This is the second week of a new series we are calling “Jesus the gift of life.” It is a Lenten series that will lead us to the Easter celebration. The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus forty days in the wilderness where he fasted, prayed and met the devil before being ministered to by angels. Jesus is God’s gift to us for life. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This is God’s greatest act of love for us his children.
We will look at Jesus through this series, using the readings from each week to take a particular aspect of Jesus and expand how we are gifted. Jesus provides so much for those who want to know him. Beyond salvation there is much we can learn to live better lives and make life better for ourselves and others. Through Jesus we learn we are brothers and sisters, and we are challenged to share and love each other. Jesus is a gift to us; we can be gifts to one another if we desire to give what we have received.
Last week the readings began by telling of God breathing into Adam and animating life. The Hebrew word for breath can also be translated as spirit. It allows us to see we have the spirit of God in us. Jesus becomes the being in whom all life is held, he is in the beginning giving life, his obedience acquits all humanity and provides eternal life and Jesus taught we can obey and defeat transgression on our own. We receive a breath and through it have the animating spirit of God who gave Jesus as the gift of life.
This week the readings guide us to listen. God speaks about Jesus declaring his love and informing those present they should listen to him. Abraham sets the example earlier in the salvation history when he trusts and listens to God, doing all that is asked of him faithfully. Paul teaches that his whole life became about doing God’s will, trusting God and constantly having God as a presence in his life. If we want to receive the gift of life we must listen to him, Jesus God.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Second Sunday of Lent; Genesis 12:1-4A; Psalms 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Timothy 1:8B-10 and Matthew 17:1-9. This week we are challenged to listen, we think of God as powerful but his small voice requires focused hearing so we may listen to what God is trying to say.
The reading from Genesis is God speaking to Abram, who will be renamed Abraham, the father of many. God’s calling to Abraham marks the start of a new stage in God’s dealings with humankind, his covenant with Abraham will be a blessing to all nations. Abraham will break earthly ties, ties with family and place, and put his trust entirely in God’s promise; a promise of an unknown country, many descendants (even though his wife is barren) and God’s constant protection. God even tells Abraham his name will be great over all the earth. This divine calling involves a break with the idolatrous cult followed by Abraham’s family in the city of Haran so as to worship the true God. Abraham’s response to God’s call is to believe and trust totally in the divine word. He leaves his country and heads for Canaan. Abraham’s approach is in sharp contrast to the human pride described in earlier stories of the people, and in particular the pride of Adam and Eve, which causes the break with God, introducing sin, the dissolution of union with God. God’s plan for salvation begins with Abraham and it starts with obedience. We see Abraham obey and go “as the Lord directed him.” God could have given up on humanity, tossed in the towel, destroyed everything and started over, particularly after the breakage of unity by people, God’s creation. But God doesn’t give up and initiates a plan that begins with one man, Abraham, who listens to God and becomes the beginning of the salvation story that moves through history to Jesus the gift of life.God’s plan for salvation begins with Abraham and it starts with obedience. We see Abraham obey and go “as the Lord directed him.” Click To Tweet
In the second reading Paul is writing to his coworker Timothy about their mission. Paul has encouraged Timothy to be proud of what they are doing, it is a hardship that requires strength and comes from God. Paul must be a very good listener. Although the communities he founds seem to be very small house churches, and they are usually in cities with populations that tend to be more sinner than saint, Paul is convinced and convinces his coworkers that what they are doing to bring the message of Jesus to the world is critical, and comes from God. Paul stresses again how he and his leaders are called to a holy life through the grace that God had planned for them before time began. The plan came to fruition when Jesus came and died on the cross and ended death as we knew death. Jesus introduced immortality through the message of the gospel and the presence of his own life and death. Paul is not only the kind of listener God is speaking about when he tells us to listen to Jesus. But Paul is taking that message to others and with his conviction of being a true disciple of Jesus Christ and God, convinces others that they (we) must listen to the message and words of the gospel because they contain true means for life immortal as well as a life lived better today. Listening to the Word of God is how Paul knows that Jesus is the gift of life.
In the gospel reading Matthew shares the scene of Jesus and three apostles climbing a mountain and being greeted by Moses and Elijah from the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses represents the law and salvation, Elijah the prophets. Jesus is greeted by a voice, God the Father, and the Spirit in the form of a cloud. The three witnesses fall in fear and honor at what they are seeing. The voice seems to be speaking to them, much as Jesus heard at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;” The voice continues by informing those apostles they should listen to him. Of course the apostles knowing their Hebrew history will see Jesus as a new type of Moses who went up a mountain and met God, taking along three friends (see Exodus 24:12-18) Moses receives the stone tablets with the commandments intended for the instruction of the people. The trip up the mountain by Jesus and apostles is intended to affirm Jesus as the Savior, ordained by God and the Holy Spirit, witnessed by Moses and Elijah. Jesus would come down from the mountain and begin His journey to the cross. The three apostles would have this memory of God glorifying Jesus as His Son and Savior, it will confirm in them Jesus’ Messianic identity, particularly in the face of this approaching crucifixion. This listen to him confirms Jesus authority teaching in the Gospels.
