This Sermon was given at St. John’s Georgetown, on September 18, 2016. The Texts referenced are Jeremiah 2:4-13, and Psalm 81:1; 10-16.
“Hear the word of the Lord.”
Why, oh why, oh why, is it so hard, to hear the word of the Lord? I feel like this should be a pretty easy thing. God sounds like James Earl Jones, right? Or maybe Morgan Freeman?
I’m kidding, of course. God’s voice comes in a lot of forms, and I think that’s what makes it so hard to pick God out of the voices that surround us.
Actually, I think it’s easy to know when God is speaking, but it’s a lot harder to understand what God wants us to do. I think God’s voice is like a crying baby. Babies cry to alert us to some need, but since they can’t articulate the need, it’s up to us to figure out what the child needs. The better you know the child, the better able you are to determine the need.
The same is true of God, I think. The stronger and better our relationship with God, the easier it is for us to know what God wants of us, and the more prepared we are to act.
I’ve said it before, and it’s still true, it’s really hard to separate what God is saying from what we are saying, and what society is saying.
Over the centuries, it’s gotten harder to hear God’s voice from the sounds of the masses. But what we have in all of the readings today are stories that show us this struggle is not a modern phenomenon.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this pulpit talking about the need to differentiate what God is saying from what society or we are saying. And we do. But I want you all to be prepared to take the next step. You all are intelligent, wonderful people. And as I have come to know you over the last two years, I have found you all to be kind, and truly desiring to do God’s work in this world.
But we’re missing a step. We’re trying to run before we can even crawl. And if we are going to learn to pick out what God is saying to us in the cacophony of sounds and distractions that is modern life, we must first learn to recognize God’s voice. And since God doesn’t actually sound like James Earl Jones, there’s more to this than auditory signals.
This step, this important point, starts with us. God, in all of God’s amazing gloriousness, has this incredible ability to reach each of us, and to reach each of us differently. Just look at Christianity. Forget how many religions there are, just look at how many different types of Christianity there are? Look at the Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Churches in Georgetown. Each are different. And this is just one type of Christianity!
Now look around this room. Each of the people in this room is reached differently by God. We are in the same building to be nourished before going out into the world to serve God. And we are each nourished differently.
How we are nourished, and how we receive that nourishment, says a lot about our relationship with God, much like how a baby is receiving nourishment dictates how well the child is growing physically. And once nourished, much like children who grow to adults, we are all sent forth to do and be different things.
In the story in Jeremiah, the people were all coming together to worship God too. And much like us today, they thought they were doing a good job of living faithful lives. Going to Temple. Listening to the Priests. But they got bogged down by what society was saying was the proper way to pursue God, and live faithful lives. With the benefit of hindsight, we know they were wrong.
I’m standing before you, to warn you, if we don’t learn to recognize God’s voice, history will also show that we were doing things wrong.
Now, this is the point in the sermon where I will usually get on a soapbox and attempt to open your eyes on social justice matters. But I’m not going to do that today. If you want a refresher on any of those things, please see my or St. John’s Website.
Instead, today, I want you to consider what you think your relationship with God is based on. We can be called forth to action, but if we don’t have a solid foundation of faith, we will crumble under the pressure. If we even have the courage to stand up and act.
What is the basis of your faith?
My faith is based on a tragic experience: the death of a friend when I was 17. Through the pain of that grieving process, I discovered that I believe in God. And I believe in a God I can be mad at. And argue with. A God I can challenge, curse at, and scream at. And you know what, the God I believe in can take it. And will still love me.
But no matter what, even in my pain and grief, I believe in God.
I stand here, and I share my beliefs and experiences in the hope that you go forth and discover for yourself what you believe in. I want to help solidify your foundations, but I can’t create the cornerstones for you; you must do that work yourself.
Scripture gives us a roadmap for learning to differentiate God’s voice, and discovering how to understand what God is saying to us.
Jeremiah gives us a lot of what not to do, and what not to think. Between the lines is space for us to figure out what God does want. My interpretation, is that God wants us to believe in God. That’s step one. We must believe that God is real, even if we can’t give proof for this belief. Even as war, and famine, and fear are spiraling around us.
But then what? Right? We’re already here, in a church! Clearly, we think there’s at least some merit to this God thing.
The Psalm picks up where Jeremiah leaves off and gives us the next step: walk in God’s ways!
Great! How the hell do we do that? What are God’s ways anyway? How do we know God’s ways from our ways?
Jesus! Jesus steps up and gives us an example in the Gospel!
“[W]hen you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Be humble. Great! That’s simple!
Except it’s not. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in this parable, and I assure you, if you Google this parable, you will see that there are a lot of different interpretations. But I’m going to add one more and give you mine anyway!
I think, this parable means that we need to not think of ourselves as being better than anyone else. We are all equal. There is basic humanity in every person. By recognizing that basic humanity, we honor God. And God, is where the honor needs to be placed.
Care for people because it’s the right thing to do, not because you get something out of it. Care for people, be God’s hands and feet. That’s how we need to live our lives, right now.
God is crying out to us right now.
What God needs from each of us is different. It’s time to look into ourselves, and hear God’s voice.
It’s easy to hear God’s voice. It’s a lot harder to understand God’s words.
And then, we have to act on those words.
How will you act? How will you walk in God’s ways? How will you respect and honor the humanity of every person?
Or will you let the cries go unanswered? Will you pass God by like how we pass by our homeless neighbors as they cry out for help?
Will you be horrified by the images of children who sit in shock after their lives have been blown apart, yet remain silent?
The earth itself, is crying out for help.
The streets of Orlando and Dallas, and Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Paris, and Brussels, and Aleppo, and Amatrice, and Palestine. They are all crying out.
God is crying out to us through their tears.
Can you hear it?
Will you answer it?
Or will you continue to walk in your own ways?