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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

To Listen Like God Listens

2016-11-13 Is 65 17-25 To Listen Like God Listens

"Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear."

I'm so glad nothing major happened this week. You know a lot of preachers feel obliged to comment on current events? Blissful ignorance is so underrated. 

You know me: I always try to say something relevant, but vague, so nobody gets offended. Good luck this week, Preacher Boy. I had one person gleefully tell me that our President Elect is God's anointed messenger. I had another who was literally weeping that he was elected. People are saying so many things. 

I think about the people who, like me, are kind of afraid to say anything. I'm not sure that's so bad. Because now, I think, it's not about what we're saying. It's about how – and if – anyone is listening. It's about actually listening to each other, listening to people whose voices are too easily ignored, people whose concerns are too effectively silenced even before they speak. People who are afraid. As a pastor, this is my concern. We all had our political say on Tuesday. Now it's time to listen. To work to listen, even if it's uncomfortable. I think it's time for us to work to listen… like God listens.


Depending on which 50% of the electorate you're in, you're either ecstatic, or in mourning. America's either gonna be great again, or it died last Tuesday. 

I've made it a point this week to read articles from The Nation magazine AND listen to Talk Radio. Not at the same time. That could explode your head. I've gone out of my way to listen to both sides of the fallout, not so much because I wanted to hear what either had to say. That, actually, is pretty predictable. "Yea! he won!" "Boo! she lost!" What I wanted to hear – was that space in between the platforms. I wanted to hear what's NOT being said. 

A number of folks have talked about how few political signs there've been in the neighborhood. People didn't want their neighbors to know. "Shh! Don't tell your daycare friends Mommy's a Democrat." I know a lot of people are really proud of their votes and tell everybody, but a lot more, I think, kept quiet about it. What happens in the voting booth stays in the voting booth. It's sad that we feel the need to apply the Vegas rule to voting. It's not that we're ashamed. It's that we have to get along with our neighbors for the next four years. We've gotta get along with people on the other side of the fence, literally. Yes, I know some of us love to talk politics. But usually with the people who already agree with us. That's safe.

But what's beneath the safety? What's the unspoken truth? It's not that we're with her or behind him. The safety, the silence, what's not being said, is that we're afraid. 

We're afraid. 

We're afraid of what other people will say. We're afraid of what label they'll tag use with. They might de-friend us. They might deport us. It's fear. Fear of the future. Fear of missing out. Fear of messing up. Fear of foreigners. Fear of family members. Fear of hurting someone's feelings, or fear of getting our own feelings hurt. Fear of how the world might be if we don't do something. Or if we do.

Other than voting, very few of us have the money or the influence to emake big, political changes. But we all have the ability to feel fear, or to inflict fear. Being afraid of people, or making people afraid of us, is an emotional act. With political consequences. Fear might not disqualify us from being president – it's not as bad as, say, deleting emails – or being caught on mic by Access Hollywood – but there are real political, social, neighborhood, community – even church – consequences to our fear. There are real consequences to creating fear. What keeps us from listening, what keeps us from hearing each other, is fear. It's always more emotional than political.

And that's true, even in the Bible.


The Israelites had come back home after being deported to Babylon. Exile was over. They were figuring out how to rebuild Jerusalem, rebuild their nation, rebuild their faith.

The passage we read from, Isaiah 65, was really hopeful. But if you read what comes before the hope, say, one page back in 64, you see that the faithful people of Jerusalem are not holding hands and singing Kum By Yah. There are factions. There are parties. There are those who see things one way, and those who see things another. 

One party was good. The other was bad. One knew the ways of rightness. The other was twerking with Beelzebub.

But chapter 65, what we read, is like when Carla changes keys and puts the pedals to the metal. After all the back and forth, after all the bickering, God hits a high note. And God says, "Enough!"

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

So beautiful. It's poetry. And poetry's famous for not saying everything. If you read it literally, it sounds like some wild campaign promise that you know is never going to be fulfilled. Wolves & lambs? Please. 

But as poetry, it sings of hope. This is God, singing loud, singing clear, singing hope – to fear. This is God going way above and beyond the body politic. This is God pointing to the body broken and seeing the dry bones as a new body, the rebuilt body, the bruised but Resurrected body of a crucified Christ. This is God telling the people the same thing the angels always say: "Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid. 

There is more than you can see. There is more than you can build, more than you can create, more than you can vote for. There is more. There is more to come. Do not be afraid.


Now. Some people might think this means, "Don't get involved in earthly politics, because heaven's coming soon." Like the church signs said, "Jesus is coming; hopefully before the election." Well, maybe 2020. God's in charge, so don't worry, be happy. 

I don't think that's enough.

I think God's word through Isaiah, God's word to fear, God's "don't be afraid," is saying – two things. 

The first "Don't be afraid" is: Don't be afraid – to get involved. It IS ok to speak your mind, and to speak in spite of your fear. 

People who speak in meanness, people who speak in anger – deep down, they're afraid. God is saying, Speak a different way. Speak a patient way. Speak a new way, a heavenly way. Because your fear is not your end. There's more than what you're afraid of. There's more than what other people can do to us, and more than what we sinfully do to them. So, don't be afraid – because our fear does not limit God's power. Our fear does not equal death.

The second "Don't be afraid" is: Don't be afraid to listen. Listen up. Listen out. Listen hard to what other people have to say. Look around for signs of God's coming kingdom. 

"no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress…"

The joy of the new Jerusalem, the delight in this new heaven and new earth is that there is no more weeping, there is no more distress, there are no more haves and have-nots. 

The blessing – is that God will have US, and WE will have God. We will see God's work in THIS kingdom. We will hear God's voice in THOSE people. And God will hear us all.

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

God is listening. God is working. In spite of us. And in love of us.


But when?

"For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…"

One of my favorite Southern words: fixunta. God's fixin' ta fix things. 

But when?

The one thing Isaiah-slash-God doesn't give us – is a timeline. What's God's deadline? We don't know. God's requires waiting. Waiting is a big part of being Christian. We don't put that in the brochures. Nobody wants to wait. Waiting is so… useless. Waiting is boring. Waiting is pointless.

Unless you're waiting on God. Waiting on God has a purpose.

To wait with a purpose is to hope. 

Hope is the road through fear. 

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…"

We may not get to the end of that road, we may not get all the way through that valley, but we can walk it with our heads held high. We can walk in hope. NOT because we voted for the right person, but because God calls us to walk boldly. To walk through our fear. To pick up and carry those who have fallen. 

God calls us to listen. God calls us to listen to Christ's words. God calls us to listen to each other. God calls us to hope – to hope in a new heaven, to hope in a new earth, to hope in a holy mountain where nothing we fear will hurt or destroy.

Can you hear God calling? 

Can you listen like God does? 

Can we try?