Hearing the Voice of God Rockburn Church Dec 16/18
Luke 1:5-20, 27-38
In a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"
The other replied, "Of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later."
"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?"
The second said, "I don't know, but I think there will be more light than here. And maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can't understand now."
The first replied, "How absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short, so there's no way there can be life after delivery. Logically it's just impossible"
The second insisted, "Well I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here. Maybe we won't need the umbilical cord anymore."
The first replied, "Nonsense. And anyway, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and after delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere."
"Well, I don't know," said the second, "but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us."
The first replied "Mother? You actually believe in Mother? What a joke. If Mother exists then where is She now?"
The second said, "She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world of ours could not exist."
Said the first: "Well I don't see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn't exist."
To which the second replied, "Sometimes, when you're in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above."
This little illustration I think shines a light on the fact that humans long to know God but have difficulty connecting with Him. We need God, and whether we are aware of it or not, we want God.
But we have trouble believing in Him. In this age of reason and science, it is hard to convince ourselves that God even exists, let alone hope to hear His voice in our lives. We strain to listen, we try to feel, but often we just can't connect. It can feel like there's a wall or at least one of those blackout curtains hung up between earth and heaven. We have sayings: "seeing is believing" or "a picture is worth a thousand words". Basically we don't believe what we can't see with our own eyes.
But somehow we sense there's more, that there's something more beyond our ability to see. So we pray and pray, and ask God for his leading and direction. But so often we feel we can't hear his voice and don't know which direction to take. Sometimes, we give up and decide since we can't seem to break through, that God, if He is even there, doesn't care, and it doesn't matter. Still, in our innermost parts, we really know that we need to know God.
God SAYS he speaks to us and that we CAN hear His voice. So how then, and what does that look like? How does God make His voice heard anyway?
We read often in the Bible of people who heard God's voice, and were directed by Him. It seems God speaks to His people in various ways. One way is by sending an angel, or a messenger, to relay His messages, to speak for Him. In the last years a sort of angel worship cult has grown up. People are hungry for spiritual things and wish to be directed or led by someone or something with more knowledge or insight or with more authority than ourselves, we ordinary humans. The mystical is very popular. I am actually really baffled by this..1 know people who say the Bible is a myth and they could never believe it, and treat you like a relic of some unenlightened age, yet are willing to believe that there is a spirit in a stone or metal carving or will believe that the chanting of a so-called Holy person can give insight and direction in life. Or follow and believe a so-called "spiritual guide" who "channels" a being from "the other side". Yes, humans do want to hear God's voice. (and for the record, God has told us to NOT worship angels, that they are messengers only. Real angels will always point to Jesus, false ones will direct you to worship them).
At this time of the year we are celebrating Advent, the season leading to the birth of Jesus. Let's Have a look at the people that were involved in God's plan to save mankind by sending His own Son as a sacrifice: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah.
Luke 1:5-20, 27-35
Zechariah: he was just working in the temple. It was his turn to light the candles, and get the incense burning. A simple but faithful man doing his job. The whole congregation was just outside this room of the temple, worshiping and basically doing church at the time. Zecharias was alone in the inner room. So, suddenly an angel, but not just any angel - GABRIEL a big-shot angel— is suddenly standing there and says "I have been sent by God to speak to you and tell you that your wife will have a baby, and that baby will tell the world about the Messiah".
So what does our faithful religious man in the church say? He's like "well that's impossible because my wife and I are old and theres no way we can have a baby". Basically he didn't believe the voice he heard. As a result of his unbelief, Gabriel told him was not going to be able to speak again until the baby was born ao as not to have Zacharias run out and tell everyone was a crazy experience he had just had. He was "struck dumb", so he couldn't talk down God's plan (at least that's how it looks here).
Mary: so 6 months or so later, Gabriel heads over to Nazareth, where Mary is minding her own business, likely looking forward to her marriage to the local carpenter, maybe working on her dowry linens, knitting socks, shelling peas, or cooking or who knows. Again God speaks to Mary through Gabriel ,and tells her His plan for her. Notice Mary's response is different to that of Zachariah.
She says "Okay, so how is this all going to work then?" Mary remained open to God's plan for her life, even though the idea that she should be pregnant - by the spirit of God mind you- outside of wedlock was pretty incredible and besides, a very unacceptable thing in society. But Mary was a young woman who knew God. She knew His voice when she heard it. So she was okay with the whole crazy idea. She trusted Him. She said, Okay, bring it on!
Then Joseph: the hardworking carpenter who had arranged to become engaged to Mary. In Matthew's gospel we read that he had a dream where an angel of God appeared and SPOKE to him telling him not to be worried about getting married to Mary (who was pregnant out of wedlock) but that he would be helping fulfill the plan of God. Joseph had secretly been planning to dissolve the engagement but when he heard this he changed his mind. His reaction was similar to Mary's. He obviously felt certain enough that it was the voice of God he had heard, because what did he do? He said, okay I'll do as you say. He went ahead and married his pregnant fiancee, in spite of the social stigma and consequences of the times. He trusted God.
Both Mary and Joseph heard the voice of God and recognized it.
How did they know it was the voice of God? And not some other entity? Or just a weird dream or something? I mean the whole things was totally crazy!
Let's go and see what Jesus says about hearing His voice.
