Speaking for God *

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Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-9

The great comedian Lily Tomlin made me think when she asked:
“Why is it, that when people talk to God, they call it prayer, but when God talks to people they call it schizophrenia?”

Makes you think doesn’t it. Especially for those of us who are part of a faith who believes God has spoken and still speaks. God, for us, is not a silent, distant force, impassively regulating the universe like some cosmic technician… rather, as we read our scripture, we see God is an involved talker:
“One who has been speaking, arguing, pleading, wooing, commanding, telling stories, conversing and generally spinning words across the lines between heaven and earth since the beginning of time.”1.

Ever since God gave the word and spoke the world into being, God has been speaking…
Sometimes to people– people like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Deborah, all those prophets, and the authors of scripture. Sometimes God speaks through events: some are beautiful: the creation of the world… the birth of children… in the midst of worship and singing… sometimes the voice of God is heard in the midst of fears… of crisis: God hears the cries of children [who see no way out of their desperate situation] and he speaks through an exodus, or God speak words of warning and judgment when his people stray from God’s ways-a God trying to lovingly correct them… but few listen. This is hardly a detached God we worship. Or God hears the tearful laments of children who, due to their own fault (who when they got into the promised land forgot God and failed to follow God’s ways) … were sent into exile… wondering if God will be mad forever… But God speaks a word to them… “Isaiah, tell them this… “Comfort, Comfort my people…” Your punishment is over. I will not be mad forever. Or God speaks to disciples, who are gathered on the night before Christ dies, they hear those words, “this is my body, given for you… my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins”

Yes, we are a people, along with Jews and Muslims by the way, who believe God has spoken and God still speaks in many fashions. 2.

I know you’ve heard God speak to you in many different ways -sometimes you tell me about them: the choir sings a song and there is a message for you…maybe occasionally a sermon speaks to you (notice the language, “speaks to you”) or someone writes a poem or creates a beautiful piece of art that speaks to you… or you sit under the heavens or view the mountains or the ocean… and someone or something speaks to you of grace and beauty.

I know you’ve heard God speak.

Some people have heard God speak when they have worked side by side with the poor on a mission project say in New Orleans… or fed the hungry at a soup kitchen and there was something that said to you, this is right, this is good… or maybe you have heard God speak when you received a note from someone who cared enough to write you when you were grieving or hurting… or when a friend called you up and said, I know it has been tough… let’s get a cup of coffee.

God speaks in many, many ways… and not just audibly…. Sometimes through events and people just like you.

The writer of the Hebrews knows this. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. But…”But…. But what?

This is the what. Now… NOW… God is doing something different and new. God is speaking in a new way… in a very personal way… this time… through his Son… who comes down and becomes one of us, hoping that we might hear him clearly now in the midst of mixed messages we often receive from those who claim to speak for God. Or even mixed messages we receive from Scripture. Won’t you admit you read the Bible and it can be sort of confusing sometimes as you listen to the different voices?

Frederick Buechner playfully points to one aspect of the contrast: (Wishful thinking p 97)
“God never seems to weary of trying to get himself across. Word after word he tries to search for the right word. When the Creation itself doesn’t seem to say it right- sun, moon, stars, all of it-he tries flesh and blood. He tried saying it in Noah, but Noah was a drinking man… He tried saying it in Moses, but Moses himself was trying too hard; tried David, but David was too pretty for his own good. Toward the end of his rope, God tried saying it in John the Baptist with his locusts and honey and hell-fire preaching, and you get the feeling that John might almost have worked except he lacked something small but crucial like a sense of the ridiculous or a balanced diet. So he tried once more. Jesus as the mot juste (mo- geest) (the exact word, the ultimate word) of God” 3.

Jesus, the word of God, has the final say about God and for God.

John said it in his gospel: The Word… the speech of God became flesh and dwelt among us in a human being. Hebrews says that this one who was with God, for a little while was made lower than the angels…

Do you remember those black and white billboards appeared with messages from God? One said: “Don’t make me come down there.” God

My only problem with that billboard perspective is this. God did already come down here. But it wasn’t a threat, it was a gift of love.

