Holy listening and Acting

Jan. 11, 2015

Gen. 1.1-5; Acts 19.1-7; Mark 1:4-11

One of the best gifts I got at Christmas (aside from the leaf blower my wife gave me) was a book entitled "History's Greatest Decisions (and the People who Made Them)". The chief criteria for the greatest decisions was seen as the ability to surmise and act on the world in a way that makes it a better place. People get ideas and then act on them.

Modern poet W H Davis wrote, "a poor life (is) this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." I don't know about you, but the more frantic and fast paced life becomes, with all the texts, emails, and cell phone calls--the more these disembodied voices clamor for our attention through elevator music or advertisements in our emails or on our car radio, the less we seem to hear. It's hard to make good decisions with all those voices calling to us to buy, eat, or shop to the point of exhaustion.

Jesus quoted the prophets when he said, "you may listen and listen and yet not hear." In the Bible, hearing means receiving the Word of God. It's not surprising that many of us do not hear because we have divided attention. Fundamentalism claims that some are predestined to deafness to God while others have a more acute hearing of God's voice, but I don't agree with that. To me, it's more about tuning in so that we can hear. It's like the pundit Rick Reynolds said, "I strongly believe that there is no God, and I hope God won't hold it against me." There's a topsy-turvy non-decision for you!

Dr. Robert Wuthnow, a sociologist at Princeton University, has studied religion and people, and he estimates that only between 5-10% of American people could be described as "really trying to get closer to God and are working at it".1 Although, he estimates that another 50% are marginally religious, they still take some time to "stand and stare" from time to time. When we do we realize that God is there, making a genuine effort to get through to us.

When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, he surrounded the ceiling of that great room with pictures of the major and minor prophets from the OT. As you turn around looking at those majestic figures on the ceiling, it's difficult to tell which are the major prophets--Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah and which are the minor prophets like Amos or Hosea because, all of them have an angelic beings whispering in their ear, BUT it's only the major prophets who are actually showing signs that they're listening. That's a metaphor for our lives as well.

When we stop and listen to what God is saying, then God points us to what we need to be doing. In the gospel story today when John the prophet baptized Jesus, John heard the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as the Beloved. In the OT reading from Genesis today...God's word went out into the void and creation sprang into being. Standing and staring help us see the importance of claiming our commitment to Christ...that's also the message in the Acts of the Apostles today.

But most of our lives are not spent in listening to God; rather listening is blunted by all the noise and clatter of taking care of our own business. It's like when I point my dog toward something I really want her to see. As I point my finger and excitedly say, "Look at that, Maggie! Look at that!" and I look down and she is staring at my finger instead of looking at what I am pointing to! The same happens with us too. Sometimes people get so locked into one thing spiritually that they lose the larger picture of God's grace and truth.

I may have shared this story before, but it makes an important point! When I was in seminary the meals were served cafeteria style and one day they were serving some delicious fruit, that was apparently in short supply because a note from the staff said, "Only one piece of fruit" and written in bold RED letters below it was the warning, "REMEMBER, GOD IS WATCHING". At the end of the food line there were some delicious fresh baked chocolate chip cookies that carried the same warning, "Only one per student" but someone scribbled next to it, "Take as many as you want, God's watching the fruit."

So, what is God saying to us? God is simply saying this: "Listen". It's such a critical part of the spiritual life. Baptism means that we have listened and answered God's call. The action part of that is very important. Communication research has shown that 75% of all oral communication is ignored, or misunderstood, or quickly forgotten if not acted upon. So, if we're going to sort things out spiritually, we need to be able to listen to what God is telling us. It's about seeing and hearing what's important and that means hearing God amid all the noise of daily life. It's like one of my favorite poets Emily Dickinson wrote: "The world is not a conclusion; a sequel stands beyond (it), invisible, as music, but (as real), as sound."

Have we heard our God? Or only the demanding voice of the world? It's as if, our spiritual hearing has been damaged by our materialism, our busy-ness, our preoccupation with self, and our lack of concern for others.

Consider these very important facts in the scriptures today: 1) God spoke to the inert void and a universe was born. God's Word is effective. (2) Our allegiance to the Lord Jesus is a core decision we can make in this life...the question is will we step forward and make a commitment to Christ? (3) And finally, the voice of God proclaims, "This is my Son, the Beloved." Hearing that message and stepping forward to join the Lord is one of the best decisions we can make in this life.

This morning there are cherubim and seraphim shouting praise to God all around us...but the question is, "Will we hear and join the praise?" That's the question. Take the time to stop and stare...it'll come to you. Amen.

1 "The Hum of the Universe, in a Minor Key," 151-152, The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World. Bob Abernethy and William Bole, Eds. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2007.
The Reverend W. A. Ray
St Thomas Church

Diamondhead, MS