Listening to the Lord

2021-02-28 – Year B – Lent 2 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 16:6-12v; Romans 8:31-39; Mark 8:31-38

Lord Jesus help us to draw near to you. Help us to find ourselves on the way to you, along with you and not alone. Help us to hear today your voice which spurns us on in glory to your cross. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our lessons today are ones of trust in uncertain times, hope in the midst of difficult situations, and God’s provision even in the midst of what appears to be a hopeless situation. The old testament passage today is one that makes me quack in my proverbial parenting boots. Abraham has been asked to take Issac, his long awaited and deeply loved son up the hill and to offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham would have spent great amounts of time with Issac. He would have been intimately involved in his upbringing and had known him like the back of his own hand. For there was nowhere to send your child away. When a family had a child the extended family helped raise them and they never left your side. When they walked along the way they did it together. When they arose in the morning they did so together. When they worked they all worked together as a family. They were totally knit together and connected one to another. Abraham’s heart must have been in total turmoil over what he was hearing of God. Isaac was his only son, the only natural birth rite of his inheritance in which God promised him would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. And yet this was the one God was asking for, this was the one God needed Abraham to offer. His situation must have felt rather hopeless and yet we see Abraham seeking to live a life of faithfulness, trusting in God to do so much more than he could see at the time.

Fr. Chris and I have recently watched the PBS documentary on The Black Church and it has deeply moved us. One piece of it in particular that moved me was how the slaves fell in love with Jesus and despite their horrific circumstances and lack of an opportunity or hope of anything changing. When they had the chance to worship they prayed for restoration and redemption. The story of Moses and the redemption of the people of God caught their heart and encouraged them to carry on in hopes of a better day. They dared to hope that generations from where they stood would get a chance to taste redemption or freedom. They rarely thought of it for themselves and often hoped their children’s children would have a better life. How profound it is to think of redemption in a generational sense. 

In our current culture we rarely hear of people being concerned about the future of their family generations. We are a people who typically think of ourselves and our particular situation and bettering our own lives for us. Abraham and Moses and the chosen people of God had a profound sense of those who came after them and before them. God’s focus is for all generations. God desires to change the hearts of individuals so that the hearts of those in generations to come might know Him as well. This is our calling as well. Each and everyone of us have people either in our family or close to us who need to hear the message of love and hope found in Jesus. God calls each of us to be ambassadors to our family and close relationships. 

Abraham has faithfully served God and listened to his voice and followed when spoken too. How frightening and bizarre it must have been to trust God’s leading and listen to what he was hearing. How could Abrahm trust God’s word and what he heard? First before I go any further I want to say that God would not ask any of us to sacrifice our children or anyone else for that matter. God does not and will not ask us to kill anyone. The question I want to propose is how could Abraham trust God’s voice? If you give your life to Jesus and seek to listen to God the Father and long to hear from Him. He will speak to you. Sometimes it is a soft quiet voice speaking in short phrases. Sometimes it is in a dream or vision in which you hear or see the need of someone else. Sometimes it is a nudge to pray for someone or to check up on someone. 

Often when we hear something new or challenging from the Lord he will speak very clearly. There can be very little confusion in the matter. When the Lord spoke to me about going to seminary I had my own plan. I wanted to attend seminary in Boston, however God spoke very firmly to me, telling me if I was to trust Him that I needed to attend a seminary in Wisconsin. It was going to be very challenging but if I followed Him I needed to trust Him. God is a being of order and clarity. To follow Him is not to hear confusion but rather clarily, love, and direction. Jesus is our great intercessor seeking to give us good things in life, words of comfort, words of conviction, words of hope, and words of a future.    

How did Abraham know the voice of God? It is a very rare moment to be able to hear the Lord if you do not cultivate a life of listening. You can not wait for those intense overwhelming situations to call upon Him and ask Him what you should do. You can not put off spiritual listening when times are calmer expecting to hear in difficult times. It may sound a bit pessimistic but I try to assume that at any moment I might lose the ability to read, learn, or take in the things of God. We are studying World War II in school with the kids and I am reading out loud a book about Corrie Ten Boom. She was a clockmaker in Holland during the war and she helped hide people who needed to escape the Nazis. One day it was her turn to be rounded up and there was nothing she could do to help herself or to take with her the Word of God. In an instant her comfort of her home, the comfort of her family, the comfort of her life of reading and studying the Bible was taken away. We too must assume that either through, injury, sickness, or death that our lives could change in an instant. 

This propels me into my life hungry to see him in the day, hungry to hear his Word, hungry to know more of Him. A year or so ago I started a practice of listening to Pray as you Go on my phone while I cooked dinner. The prayerful music, the Words of scripture, the guided meditation all lead me to a time of devotion and love for God. Sometimes I would look up and see a child lingering listening with me in silence as well. The more I have done this practice the more I long for it. I miss the times when I need to quickly bustle around answering questions from the children and cooking quickly. Knowing God’s voice can only come from seeking Him out and listening to His Word. We are in Lent now in the church and we are invited into a season of learning to listen better. As long as we have breath in this world we can learn more of the things of God. We can learn more about listening, appreciating the things of God, and trusting the voice of the Lord to lead us in His way. 

