Tumbling in the Sand
This past week, I was up at the Lutheran Summer Conference at Silver Bay on Lake George.
I was teaching a class on listening for God’s voice
—for the presence of God—
in our every day lives.
We looked at great text of God showing up
in burning bushes, glorious visions
and silence and the cross.
We thought a lot about the questions,
the fear, and the receptivity of those who encountered God.
We thought through the theology of sacrament—
how it is that God shows up in ordinary things
like bread and wine
water and word
and mistakes and laughter and tears.
But, at the core of the class was the question,
“What does God sound like?”
in other words, the core of the class was discernment—
How do we distinguish the voice of God,
the calling of God,
the direction of God’s moving
from other voices,
other who would claim authority in our lives?
After all, though we can experience God anywhere,
many voices call us that aren’t God—
voices of culture, career, upbringing
world view, peer pressure, ego, self-interest
Not to mention those things
that vie to be our shepherds and our guides
that Jeremiah warns us about,
that aren’t God.
Shepherds that divide and scatter and destroy
— especially when they become the shepherd
things like violence and money and power and prestige.
And, those who would use us for their benefit and the harm of others
It is hard to hear the voice of God
over the cacophony of voices
that call us in our lives.
It is hard to recognize the true shepherd
—calling us together, calling us to new life—
And we, like the crowds in the Gospel story today,
tend to find ourselves frantically
searching and following and hoping
for someone to guide us
Given all the change we are experiencing as church
and as a people, it sure would been nice
to have been able to figure out how to make it crystal clear
which of the voices that call to us daily
are from God.
And I’d love to say that we as a class came up with
five easy steps for recognizing God’s voice.
But, it was not so easy by any stretch.
Because God comes to us and speaks to us
in ways that we expect and ways that we don’t expect
in people we respect and people we don’t even know
in places that catch us off guard
as well as places we go to to find Spiritual renewal
For example, in Jesus, God shows up in the person of a wandering, homeless rabbi, executed by the State for treason.
In Jeremiah, God speaks up in a prophet that people
—especially responsible, leadership type people—
wish would just be quiet (to put it politely)
In Paul, the author of Ephesians*,
God expands the promise of grace to the whole world
—to those who had been far off—
through a man whose zealousness had cut God’s grace short.
So it tends that setting easy rules for who God is and isn’t—
who God works through and doesn’t—
…well, those rules don’t work very well.
Instead, what we found in the class is that discernment,
that listening for God’s call and God’s voice
is a process of single steps
of abiding in and growing in God through scripture reading, prayer, and listening
of apprehending the whispers of God rather than comprehending the fullness of God
of catching glimpses of the Spirit that catch our intuition and insight
of responding in faith and action,
not being sure of the whole picture before we risk a step
of being willing to make mistakes
knowing that God can bless even those.
Discernment and hearing God is active and continual—
as active as the sick
reaching out to touch the fringe of Jesus’ swooshing garment
as continual as
the disciples following Jesus going from place to place—
to town and village and farm—
not entirely sure where they are headed to next
Listening and following God
is to step out in trust
knowing these things to be true:
that God is good and life giving
that God is calling us and guiding us
that God is actively working to heal the world
that God is forgiving and renewing
and that God is our shepherd and will never, ever let us go.
*The letter to the Ephesians is penned by someone who, at the beginning of the letter, claims the identity of Paul. There is disagreement as to whether this letter was actually written by Paul or by someone else writing in the style (and influence) of Paul. This was a common practice and would be similar to how students of famous painters are known to sometimes paint works in the style of their teachers and then attribute those works to their teachers and masters.