Lent 1 (Ps 32; Gen 3:1-13; Mtt 4:1-11)
March 5, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
Sunday dinner was finished, but [the family] lingered round the table savoring the good food and reflecting on the morning’s service at [their local Southern Baptist] church. The congregation… was excited about its plans for a new sanctuary to replace its old building, which was much loved but long overused and outgrown.
The morning message had focused on the plans for the new building. [The] pastor spoke of his vision for the church’s increased ministry. He indicated how strongly he felt God’s guidance in the way the congregation was going, and he testified that God had spoken to him about things that should be done.
…[Grandmother] seemed deep in thought as [the family] continued to chatter along [around the dinner table.] Finally she said quietly, “ I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.”
That simple comment… came like a bolt out of the blue from the heart of this woman of unshakable faith and complete devotion… [Grandmother] in fact, had a richly interactive life with God… But for whatever reasons, she had not been able to relate her experience of God’s presence in her life – of which she was completely certain – to the idea of God’s speaking with her. This left her at a loss for how to deal with the conversational side of her friendship with God.
(Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 1983, 1999, pp. 15-16)
I believe the thoughts of that grandmother would be echoed by many a church-goer through the years. There remains for so many of us a mystery about how God speaks to us, and with us. Prayer seems one sided – we do all the talking – and the Voice of the Lord is a rare and special occurrence!
We Christians look to the holy scriptures for words from God. And right we are to do so. But in the scenes there the Holy One seems so chatty, talking with people all the time. We recited a reworded version of Psalm 32 today. It celebrates some personal interaction with God, even some conversation.
So I went to God, and confessed.
And God forgave me.
God says, “I will teach you.”
Let God lead you through life.
When we speak these words out loud to one another, we are encouraging ourselves to believe. To believe that God answers us, and even takes initiative to say things to us. God is willing and active when it comes to showing us the way to know God, to converse and develop friendship. I long for our Master to teach us in the weeks ahead, teach us about our holy conversations. Show us: how we are already hearing from God, and some new things to learn.
The Bible is full – FULL – of people’s conversations with God. Some people stand out as real heroes when it comes to knowing the Almighty.
Abraham was called a friend of God. (James 2:23)
Moses knew God face to face. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)
Young Samuel needed help, but soon learned to recognize when the LORD was speaking to him. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 S 3:10)
Mary and Joseph both received angel visitors, and believed what they were told about the child to be born. (Luke 1, Matthew 1)
Does the Creator, does the Spirit, does the Saviour still speak with us today?
We were made to relate to God. We are created to know the Divine. This is who we are. Let’s go back, way back, to Genesis 3. God seeks out Adam & Eve in the Garden. You remember that the real trouble in the Garden was not the the apple in the tree. It was the pair on the ground!
Just after that famous scene in the garden with the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and the serpent, God comes looking for the people. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze… Amid the tragedy of this story, it is a beautiful moment. God in the garden with them.
But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” God seems to have given the humans space, freedom, and even turns off God’s own all-seeing ability, and asks, “Where are you?”
They have a conversation. And so the back-and-forth continues, through all the thousands of years in the story of the Bible. Humans are made for relationship with God. Jesus once prayed: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (Jn 17:3)
Have you heard God walking in your garden, at the time of the evening breeze?
As we seek to recognize God’s voice in our lives, we will have to watch for the dangers and errors that are possible. We heard today a story from Matthew 4 of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Here is a case of a human (albeit unique and more than human) in conversation with God and with the Enemy. The Bible plays a big part in the conversation. As the three temptations arise, Jesus quotes three times from the book of Deuteronomy: 8:3; 6:16; 6:13. But the Devil also quotes scripture, Psalm 91:11-12.
Not every claim about the right way, God’s way, is right. We have learned in our lives some about what’s not God’s guidance. We will have more yet to learn.
There is a sense in which we have been built for relating to the Divine. We are made for relationships.
So is God. God is already relational all on their own. Christians find God to be Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit. God is already in relationship, without the universe or us.
There are many things we can say about God briefly. God is Spirit. God is Holy. God is good. God is One. God is Three. God is Love.
So God is Relationship.
And this God wants and works for a relationship with us. This is why Christ came, and even died, for us. So we could be with God in loving fellowship always. Reconciled to God.
So we can hear from God.
Let me end with the very first words of Thomas Kelly’s classic book, A Testament of Devotion.
Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. (1941, p. 3)
God will teach us the way.