Discerning God’s Voice in a Noisy World
June 21 Genesis 21:8-21 * Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 * Romans 6:1b-11 * Matthew 10:24-39
We live in a time where there are more questions than answers for what is going on in our world. We don’t know how this pandemic will end, or what our lives will look like in just a few months from now. The fight for civil rights has been going on for decades, but we seem to be at a turning point, where so many people have said “enough” and are refusing to remain quiet any longer. People have been looking for signs of the End Times and Jesus’ return ever since he ascended into Heaven, and it seems to be getting easier to believe that we are getting closer, and yet in our hearts we certainly feel that there is much work for us to get done first. When we feel like giving up, that is when God often calls us to get busy. Our Gospel Lesson for today reads:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it. (Mat 10:24-39 NAS)
With such a complex passage, it is difficult to pin down just what God is trying to tell us here. It’s a reading fit for our time! Beelzabul? Swords? Sparrows? Peace? This is not a warm-and-fuzzy kind of passage. It is a passage that asks many questions but gives few if any answers. Jesus sets our minds reeling, looking ahead, forcing us to think about who we are and what we are to do. In Matthew, the disciples were first called in Chapter 4, and then we read of Jesus’ first teachings and healings in the following chapters, including the Sermon on the Mount. Here in Chapter 10, Jesus summons his disciples, and Matthew gives a formal naming of The Twelve. It feels like the initial teachings are over, and here we have a commissioning service of sorts. Jesus gives them the authority to cast out spirits and to perform healings, and sends them out into the world, telling them: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give.” (Mat 10:7-8 NAS) He has given them great power and purpose, but here warns them that it will not be easy, perhaps they will even wonder if they are up to the task, or if the glories involved will be worth the sacrifices they will have to make. Perhaps we have been in a similar place, perhaps several times, as we digest the past and look to the future. It is easy to place ourselves with the disciples this time. We too have been sent into the world to serve God and our neighbors. There is no turning back.
So what is God asking of us? Perhaps He is asking us to know who we are listening to. Who is our teacher, master, head of our household? Are we following God, or Beelzebul (or satan, “Lord of the Flies”)? Certainly, we say we follow God, but what do our actions say? It is Juneteenth as I write this, we ask: have I been complicit in systematic racism? We may not say openly offensive things, but have we supported the systems that keep certain people in bondage just because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity? Have we placed ourselves above others? Jesus reminds us to keep our place, not put ourselves above the One we claim to be our Lord. Do we fully follow God’s instructions, or pick only those we feel comfortable in following, ignoring those that we don’t agree with or find too difficult? In a culture which is getting more ungodly every day, do we choose to listen to God, or whatever is currently deemed to be “correct”?
As I have mentioned before, a disciple in Biblical times was expected to model themselves after their teacher (or master), acting like them and living as they did, following their instructions. When we say we are Jesus’ disciples, we have to ask ourselves if we are following ALL of his teachings, or just the ones we like. Are we willing to follow him, but only to a certain point, that point where we feel uncomfortable, perhaps in danger, perhaps where we must actually start denying ourselves in order to fully follow him? Are we listening to him, truly, or do we hear the siren songs of our culture, our friends, or even Beelzebul, talking through someone we admire? Jesus tells us not to fear those voices speaking things contrary to God’s teachings, so how do we go about fearlessly living in accordance to God’s will in this confusing time we live in? Perhaps now we can understand Jesus’ warnings of trials and tribulations better. In choosing to follow him, we say “no” to many of the things our society may say are good and beneficial and say “yes” to things that are often openly ridiculed and dismissed. “Choose today whom you will serve”, Joshua 24 says. Who are you/we listening to? Do you follow what God says, or do you follow what your friends say, your family says, what your political party says? When you listen to the news at night, what lens are you seeing it through?
