Psalm 104:24-35 – Listen to Creation

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O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord….

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord! (New Living Translation)

The earth is a complex ecosystem, alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination.

The world is wonderfully intricate, its vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of the powerful Spirit.

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. 

Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God.

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though we, at times, encounter difficulties which limit us and slow us down, these very situations afford us the opportunity to listen.

Today, when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity.

When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with divine splendor.

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was at the core of Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. We must, once again, learn the vital skill of listening well.

Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth.

The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not.

When spending time in nature, ask yourself:

How is God’s glory and love reflected in creation?

In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response?

How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me?

Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not?

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving.

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in the morning amongst nature. Greeting the Creator, as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home, give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention.

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and the sublime silence in which to hear the voice of God.

There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation.

We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity.

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

2 Chronicles 34:20-33 – Renew Your Faith

He [King Josiah] gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant:“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

So, they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.

Then he had everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin pledge themselves to it; the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.

Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (New International Version)

Sadness transformed to joy is a beautiful thing. However, joy that turns into an “Uh, oh!” is an altogether different thing.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has both sadness and joy, at the same time. God’s temple was undergoing repairs. And the Book of the Law was found. It’s sad that the Law was even lost, at all. Somewhere along the line a king, a priest, some people, they all just plain forgot about God’s Word to them. 

Yet, what’s joyful is that King Josiah had God’s Word read to him. He and his officials responded with promising to be faithful to what they heard, and to carefully follow God and God’s instructions for them as God’s people. What’s more, Josiah asked the Israelites to make that same promise.

It’s likely that you are reading this because you are a person committed to listening to God’s Word. Also, it’s likely you don’t need to go on an archaeological dig inside your own house, just to find an old dusty Bible to read. 

Maybe, however, you need to take the next step, like Josiah of old, to not only listen and obey yourself, but to ask and invite others to make the same promise.

You and I know that straightforward Bible reading often does not take place within the homes and even the churches of many confessing believers in Jesus. So, take the next step. Invite others to read with you. Ask fellow Christians to read Scripture, make observations about it, apply it to their lives, and base prayers upon it. 

Ask them to make the same promise that you have made to God: To listen to God’s Word, and then, do what it says.

This is how renewal happens.

Patient God, you continue to wait for people to read your Word and obey it. May I not simply attend to your laws in isolation from others, but freely ask others to make the same promise I have: To obey Jesus Christ, my Lord, by living and loving like him, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 9:28-43 – Transfiguration Sunday: Listen to Jesus

Transfiguration by Laura James

Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. (New International Version)

When Jesus is around, extraordinary things happen. And yet, sometimes we just don’t perceive it. The three disciples of Jesus – Peter, James, and John – experienced something incredible, yet they were not really aware of what it meant, at the time. The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was unimaginable and awesome. The disciples, however, were confused, sleepy, and walked away silent about the whole affair. 

Woodcut of the Transfiguration by Sister Mary Grace Thul

Coming down from the mountain, the other disciples were found scratching their heads about a boy in need of healing. Jesus seemed rather perturbed about the all-around lack of faith. After curing the boy, everyone was amazed, as if they did not expect such a thing to occur.

We are not always told in the Gospels why Christ’s disciples often did not understand or perceive the significance of the miraculous, supernatural, or extraordinary events that took place right in front of them. Maybe their minds were somewhere else.

It could be that Peter had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and was having trouble focusing.

Perhaps James trying to do some sort of ancient multi-tasking. 

Maybe John had some road rage on his way to the meeting on the mountain and was having a hard time thinking straight.

It could be that the three disciples were caught up in the anxiety of wondering where their next shekel was coming from.

Perhaps they were just up too late the night before binge watching the fishermen on the lake. But whatever was going on with the disciples, they were distracted.

So, we actually have God the Father step into the scene at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and speak. God isn’t typically in the business of exhorting people to listen unless they are not paying attention. The heavenly Father is clear, succinct, and to the point:

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

We are to listen to Jesus because he is God’s Son. Everything centers round him. 

Jesus is the full bodily and human representation of God on earth. Jesus is Savior, Lord and Master, Teacher and Healer.

Jesus is the complete fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, and the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus is the mid-point of history, the hinge upon which all the universe swings. Jesus is the one whom we must listen to when he speaks and acts.

Therefore, our identity is to be fully bent, molded, and shaped in Jesus Christ. This spiritual formation of our lives happens as we intentionally seek to be with Jesus, listen to him, and do what he says. 

