August 21, 2016 / HEARING GOD SPEAK / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 24:13-3
Today – we’re opening up the idea that God, the God of creation actually talks to human beings. In many ways if you’re someone who has been around Salt House for a while – you know that this is something we kind of assume – we ask the question “What is God saying to me?” with regularity. But I want us to step back and really ask ourselves: are we open to the idea that God actually has something to say to us right now where we sit. Something about our everyday experience. Open to the idea that God wants to encounter us, to connect with us, even more than we want to connect with God.
In order to explore that, I want to ask what might be a more helpful question – not the question: does God speak, because maybe in some ways that’s hard to get at – a better question is this: if God does speak, are we in a position to listen? Can we hear him? Are we in a place to pick up on the connection, the voice, the encounter of God when it’s happening?
To examine this, we’re turning today to a moment in scripture that contains all of the conditions that I have ever heard of in how to hear God. The conditions in this moment, this story, contain all of the qualities and even ideas of how we might put ourselves in a place to hear God. Because where I want to land us today is three practical steps to listen for the voice of God in our lives. All found in a shocking encounter someone has with God – that so resonates with my own experience.
We’re turning to Luke 24 – it’s called the Road to Emmaus – and actually a text we read a few months ago in the Easter season. I love coming back to texts again as a community and hearing them in a fresh way – always so many layers to explore.
And I’ll tell you there’s encouragement right off the bat from this story: God could be right next you, physically visible and you still may not pick up on it because that was their experience here. SO here we go, on the road to Emmaus…
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” Jesus asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
What does this scene have to do with hearing God? What I want us to see in here, to extract – is all of the conditions of knowing that it is God we’re connecting with – to be able to say, yeah, that’s his voice. All of those conditions are here in this story. These two find themselves in an atmosphere that we can choose to place ourselves in. So again, the question isn’t is God speaking, the question I want to explore is: Are we positioned to listen?
We’re going to lift up three practices that we see in this moment of scripture. First of three practices is that Jesus is leading them to this moment that I’m going to call the zone. Not very biblical language, but hopefully memorable. The first practice is: Find our zone. Notice how this walk begins, their focus and attention is on their issues. My gosh, I am so caught up in what’s been going on around us! And our hearts being broken …and Jesus starts with them there. And you can hear their openness, that sense of Gosh I’ll try anything right now. Jesus uses that openness. Ultimately leads them to this moment where they are just transfixed on him. I don’t know if they wanted him to teach anything more – they were just like, I don’t want you to go. They didn’t want to leave that zone where they experience the presence of God. And I think it’s Jesus who led them to that place, we’ll call it for this morning at least, the zone. Find your zone, where we experience the presence of God.
What do I mean by that? For me, hearing and seeing what God has made is one way I get in the zone – Creation reveals God in a way like nothing else done. I walked down the street to Starbucks on Wednesday – and the sun was out in all it’s glory, the air was so fresh – the smell of mown grass and warm dirt – and I literally had tears in my eyes it felt so good to be outside. It’s observing the details of nature and figuring out how things work together –curiosity about our universe and the more we discover about how things were created – the more I feel like God is saying – I am here, I am here, I am here. The zone where I know there is life so much bigger than my challenges and dreams. That’s a zone for me. You have a zone.
Last week if you were here or listened online – we talked about Sabbath, those practices where we cease striving and declutter our minds – the zone certainly can be in those Sabbath times. Finding our places of rest, where we cease, shut things out. AND – here’s the key – we’re fixated on the presence of God.
Finding our zone is a practice – not like I got it directly from the pages of the bible. But here’s why the zone is important: in the day and age we live in, never has it been more difficult than now to just be present in the moment.
Like who, and I am with you on this, who when it is a quiet moment and there’s nothing we have to do – you have to create something TO do. That’s all social media is for me – I have to go find something to do, find someone to compare myself to so I can feel bad about just being here and being ok. You know? (Stinking wonderful social media). Ok. We’re bombarded.
That’s why we have to find these zones. Because: God does not scream at us. God doesn’t nag us. God doesn’t cajole us. God does not manipulate us. Why is that? Because God’s voice is a voice of authority. Have you ever been in the room with someone who has authority? Not a title. Authority. Not accomplishments. Authority. Someone who has the self-security of knowing they are credible. That kind of person just speaks. And sits down. That’s like the voice of God. God is not going to scream – the voice of God is more like a nudge. It’s still and it’s small and it’s a whisper. It’s a hunch. If we are not finding the zone where we can pick up on an impulse, a nudge – we will not pick up on the voice of God in our life.
Now – every hiccup is not the voice of God. So in the times when we think we hear from God, I will constantly encourage you to go to verify if it’s God, and it is what Jesus does a lot in this story. Our second practice of positioning ourselves to listen is scripture. Find scripture. It just is. I know there are plenty of good reasons we might have walked away from the pages of this book or never even given it the time of day. If you have hang-ups with the pages of the bible that’s perfectly ok. Come at it with all of your questions and criticisms.
