sign that we have made God in OUR own image. A corollary to this though, I suppose, is that if we think we know the whole mind of God, we are fooling ourselves. So how, then, could we ever know who God is and what God wants us to do?
Our gospel lesson today tells us. What our lesson says is that if we believe in Christ Jesus, we know him and we hear his voice and follow him; if we believe in Jesus we do what he wants us to do.
Of course, Jesus used a sheep metaphor to say this. But because we—most of us—don’t know sheep here in Alexandria, Virginia, the way that Jesus’ original followers know sheep, I won’t try to make THAT metaphor work for us. But here’s a few we might understand. Maybe we and Jesus are like card players. Jesus is a master, an expert, and we have been playing together as a team for a long time. Don’t we then know what the master wants us to do without words, and wouldn’t we follow his lead?
Or maybe we are a gymnast and Jesus our coach, so whenever Jesus makes a suggestion, we automatically do as he instructs. Whereas we might not know or trust another coach telling us what to do. We know that our own coach, the one who has chosen us, has our best interests in mind, and watches over our well-being. We’ve studied his ways and feel his nudges. Maybe we know, just from his expression, what to do. In this way, we and the coach become one.
Sheep are a better metaphor, though. Doesn’t the shepherd, the good shepherd, keep the wolves at bay? And if sheep can’t go where they need to go, doesn’t the good shepherd pick them up and carry them?
As for hearing Jesus’ voice, don’t we get ideas, get inspirations, all the time, out of the blue, ideas that don’t come from us? Ideas to help other people? Like, I know a doctor and a nurse—they spoke at one of our Forums a couple years ago—who were ready to retire but suddenly found themselves in Tanzania of all places, founding a hospital and operating a medical mission there. I assure you this is NOT how they had planned to spend their golden years. But they believed in Jesus and heard his voice. Isn’t this how we end up with a basement full of diapers ready to give to teens with infants?
Isn’t this how we find ourselves spending our Last Saturdays feeding hungry people or headed for Turkey or teaching other people’s children about God? And don’t even get me started on affordable housing… Jesus already did!
Over the years many people have told me these type of stories. I’ve noticed that the best ideas, the greatest inspirations, seem to come when someone has quieted down the external inputs and opened themselves up to God’s voice. It wasn’t a coincidence that the medical missionaries had retired before they heard Jesus’ inspiration for their lives; they had stopped drowning out God’s voice with work. If we use up all our inputs channels, there physically is no room to hear what God is trying to communicate. And if we place ourselves in God’s presence, we place ourselves in a much better place to recognize the clues God gives us and hear a call from God. God, I believe, is always transmitting, always had a job for us to do.
One of our members, Beth Wiggers, has been discerning what’s next in her life. She’s been a member of Resurrection for 28 years. But now she’s retiring. What’s next in her life? What does Jesus want her to do? In a very real way Beth has lived our gospel lesson today to its end, lived our gospel lesson to its new beginning, “The Father and I are one.” I believe Beth and the Father similarly are one, in that Beth has sought and heard and is following God’s voice. In other words, Beth has wrestled with discernment until her goal and God’s purpose for her are aligned. We will grieve Beth’s departure and will miss her. And yet, how can we do anything other than cheer her on, knowing that she and the Father are one?
How about you? Are you and the Father one? Are you hearing Jesus’ voice? Is the Holy Spirit laying a new mission on you? If not, listen harder. Pray more. Believe in Jesus. And quiet the external noise of your life so that God can get an inspiration in edge-wise.