Transfiguration by Macha Chmakoff 

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to experience his Transfiguration in a prayer meeting. Extraordinary things happen in prayer meetings. The early church gathered often in prayer meetings, following the example of their Lord Jesus. As the church listened to God and responded (in a rhythm of revelation and response) they saw Peter miraculously delivered from jail; ordinary people delivered from empty lives and demonic influence; and guidance in how to proceed as followers of Christ. 

Prayer is as much or more about listening to God as it is talking to him. It is in listening to God that we are filled with God’s Spirit and empowered to come down from the mountain and engage in God’s mission.

Jesus wanted the disciples to learn and discern something on the mountain. Jesus was changed in front of them. Moses and Elijah showed up and talked with him about his “departure,” that is, his “exodus.”

Moses was the one who listened to God and led the people in a mass exodus from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

Elijah was a prophet who listened to God and led the people out of centuries of idol worship and dead religion into the freedom of spiritual and national revival in Israel. 

And Jesus came to lead people in an exodus out of sin, death, and hell so that they can experience a new life of freedom, hope, peace, and joy.

Changed lives are God’s goal for us.  And a changed life will occur when we listen to God’s Son, Jesus, learn from him, and lean into faith in him – all of which takes humility.

Eventually, Jesus and his disciples came down from the mountain. Prayer meetings are great, but there is a time to descend the mountain and engage in God’s mission.

We are to participate with God in seeing changed lives through the work of Jesus.

We must bear witness to the redemptive saving events of Jesus to a world which desperately needs him – his healing work of both body and spirit.

The glory of God is presently here among us. We need to perceive it and be aware of it.  But to do so, we must listen well. 

Erik Weihenmayer is blind, yet on May 25, 2001, he reached the peak of Mount Everest. Suffering from a degenerative eye disease, he lost his sight when he was thirteen years old. But that did not stop him from mountain climbing. On a mountain where 90% of climbers never make it to the top—and 165 have died trying since 1953—Erik succeeded in large measure because he listened well. 

He listened to the little bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him, so he would know what direction to go. He listened to the voice of teammates who would shout back to him, “Death-fall two feet to your right!” so he would know what direction not to go. He listened to the sound of his pick jabbing the ice, so he would know whether the ice was safe to cross. 

When we journey through this life, listening well makes all the difference. So, how might we listen well to Jesus?  Here are some basic principles of active listening:

  1. Stop talking.  It was Mark Twain who said: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool seems right to him (therefore he has no need to listen) but a wise person listens to advice.”
  2. Prepare yourself to listen to God.  One of the ways I do this is by sitting in a quiet spot, free of distraction, and repeat several times to God, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). Then, I am quiet… and listen….  If this practice is way off your radar then I would recommend, at first, being quiet for only a few minutes. Then, after a few weeks, be quiet in longer stretches so that you can go 20-30 minutes or even an hour. We might even consider a silent retreat in which the sole purpose is to listen to what God is saying to us.
  3. Slowly and carefully read God’s Word. Scripture is meant to be digested in small bites and thoroughly savored. Slow down and be quiet enough to hear God speak through the Word. A contemplative and meditative readings of Holy Scripture will always yield spiritual health and vitality.
  4. Pray back to God what you hear him saying to you. This is active listening – a genuine dialogue between us and God. “Come, now, let us reason together,” the Lord has said (Isaiah 1:18). God wants a conversation with us.

God speaks, if we have ears to hear, through so much more than an audible voice.

The Lord’s Supper is a tangible proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. It speaks to us, and, so, we must listen well. The Table proclaims Christ’s identity as God’s Son, the one who came to live a holy life, teaches us the way to live, and how Jesus died a cruel death so that we might be born again and experience new life. 

We Are All One in Jesus Christ by Soichi Watanabe, 2009

The Table proclaims our mission, that as often as we share in communion, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. That is, we witness to the reality of Christ’s redemption in our own lives. We share our own changed lives with others. We pray for them so that they will experience new life, as well. 

The Table proclaims our spiritual formation in Christ. At the Table, we are lifted and joined with Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious joining that defies description, just as the disciples had a mysterious encounter that they could not fully explain. Yet they experienced it, nonetheless.

May we listen well, without distraction, to God’s Son. May we know God’s purpose for our life. And may we encounter Jesus at the Table, and in all of life, so that we experience new life. 

