We have all seen it. Some of us wear it on our lapels. The comma used by the United Church of Christ with the phrase “God is still speaking.” According to proper English usage, we use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet. In other words, we use the comma because the thought is not finished, there is more to come. The belief behind the symbol and the saying is that God has not completed his revelation yet, we are an ongoing project, and God’s revelation continues in each generation. But we have to pause here and ask two questions, are we listening? And, who are we listening too?
I was once asked if I had a favorite book in the Bible, and I responded by saying yes but with a qualifier because I have two favorites, the Letter of James and the Gospel of John. James is genuinely my favorite, but I gravitate towards the Gospel of John because of its spiritual message. All of the Gospels have a spiritual message, but John’s Gospel is all about spiritual and not just miracles and names and places.
The image that comes to mind when I think of John is the Divinci panting of the Last Supper. In that painting, right in the center, is Jesus. Reclining on Jesus, with his ear pressed against his chest is John. Now, I have no way of knowing if this is what happened but I do know that the Gospels tell us that John was the Apostle that Jesus loved. This is an intimate position and one of familiarity but what strikes me most about this image is that John has his ear pressed against the chest of Jesus and therefore he can hear Jesus’ heartbeat, the very heartbeat of God.
The ancients believed that the center of our being was our heart. Some thought that our soul resided in the heart and that is what made it the center of our nature. All of our blood passes through our hearts and feeds all of the other parts of our body. The heart, like other organs, is essential to our lives and we need it to be working at full capacity. John pressed his ear against Jesus and listened to his very essence, his very being he heard what was in his soul and that is where John’s message comes from. It is not enough to just listen to the words that “God is still speaking” we need to listen to the essence of the message.
I truly love this passage from 1st Samuel that we heard read to us today. The scene we see before us is almost comical. A young man is sleeping, and he hears a voice, he gets up and runs in the other room because he thinks his teacher is calling him. The teacher tells him that he did not call him and to go back to bed. Three times this takes place until finally; the teacher understands what is going on.
The Lord was calling out to Samuel, but Samuel did not “yet know the Lord” as it says in verse 7 so he did not recognize the voice that was calling to him. Samuel thought the voice was his teacher Eli and so he ran to him. Too many times we run to follow the voice we think we hear or the voice we want to hear because it is easy or because the voice is saying the things that we believe and the things we want to do. Sometimes we run to that voice even when that voice spews some of the vilest hatred a voice can speak, but because we are confused by the voice, we continue to follow it and make excuses for it.
Sometimes there is so much noise that we cannot hear the voice of God. Sometimes we discount the voice of God because it is calling us to do something we do not want to do or because of where the voice is coming from, perhaps a country that is well…. Less desirable.
After Eli figures out what is going on he tells Samuel to go and lie down again and when the voice calls to his say, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” and in the end this is what happens and God makes a revelation to Samuel that will change his life and change the course of the history of his people. For us to hear the voice of God, we have to know what the voice of God sounds like, and that takes discernment.
Jesus left us with some simple rules to follow, and you have heard me speak of these many times, love God and love neighbor. Jesus tells us that all of the law and the prophets hang on these to commands of his, his new law if you will. He did not come to replace what was there before but to fulfill it in the command to love God and love neighbor. So we can begin discernment by asking if the voice we hear calls us to love God and love neighbor and if it does not then it is not from God.
If the voice you hear is calling you to hate or discriminate against another, it is not from God. If the voice you hear is telling you it is okay to insult people because they look different then us, it is not from God. If the voice you hear is calling us to violence, it is not from God. If the voice you hear is calling you to deny basic rights to other human beings, it is not from God. Discernment is not easy, but it is vital in the life of a Christian.
With all that said, my experience is the voice of God is not always as clear as we would like it. Samuel had to figure it out, with the help of Eli, his teacher, and that is what we have to do as well. Sometimes the voice will indeed come in a dream, and sometimes that voice comes from and usual place or person.
The lectionary Gospel passage for today comes from John’s Gospel, and it is the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “follow me.” Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him that he has found “him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel replies and says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was not a good part of the country, and some might even call a “hole” of a place. It was the back of the back, one of the worst and poorest places on earth but God chose this place, this “hole” of a location to bring forth his Son. So you see, the voice can, and often does, come from some pretty weird places.
It is our job to be aware of the voice that is still speaking. Just as God was calling Samuel to do great things God is calling each of us to do something great but we have to be listening, and we have to know his voice when he speaks. Love God Love neighbor; anything else is not from God.