We get to hear these words thousands of years later and take in what is affirmed, Jesus is the Son of God come to fulfill God’s plan of salvation and we should listen to everything He has to say, in word, deed, and even in His moments of silence. We don’t receive this “listen to him” as a commandment, as if God is declaring something we must do. But any advice from God, should be advice we want to grab hold of and do with every atom in our being. So the message this week is listen, we must find a way to hear Jesus in word, deed and silence.
In these readings we pull the common theme of listening, which is the instruction God gives to the three apostles who attend to Jesus on the mountain as Jesus is transfigured. It is a message for them, and a message for us to always seek out Jesus and hear what he has to say in any situation before making a decision or doing anything which would be unguided by the Word of God. God wants to speak to us and we should always be ready to listen. It is by listening that we know that Jesus is the gift of life, he came for each of us to personally be recipients of this gift.Jesus is the Son of God come to fulfill God’s plan of salvation and we should listen to everything He has to say, in word, deed, and even in His moments of silence. Click To Tweet
When we think of listening to God we must realize that listening goes two ways. We will speak to God and God to us. When we speak to God we should know God always hears us. God cannot, not hear us, God is omnipresent, God is everywhere at the same time. Psalm one thirty-nine puts it this way in its opening:
LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me. (Psalms 139:1-5)
So there is nothing we can do, say or not do that which could not be in God’s awareness. If we speak, God hears. But it is not always the case in reverse, God can speak and we may not hear, often we are not listening.
Before we leave the topic of God hearing us, we should think somewhat about the difference between God hearing and God answering. There is an old saying, “God hears all prayers but sometimes the answer is no.” God may only answer our prayers when we are living in a way that we are doing God’s will. John says it this way, “And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
Living God’s will means we are living the kind of life that God wants us to live, we are an example to others who may be searching for God or searching for something and seeing how we live they should want to know more. Other ways we live God’s will is when we ask for things consistent with what God has already revealed as his purpose and will. We can think of things like asking for material things we need to live and survive, asking to grow in faith, love, holiness and unity and we can ask for the salvation for those we love. When thinking about God’s will we should have a bigger view than just the things that are touching our life. Trying to think from God’s perspective usually means we are not the center of the universe, others come first.
Listen to him means love
Even if we are living God’s will there is one way we must live in order to be sure God responds to and listens to us. We must love. It is the message of Jesus throughout the scriptures, it is the action of God through all eternity. We must love others and by loving others love God. If we love then we desire to be obedient, to act in a manner that God would ask us to act. Jesus was the perfect example, Jesus entire life was lived to be obedient to the Father. The first step in listening to Jesus it is to be obedient to all God desires of us. It may not seem best for us personally, God may be asking us to give away our money, or to offer some of our space for someone in need to live. Being obedient to God probably is not the easy path for us, but it is the best path for us and others. If we are listening to Jesus as God instructs then we will be obedient to God as Jesus models.If we are listening to Jesus as God instructs then we will be obedient to God as Jesus models. Click To Tweet
Listen to him means knowing
To listen to Jesus we must know him, we should read the message of the gospels and we should also know God in all creation. Psalm nineteen tells of the heavenly elements of the world, beautifully arranged, speaking of the power and wisdom of their creator, it opens:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.
Day unto day pours forth speech;
night unto night whispers knowledge.
There is no speech, no words;
their voice is not heard;
A report goes forth through all the earth,
their messages, to the ends of the world.
He has pitched in them a tent for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom from his canopy,
and like a hero joyfully runs its course. (Psalms 19:1-6)
All of scripture gives a view of God, the gospels particularly reveal Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. The Son came so we would know the Father and to send us the Spirit. God desires closeness, when we live, we can live close to God and count on God for everything. This closeness requires familiarity. If we want to listen to God we must know God, and spending time in the word of God is a very good way to know God. If we don’t’ know how Jesus lived, then we have little hope of knowing how to listen to him with understanding.If we don’t’ know how Jesus lived, then we have little hope of knowing how to listen to him with understanding. Click To Tweet
Listening to him means friendship
God desires relationship with us, more than the friendship we have with our many friends but an intimacy, a knowing, like a bride and groom, a closeness that shares a give and take, a breathing in what the other breathes out, a depth of relationship that as God knows our words before we speak we may also know God’s desires before we hear them. Jesus said, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15) There is nothing that God does not want us to know. We are God’s beloved and God desires a relationship so tight that we miss each other when we are not together.
