Tag Archives: listening

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Deep Calls to Deep

The Apostle Paul, missionary to the Gentiles, had a difficult assignment from the Lord. Reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.   (Acts 16:11-15)

Paul was not speaking in a synagogue, but to a group of women meeting in prayer outside Philippi, far from Jerusalem. Lydia was listening and believe. She not only believed but was baptized and started a church in her home. What moved her so quickly? She was listening eagerly to the message from God.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks to his disciples about the Holy Spirit who will teach them everything:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.   (John 14:23-27)

God wants to speak to us by his Spirit. He wants to teach us. He wants to lead us into all truth. But we must be listening. He has given us the capacity to hear him and to understand. We must listen with our whole being. We must listen with our heart as well as our mind. The psalmist wrote:

Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your torrents;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.   (Psalm 42:7-8)

The depth of God calls out to our deepest level. He says: “Listen to my words of life.” He speaks to us through his Spirit and we must listen with our spirit, The Apostle Paul wrote:

God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.   (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

The enemy does not want us to hear God. God is speaking to us, but the enemy will do everything possible to distract us from hearing what is being said. One of his ways is to ramp up the voices of this world. It should come as a surprise to us that Satan controls much of the media and entertainment. We might find these voices stimulating and even exciting for a period of time, but their effect is not lasting. Ultimately, they may be depressing. Clearly today’s news is purposely meant to be depressing.

How do we counteract the distracting voices of this world? We must not focus our attention on them, but, rather, on the word of God. Yet it is impossible to drown out all the distraction of this world. We must be proactive. We must fortify ourselves against them. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.   (Jude 1:20-21)

Pray. Let the Spirit lead us. And, most importantly, keep ourselves in the love of God. God always loves us but we do not always love him. If we are not careful, we may blame him for all that the discouraging things we see today. There seems to be little justice being served. God is at work. He is moving behind the scene. His timing is perfect, but that is not always our timing. Let us keep the faith and witness to the world the love which God pours into us.

The psalmist wrote:

May God be merciful to us and bless us,
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.   (Psalm 67:1-2)

God wants to show us and teach us his ways. The world needs to see his ways in us. Let us hold onto the truth of God’s love. Lydia listened deeply to God and she made a commitment to him from her heart. Have we made a similar commitment

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

Again, Paul wrote:

Keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 

 

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Sheep have a tendency to go off in any direction without know the consequences. They also have little ability to protect themselves from danger. Sheep need a shepherd.

Scripture tells us that we are like sheep. Reading from Isaiah:

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Fortunately we have a shepherd. We have the Good Shepherd. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

For this shepherd to take care of us we must listen to him and follow him. The rulers of Judaism during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry were not prepard to do so. Reading from John’s Gospel:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.   (John 10:22-28)

Jesus is able to promise eternal life because he purchased that life for us with his blood on a cruel cross:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.   (John 10:11)

The Apostle Peter, paraphrasing Isaiah, wrote this about Jesus:

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

We have been set free from sin, but we must still listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. We must still follow our shepherd. The enemy will do everything to distract us. He will tempt us with promises of worldly wealth and influence. And he is able to make good on his promises up to a point, provided we are willing to pay with our souls.

There is another aspect to our listening to the Good Shepherd. The Apostle John had a vision of a multiple people in heaven. Scholars may differ over exactly who these people are. This much we know, they have experienced a great ordeal in their lives:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   (Revelation 7:13-14)

We may experience ordeals in our lives that not only distract us, but put our faith in Christ under a severe test. I remember interring seminary my first year. A met a graduating student who said the seminary experience had totally destroyed his faith.

The people John’s vision had one thing in common. They continued to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow his direction. They were doing so even in heaven:

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   (Revelation 7:15-17)

Jesus guides us to springs of the water of life. He promises us eternal life. He tells us that we will not want.. We will not lack anything. He leads us on the right path. He continually revives our souls. He does all of this for us, but we must stay in tune with his voice.

God allows our faith to be tested. He knows our hearts. We must must listen to the voice he has placed within us. The voice is his voice. He leads us to his glory and life eternal with the one who laid down his life for us.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Hearing of the Word

When the remnant people, in Persia, returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem, the book of the law of Moses was read publicly to encourage them. Reading rom Nehemiah:

All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The public reading often invokes a response from the listeners. It has a powerful effect on those who were returning to Jerusalem. They were receiving a blessing from God through Ezra and were in an attitude of worship. This helped open their hearts to the message. Again from Nehemiah:

Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.   (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6)

In many liturgical churches it is customary to read the appointed scriptures of the lectionary during the worship service. This was an ancient tradition in Judaism. It was true in the time of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading::

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   (Luke 4:14-20)

How did these two public readings of God’s word compare? Let us see. It is clear that the listeners in the synagogue were attentive to what Jesus read. From Nehemiah we read that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” But how did the response of the listeners compare between the two Group? Again, reading from Nehemiah:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

The people wept when they heard the law. They understood that they had forsaken the law of Moses and they were grieved. The power of the word of God is beautifully addressed in the Book of Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

God’s Word is truth. God reveals our innermost being. He is a just God. But he is also loving and forgiving. The psalmist wrote:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:8-9)

How we respond to the Word is all important.

After Jesus read the appointed scripture from Isaiah, He made this bold statement to his hometown people of Nazareth who knew him as the carpenter’s son:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:21)

The word “today‘ jolted the listeners. It is one thing to hear scripture with piety and feigned reverence, but it is quite another to understand the scripture is always now. To be sure, Jesus proclaimed a powerful fulfillment of prophecy. His listeners were not prepared for this, but neither were they in worship as the exiles. We remember that they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff and kill him.

How do we respond to the reading of scripture? Or how do we respond to the sermon? This may make us feel uncomfortable. It often leads to sorrow, but also joy when we repent. Without repentance the Word of God cannot be fully active in our lives.

With an attitude of worship and humility before God great things can transpire. The returning exiles rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem and the new temple. Equally as important, if not more so, their faith in God was restored.

Reading from the Book of Acts, The Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders:

And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.   (Acts 20:32)

What is our destiny?  What is our inheritance? It is dependent upon our hearing of the word. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:15-17)

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