God is Still Speaking
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The United Church of Christ has a promotional campaign with the slogan, “God is Still Speaking”. I think that comes through loud and clear in today’s readings. God is Still Speaking. Jesus is no longer physically present with us. Just like the wind, we can’t see God. But God is Still Speaking.
It seems that on that first day of Pentecost the disciples spoke in tongues. Ecstatic speech had been known among bands of religious for centuries. But what is so amazing, the narrative tells us, is not that they spoke in languages they themselves did not know or understand, but that people from all over the known world heard them and understood that they were speaking about God’s deeds of power. The Holy Spirit gave them the words that enabled other people to hear about God.
In the gospel reading, Jesus says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” This idea of testifying or witnessing is a theme which runs all the way through the Gospel of John. The Holy Spirit continues to speak in our hearts and minds and tell us the mighty deeds of God, and not just tell us about them, but draw us into them. God is on a mission; a mission to reconcile all things, all beings to Godself. The Holy Spirit invites us into that great adventure by witnessing to us, by telling us what God is doing. And it is our challenge to testify to each other about God’s work in our lives.
God is still speaking. God is speaking today, in this moment. But God does not use a megaphone. God never forces herself on us… The voice of the Holy Spirit is often quiet. If you are not clear whether you are hearing Spirit’s voice or the voice of your own mind, know that the Spirit’s voice is always gentle and often quiet. Occasionally it erupts unexpectedly just as it did on Pentecost. Perhaps in a dream or an outpouring of prayer or a sudden realization you will feel God’s voice breaking into your life. More often it’s a quiet knowing, an inner conviction or something that someone else says.
God is still speaking. But we need to listen.
When the phone rings, I need to answer it if I want to hear from the person trying to reach me. And of course for that to happen I have to pay my phone bill. By having a phone and making sure that it is working, I make myself available for other people to reach me. There are things we can do to make ourselves available to hear God speaking to us and in us. The first is to listen, the second is to ask the Holy Spirit to help us, the third is to pay attention and the fourth is to testify to what we have heard.
God is Still Speaking. Are you listening? There are time honored practices for listening to God - quiet, meditation, contemplation, chanting, dream-work, gardening, journaling, the eucharist. When I am specifically asking for guidance about something, I ask God to tell me so clearly that I can’t miss it. Paul says in this mornings excerpt from Romans 8 that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought”. Isn’t that amazing? The Holy Spirit is not only God’s voice in us but God’s help to us in hearing it and in praying, in speaking with God. It is the Holy Spirit who is the great communicator and yet also the communication.
When God speaks we need to pay attention. At first it is just an inkling and we wonder – was that God? When that happens, take a risk and trust that you have heard God’s voice. Most often you’ll be right – sometimes you won’t – if in doubt discuss it with a trusted faith companion –the more you trust those inklings and the more you attune yourself to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more you’ll hear. It’s a learned skillwhich takes practice, to hear God’s quiet indoor voice. Then it’s your turn to testify – to share what God is saying and doing in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Because God is still speaking, and God speaks to us in faith community. As we share the God moments in our lives so we enliven each other and help each other to hear God. Sharing our experience of God’s voice is a gift that we give each other. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears.” We are called to be imitators of Christ and so, imitators of God. The Spirit tells us what the Spirit hears – we too get to tell what we hear.
Let’s take a couple of moments to do that now. I’ve got more to say so I’m not going to ask you to share anything with all of us but please turn to one or two people near you and share something that God has said to you recently, something that seems important or true that you may have known for a long time but now has special relevance; or a God moment – a time recently when God showed up in your life….
We can continue those conversations after church over coffee.
God is still speaking. Sometimes people say that God has already said everything to us in his Word - the person of Jesus and in the written Word –the Scriptures. But Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” I think it’s reasonable to think that the Holy Spirit continues to reveal God to us and help us to understand things in new ways. After all are so many things in our world which are completely different from our grandparent’s experience, let alone the Palestine of two thousand years ago.
It’s called “continuing revelation” – the idea that God is still speaking and that God continues to reveal new things to God’s people. The problem is that we have to know how to listen as a faith community not just as individuals.
In my twenties I lived in a spiritual community in Scotland for five years. One of the founders, Eileen Caddy, used to receive direct guidance which she wrote down every night and read to the assembled community in the morning. One day she was told that she must stop doing this. The community needed to go direct – to hear God speaking for themselves.
But when you have 200 people all thinking they know what God is saying, it’s a lot more complicated than just one person. It’s like that in the Church too. In the first few centuries people had to negotiate the truth – Paul might teach one thing, Peter another… but then the Church developed a central core of teaching which was authoritative. That fell apart at the Reformation when people began to read and interpret the Bible for themselves and now we have thousands of competing denominations, all with their own take on the truth.
Today it’s even more complicated. We are suspicious of anyone or any institution which thinks it knows the truth. But if we don’t have a way to check our own ideas and inklings with other people’s we can go way off on our own thinking that God is Still Speaking but just to me. In faith community we can hear others inklings and hear God speaking to us in a core of worship and the tradition which has come to us through generations of Christians.
That is why it is important they we, here at St. Benedict’s, are part of a wider faith community, the Diocese of El Camino Real, the Episcopal Church and the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. This wider community helps us to make sure that as we experiment, as we listen for God’s voice here among us and seek to further God’s mission, we do so with integrity and with care. There are disagreements in that bigger faith community, just as there are disagreements among ourselves. If there weren’t we really would be “God’s chosen frozen.”
Sometimes we find the rules and rhythms of the wider church cumbersome and restrictive. If God is telling us to make changes in the tradition then part of our responsibility is to work for those changes in the wider church. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church coming up in July is a time when our representatives gather to try together to hear what God is saying to us. I will be there, not as an official representative but as an activist, leading the continuing work to make the Episcopal Church fully inclusive of gay, lesbian and transgender people.
I ask that in your prayers in the nest few weeks, you will be asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you, to speak to St Benedict’s and to speak to the Episcopal Church, especially during General Convention. And that God will help us all to listen and to testify to what we hear.