The Gathering | Is God Still Speaking?
We have a whole lot of problems and challenges in the world today.
And we have a whole lot of problems and challenges in our lives, in our families, and in our communities, too.
Things we can never really seem to fix.
Homelessness. Poverty. Corruption. Unfair treatment…
Social, religious, cultural prejudice and persecution.
Inequity. Disunity. Fear. And even hate.
These are the things that divide us, the things that injure and eventually kill communities.
My father grew up in a city called Utica, NY, where he lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood.
Despite its lower economic makeup, he would tell me stories of how he and his friends would play together in the street.
How neighbors grew these amazing gardens and shared or traded their harvests.
How my grandfather who owned the corner store would let neighbors buy groceries on credit when they fell on hard times.
You could say they took care of each other…
Last summer, my eldest son was curious about where my dad grew up, and so while visiting my mom in upstate New York, we drove through the neighborhood where my dad was raised.
His old house was all but boarded up.
As were many of the homes in the neighborhood.
No kids were anywhere.
No gardens grew.
“KEEP OUT” signs were posted in windows.
Broken down cars clung to curbs.
My grandfather’s little store was gone.
What had happened to that community, I wondered?
Well, this is a long story that begins just before the Industrial Revolution, in a time of modernity, before what we call now post-modernity.
On Facebook, people write about these times as the Good Ol’ Days.
We long for the American Dream to make a return.
And Don Henley sings “This is ‘The End of the Innocence.’”
We grew away from faith in each other and faith in a common dream,
and we graduated to faith in the impirical — knowledge and what we could prove.
And now we’ve taken a step further than that —
a place that allows us to control our own destinies, and a place to define how those destinies are meaningful to us, even though they are not meaningful to others.
In other words, we stopped listening to each other.
We stopped dreaming together of a common good.
In essence, we stopped listening to God because we started listening to ourselves.
And now that we don’t know how to listen to God, we blame God, and say things like “God isn’t speaking anymore.”
And our witness as Christians grows weak.
And those who witness our witness say, “Well, see? God is dead.”
Not the first
Here’s some good news.
We’re not the first.
This sentiment of not hearing God speaking goes back to biblical times — even into the Old Testament,…
the very place where so many people believe God hasn’t spoken since.
There’s quite a bit of irony there…
A few moments ago, we read of the great prophet Elijah, who a chapter before our passage, had just proven God is the One True God by challenging false prophets to a duel of sorts.
Elijah wins the contest, which meant the deaths of 450 false prophets, and the false prophets’ king and queen now want Elijah dead.
So Elijah flees to a mountain, and this is where God speaks to him…
“…not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. But in the silence.” (Verse 13).
You see, the Israelites — God’s chosen people — were allowing themselves to be led away from God.
Enticed by other things. Silver and gold…False promises.
And they stopped listening to God speaking.
They stopped listening to God’s prophets, such as Elijah.
And they began to fall apart.
Others began taking over their own neighborhoods.
Community was dying.
It became all about survival and self-preservation.
And they thought God had forsaken them.
They stopped hearing God speak.
Elijah had a different message though.
Elijah continued to warn the people to turn back to God.
To listen to God.
God was, after all, still speaking.
The voice of the prophets
There was a time when we listened to the voices of the prophets.
But we no longer believe them.
And it’s been so long, we might not know one if we saw or heard one.
More good news?
They’re all around us.
But they’re not with the kings and the queens,
they are not adorned in silver or gold,
and they sure don’t hang out with 449 others just like them.
In other words, they’re not found in the crowds.
They don’t have money or influence.
And they sure don’t have worldly power.
Those are not true prophets.
The pattern of the prophets of biblical times has been that when there was an unsurmountable problem, and the people lost hope,
there were two choices:
First: The voice of the king, with his silver and gold and his entourage of followers; or
Second: the lone voice in the wilderness, void of all such vices an human influences.
Only one had the true answer,
and that answer was to listen to God speaking.
How God speaks
So how does God speak to us today?
Well, we know that:
God speaks to us directly. This happens in prayer and meditation. My whole calling into ministry is because of this voice;
We hear God speak to us through the Bible. It’s not just the words, but what’s in between the words — the character of God and how we are called to live; and
We hear God speak to us through others. Sometimes, they don’t even know they’re being prophetic, but they are.
Here’s what we can take away from this:
When there are problems and challenges in our lives, our communities and our world, we have the same two choices:
Listen to ourselves and our empirical evidence and scientific proof and see where that gets us;
or we can listen to the prophets — to seek them out, to become prophetic in our communities and to hear God speaking.
What does that look like?
Well, biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman calls it “prophetic imagination”:
That is, imagining what a community should look like and then taking steps to make that image a reality.
We do that through faith, and prayer, and discernment and better understanding the character of God.
But if we don’t know the character of God, we will never recognize God’s voice,
or we won’t hear God’s voice over our own and the din of others’.
Let’s face it: We don’t like change.
Change means work, and we like to gear ourselves to the path of least resistance.
Stay comfortable, stay in control.
But if the Bible teaches us one thing, it’s that following Christ isn’t always easy.
That when Christ calls us to love one another as Jesus first loved us, that takes a whole lot of work.
It takes giving of ourselves.
It takes being open to new ideas.
It takes being open to different people and lifestyles and beliefs.
And embracing them all in what we call community,
then living into a community that is attuned to God’s voice.
Theologian Ilia Delio writes:
“The church has had trouble embarassing the prophets of the new age, especially those annoucing new stories and new ways to think about God and God’s saving plan in Christ.”
I tend to agree.
Because it’s much easier to simply keep things the same way.
The only problem with that is, in order to keep things the same way, we end up closing our windows,
shutting our doors,
shuddering our storefronts, and staying inside.
Staying the same means the paint eventually begins to peel, the shingles fall away, and the roof collapses.
The house is boarded up.
No one is welcome here anymore.
That is not the vision of community that Jesus speaks of.
These are the communities in which the prophets warn us about.
Today, we have a chance to hear the call of the new prophets.
To see that it’s actually the very same message given by Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Isaiah and other great prophets …
Turn away from what the crowds and the kings and the money says…
Turn to what is real.
Turn your hearts to God, and do so in loving and faithful community.
There is a way…
And this is that community Christ calls us to.
I truly hope that tonight is a step closer for us in hearing God’s voice,
in hearing and discerning the call of the prophets,
and living into the realitu of the community God calls us into.