We see this relationship other places, Psalm twenty-three speaks of God’s loving care for us as portrayed in the figures of a shepherd for the flock (see Psalms 23:1-4) and a host’s generosity toward a guest (Psalms 23:5-6). We read others scriptures that God dwells in us. In the form of the Spirit, Paul relates, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) God is so close we are in communion with each other; God in us and us in God. This is a friendship that grows and deepens, the closer we become the more we are able to listen to God.
Listening to him means growing in consciousness
There a number of ideas that come to mind when we think of prayer, we can recite prayers taught, we can speak to God in a conversational manner, we can pray in worship and liturgy services and we can sit quiet listening which we might think of as mediation. But there is another form of “prayer” which came out of the monastic movement. After Christianity was declared the religion of the entire Roman Empire around 313 AD, certain seekers determined they needed to go deeper into their relationship with God as compared to the worship that had become common and popular. So they went off into the dessert, lived alone or with others and birthed the monastic movement. They wanted to be with God more deeply and for longer periods of time and they created a new word for prayer called contemplation.
Contemplation can be considered more than quiet listening for or to God. Contemplation fosters a change of lifestyle where we are completely focused on God, though prayer, living love and a constant awareness of God’s presence. It is a different form of consciousness, it is not saying prayer, but living in constant union with God in everything around us. It is like saying, whatever you do is prayer, and it is how Paul can say, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Paul is not advising we walk around reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” constantly but to be in union with God. This contemplative prayer is the type of prayer Jesus would go off and live when he was by himself most likely.
Contemplative prayer was lost for many years as the word “prayer” became somewhat trivialized and stood in for anything; reciting words, casual conversation, liturgy, worship, prayer had almost become transactional. But about sixty years ago a monk named Thomas Merton said we don’t teach contemplation anymore, it is a lost form of being with God. His writings became popular, his teaching on contemplation took hold and we see more and more people pushing contemplation as a means of being with God.
However contemplation requires lots and lots of practice. We really have to grow into it. We can try to be present to God twenty-four seven but life pulls us out of the unique consciousness and back into the battles of the day. Some say you have to practice contemplation for a year before you even know what it is. Others will say they have tried to do it for fifty years and they still only touch the contemplative consciousness for small moments of time. So it is a type of presence that we can grow into and discover listening to him means growing in consciousness of the presence of God.Contemplation fosters a change of lifestyle where we are completely focused on God, though prayer, living love and a constant awareness of God’s presence. Click To Tweet
Listening to him means hearing a still small voice
We read about the Prophet Elijah who was taking shelter in a cave when a messenger began speaking to him. The messenger wanted to know why Elijah was not living his prophetic mission. Perhaps Elijah was hiding because of past failures or a feeling of defeat. But God wants Elijah to continue the work he has begun in God’s name. Elijah is told to stand on the mountain; the Lord is going to pass by. There was a powerful wind and an earthquake, after the earthquake, then a fire; but the Lord was in neither of these powerful forces. Then, there was a still small sound, a quiet voice and it was in this quiet that the presence of God was recognized.
We may think God will come thundering, powerful and should be easy to hear. But the practice of God is to be in the littleness. To be in the voice of a child, or the words of a personal with a disability. God could be in the annoying friend who repeats themselves often, or even in the nagging spouse. God was teaching Elijah don’t look for me in thunderous powerful movements, seek me in the still small voice of God. If we want to listen to God it means we need to bend to the small things, to listen for the whispers, to strain to hear those who are not always heard.If we want to listen to God it means we need to bend to the small things, to listen for the whispers, to strain to hear those who are not always heard. Click To Tweet
Listening to him means have a pure heart
God often moves in us through our heart. If we want to listen to God, we must have a heart that is pure, a heart that seeks the will of God, a heart that loves, a heart that knows God, a heart in relationship with God, a heart that grows in consciousness with God, a heart that hears the still small voice. In other words our hearts need to be like God’s heart, ready to receive all God has for us. This heart is where God will place the things we are to hear. It is by listening to our heart that we hear God. So to listen to him we must have a pure heart, a place for God to speak.
Jesus is the gift of life
God tells us to listen to Jesus, that it is Jesus words and life that will bring us the gift of life. Jesus is present in the world living fully human and divine, teaching us how to live a life of listening. When we listen we are able to hear God and learn, we become closer to God, we know God, we become friends with God, we live with God as a presence in our life always, we can look to our heart to find God. With God in our lives we have life. Jesus is God’s presence in Word, and deed that we receive, the gift of life. Jesus transmits life to us. We can only live if we accept what Jesus has to offer. Without Jesus we are in the dark, with Jesus we have life. By listening we find yet again the gift of life that Jesus offers.