“We turn to Christ anew who hear his call today, his way to walk, his will pursue, his word obey.” If we take the words of the hymn seriously, they are a good statement of Christian discipleship. Last week we looked at what it might mean to turn to Christ, this evening we think about what it might mean to “hear his call”.
How ready are church members to hear the call of Jesus? How ready are we to listen to what he is saying to us?
Speaking at a meeting on stewardship, about our response to God’s generosity, about the way we should look at our weekly giving in church, I was approached by a man during the break for tea.
“The best way to get people to give is to print their names with how much they have given printed alongside them”.
It seemed a contradiction of everything I had tried to say; giving not prompted by a desire to worship God; not prompted by a desire to respond to God’s infinite love for us in sending Jesus to die for us; not prompted by a desire to give back something of all that he has given us; but prompted by the sort of motivation shown by the Pharisees in the Gospels who want to be seen as righteous by others.
I tried, gently, to point out that Jesus said that we were not to do things that way; that if we read the Bible, we would see that our giving should be between ourselves and God; the man was having none of it.
“If you don’t print their names, then they won’t give”, he insisted.
“But why are they giving, then?” I asked him. “If we ignore what Jesus says, why do we have a church?”
The man shrugged; the discussion ended. His expression suggested that he thought my views were naive, if not altogether bizarre. There seemed no desire to hear the call of Jesus, no desire to think about what Jesus might have to say about the way we should give.
There are probably many other examples of which we could think where we it might be asked if the voice of Jesus was being heard, if there was even any attempt to hear what he might be saying.
“We turn to Christ anew who hear his call today”, says the hymn. Are we people who hear his call? Do we hear his voice speaking to us?
Hearing the call of Jesus will be something that is different for each of us. There was a lady I knew in a former parish for whom the voice of Jesus had been something clear and audible.
Janet was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and, in the 1980s, was wondering what the future might hold. Janet would tell visitors of a moment when she had been at a midweek service of Holy Communion and prayers for healing. “I was worried about what was going to happen to me and I said, ’Lord, will this illness ever go away?’ and a voice said to me, ’No, but I will be with you’”.
Janet would describe how the voice was so loud and clear that she thought at first that the clergyman had been speaking to her. “I looked up and he was down at the other end of the communion rail, and it wasn’t his voice. God spoke to me: do you believe that?”
Janet’s experience was as vivid as the calling of the Samuel. Samuel does not expect to hear the voice of God and three times thinks that Eli is calling him. Eli realizes what is happening and, in the First Book of Samuel Chapter 3 Verse 10, tells him to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” It is only when Samuel is open to hearing God, that he hears what God wishes to say to him.
Sometimes God’s voice is not something audible, but something within us; something sensed rather than something heard. There was a moment a couple of years ago when I had a meeting that ended at ten o’clock. Looking after another parish, I had promised to call with a family to have prayers with them before a very sad funeral the following day. Their home was over an hour’s drive from the place of the meeting and I had warned them that it would be after eleven before I arrived; they didn’t mind, they would probably not sleep much that night.
Driving from their house, it was after midnight, and I felt completely exhausted, when suddenly there was a sense of being lifted up; a sense of tiredness slipping away; a sense of feeling completely refreshed. The words of Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 12 Verse 9 came to mind, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Hearing the voice of God in that moment meant accepting being weak and tired and realizing the need to lean on him.
Perhaps our experience of God has been like that of Samuel, we have heard a clear and audible voice; perhaps our experience has been that of hearing God speaking as an inner voice, a presence, a sense of something that has the power to change our lives.
What is important is not how we hear Jesus, but our willingness to do so. In Scripture and in the history of the church, God has spoken to different people in different ways—Elijah hears a still, small voice; Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel; Paul hears the voice of Jesus as a vision he receives on the road to Damascus. Where do we hear Jesus speaking?
Even if we are not people who have a strong belief in religious experiences, the opportunities to hear the call of Jesus are there Sunday by Sunday.
In reading from Scripture, we hear a voice speaking to us that has spoken to countless people through generation after generation. Had we wanted to hear the words in the way they might have been heard in early centuries, we could have read the New Testament readings in the Greek that would have been spoken by the early Christians. When the reader says at the end of the reading, “This is the Word of the Lord”, do we hear what is being said?
In the teaching and worship of the church, there is the opportunity to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us. The church teachings upon which Christians agree are those which rest upon the sayings of Jesus, each service we attend should be an opportunity to hear anew his teaching. Each service should be an opportunity to hear for ourselves the voice of Jesus. One of the things at which we are not very good is silence; in the Holy Communion service there should be a great silence after everyone has received Communion, we tend to hurry past it. How can we hear the voice of Jesus if we are not prepared to listen?
We may hear the voice of Jesus as something personal for ourselves; we may hear the voice of Jesus through listening to the Bible; we may hear the voice of Jesus through sharing in the worship of the church; or we may hear the voice of Jesus through other people, sometimes they might not be Christians, sometimes they may not be religious, God can use unlikely voices to make himself heard. In our daily conversations, there may be the opportunity to hear the voice of God.
“We turn to Christ anew who hear his call today” – there are many opportunities to hear his call; like Samuel, we need to be prepared to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”