Harrowing Of Hell
March 4, 2014

Words and the Transfiguration

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn

How do I know when God is speaking to me? How do I know when I am hearing the voice of God? I bring it up, because I am asked that question a lot. I also bring it up because we hear God speak in the Gospel this morning. “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

God speaks three times in the Gospels; twice God says the same thing:  “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We hear it today; we also remember hearing it when Jesus was baptized. John dunks him in the river Jordan, and when he emerges, the clouds open, and a dove descends, and we hear, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”(Matt 3:17, Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22)

In the Gospel of John the voice of God is heard only one time, as Jesus is wrestling over the decision to go to Jerusalem. He says, “Father save me from this hour.”  And then reconsiders, saying, “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”  And God responds, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  The text goes onto say, “The crowd standing there heard it; some said that it was thunder; others that it was an angel.” (John 12:27-28)

We could wonder the same thing about God’s presence with Moses on Mount Sinai. Was it the burning presence of God on that mountain or was it a forest fire? Was it the shroud of God wrapped over that mountain or was it fog? Was it the rumbling of God’s voice shaking that mountain or was it a volcano? How do we know when we are hearing the voice of God? I get asked that question a lot. Maybe it is a question you have.

I’d like to get to some real practical exercises today for how to hear God, but first I’d like to look at words:  the words God speaks and the words we hear.  There are two kinds of words.  There are words of the mouth that are said.  And there are words of the mind that are thought.  Both are spiritual expressions that have the power to create and the power to destroy.  We know this from our days on the playground.  The retort “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie.  Words hurt.  They have spiritual power that can wound or heal.  Words have the power to create and to destroy.

The Bible is full of examples, starting right at the beginning.  God said, “Let there be light, and there was.”  God said, “Let the day be divided from the night, and it was.” God said, “Let us make humankind in our image and likeness, and we were.”  And it was good, and it was good, and it was very good.

This example highlights the key difference between God’s words and our words.  Words from God come into being instantly, fully and completely.  There is no mediating filter.  God’s doesn’t have an idea and then draw up plans, and collect the paper, glue and colored markers to bring the idea to life.  God says it and it is so.

The words that we bring into being, however, are mediated.  They always have a filter.  Plato had some insight into this.  He said that words start in the mind as an inner conversation that the soul holds with itself.  This is called thinking.  “Thinking is words hidden away in the nonphysical reality.” That is what Plato said (Hearing God, p. 121).  So thinking, if we buy the definition, for us, is a nonphysical reality that only finds power through the functions of the body.

We are like God in that our words can create and destroy.  We are unlike God in that our words must be mediated though the body.  It seems God knew that some filtering function was necessary when creating us…I wish God made the same decision when creating email.

So, God is disembodied spiritual power.  We are embodied spiritual power.  Our body is the workhorse for our words.  Through our body words gain expression either through the movement of our lips as propelled by the force of our breath, or through our actions as carried out under the instruction of our minds.  We are embodied spiritual power, and it is through management of our body and our body’s relationships in the world that we become adept at hearing God in our lives.

Now I want to move into the didactic part of the sermon. You’ll find an outline for this on the insert in your bulletin.  I thought it might be helpful.

There are three parts:

  1. Examining our True Desire
  2. Understanding God’s Communication Style
  3. Learning the A, B, C’s of listening for God

First, examining our true desire; here is the question:  Do we really want to hear what God has to say to us?  Do we really want to know God’s intentions for us? Here is the risk: we might find out that what God wants and what we think we want is not exactly the same thing.  That is the risk.  It also takes effort to listen for God.  Do we want to put in the effort? Do we really want to hear?   Those are the questions.

But here is the upside.  If we put in the effort we will hear God.  Furthermore, if we follow God’s direction everything will be better.  That is the guarantee. God set the system up that way.  God also set the system up so we can ignore God and just hear thunder.  Frankly, I’d rather hear God’s thundering voice in my life! So that is the first point; do you really, truly desire to hear God?

The second point has to do with understanding God’s communication style.  It is helpful.  God speaks to us in two ways:  through signs in the world, and directly into our mind.  Now what might a sign from God look like?  It might look like being given a cross with your name written on it that was worn by Elmer Christie’s secretary.  It might look like a check showing up in the mail you weren’t anticipating when you needed money.  It might look like a flat tire that keeps you from a job interview.  It might look like your computer freezing up when you are making an internet purchase.  God speaks through signs that exist in the world around us.  We experience them throughout our body.

God also speaks directly into our mind.  God speaks to us through repeating thoughts.  God speaks to us through hunches, and profound feelings, and revelatory insights.  God may even whisper directly into our ears and the question I always get is:  “How do I know it is God?”  I respond in two ways.  First, God always repeats God’s self.  If you hear something once; listen for it again, look for it again.  God wants to be heard.  Second, test it out against what you know about God.  God loves you.  God wants good for you.  God is reasonable and compassionate and practical. God loves other people as well.  Test out what you hear against what you know about God and test it out with a kingdom of God friend.

Which brings us to point three: the A, B, C’s of listening for God.  Moses on Mount Sinai helps to make this point.

  1. is for Ascending the mountain and leaving behind old listening habits.
  2. is for the Burning fire of kingdom of God friendship.
  3. is for the Cloud of prayer we enter into every day. 

A is for Ascending the mountain and leaving behind old listening A,B,C habits.  We all have them.  Mine is, “Yah, but…”.   It is a common feature of my elocution.  It is my kingdom of Doyt parry used when I feel my personal kingdom is under assault.  It is a habit of defensiveness, and it always muffles the words of God.

Words serve to either defend our kingdom or deconstruct our kingdom walls.  Our body’s habit is toward defensiveness, it is toward management in the temporal realm, which is a tension and a problem because we are eternal beings.  At the very least, knowing the habits our body has around listening and speaking may give us some insight into what blocks us from hearing God.

Friends can help toward that end; which brings me to B, the Burning fire of kingdom friendships. Jon Roberts talked about this at the forum when he spoke about William Wilberforce and his friendships at Clapham House. Kingdom friends are different from other friends. Kingdom friends are people who are listening for God in their own life. Kingdom friends are people who know something about God. Kingdom friends become the mediating filter through which we test the signs we see and the whispers we hear.  Kingdom friends own their membership in the body of Christ; and they care about our place in the body of Christ. They care about it enough to tell us the truth, not just what they think we want to hear.  Having kingdom of God friends as close friends helps in hearing the word of God in our lives.

Which brings me to the final part of the A, B, C’s of listening for God. C is for the Cloud of prayer which brings us back to desire, and discipline, and obedience. To listen for God requires setting aside time every day.  Practice makes perfect.  It is pretty simple. If we really want to hear what God is saying to us, we enter the Cloud of prayer every day.

But, do we want to hear the thundering voice of God in our life? That is the first question we must answer. If yes, then start looking and listening for God.  Look for signs, listen for whispers, and step then into the A, B, C’s.

A is for Ascent up the mountain, leaving behind old listening habits.

B is for joining a small group, making friends with people who have a                                        burning desire for the kingdom of God.

And C is for entering the Cloud of prayer every day.

We do these things with our body.  We break habits and build habits with our body; we engage friends with our body; we say prayers, in our mind and in our mouth, with our body.

I’d invite you to consider how you are managing your body toward the goal of hearing God in your life.  Lent begins this Wednesday.  It might be just the season to start really listening for God speaking to you.