Can you hear me now?

How do you hear the voice of God?

You might here God in the reading of scripture, the sharing of a prayer, the laughter of a child, or a moment of silence.

For many of us, we experience God through music.

For the last month I have been watching a series called the “Story of God,” that is hosted by Morgan Freeman who travels around the world talking with Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and Christian and Native American leaders about how they hear God.  It is a great series. The creators of it were pretty clever in casting Morgan Freeman, who has played God in movies, to travel the world and talk with people about God. In some moments, it sounds as if God is talking about God.

A few weeks ago the episode started with Morgan Freeman sitting in a blues club in Mississippi. The band played, Morgan smiled and sang along, and he said that this is where he experienced God. That he didn’t simply hear the music, but he felt it in his body and his soul, he said, “some people call listening to music a religious experience, can’t say that I disagree.”

I like the blues. I like BB King. But it isn’t the music I grew up listening to, it isn’t the music of my heart.

The first music that really touched my heart was punk rock. When I was about 14 years old I first heard The Clash and The Ramones and Black Flag and it was different from anything I ever heard. It wasn’t the polished/produced music on the radio, it was raw, it was real, and it was from the streets.

Ironically, many of the songs I listened to then connect to the programs we do at Church and Community Development for All People today. They were songs about economic justice, racial equality, songs crying out for peace in the midst of violence, even songs about unethical landlords.

One of my favorites is a song called Rise Above by the band Black Flag. So I am going to teach you a little punk rock. Here is what I want you to say, “Rise Above, Rise Above.” Repeat that, “Rise Above, Rise Above.”

Good job. So now I am going to say a line and I want you to repeat, “Rise Above, Rise Above.”

Jealous cowards try to control
Rise above! rise above!
They distort what we say
Rise above! rise above!
Try and stop what we do
Rise above! rise above!
When they can’t do it themselves
Rise above! rise above!
We are born with a chance
Rise above! rise above!
I am gonna have my chance
Rise above! rise above!

Congratulations, you are not punk rockers.

And, this, is some asset-based, opportunity rich, divine economy of abundance punk rock!

This is where I first heard the call to justice.

I grew up in the church. The church I was raised in took the bible  seriously, was filled with faithful people who gave me so much, and from that I received a strong foundation. I am grateful for what I experienced in that church. But issues of justice were not often talked about, it just wasn’t part of our world. When the pastor read from Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting someone in prison, as a kid I never knew of anyone who had ever been hungry or naked or incarcerated.

So it was through the combination of the foundation of faith I received as a kid, and punk rock, that I heard God’s voice that brought me to the work I do today. For me, it is the combination of this music of the streets and Jesus saying that he came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, that has brought me to where I am today.

I have heard God through the church and I heard God through punk rock.

I think this speaks to the variety of ways people hear God.

Even in the Bible, think of all the different ways people hear God.

Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden.

Abraham heard God when he welcomed strangers.

Moses heard God in a burning bush.

Elijah heard God in a still, small voice.

Jesus said, my sheep hear my voice.

Saul, before he becomes the Apostle Paul, heard the voice of the Risen Christ in a bright light.

In these examples, and so many more, we can hear that there are so many different ways that God speaks, so many different ways that people hear the voice of God.

God didn’t stop speaking when the Bible was written. But God has continued to speak in various ways to many people.

God spoke to Francis of Assisi and said “repair my church”.

God spoke to a young Martin Luther King and said “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”

God speaks today through prophets ranging from Desmond Tutu to Chuck D to Donita Harris.

While God has been speaking the entire time, on the surface, Pentecost may seem like the most dramatic example of how people hear the Word of God proclaimed.

At the end of the gospel of Luke, and again as he is ascending to heaven, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit will be poured out on them. In the upper room the disciples and Mary and other followers, men and women waited. And they waited, and they waited. As many as 120 people sat in the upper room for a week and a half. Waiting.

And then, without any warning, a sound comes from heaven in a rushing wind, tongues of fire sit on the heads of Jesus’ followers, and they begin to speak in tongues.

This is as Steven Spielberg or as J J Abrams as the Bible gets. Along with the Ten Commandments given at Mt Sinai, it doesn’t get any more dramatic than this. So we could hear the story of Pentecost and think that the way God speaks is in big dramatic moments.