There is a book that has recently come out and it is called Prayer in the Night, For those who work or watch or weep. It is written by an Anglican priest named Tish Harrison Warren. She and her husband are friends of ours and were at the same church in Pittsburgh before we came here. In this book she walks through her own time of profound suffering through the death of her father and two difficult miscarriages. In the middle of the first miscarriage she ended up in the emergency room profusely bleeding and she and her husband who is also an Anglican priest began to pray Compline outloud despite the chaos of the situation. Compline can be found in our prayer book and it is a prayer service for the end of the day. It is a beautiful service which we use most nights in our house to end our day as a family. She uses the words of the service to walk through a relationship with Jesus. She points out ancient church practices that were used by Christians to draw near to God and to know Him better. Tish points out over and over again how practicing ancient prayers can sustain us when life is turbulent and hard. Consistently praying to God can teach us His voice, can speak words of truth into our lives, can show us the way to go. 

Tish is quoted as saying, “For most of church history, Christians understood prayer not primarily as a means of self-expression or an individual conversation with the divine, but as an inherited way of approaching God, a way to wade into the ongoing stream of the church’s communion with him. In that moment in the hospital, I was not trying to “express my faith,” to announce my wavering devotion to the room full of busy nurses. Nor was I trying to call down my “sky fairy” to come save me. Through prayer I dared to believe that God was in the midst of my chaos and pain, whatever was to come. I was reaching for a reality that was larger and more enduring than what I felt in the moment.” Communion with God, talking with him, listening to His voice, receiving His love, correction, and care for us is what our lives are to be filled with as Christians. Abraham was able to know God’s voice because he listened to him regularly. I am sure in his human nature he felt so many emotions and yet he moved forward. 

This past year or so has felt much like a long season of Lent. For many of us we have given up so many experiences, times with family and friends, activities we used to enjoy, or even just feeling like things are normal. It can be very tempting to focus on everything that is different and yet Fr. Chris and I truly feel like it is an invitation for all of us to draw closer to the living God who wants to speak to each of you and to provide a way for you. Abraham was faithful to God and God provided a way out of His situation. God provided a sacrificial ram that would take the place of Isaac. God saw Abraham’s faithfulness and provided for him. Abraham had learned the lesson of total surrender to God. Paul alludes to this verse when he marvels that God the Father did not spare his own Son but surrendered him to be sacrificed for the world (Rom 8:32). Jesus is the Lamb of God who was offered for the sins of the whole world. When you draw near for Eucharist whether that is in person or through spiritual communion, know that you can receive and experience the peace of God in your life. 

This Lent I believe God wants to move us closer to Him in trusting that He is at work in the world even with these difficult circumstances which will get better and yet probably be replaced with other difficult things. God wants to redeem our time, He wants to speak into our lives despite whether we are in a good place or a difficult place. God desires to draw you close as a good mother or father would do for their children to care for them. God desires to show you His presence and to show you that He has not gone away or forgotten you. So often we can sink down into ourselves and believe that God does not see us or what we do in the world. But the truth is that each one of us is seen and known by God. Today you can travel all around the world and see magnificent cathedrals or churches that have stood the test of time. They took decades to be built with many skilled and incredible people working on them to create beauty. But not one of those people is remembered by us now. That is often how we feel in our own work but know that God sees you. God sees your labor, prayers, desire to know Him, and desire to be made known by him. God sees your need and has you on the palms of his hands. You are close to Him and He longs to make your life good and holy. 

Abraham listens to God and it is reckoned to him as righteousness. We too can walk in this way journeying to Jesus seeking his good voice and will in our lives. You are not alone on your journey in this world. Jesus desires to walk with you, speak to you and give you wisdom. A way to seek Jesus out is to find a quiet place, place your hands in your lap and open up your palms and say, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” Sit quietly and wait for the Lord to give you his direction and love. If you do not normally do this try for a few minutes at a time and slowly increase your time by a few more minutes. In our extremely busy world full of distractions being quiet before the Lord can be a min-revolution. You can take your time, attention, and need to rush about and offer it back to the Lord trusting that He will help you do all that you need to do. Let’s be honest I have six kids, two puppies, and a constant state of dirt and grass being tracked into my home as well as a constant flow of random objects strewn across my house. I am a neat nick as one might say and this is not easy for me. Giving up time to listen to Jesus feels like a feat that is impossible at times. However, whenever I do I have a whole new perspective, I feel calmer and love those around me more easily. 

One of the great gifts the Anglican Church has is the gift of spiritual directors. These can either be lay people who have trained in listening to God or this can be any clergy person. This is when you commit to talking to a person usually once a month to talk about your relationship with Jesus. If you have never done this I encourage you to consider it. This could be someone locally or someone further away who you talk to on the phone. Spiritual direction can give you a chance to learn some other life giving way of listening to Jesus and can give you a chance to grow in your love of the Lord through a relationship with another believer. If this is something you are curious about, talk to Fr. Chris, Deacon Steven, Brother Tim or I and we can help you find someone right for you. 

My prayer for each and every one of you is that God will speak to you in your life. I pray that God would give you insight in this special season of our time and give you wisdom to how He is working in the world. May God use the story of Abraham to increase your faith in whatever you might face and grow in you a sense of urgency for seeking out the things of God. May God use the faithfulness of Abraham to strengthen and embolden you in your witness in the world and may you see how the Lord is the one who provides. And may you grow significantly in your ability to hear the Lord and to know His voice and great love that He has for you.

To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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