Saturday, April 25, 2015

Easter 4 B

Easter 4B 15

          The gospel readings for the 4th Sunday in Easter all from St. John Chapter 10 . The common theme is Jesus the Good Shepherd, and Jesus’ word to the apostles, “my sheep hear my voice.” What does that mean for us? How do we hear the voice of Jesus, and what do we do in response to hearing Jesus’ voice?

          God is revealed as a God who communicates.  Again and again in the Bible we read, “And God said.”   God spoke to Adam in the garden, to Noah before the flood, to Abraham and the Patriarchs, to Moses at the bush that burned and was not consumed, to the Prophets, by the angel to the Virgin Mary, to Jesus, and to the disciples – and through Christian history to the saints, and in our own time.
         We have to be listening. And we need to beware of other voices that are not from God. Hearing voices “is often seen as a prime symptom of psychosis.”
         Only once in 49 years of ordained ministry have I experienced what I believe to be the voice of God speaking directly to me. At Good Shepherd, Asheboro, NC, in a time of intense parish conflict, I heard inside my head a voice saying, “Tom, I died for their sins. You don’t have to.” It was a revelation that Good Shepherd was the Lord’s church.  My call was to be faithful, love the people, offer the sacraments, and preach the gospel, but the Lord would deal with Good Shepherd’s conflict. A few weeks later Bishop Weinhauer, who had known me at General Seminary, called to ask if I’d be interested in serving at Shelby where we spent 9 happy years. The Lord has not chosen to speak to me in the same way since, but I hear him in the Bible, through those who love me, through the church, and in prayer.
        The Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth and power, works in all God’s people to bring us closer to God, to teach us God’s truth, to give us the power to do God’s will in the world Jesus has redeemed by his death and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit continues to speak to us.
        The Holy Spirit of God chiefly speaks to us through God’s word written, his Holy Scriptures – the Bible. We hear God speaking to us by his Holy Spirit as we hear God’s word proclaimed in Holy Scripture, and as we read the Bible seeking to know and to do God’s will. God speaks to us in our hearts as we open them to God.
         An example is Elijah in 1 Kings 18. On Mount Carmel the fire of the Lord consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, not the sacrifice of the priests of Baal. The Baal priests were slaughtered, Elijah fled from the wrath of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel to the Sinai desert. He was afraid, depressed and full of self pity. He prayed, “It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” But the Lord fed him for 40 days, a long time, in a cave in the wilderness. “And, behold, the word of the Lord came to Elijah and the Lord said, What are you doing here, Elijah? And Elijah said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” The Lord said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” “And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” The voice of God sent Elijah back with a mission, to call Elisha as his assistant and successor, and to bring a regime change to Israel and Syria at the hands of Jehu and Hazael.

          God speaks to us in prayer. Be careful what you pray for. God speaks to us by his Holy Spirit in our consciences, in that God-given gift of knowing right from wrong.

          And God speaks to us through other people. God’s love is expressed through our parents, and especially through our wives and husbands, and through friends. God speaks to us, but sometimes when we aren’t carefully listening he speaks to through those who love us. But be careful if someone says, “The Lord told me to tell you.” Test that spirit, listen to be sure the Lord is saying the same thing to you, be sure the word spoken through another person to you is consistent with the word of God in Holy Scripture. Pray about it. Especially pray about it if the word you are given about another person happens to agree with what benefits you.

          And finally God speaks to us through his body the church. We say in the creed that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. God can speak through church councils, through resolutions and actions of diocesan convention and General Convention. Clergy and lay delegates to convention will listen for the word of the Lord as we have before when we elect a bishop next summer. The bishops and Standing Committees of our church will listen to God’s word of confirmation of that election. Clergy serve not only in the parish but in the diocese and by delegation beyond the diocese. Bishops serve not only in the diocese but in the wider church.

          God can speak to us through sermons in church and elsewhere, and God speaks to us speaks in our prayers. When I preach I pray you may hear God’s word through my words. 

But we all need to test God’s word in resolutions and actions, in sermons and in prayer  the like by Holy Scripture and conscience. Be careful when you like what you hear. We can easily deceive ourselves.  God speaks through an informed conscience. We need to know what the church is saying, and by the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment judge church statements by Holy Scripture, by the great Tradition of the church, and by an informed conscience.  

          God spoke to Adam in the garden, God spoke to Moses at the bush that burned and was not consumed, God spoke to Elijah in the still small voice, God told Jesus at his baptism and at his Transfiguration, “You are my beloved son.”  The same God speaks to us in the Bible, by his Holy Spirit in conscience, through those who love us, even through the church, and especially in our prayers .  He spoke to me in my mind Asheboro.  I pray that when the Good Shepherd speaks to us in all the ways he chooses to speak that we will listen,   Amen.