A number of years ago, I was invited to consult with a Lutheran Church in Arizona. That involved leading a workshop, being a member on a panel, and then preaching on a Sunday.
Listen to the story of this congregation . . .
20 years old, planted in area scheduled to boom – didn’t happen. They were almost like an island in the fields. Survived for 20 years, some leadership issues, no missional imagination. As they moved deeper into trouble, tried making adjustments, tweaking, trying to cut expenses, lots of meetings where they listened to one another talk about what they needed to do differently. Everyone had an opinion. No matter what they tried, the downward spiral continued. 20 years. Started asking, “Where are you, God? How can you let this happen to us? We’re good people, we love you, we believe in you.” But they never stopped to listen to God’s answer.
They’ve lost their imagination, they’ve lost their focus on God’s call. They have been so busy keeping the doors open they’ve forgotten why they opened their doors in the first place.
So busy listening to each other, they’ve forgotten to listen to God.
Matthew 17. Right before this text, Peter has just made his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the one God has sent to save the world. Yes! says Jesus, who then explains how this will happen: Jesus will be turned over, beaten and killed. And on the 3rd day, rise again.
Then Peter says, “Never!” He means well, but he has his own vision in mind for how Jesus ought to save the world. Includes wars, demonstrations of power, defeating enemies, etc.
Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan. You are listening to the voice of the world, not the voice of God. If you want to be my followers, deny yourself, give up listening to the world, and follow me. Listen to the voice of God, which means pick up your cross and follow me to Calvary. That’s how you find life.
Six days later, Jesus takes James, John, and Peter up a mountain by themselves. Transfigured, there with Moses and Elijah (law and prophets). Vs. 4, Peter, not knowing what else to do, starts talking, “Let’s build three dwellings . . .”
Look what happens. Vs. 5, While he was still speaking, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from heaven interrupted Peter, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Jesus is the voice of life. The transfiguration affirms it, the voice from the heavens affirms it, the resurrection affirms it. You can’t get so busy talking, and listening to everybody else that we forget to listen to God.
That church in Arizona, after 20 years, began listening to God. They started taking seriously what God is doing in their neighborhood. No other voice would now take precedence. Over their history of survival, they had been listening to constitutions and bylaws, Robert’s Rules of Order, personal preference, opinions. They read books and talked to other churches. But then, they made a huge change. They decided to put aside any other voice that contradicts the voice of this Jesus, the beloved Son. They were determined to hear the voice of Jesus in the middle of it. They committed to love, help, be merciful to, and hospitable to those who were part of their neighborhood. And no other voice would get in their way. If their old constitution is a different voice, they’ll disregard it. If a committee isn’t listening to the Spirit of Jesus, they’ll disband it.
They were absolutely serious about listening, following, participating with God in their community. Their council role is now primarily listening to the voice of Jesus and lining up the congregation with that. It’s as if they’ve seen the transfigured Christ amongst them, and a voice came from the cloud saying, This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.
I wonder if we are that serious at LCM? Do we put highest priority on hearing the voice of God? Are there any voices that are taking precedence? Are we training ourselves to listen, or are we merely following comfortable voices and not paying attention any more? Are we listening to a voice only because it seems to make sense whether or not it’s God? Because, for me, I’d much prefer to listen to those voices that affirm what I already think, voices that tell me what I want to hear, voices that keep me comfortable, voices that agree with me. Those voices can be a lot easier to listen to than the voice of Jesus, who calls me to show mercy, compassion, love, grace, and forgiveness in the midst of situations where it’s really hard to do that.
We should remember that our primary job is not to keep us members happy. It’s not to keep the rules. It’s not even to make sure these doors stay open. Our first priority is to listen for the voice of Jesus and follow him.
The Spirit of God is on the move. LCM is invited to move right along too. Jesus has been revealed as Lord of creation. The voice of God is coming even now from the clouds. This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.