God is Still Speaking

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Paul Tillich once wrote, “Prayer begins when words stop.” It is a brief commentary on what is so often amiss in modern prayer life. Too often we perceive God as our cosmic Santa Claus to whom we ask that all our concerns and fears be taken away. We forget that prayer is meant to be a conversation, a time when both parties are invited to speak while the other listens. The problem with God is that the Almighty rarely speaks on cue or in ways we are accustomed to listening for. We also fail to listen because we forget “God is still speaking “ as the United Church of Christ proclaimed as part of their recent advertising campaign.
God is still speaking to us and to the church, despite the modern day assertion of so many who claim the Divine stopped speaking when the fourth century church council declared what the canonical books of the Bible are. Yes, the Bible is the Word of God, but it does not contain the final words of God to this earth. 
God is still speaking, and we know this based on this morning’s Gospel. In what has become know as the final discourse. Christ tells the disciples where he is going they cannot come, that he has taught them all that he could for now, and that he is sending them the Holy Spirit, the advocate or counselor to continue guiding them. 
The books of the Old Testament and the stories of Christ’s death and resurrection are not the final words of God as Peter found out in last week’s reading from Acts. In a vision Peter learns that God has a broader understanding of what the church is. As we reflect on that passage, let’s not forget, had God not spoken to Peter, Christianity would continue being an offshoot of Judaism. The earliest members of the Church saw themselves first as Jews and then as Christians. If the church were left simply in the hands of Peter and the original 11 apostles, the church today would simply be an ongoing sect of Judaism. 
But God had a greater vision for the Church. God had a greater vision of who God’s children are than the Apostle’s had ever imagined. In his vision Peter is invited to eat what Torah had been deemed as unclean food God tells Peter to eat, for he must eat all that God has made clean. This vision led Peter to understand that through Christ all are made clean, both Jew and Gentile. This week’s reading builds on Peter’s discovery as his missionary trek is rerouted to Macedonia where Lydia and others come to know Christ. Years later, St. Paul will proclaim to the churches, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,* heirs according to the promise.”
What was once divisive, what was once unheard of in early Christian thought is now common place because God spoke and the church listened. 
But how do we discern the movement or the voice of the Holy Spirit today. So many who claim to hear the voice of God often suffer from delusion , or claim the voice of God as permission to kill others, start wars and the list goes on and on to where we wonder if this is what God wants today. When the message is controversial, we dismiss it as inconsistent with Scripture.
God is consistent in how God has guided the church through the ages. Perhaps this may not appear true on the micro level, but on the macro level the message is always the same. This message can be summed up in two sentences, the same two sentences Jesus quoted to the Pharisees when asked what were the greatest of the laws. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Throughout Jesus final discourse to the disciples his message is clear, “love. . . .as I have loved you.”
Love is the litmus test for discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world. We all think we understand what love truly is, when in fact, few if any of us fully grasp the concept, especially when talking about the love the Greeks called agape. This is the sort of love we commit to at Baptism when we vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself and, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. 
I have found the church has entered into its greatest conflicts every time we have been asked to broaden our understanding of what it means to love, every time the Spirit challenges us to accept someone who was once deemed as unclean as clean. For as Peter’s vision from last week taught us, none of us are plunged into the waters of Baptism clean and pure, yet all of us rise out of these waters fresh and clean thanks to the cross of Christ. 
Yes, God has been speaking to this world since the beginning of time. God spoke, and Noah built an ark to save a remnant of humanity from the flood. God spoke, and Abraham and Sarah left their home to foster a great nation. God spoke, and Moses listened, leading his people out of the bondage of Egypt and into the wilderness. God spoke, and Jesus led us out of the bondage of sin into new life. God spoke to Peter, and all nation were received into the church. God spoke, and civil rights have been expanded over the years. God spoke, and now both men and women lead the church. God spoke, and now all mutual adult relationships are recognized and accepted by the church.
 God is still speaking and still guiding the church. The question is, are we still listening and willing to follow where God is leading.
Amen

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