John 10:27: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. He doesn't say my sheep listen for my voice, he says they HEAR my voice. So.
Let's look quickly at what a sheep is like: many of you will have had, or do have sheep so do kind of know their character. Sheep love to be in their group. They feel stressed and afraid if they become separated or alone. They need leadership and they know it. Well-I am not sure what a sheep knows!! But at any rate it makes them feel safe. They know who is in charge and they know that voice and know that its the voice to obey. They want to obey it. It makes them feel safe. Sheep don't possess a lot of weapons of self-defense. They can run away, but not that fast, they stamp their feet, but it's not frightening. They need help. And the leader knows that the sheep need him to lead. We are actually looking at a relationship, a relationship that works. The sheep and the shepherd. Which we are often compared to. We are the sheep who need to hear the voice of the shepherd. He says we hear his voice.
Let's look at the times when God lets us hear His audible voice.
It seems that from the accounts we read about in the Bible, God spoke to His people in a clearly audible voice when they needed Him most, or when He most needed them to hear Him. When they were in a very serious situation or when big things were about to happen. In the case of Mary and Joseph, God was enacting His big plan of redemption that he had been working on since the very beginning of time, and which required the special involvement of His people. He spoke to them clearly, letting them know what was happening, and that they were an important part of it.
God speaks to His people when they find themselves without any recourse left, with nowhere to go. At the end of their tether so to speak. Many of us have had times in life when we finally reached the bottom or the end of our human resources, where we cried out to God, and He heard and spoke. King David writes about this in the Psalms, how he cries out to God in his distress, and how God answers him. You can read in the psalms HOW David did this, reminding God how hopelessly lost he was without God and how God is his only rescuer, his strength and his true salvation, and surrendering himself to God.
When my husband died in Switzerland, my whole world as I knew it came crashing down, spinning out of control. It was almost like a state of shock, and I didn't know how life was going to go on. My husband was lying in a hospital bed in a coma, and I had 2 small children at home. They were 3 and 6. We lived in a small village up on the side of the hill in the alps, about an hours drive by car to the university hospital in the city. I had gone every day for the previous few days once or even twice a day to the hospital, spent time consulting with the doctors, praying and reading the bible out loud to my husband as he lay comatose. I was frankly exhausted.
That day I knew just couldn't do it again, my children were in distress and I just couldn't leave them again with friends for the several hours it would take. They needed me. But my husband lay dying. I cried out to God where I stood in the kitchen and said "Lord I just can't do it"! At that moment, a clear voice said to me "Don't worry, I am with him." I can't say how the voice sounded, it just was. Immediately I felt relief! I knew then that the only One in the whole universe who needed to be there, was there, and I could relax.
And that night my husband died. The only day I wasn't there.
I am thankful to this day that Jesus told me He was with him. I believe He let me know so i wouldn't have to feel guilty, so that over the years I could focus on caring for the little girls without that extra burden of guilt. Not only that, perhaps my husband needed that time alone with God, without me there, to finish up what he needed to do before he left this earth. That is Love for you. Christ's love, not just in the act of the crucifixion, but in everyday occurrences. He let me hear His voice, because I needed it. He knows His sheep, and they know His voice. He knows they need Him.
Also, it seems God speaks to His people when they ask to hear His voice. I don't mean a vague, "Oh Lord let me hear your voice", but perhaps when we simply ask a direct question, and wait for Him to speak. I think so often when we pray, we just keep on talking and talking, as if it's the exercise of talking that is important. Maybe we should practice listening too.
In BC our church Mountainview Community church, was without a pastor and during the process of the search for a new one, a church member with a local business made a room available for specific prayer regarding the finding of a new pastor. I decided to take the time and go too to the room and pray.
I sat down on the comfy chair there, leaned back and after a moment simply said " Lord, what do you want us to do?". Then I just sat there and waited. I really didn't have anything else to say, we had had countless prayer meetings asking for God's guidance and leading. As clearly as could be, a "voice" came to me and said "I want my people to love me". Very simple want my people to love me. Matt 22:37-39. Jesus actually told his followers and all seekers who would ever come after, almost 2000 years ago, that this was what He wanted, what we needed to know and do. Why did I hear that voice that day? I think it was because I simply asked, and then just waited to hear the answer. I didn't have any idea what to do, or what God wanted for our church. So I just asked. That experience showed me again that following God is actually pretty simple. Like a sheep, we just need to pay attention and do what the shepherd says. Which is love Him with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves. He's actually told us many times what He wants.
So how do we hear God's voice today?
When we pray about something, the answer can come in various ways. Perhaps a sense of peace about a decision (George and I re the cheese plant), a friend who confirms something you had been thinking, or an inner impulse that leads you to the solution you had been praying for.
According to these few examples of Biblical events we have looked at today,
He has given us simple instructions: Mary and Joseph lived lives completely surrendered to God. They trusted Him completely, even so far as to going along with a preposterous plan. They knew His voice, because they were His sheep.
And Jesus Himself said simply: This is it: Love Me, Love your neighbour. With everything you have, everything you are. And what follows? He will be our Shepherd, and we will hear His voice. His voice of leadership, His voice of comfort, His voice of love. Amen
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
And may the JOY of the Lord, that we celebrate this Advent Sunday, be your strength as we go from this place. Amen
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