But the real miracle is not only in the speaking, but in the listening. In verse 8 it says, And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

And then it goes on to give the names of people who heard one another. Many of the names are foreign and unfamiliar, others are well-known today: Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Jews, and Arabs.

Perhaps the real miracle of Pentecost isn’t just that God poured out the Holy Spirit in this powerful and incredible way, but the fact that all these people listened to one another and heard each other.

If we turned on the news and it said that Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Jews, and Arabs all listened to each other and heard each other, we would call that a miracle.

But the fact that people don’t hear each other is not just about people far away, it is right here.

We live in a divided world. A world that has somehow become polarized and it seems our entire culture is at one extreme or the other.

We are either fox news people or msnbc people.

Republicans or Democrats.

Rich or poor.

Black or white.

This division is not just a matter of the political landscape in an election year; it has divided our communities and even divided our churches.

As many of you know, right now the worldwide United Methodist Church is meeting for its once every four year General Conference. Pastor Karen Cook is there representing the West Ohio Conference. Our church comes together every four years and votes on mundane and contentious issues, but we do very little to hear each other or listen to each other. Instead, every four years we get more and more polarized. Pray for Karen, pray for this general conference, pray that God can pour out the Holy Spirit once again and bring healing where there is division.

We are a divided culture, a divided society, a divided people, a divided church.

This is not God’s will.

We are all created in God’s image. In everyone’s eyes we can see Christ, and yet at every turn there is an us and them. The people I like and the people I don’t like. The people I love and the people I don’t even want to talk to. Either you are a part of my tribe or my group or my people, or you are one of “them.”

In some ways, this church, by its very nature, is a beacon of hope in a divided world. As we say every Sunday morning and every day before the Free Store opens, we are a church for ALL people. If you look around this room, you can see that diversity. When we open the floor to take prayer requests, this is a place where everyone has a voice and everyone can be heard. It doesn’t matter who you are and it doesn’t matter if doing so takes longer than the sermon, because when diverse people listen to one another, the voice of God is heard.

This church is an example of how divided people can come together, pray together, sing the same songs, receive the same word, eat the same breakfast, gather around the same communion table, and hear one another. For it is when we truly hear one another, that God’s Holy Spirit is present in powerful ways.

But here is the challenge, as it is often said, the church is not a building, it is the people. Even for a church that doesn’t look like a traditional church with a steeple and stained glass, this is not the church. You are the church.

So what if, instead of having this one wonderful place where a diverse group of people modeled on Sunday morning what it looked like to be the body of Christ, to listen to one another, what if we carried that forward in the hundreds of different places we will find ourselves in this week.

What if instead of going to a place called the Church for All People, we embody the Church for All people?

What if we carried this Pentecost Spirit of hearing God speak through the people most unlike us?

What if we were the ones who stood against any kind of division and we made every place we go and live and work a safe place for all people?

What if when you are at work you included the person who always gets left out?

What if when you are at school you sat at lunch with the kid no one wants to sit with?

What if when you are in your community you showed kindness to the person who others stay away from?

It is when we place ourselves with people different from ourselves that we might just find that God has something new to say to us.

A couple of weeks ago Jimmy Cheadle and Jeff Hunsacker talked about pain that is not transformed is transferred. When you see someone acting in a way that we would call rude or mean or inappropriate, that is not them, that is their pain. What if you were the one who didn’t gossip about the hurting person, or avoid the hurting person, but healed the hurting person by loving him and including her and listening to them.

If we could learn to listen to one another, hear one other, put aside our own egos and pride long enough to simply be with the people we consider most unlike us, we would see the world transformed. We would see something even greater than tongues of fire, we would see the beloved community. We would see the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. We would experience what Peter talked about in the last line of his Pentecost sermon, that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This Pentecost, let us not simply sit back and awe at what God has done in the past, but let us listen to the living God who is speaking today and listen to one another and in doing so may our community, our world, and our church, find healing and wholeness and life.

Let us Rise Above division.

Let us Rise Above systems that pit people against one another.

Let us Rise Above our differences.

Instead, in our differences let us listen to one another, value one another, cherish one another, so that in each others company, we may hear the voice of God.

Rise Above!


2 thoughts on “Can you hear me now?

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