God came down and spoke to us hoping we would get the message this time. God is speaking loud and clear for those who have ears and hearts to listen.

And what is the message? Jesus said it fairly clearly when he shared the message of God. Jesus said things that I wish we would see on more billboards and bumper stickers than some of the junk I see. I’d like to see on the back of a car or the side of the road sayings like this from Jesus:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.
Be kind to one another. (we could use a little more of that in our world, don’t you think)
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Blessed are the peacemakers…the merciful…the pure in heart.
Judge not, that you be not judged. (that would be a good one to have today)
Forgive one another, as I have forgiven you.

The hymn we’ll sing in a few minutes says it simply:
“He came down that we may have love… joy… peace”

Jesus, speaking for God, was very clear about God’s hopes and expectations for us.

For us. Let’s remember… while we are listening to God… this is God’s hope for US.

The Lord God Almighty didn’t come down just for Jody. Just for me. Just to speak to me… just to make my life a better life or give me secrets to personal success. It really isn’t all about me. We so diminish the gospel of God when we leave it at the personal level. It includes the personal, but it is so much more than that.

He came down for the world… for the sake of a hurting world
. For the people of Samoa and Indonesia, Afghanistan and Iraq. As another song said, “He’s Got the Whole World in his hands”

Which on World Communion Sunday may be a good thing to remember.

He came down to speak words of love, joy and peace not just to me… but to the world for the sake of a world with people God loves so much. He came down to say that the way life is, is not the way life has to be for us in this world. God speaks and invites us to listen to find hope and to find direction when we lose our way.

My friend Bob Dunham led me to a new phrase I had never heard before. It has me thinking. He spoke to his congregation about Parker Palmer’s phrase, “the tragic gap.” 4.
The tragic gap is, by Palmer’s definition, the gap between what’s really going on around us, the hard conditions in which our lives are currently immersed, and what we know to be possible from our own experience…the gap between reality and possibility.

Bob says, “There are many gaps in our day (and in our world) , but none more tragic than the chasm between those who have and those who have not, between those who live the life of privilege in this world and those who live in the depth of poverty.”

I am reminded of other gaps. Our country is talking about another gap today. The gap between the insured and uninsured… [those with access to healthcare and those who do not] which is the reason we are debating health care reform-we see the gap… no one (democrat or republican) wants those without jobs or people who are poor to die because they cannot afford healthcare. Surely we can find a way together.

Morally, there is a gap between sinner and saint… evil and good… and most of us know that gap all too well and from personal experience.

Spiritually between despair and hope… love and hate… between justice and injustice… peace and war… There are all sorts of gaps in this world… that remind us that life is not as it should be.

So God seeks to speak to each one of the gaps. Parker Palmer says the church’s calling is to stand in the gap… the gap between what is and what God intends. (and might I say to speak for God in those gaps)

I heard a very sad, tragic and true story about an enraged grandfather who shot his six year old grandson to death. The investigating sheriff was quoted as saying, “There is no reason for this, except that we live in a lost and dying world.”

Our faith says, into this lost and dying world, God sent the Christ… to speak to us… to speak to us that this is not the way it should be or has to be. So we in the church celebrate the speech that is heard when… nations make peace or when neighbors speak kindness across the backyard fence. 5.

We celebrate the kind of speech that is heard when the hungry and the sick don’t have to worry about where to find food or healthcare or when someone brings a casserole over as a word of sympathy- to a home following a death… where the word of forgiveness is offered and received.

So into the gaps, let us be the people who talk like that: who speak of words like forgiveness and love… not revenge and hate. Let us speak to a lost and dying world with that kind of voice of grace… for when we do, dare I say it? – I think we will be speaking for God. Amen.

1. Tom Long, Interpretation Commentary on Hebrews p 6
2. Adapted Ibid p 9
3. Ibid p 11
4. Sermon at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill on September 13, 2009
5. Also from Tom Long