But if you’ve written it off, ask yourself today – I don’t know if this is you – ask yourself is that is because of something you have heard second hand or because of personal exposure. Is that because of things you didn’t LIKE or things you didn’t UNDERSTAND. That’s different. There are plenty of things I haven’t liked about the bible and as I have gained understanding and applied it in my life, the bible has become way more curious and provocative for me.
But I implore you, constantly – to have a regular intake of scripture. Find scripture. Because, this is how we can verify: what does God sound like? How does God talk? What kinds of things are important to God? That’s why we teach from scripture every single Sunday. That’s why we sing songs that are based on scripture. That’s why we have the Text & Text practice where we read the bible and text about it. A way of reading scripture and texting others daily to be connected in reading the bible – which we’ll fire up again in the fall. We need to know what God sounds like – and the bible teaches us about God’s voice.
Have you ever seen those movies where there are clones, or twins that lead to mistaken identity? And they switch places – and it comes time to verify that this is the Real McCoy they always ask them a question that only they would know. That’s how you know its them. Like, oh, if there were two Saras up here, you’d ask – Oh, which do you prefer: NSYNC or Back Street Boys? And I’m not going to tell you because you may need that information if I am ever cloned. The answer may surprise you! What I want to introduce or remind us of, is that whatever God has spoken in the past, if he is speaking now, it will resonate (and not contradict) what God has spoken before. The Bible will align with what we hear from God now.
Now I get it, there are so many words in this! How can you get a straight answer out of hundreds of pages? We all open it up asking, isn’t there just a verse in here telling me whether or not I should dump him? Or quit my job? Or how to parent my child? Is there a verse in here that tells me I’m supposed to move home?
I get it, this thing is huge and it’s confusing. That’s why there is a third place that God always, always brings us so we’re positioned to listen – and it is find his people. Find Your Zone. Where we are captivated by the presence of God. Find Scripture. Scripture is where we learn the kinds of things God actually says. Find God’s People. I guarantee if we’re regularly in a space where we can pick up on impulses and regularly bathing in scripture, and we still need more? I guarantee you God is driving you closer to His people. Every time. I could not be clearer than that. If you’re feeling like, “I’m just not getting it” the instinct should not be to detach from where his spirit is at work, God is driving us into interdependence. God hasn’t called us to a one-on-one relationship, but an all-and-one relationship with him. We’re just stronger together, we’re better together, we make sense together.
I have to choose this intentionally in my life. I have mentors in my life for different things, and I consult them. But most of the time when I am confirming that God is moving through my life, it is through peers, through you guys, it’s through conversation with Jason, with my best friend Abby – and it happens in normal conversation a lot. Just the: hey – I’m thinking this, what do you think, what do you see in my life, what are you recognizing – it’s amazing how much clarity we get in those conversations.
That’s why we encourage folks to join Thrive Groups here at Salt House and why we should all try and sign up in September as those get started for the fall. Those are places to bring up what’s really going and what you think God might be doing.
Now every once in a while, in those times with God’s people, there’s going to be some direct word, some shocking clarity, almost intuitive knowledge somebody has. I know this seems like absolute fantasy to some of us but I have experienced it first hand. The churchy words for it are: a word of knowledge. These moments when God uses people to straight talk with us in a crystal clear way. And some of us have experienced it, some of us have done it before. I could talk for hours about the examples if we had time – several times, myself, Jason, friends, we’ll be praying with someone, talking and some word that is said or phrase just has a depth charge significance. The bottom line is that God uses people to speak to people. And it might even seem like a fantasy to you, but if we’re open to how God will speak through people, then he’s going to surprise us. Maybe the clarity we’re seeking is in closer proximity with people who listen for this, who want God to speak to us – and let’s be honest – that’s not everybody in our life.
And here is why this matters: friends, we’re like these two who walked along the road to Emmaus – they longed for Jesus to be the one. We are those two, in our own ways, at different times. We walk with our own confusion, disappointments, questions, longing – and in those times, if we open ourselves up to the zone, if we’re bathing in scripture, if we’re connected to those who are listening for God along with us, then we too will have these breakthrough moments when our hearts will burn within us.
Do you want your heart to BURN within you? Don’t you want to take whatever’s giving you anxiety today, or the dream you have or whatever is troubling, and don’t you want that to collide with the presence of God in such a way that your heart just skips a beat.
Then the question I want you to ask is: am I positioned to listen? Find Your Zone. Find Scripture. Find God’s people. It’s as simple and complex and complicated and beautiful and evolving as that. It’s not a formula, but these conditions foster the space for us to hear God speak.
As the band comes up, we’ll have a time to sing, and to make space to do just what we’re talking about. We’ll sing words from scripture – from John 15 where Jesus invites his disciples – then and now to abide with him. In the zone. And how good it is to hear God’s voice. And we’ll open ourselves to let this be a zone for us, together. Do what you need to do – ask God what God is saying to you through the current circumstances of your life, sit in quiet and just be, or sing your heart out in worship to God. Go color or write…
As we position ourselves to listen, let’s pray…