02/02/2020: Hearing God’s Voice
A Sermon by Rev. Gretchen Jones Switzer
Last week, when Nancy Gilbert spoke about her family’s loss, she clearly needed support. When I invited someone to get up and give her a hug, Judy and Nicole popped up and rushed to her side right away. They did not do that because I suggested it, although that may have given them permission to do what their hearts and God’s heart was telling them to do already. I believe God was speaking to them through the compassion Jesus has put in their hearts.
In this morning’s scripture passage, we are told that we are Jesus’ sheep and he watches over us and cares for us. But it says one more thing that we often overlook: these are my sheep and they know my voice.
They know my voice. Now sheep are known for being stubborn, just like most human beings. Sheep are not easily moved or pushed or directed. Again, much like people. And I don’t know about you, but I hate people telling me what to do! Most of the time, I think that I know best! However, there is one voice I tune into as often as possible, and that is God’s voice, and when I “hear” God’s voice, I try to do what I am told.
You’ll notice I put some quotation marks around the word “hear.” You see, most of us, with an occasional rare exception, don’t physically hear God the way you are hearing me now. However, Jesus makes his voice heard in other ways. God speaks to us through the Bible. Through nature, through other people, through circumstances, through prayer. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel something inside me, in my heart, that seems to guide me to do kindness and show compassion, and I believe that nudge to do good, to do what is right, is also God’s voice speaking to me.
Recently, I heard someone say that the bedrock of any relationship is communication, and I know that is true in my marriage and my friendships and as a parent. Talking things through with someone close to me, always makes us closer. The same is true for our relationship with God. When we pray, we often say “I talked with God,” but if prayer is only us talking and God listening, that is not really mutual communication. but you see, what Jesus teaches us is that when we are open, and willing to listen, we will find that God is communicating right back to us. God may speak with us in a million ways, but God does respond to us and God does initiate conversation with us. Jesus was not the only human being who has ever talked to God, but because of Jesus, we have a direct line to our creator too. Problem is that we don’t always hear it when God speaks to us. Pastor Rick Warren suggests that there are 3 reasons why we don’t hear it when God speaks directly to us.
First, in order to hear messages from God, we have to cultivate an open mind and an open heart within ourselves. We need to be receptive and eager and willing to be quiet and listen. He likens it to a cell phone, where you sometimes have to be in exactly the right spot to hear the person who’s calling. “Can you hear me now?” Warren suggests that there are three things that keep us from opening our mind to the possibility that God is speaking to us:
1. Pride – being unwilling to humble ourselves before God and accept that Christ knows better than we do, prevents us from listening for God’s voice.
2. Fear – If we hear God’s voice and God asks us to do something, we might be too scared to do it. God might ask us to do something that frightens and challenges us.
3. Bitterness – Bitterness, holding on to hurt and resentment hardens our hearts. Hard hearts can’t make out God’s voice. If we hang on to the bitterness and disappointments in our lives, we will never hear what God is telling us. If we are carrying so much baggage that we are deaf to God, then we hardly have room for whatever that message might be.
I think this is one of the most difficult lessons in life – to learn to let go of hurts and angers, disappointments, resentments, so we don’t end up bitter and discouraged and deaf to God trying to speak to us. Everyone has a different way of letting go of the past, but we must. Stop dwelling on the bad stuff and refocus on all the good stuff. Stop blaming others or ourselves for mistakes made, and nurture in ourselves forgiving hearts, so that we may be loving and merciful to those people God has put into our lives.
So, the next things we need to do to hear God’s voice is to take time to listen. Now as most of you know already, I love to talk. Unfortunately, I tend to be that way in my prayer life as well. I pray and pray and pray, I tell God what I need and what I long for, but I have to be very intentional about taking the time to also be quiet, and then just listen. And when I do, I find that a new, unexpected thought might come into my head that makes me see some problem more clearly and gives me an idea of how to address it. That is God speaking.
Later in the day, someone might say something to me that suddenly brings a problem and its solution into perspective. That is God speaking.
Something might happen that sheds some light on the concerns I talked to God about in my prayers. That is God’s voice responding.
We must take the time to listen for, and watch for, God communicating with us.
And finally, Warren suggests that in order to hear God’s voice, we need somehow to become less distracted. One of the hallmarks of human society is that we are now busy every day of the week. Some of us are even rushing off to do other things right after church and can’t even take time for a cup of coffee. You and I are always “on the go.” To quote Rick Warren, “We are so busy making a living that we are not making a life.”
My husband is a college basketball fan. He attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. Last weekend, we watched a televised Xavier game. They were playing a school called Creighton. The network who was broadcasting the game, decided to do something different. Each of the coaches were “Mic’d”, so we could hear every word they said. I have often wondered how the players in a game like that ever hear a thing their coaches say from the sidelines. But as we listened and watched with the inside sound going, it became obvious that the reason the players hear their own coach over the noise of the crowd, and are not distracted by the other coach’s voice, is because they know their own coach’s voice so very well. The scripture this morning says that the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, so they respond and follow, no matter how much other noise and other distractions vie for their attention.
My friends, when we come to this table, we come to hear Jesus Christ speak to us. As we eat the bread, he reminds us that he died for us. As we drink the cup, we remember the human blood he shed so we would know how much he loves us. You and I have to tune in and listen for holy message meant just for us. Here, we come face to face with God and we receive more love than we can even imagine here o earth. In this heavenly meal, God’s voice is clear and strong, immediately identifiable, saying “I love you, no matter what. I have loved you since before you were born and I will love you forever and ever and ever.”