Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Still Small Voice And The Hope That Is In You

Fr. Dale Matson

Our Gospel lesson for the 6th Sunday of Easter states in part, These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27) Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit Who indwells all Christian not just His apostles. Think a second about the actions of the Holy Spirit. He is a Helper. He is One who reminds, He is a Teacher and He is a Comforter.

How do we tune in to the Holy Spirit? How do we get on His wavelength? Sometimes it seems like when my grandsons try and communicate with each other on our walkie talkies. They both press the talk button at the same time and can’t hear what the other is saying. The range of the walkie talkies is about five miles but they yell all the louder at each other from a distance of about ten feet.  Sharon and I can hear them both without the walkie talkies quite well thank you. Sometimes Jamison is on channel one and Maxwell is on channel three.  They can’t seem to agree to be on the same channel. Here are the lessons learned.  First of all, unlike Jamison and Maxwell, we need to get our finger off the talk button and simply listen. Second, never buy a boy anything that will amplify the sound of his voice.  Let’s look at one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament to help us understand how God communicates with us.

“And he 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.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV).

In this passage the Prophet Elijah finally understood that God can be found in the “still small voice” (“gentle whisper” NIV). Certainly God communicates with us through Holy Scripture. He also communicates through His Sacraments, circumstances and through a word from our Christian brothers and sisters. In all these ways God leads us in our daily life. I once had a student who said about herself in all humility, “I have always been blessed to hear the voice of Jesus.” I understood her perfectly and hope you do too.

This voice is not the auditory persecutions experienced by psychotics. A clinically depressed person may believe that the voice telling them that they are no good is from God. Well, it is not from God.  The Holy Spirit’s voice is instructive, it is a Teaching voice. It is not the condemning conscience energized by the law written on our hearts. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). The voice is Comforting. The voice is not one of self-criticism. How many have made a mistake and immediately say something like, “You jerk, what were you thinking?” That is not God. That is what I would call the voice of our critical parent. Has a parent ever talked that way to you?  The voice is a Counselor. The voice is not any louder than our own thoughts as God the Holy Spirit speaks to us. God is not in the earthquake. He is in scores of little things in our daily life. As the children’s song states, “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.”

I have also run into folks who are waiting on the Lord. I find it to be an interesting phrase, waiting on the Lord. Does that mean that you are idle while you wait on the Lord? Does that mean that God is against gainful employment while you are waiting? I think not. Don’t confuse sloth with God’s voice.   Chaucer called idle hands the devil’s tools. I would add that God will never, repeat never, tell you to do something that is not consistent with Scripture.

Let me illustrate with a couple of personal examples. I used to be in construction and had just completed a final grading of a new home site. As I talked with the owner who was smoking a cigarette, I was thinking some rather judgmental and critical thoughts. I was a little self-righteous also since I had just quit smoking myself. A question arose in my thoughts, “What makes you better than him?” I immediately repented in my mind, which was accompanied by uncustomary compassion.

I was recently visiting with a friend over lunch. We talked for a quite a time and when I was done with what I had to say, I was preparing in my mind to move on. “Wait, he’s not done yet. Stay awhile longer.” The friend didn’t take much longer and thanked me for listening.

He is the voice of the teacher, the counselor and the comforter neatly woven into our thoughts yet we are able to distinguish His voice from our own thoughts. With Elijah, God was not in the wind, earthquake and fire. Monks and Mystics seek silence and solitude to hear the voice of God yet ordinary Christians are blessed to hear God every day. Yes, God also speaks to us through others, even those who persecute us. The indwelling Holy Spirit is a sign and a seal.  “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is more than a lifetime warranty. He is an eternal warranty alleluia!
Let’s take a more careful look at this verse from our Gospel lesson.  “These things have I spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father  will send in my name.” Here Jesus is both looking ahead to His ascension and later to Pentecost. Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus ascended to Heaven to take His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father and is the fortieth day after Easter. Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Easter where the Holy Spirit was given to the entire church. So, in sum, Christ said He would leave us and send the Holy Spirit. He was resurrected, walked around this earth for an additional forty days and was seen by over five hundred people. Within ten days of His ascension, the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples gathered in the upper room. You know what else was celebrated on Pentecost? Before Pentecost the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Weeks.  This was a celebration of the giving of the Law on Sinai. So Moses presented the Law and later, on the same date, the Holy Spirit was given to the church. How fitting is it then for St. Paul to say that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18) Does this mean that we are no longer bound by the Law? No, it means that when we are led by the Spirit of God, we will also honor the Law. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The more the world becomes a confusing and crazy place to exist, the more I appreciate the Ten Commandments. There is certain clarity about them. The commandments are to behavior what sea level is to the surveyor.

I would like to offer some thoughts on the following portion of our Gospel lesson. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” What does Jesus mean here when he makes this statement? He is talking once again about the Holy Spirit. St. Paul uses the Phrase, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. “It is a peace with God and our own conscience” (John Wesley) The peace the world gives is transitory. We strive for peace in our lives. How do we do this? Much of what we do in life is intended to provide security isn’t it? We lock our doors. We work toward being debt free. We guard our health. We have insurance plans for our life, home and automobile. We have extra food on hand. I spent many hours this past week clearing weeds and brush away from our cabin to protect it from brush fires. And yet, and yet again, like clearing weeds, there is no lasting peace that we can provide through increased security. Much of our perceived threat is out of our control. We cannot protect against things outside the security cocoon we build around ourselves. It makes us anxious much of the time. There are so many things that impact us that we have no control over like terrorism and Wall Street declines, Cancer and car crashes.

Speaking of car crashes, in Friday’s paper, an article caught my attention. “Suicides spike among boomers. More take their own lives than car crashes.  Since 1999, the suicide rate rose by 30% for those aged 35 to 64. The bottom line is that this generation is dealing with much more than previous generations and that each new generation will find the same problems. “Changes in marriage, social isolation, and family roles will continue into the next generation. The boomers had great expectations for how their lives would turn out but it hasn’t panned out.” I also think there is also a great deal of moral ambiguity and confusion. Never forget this. The church will always be counter culture. We are called haters and bigots and we are not. It is not a right to free speech that we claim. A life lived for Christ is a prophetic voice we cannot and should not contain. A life led for Christ is an affront to those living licentious lives.

As St. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has told us, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). We live in anxious times. So what is the release from this prison of anxiety for the Christian? It is the decision to die to self and live for Christ, for He is our authentic self. It is not our story. It is His story and He is the author and finisher of this story. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. He is our counselor and advocate. We have a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiveness of our sins. We have hope. We are headed toward eternal life. We cannot convince the pagans around us to reform themselves    because their minds are darkened by sin. We can however live a redeemed life, be a beacon of light to those who are perishing; to those who no longer have boundaries. “ but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) 

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