O God, teach us to listen to those nearest to us, our family, our friends, our co-workers. Caring God, teach us to listen to those far from us – the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten, and the cry of the anguished. Holy Spirit of God, teach us to listen for your voice — in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and doubt, in noise and in silence. Gracious God, teach us to listen well to the message of your Table. May you change and transform us to be like Jesus. Teach us, Lord, to listen. Amen.

Luke 11:24-28 – Human Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So, it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

As he was speaking, a woman in the crowd called out, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!”

Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (New Living Translation)

You have likely heard the old adage, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” This idiom is used to express the idea that empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics. Jesus expressed a similar statement, not about physical nature but human nature.

People experience emptiness whenever something, or someone, has been expelled from our lives, creating a vacuum. In today’s Gospel lesson, the expulsion is that of an evil spirit. The bad spirit is kicked to the curb, so it goes looking somewhere else to settle, with no success. Then, the spirit decides to go back, check, and see if the person is occupied, or not.

Everything in nice, neat order. Cleaned up, looking good. But empty. For the spirit, this is ideal. So much space in such an organized environment that it becomes the ideal spot for a party of peers to turn the order back into chaos.

Yet, if there had been something to fill the void, the spirits could never have come and occupied the space.

It’s a pointed lesson about truly hearing. There’s the kind of hearing that goes in one ear and out the other. There’s also a type of hearing which listens yet does nothing to act on what is being heard. That seems to be the kind of hearing Jesus was talking about.

To hear God’s Word is one thing. To make it stick by putting into practice, is another thing altogether. It’s akin to the difference between having an attractive and expensive goatskin leather Bible adorning a coffee table in the center of the house. Looks great. Problem is, it never gets a genuine hearing because the cover rarely gets cracked open.

Once, in my first church as their Pastor, a man had a bevy of family issues which seemed endless. At first, I didn’t understand it. He seemed like a really nice guy. Every Sunday he was there, without fail, and always brought his Bible.

Then, one Sunday, after everyone had left, I found a Bible sitting in the pew where the man always sat. I opened it, and sure enough, it was his, his name written inside the cover. It appeared to be a brand spanking new one, until I looked at the publication date and inscription from when it was given to him: 1949.

In returning the Bible to the man the next day, I discovered that he indeed never read it. In fact, I quickly found out that in the thousands of sermons he had heard over the decades, none of them seemed to ever stick. He heard but didn’t really hear. Instead, he spent most of his life trying not to be involved in much of anything as a means of protecting himself from hurt.

Hearing God’s Word without putting any of into practice isn’t ever going to end well.

Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget. (James 1:22-25, CEV)

The Word of God has not been truly received until it is put into practice.

The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears. He can’t stand because he has no feet.  He cannot do anything because he has no hands. Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes.  And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.

Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing. 

Profession of faith in Jesus means nothing without a practice of that faith.

Learning the Bible is useless without living it.

Acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up. 

Christianity is a vital love relationship with Jesus, and, so, is not merely a matter of hearing and affirming orthodoxy; it also involves orthopraxy, that is, having right practice, the doing of truth.

Good hearing leads to a good response.

When my firstborn daughter was still in her mother’s womb, I constantly talked to her. I was in seminary at the time, and I would come home and read her fairy tales in Hebrew. I spoke to her when I got up in the morning and when I went to bed. I told her all about how God was going to bless her and do great things through her. I told her of Jesus and his love for her. I practiced my sermons and Sunday School lessons on her – all before she was born.

When the day finally came of her birth, the nurses took her, and she cried and cried. She cried so much and so hard that I finally said to them, “Let me hold her.” The minute I held her, I began speaking to her, and what happened next got the attention of everyone in the room: my little baby daughter immediately got quiet. It was like that the entire time she was in the hospital. The only time she was happy was when I was speaking to her.

We respond to God’s voice when we recognize it. If we are not in the habit of responding to God’s Holy Word, it is likely that we do not know the Divine voice. My baby daughter didn’t need a lesson on how to respond to me. She knew exactly who I was: her father. 

Do we know our heavenly Father? Can we distinguish God’s voice?

We need to be servants who hear and respond to the voice of God, and not soakers who just sit and hear without any response at all.

Human nature abhors a vacuum. Our own inner emptiness needs to be filled with practicing the words of life we hear. This is the true path of blessing.

Gracious Lord, you have caused Holy Scripture to be written for our learning: help us so to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word so that we may do what it says and embrace the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.