Sunday, January 11, 2015

Say What? Series: Hearing God Speak Through People (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Hearing God speak – it’s my hope and prayer that we will be the kind of people, the kind of church, who listens intently to hear God speaking.  That we have the expectation that God will speak to us, and then, that we respond simply by doing what God says to do.  How marvelous would that be?


Last week, we talked about Hearing God Speak in Silence.  Given that we live such busy, noisy, cluttered lives, we can miss God simply because we aren’t quiet enough for long enough to hear the still, small voice of God.  I encouraged you to intentionally seek some silence in your life so you could better hear from God.  To make and designate some quiet space in your home, to carve out some quiet time in your schedule, and to stop talking in order to practice listening for God.


That being said, you’ve got to be careful what you ask for – because sometimes you actually get it.  By now you know that my voice gave out halfway through the 11 o’clock service last week as some upper respiratory thing finally caught up with me, and I ended up sick at home for the next three days.  Did I mention that I was unable to speak?  Me – not talking for three days - oh, the humanity!


My house has never been quieter.  Three sick days for me, more like three vacation days for Ashley – finally some of the peace and quiet my introvert wife craves – all on the heels of my own sermon about seeking silence and speaking less.


So yes, God speaks through silence.  God also speaks through people.  On one hand, there is nothing too surprising or shocking about the idea that God would communicate through people.  Our faith tradition is filled with examples of this.  God spoke and is speaking through the human authors of Scripture.  God has spoken through prophets and priests and scholars.  God has spoken through Jesus and his apostles and leaders in the Church.  God speaks through pastors and teachers, authors and artists, poets and musicians – surely we can all think of some time we have been particularly moved or inspired through the great gift of some person who is using their gift to God’s glory.


However, we can get so accustomed to hearing from God through those with extraordinary and great gifts, that we don’t expect to hear from God through regular and ordinary people.  Jimmy Valvano said, “God must love ordinary people, because he made so many of us.  But every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things.”


Ordinary people doing extraordinary things – friends, that’s a good descriptor for what the Church can be at its best.  If you have your Bibles, turn with me to 1 Peter 4:8-11, which is a description of the community of faith when we are at our best:


Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. 10 And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts. 11 Whoever speaks should do so as those who speak God’s word. Whoever serves should do so from the strength that God furnishes. Do this so that in everything God may be honored through Jesus Christ. To him be honor and power forever and always. Amen.


Whoever speaks should do so as those who speak God’s word.  Not only those who lead, not only those up front, whoever speaks to anyone about anything should do so as those who speak God’s word.  God is not only speaking to ordinary people – God is also speaking through them.  And with so many ordinary people in the world, including us, God has a lot to say.


I have always loved accents.  When it comes to regional accents, I never had a chance.  My mom was from Western Pennsylvania, and my Dad is from Northern Virginia, and believe me, both places have their own distinct sound.  I, myself was born in Oklahoma, and had the sweetest, most syrupy drawl you’ve ever heard by the time I was three and we moved to Western New York.  I stayed there another 19 years, and have been here in North Carolina for the last 12, and am now married to a Western North Carolina mountain girl.


Every one of those regions has some place in how I speak.  Depending where I am, who I’m with, characteristics of one place may come out over another.  I’ve got a little bit of all of those in me, I’m an accent mutt – not a purebred anything.  My Dad’s family in Northern Virginia, they all sound like they expect Mary and Robert E. Lee to drop by at any moment.  My friends in Western New York claim they have no accent at all – “We talk just like the people on TV” – which would be true if everyone on TV had raisins shoved up their noses!


No matter where I go, someone will always ask, “I can’t place your accent – where are you from anyway?” and none of the regions in which I have lived will claim me as their own because anywhere I go they all think I talk a little funny, and they may not know where I’m from, but they all know that I ain’t from around here, wherever “here” happens to be.


Did you ever wonder if God has an accent?  If God spoke, what would God sound like?  Sure, God may speak in pristine and proper King James English, with all the formalities of “thee” and “thine,” but God doesn’t speak only that way.  God comes to us in ways we can understand.


That’s what the birth of Jesus was about.  In Jesus, heaven comes to earth.  In Jesus, we see the fullness of God’s love in a face like our own.  God loves ordinary people and comes to us as an ordinary person.  This world is full of ordinary people whom God loves more than you can imagine, and so when God speaks, God does so in a way that ordinary people like us can understand.


So God does have accent?  You better believe it.  Whoever you are, and wherever you’re from, God has a way of speaking in a way we can recognize and understand, a way that’s familiar and comfortable to each of us, because God more often than not speaks through ordinary people.


God’s accent sounds like the person on your right or your left, and perhaps our familiarity with one another is what makes it difficult to hear from God.  We’re so used to hearing each other that we’re not even thinking about hearing from God through each other.


And the tricky thing is that not everything we say is from God.  Anyone here ever said something that you’re pretty sure wasn’t of God?  Anyone want to volunteer what you said?  The Scripture says that those who speak should do so as those who speak God’s word, and yet we all know that we all say things that aren’t from God.  We say cruel things, hurtful things, gossipy things (though in church we mask those as prayer requests), so how can we hear God speak through other people with all the rest that’s mixed in there?


Think of it this way.  Do you ever pick up someone else’s accent?  I’ve done that, in a sense, with all the influences on how I speak, but what I’m talking about is maybe that you’ve spent so much time with someone, that their ways are so familiar to you that you end up sounding a bit like they do?


So what if we picked up God’s accent?  Knowing who God is, that some of that rubs off on us, so that when we speak, it’s as if God is speaking through us?  That requires spending enough time with God, having enough familiarity with God that we can discern what is from God and what isn’t.  That familiarity is required both for the one who speaks as well as the one who hears, but that familiarity is what allows us to speak as those who speak God’s word, and to hear when God is speaking through others.


What does God’s accent sound like?  It sounds like consistency with what we know about the character of God.  God’s accent sounds like love – the unconditional love of a father.  It sounds like mercy and grace and forgiveness.  It sounds like a will that is ever-directed toward the good of all.  It sounds like words that build each other up rather than tear each other down.  God’s accent sounds like anything that allows the fruit of the Spirit to grow and flourish - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


As people of faith, we are called to tune our ear so that we can recognize God’s accent when we hear it.  When you find people who speak in God’s accent, stay very close to them and learn everything you can from them.  Become so familiar with God’s accent that pick it up and start to sound a bit like God, so that as you have recognized God in others, others will be able to recognize God in you, that your words will have a ring of God in them, and even if people can’t place exactly where you’re from, they’ll be able to tell that you’ve been spending time with God.


Whenever you speak, no matter how formal or informal the setting, don’t underestimate the impact of what you say.  Don’t underestimate the power of your words.


Every time we open our mouths, we are giving God an opportunity to speak through us.  Let’s not miss those opportunities.  Let’s pick up the accent, and speak with the recognizable tones of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  Let the soil of our words be a fertile place for the Fruit of the Spirit to grow, a foundation upon which we build one another up as we pass by opportunities to tear one another down.  Would it be that when we speak, we do so as those who speak God’s word.


So, no need to be surprised when you hear God’s accent from the person on your right or on your left.  God has a distinct sound, and once you’ve gotten familiar enough with it, you’ll recognize it from friends and strangers alike.  Hopefully, they’ll recognize it in you, too.

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