May our hearts burn as we hear God’s voice

Mary Copping, 30 April 2017

Acts 2: 14a, 36–41; Luke 24: 13–35

A sentence from the collect [prayer] for today: ‘Stir up our faith, that our hearts may burn within us at the sound of his word’.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been one of those disciples on the Emmaus road, walking with Jesus as he explained all that had happened, and as he interpreted everything about himself from the scriptures? Oh to have those words written down for us now.

We’re not told who the disciples were who walked with Jesus. We do know from the passage that they weren’t from the group of 11, but they were part of the group of disciples that included the women who’d been to the tomb. So they’d been close to all that had happened, but they still weren’t able immediately to recognise Jesus in their midst – Jesus’ voice speaking to them.

Chris Cook, a professor at Durham University, is doing a project called ‘Hearing the Voice’. In an article in the Church Times, he speaks about all the people in the Old Testament who heard God’s voice clearly. He describes how God conversed freely with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses. For example, God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and said, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ (Exodus 3: 5) – clear instructions to Moses. The prophets also seemed to hear God speaking clearly and passed on what they felt God was saying to them. Cook describes how some of the mystics heard God clearly too. He asks people to be in touch with him to share their own experiences of hearing ‘spiritually significant’ voices.

Perhaps most of us would say that we haven’t had any experiences of this kind or, if we have, we may feel concerned that people might think we were imagining things, having strange voices in our heads.

Yet if we believe in a God who’s involved in our world today, then we must also believe that he does want to communicate with us. So how does God speak today, and how do we hear him?

For many years, I was part of an evangelical church community where it was expected that God would speak, and people voiced what they felt God was telling them, and us, to do – either in the service or to individuals. There were some pronouncements that brooked no discussion: ‘God says we must do this’. There were others who said, ‘I believe that God might want us to be doing this’. Others said, ‘I believe this is what God is saying, but I’m not sure and this needs to be tested’. The last were the ones who were listened to, and their words were tested: in prayer, by how the words attuned to what others felt, by what was written in the Bible and by how they matched the circumstances.

Their words were tested: in prayer, by how the words attuned to what others felt, by what was written in the Bible and by how they matched the circumstances.

These are good ways of testing what we might think God is saying to us. Sometimes it can be a very still, small voice in the silence as we wait on him with quiet hearts and minds. Sometimes it can be a direction from God, within our circumstances. Sometimes it can be words from others which speak deep into our hearts. Whatever we feel God might be saying to us, it is always good to share with a trusted friend or colleague, and things can then become clearer as to how much the words are God’s and how much ours. And often, as we pray, if these things come, it is good to write them down to pray more about later.

If, as we believe, God is working in our world now and has not given up on us, then how does he speak today?

In his excellent book Being Disciples Rowan Williams speaks about the importance of Christians making a difference in the world. They ‘are not called to impose their vision on the whole of society. If they have a role in the political realm, it is that they will argue that the voice of faith should be heard clearly in the decision-making processes of society.’ Most of us won’t have that role but can pray for those who have, for them to hear from God and to have the courage to speak out for situations where people don’t have a voice – the poor, the marginalised, the refugees. Even though we may not have that political role, we do each have our own role in society, where we can and do make a difference: being the voice of God, being his ambassadors, bringing his love, his peace, his wisdom – bringing help to those in need.

Again in the Church Times, under the heading ‘Make the General Election about the Poor’, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said, ‘I encourage all Christians to quiz their candidates about their views on the poor, the marginalised and those in need of refuge’. This is something that we can all do, as citizens of earth but also of heaven: make our vote count, find out from candidates their views, ask God how he wants us to vote, bring the voice of God to this election.

To those who walked with Jesus on the Emmaus road, his identity became known at the table, at the breaking of bread. Luke writes words that are almost identical to those used when Jesus broke bread at the Last Supper. Luke wanted to stress the point that this was the Messiah. Jesus spoke to the two and showed them who he was through the breaking of bread. As we come to receive Christ at the Eucharist, let us come with open hearts and open minds to receive from him, to hear his voice of love and compassion – not just for ourselves but for all those we’ll meet this week. We are Christ’s ambassadors. Some people who refuse to talk to God or to listen to him, or who don’t believe in him, will talk to us. God through us – an awesome responsibility, one that should bring us to our knees each day in prayer. ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.’

Some people who refuse to talk to God or to listen to him, or who don’t believe in him, will talk to us. God through us – an awesome responsibility.

In our reading from Acts we are given Peter’s powerful sermon about Jesus and how, through what people had done to him, God had made Jesus Lord and Messiah. Peter was interpreting events to them, and from this something amazing happened: 3,000 people were baptised. This may not happen when we speak to people! Yet isn’t it ours also to interpret our Christian faith, interpret what God is saying to the world, in ways that can be understood, in ways that show that God is with us, is speaking to us?

We thank God that he does speak to us today, that he does want to communicate with us. But his voice is often missed or misunderstood. We ask God to help us to hear him, to take time to listen to him each day and to respond to all that he asks us to do. As Samuel said in the temple, when he was unsure whether it was God’s voice he heard, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3: 9). Let us say the same. Amen.