Of course, it is not enough to just listen, we are also to respond, and speak the truth into our world. In the face of violence and oppression, we are to proclaim the grace of God and his salvation through Christ. He will make things better. For those of us who believe in non-violence, how are we to interpret Jesus saying he has not come in peace but with a sword? Should we take this literally, or does he speak of the sword of truth and righteousness, sharper than any two-edged sword? Here in America and other Western countries, we have to wonder if this sword has been dulled, not taken seriously, made ineffective by those who may have wielded it in Christ’s name but whose actions have pushed people away from Christ. Perhaps there was a time when following Christ meant opposition from family here, but now our faith is more likely to be dismissed as wishful thinking, and only our Christian sisters and brothers living in other countries have to fear the sword that kills the body. If we lived in a country where the people of God were persecuted for their faith, would we have the courage to stand up for Christ, risking our lives, when we are not willing to do that here, where we can speak openly? How seriously do we take Jesus’ statement that we are valued more than sparrows? Will we be willing to take risks and boldly try new things, knowing that God cherishes us and protects us? Are we willing to take up that cross?
Jesus tells us to put him first before all others: confess Him to all people, and he will confess us to the Father. Some of us have trouble proclaiming this in word, some of us need to work more on proclaiming Jesus in what we do. All of us need to be working to share Jesus with all people, as if He could return tomorrow. With the pandemic, social unrest over racism, and so many enormous problems, we should all have an increased sense of urgency in our mission as God’s people.
John Wesley urged people to come to Christ and discipline themselves according to God’s instructions in order to “flee the wrath that is to come” (i.e. Judgement Day); perhaps we need to act like that wrath is already here and is knocking at the door. People need to hear about the love and grace of God, but also the consequences of sin, disobedience, and the exploitation of those who are weak and marginalized. We are to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” How are we doing?
What a strange time this is. Not only is so much going on in our world, it feels like we are at a unique point in time where everything is changing and there is no going back. There is only moving forward, for good or ill. Whether that is to be an uphill climb or a fall off of a precipice remains to be seen, there doesn’t seem to be anything in between, no easy path where we can proceed without changing, no way to stumble ahead without paying attention to where we are going.
And so we ask ourselves: “who are we listening to?” Are we seeking to be faithful disciples of our Master, or are we seeking to be the master? Do we listen to what God tells us to do, or are we doing whatever we want to do, ignoring the consequences? A major part of learning to discern God’s voice calling us to follow him is being able to discern what is NOT from God. It often seems like there is a multitude of voices seeking our attention, some of them loud enough to drown out the voice of truth. Hearing God’s voice amidst all the noise takes effort and discipline. Once we know who we are listening to, and commit fully to Him, we can then ask what He is asking of us, as our “insert” for today teaches:
Open Hearts: A Primer on Spiritual Discernment: Topic 2
Formulating a Question for Discernment
Good spiritual discernment begins with discerning the question. The desire for the discernment comes from a gnawing concern, one you have been pondering, but unable to resolve. How you word your concern in the form of a question paves the way for all that follows. If you let prayer help shape your discernment question, you yourself undergo a subtle transformation in the process.
The first step is to hold your situation in centered silence for at least ten minutes, with your thoughts and feelings in suspended animation. After that, begin to word the question by addressing it to God: “God, how would you have me…?” This gets it out of your head where it is in your own control and into your spiritual heart, your gut, ready to be informed by the Spirit.
The next step is to word the question so that it is open-ended, hospitable to new possibilities beyond what you currently perceive, so that you are available to be taken to new vistas and see new things. That means no multiple-choice questions, no “yes” or “no” questions. Such questions hem God in and hem you in as well.
Then continue in a prayerful mode until the question becomes a single interrogatory sentence that is clearly focused and open-ended. In spiritual discernment you are not looking for pat answers or blueprints, but for signs that point the direction and illuminate the path ahead.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
© 2015 Listening Hearts Ministries. www.listeninghearts.org
This is mainly for individual discernment, but we can also use it for our church, either practicing it together or first at home and then comparing notes when we come together. Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is always with us, providing a way forward. This is a time for everyone to dream big, pray fervently, and share those ideas you have been thinking about that just may turn out to be the path ahead for our church. We are in this together, united in the Spirit, fulfilling what Christ has called us to do. God will get us through this!