Sunday, August 13, 2017
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
"Can you hear me now?"
Thom. Probst—lay leader and guest preacher
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, my redeemer and my teacher.
I have to lament that on many days I hesitate before I turn on my computer in the morning to read the news or turn on the TV to listen to the news. Almost every day I dread reading or hearing what passes for the news. It’s all so negative and filled with human faults and failings and yet I also know there’s good stuff happening out there. It’s hard because I have always been a news junkie. I used to love nothing better than to buy the Sunday New York Times or the Los Angeles Times and read it through from beginning to end. I can’t do that anymore because it really causes me great personal distress!
I read in Psychology Today; “News programming uses a hierarchy ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer's attention. In the news media, this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story. If a teaser asks, "What's in your tap water that YOU need to know about? The answer at 10!" a viewer will likely tune in to get the up-to-date information to ensure their safety. ” The worst part is that often the promised information isn’t there!
Surrounded and inundated with various forms of communication that all purport to be important in our lives it has caused me to wonder about how we communicate with God. This communication link ought to be of primary importance to us. I mean think about it, if we’re all talking to God at different times, with thanks and requests and complaints in different languages out loud and silently… How does he handle it? Is there a special channel for English and another for Spanish and another for Hawaiian and another for French? Does he have a bazillion megabit router to handle all the traffic and a never-ending voicemail system to store the messages?
Without being too irreverent, maybe we’d like it if it went something like this: [ring]
Thom. (p/u phone): Aloha, Keawala`i Congregational Church...
God: Is Kealahou Alika there?
Thom: No, I’m sorry, Kahu is on vacation for the month; may I help you.
God: I should have remembered that, but that’s OK. How are you doing?
Thom: Well, thank you for asking, I’m doing OK but I’m kind of in the middle of a Sunday morning talk as a stand-in for Kahu. (Pause) May I ask who’s calling?
God: It’s me, God. I’ll bet you never thought you’d get a phone call from me?
Thom: OH, YES SIR! No, I never thought I’d get a phone call from you. I always thought any communication from you would be something subtle like how the clouds move across a starry sky or maybe a thunderclap or at most a booming voice from the heavens or maybe a fiery bush like in the book.
God: I listen to you and I talk to you and everyone around you all the time and in many ways. Don’t ever forget I am with you every day and at all times.
Thom: Thank you for reminding me of your presence in my life. I know you are with me all the time but I do admit sometimes I forget and I can feel all alone. I enjoyed talking to you, and I’ll let Kahu know you called, is there any message I can give him? OK, I’ll be sure to pass that along. Goodbye and thank you. (hang up)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were that easy? Seriously though, I wonder about my communication or prayers to God. Do my prayers need to be spoken out loud? Should I get down on my knees to pray, which would be a problem. Are my silent prayers as good as those I say out loud in church?
In Psalm 85 we heard earlier “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” So we know he will speak to us, if we turn to him in our hearts, on the huge issues like peace and salvation, but what about all the little day-to day stuff?
In the Bible, God used talking animals, a flaming bush, angels, visions, and even a “still small voice” to speak to his people. God can use anything to communicate to a person who is ready to hear. In my preparation, for today, I came across a few methods, which, I believe I have seen God use.
For example, God will often speak to you through a friend or leader or someone you admire. Often we need only see a situation from another set of eyes in order to hear God’s will. A good friend whom you trust, who is a committed Christian can bring God’s voice to you. The Bible in 1st Kings 19 describes God speaking in a ‘still small voice.’ God often speaks directly into your mind if you will just set aside the time to pray, and wait for his answer.
I read and in the bible we are told, that hearing from God is primarily an issue of the heart. You will hear from God when you decide to hold his will as your most important priority. It’s more than being disciplined or practicing religious habits, a disciple willing to let go of his own desires - that may run counter to God’s expressed purpose - shows a single minded, pure hearted devotion. This person can hear God’s voice, not because he’s good enough, but because God promises to speak to the pure of heart.
That’s kind of like, when I was a kid, there would be my dad in his red flannel bathrobe, standing in front of our first TV, the one with the huge cabinet and small B & W screen, and wiggling the rabbit ear antenna. He’d get red in the face moving the rabbit ears this way and that way trying to get a better signal. My mother would be saying “Bob, I can’t see, move out of the way”, “Bob, I can’t see, move out of the way” and finally she’d say, “Robert! (He’d move)” and we would have the best picture possible. Finally, we could watch The Ed Sullivan Show or The Honeymooners.
So in order to hear God’s voice, I think, we have to manipulate our personal ‘rabbit ears’ to tune out the snow and the static from our reception so that, even that “still small voice” can get through the clutter that we encounter every day. My experience has led me to believe that one-way communication is like the TV news. The newsreader lays it on me but I can’t respond back to her or comment except by turning the TV off. I know of people, one lady in particular comes to mind, who talks back and even screams back at the TV if she disagrees with the newsreader, which is most of the time. I admit I sometimes find myself talking back but that isn’t really communicating. It’s nothing more than the release of frustration. Now, of course when I yell at the Seahawks during a football game I expect the coach, Pete Carroll, to hear me, but that’s totally different.
I believe, when someone is striving to improve their communication network with God (like me) and is struggling to improve their faith (like me) they should spend daily time reading the Bible, mulling over the message, and praying for ways to live a lifestyle based on the lessons presented in the scriptures. Setting aside time for reading and thoughtful meditation can only help the Christian better understand God’s purpose.
By adding prayer for others, in addition to himself, to this daily quiet time, the working Christian will, we are promised, find it easier to focus less on our own perceived problems, and be able to move forward in applying God’s priorities to his life. In Luke 11 when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, I think Jesus gave them the Cliff’s Notes version when he taught them the Lord’s Prayer. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good prayer but not the only prayer. I don’t feel constrained by those particular words or like I have to use what I would consider Biblical language when I say my prayers. I know God wants to hear from you, he’s waiting to hear from you and he will answer you. The answer may not come as that “still small voice” like Elijah heard, it may not come as soon as you have prayed, and it probably won’t come as the answer you wanted.
I know when I pray I often visualize God listening to my prayer and, no, I don’t see some old man with a long beard. I can’t describe exactly how I see him but I do sense how he reacts to what I say…a nod, a smile, a tear or even a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. I’ve never shared that with anyone and I hope you won’t think me foolish. Invariably, I come away with my burden lessened and a true feeling that I am loved. Like the words in our first hymn today, which is one of my all time favorites:
I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear,
the Son of God discloses.
And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.
I know he is walking with each of us every day and listening to us as we pray and he is talking to each and every one of us…
Can you hear me now, Lord? … Can you hear me now?