Saturday, February 28, 2015

Listening for God

A reflection on the readings for the second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 17:1-16; Mark 8:31-38

Almost every Sunday between the 8am and the 10am service I join Sean and the choir for their vocal warm-up as they prepare for the worship service. In the actual service I end up either singing with the congregation or singing by myself with the congregation responding. I rarely sing with the choir. Warming up with the choir is one way I prepare for worship.

One of the main things Sean works on is helping each choir member hear the voices of those around them and to blend their voices so that no one voice stands out more than another. That is the work of choral music, a blending of voices to a unified whole. It is also the work of orchestras, blending the instruments to create a whole sound. Blending voices is a skill that requires one to be simultaneously aware of one’s own voice and aware of the voices of those around one’s self and the ability to soften or raise one’s voice so that it becomes part of the mix. This is not necessarily difficult, but it does require one to listen and be intentional about how one is using one’s voice. 

Listening is the theme of our Lenten reflection this week from chapter three of the book, "The Restoration Project."  Listening for God is the primary point of the chapter, but in order to listen for God one must learn to listen to one’s self and to others. Listening for God happens in community and it happens in small groups and occasionally it happens to us as individuals.  The reason we listen for God is because this is one way we do our part to be in relationship with God. We listen for God so that we can be aware of how God is working in our lives, how God is calling us to our most authentic sense of self, and how God is calling us to respond to the needs of the world around us. 

In the Genesis text we have an example of Abraham and Sarah listening to God. God chooses to be in relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah leave family, land, inheritance, for a new land with God. In doing so, Abraham and Sarah form a relationship with God and find their truest, most authentic sense of self. God even gives them new names. In naming them God names their truest sense of self; God validates them. 

As humans we find our foundation, the core of our being, in God’s relationship with us. As Christians, we have an example in Jesus of how God brings forth one’s most authentic self when one is faithful to God - when one lives from the values, principles, and beliefs that God inspires, which scripture tells are: love God, love self, love others, do justice, be humble, be mature, forgive others, look to self first, stay in relationship, pray, reflect, be aware.

As part of the covenant God requires Abraham and the male descendants to be circumcised. Sarah becomes pregnant and has a baby. The covenant is embodied and has a physical nature to it, requiring a level of engagement that is more than just intellectual. God claims our entire being. When we are attentive to God and how God is calling us into relationship with God, we become attentive to our whole selves with a level of authenticity that transcends how the world tries to define us.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles who had differing understandings of faith. Paul writes that since faith begins in God no one group of people has ownership over what faith in God looks like and is. God can create faith in any one. God creates faith in us, the potential for us to reach our fullest sense of self, but it requires our desire to be in relationship, for us to engage and to nurture our faith and our relationship with God. We do this through prayer, through living in community, through acts of kindness and service, through becoming attentive to ourselves and the ways we contribute to the brokenness in the world and then try to heal ourselves and those broken places - we begin by changing ourselves. 

In these times of great suspicion and accusation, of blame and shame, God points us to look first at ourselves. If our efforts are not working toward building up the whole through acts of loving kindness and justice, we need to re-examine what we are doing. 

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark asks some difficult questions about identity. 

Who is Jesus?
Who is Satan?
And, oddly, in a series of readings about identity, it asks, What does it mean to deny one’s self?

The church tells us many things about the identity of Jesus. Praying the Nicene Creed gives us a historical understanding of Jesus as human and divine. Ultimately Jesus reveals to us what it means to have one’s authentic identity grounded in God.  In Abraham and Sarah and others whom God names, we catch a glimpse of God bringing forth one’s most authentic sense of self. In Jesus God reveals this fully - Jesus is God’s love made manifest in the world. God’s love never ends. God loves everyone. God’s love means we are worthy and that we matter. 

Who is Satan? Satan is the energy, the pulls and pushes in this world that try to define us as anything but the way God sees us. Satan is that which tries to tell us we not good, that which tries to oppress us and hold us down, that which causes illness and suffering, that which seeks to pull us away from God. 

In response to all these distractions which aim to pull us away from God, God reveals God's self to us in our most vulnerable place. This can feel like we are being asked to deny our selves.  But what we are denying is our inauthenticity that has become bound in the negative messages the world tells us about ourselves, which deny our truest nature founded in God. Deny the self from all the negative messages that world tells us we are, not good enough, not smart enough, not worthy. Denying our inauthentic self is the cross we need to pick up and carry, because it will lead us through our most broken parts of the self and into a wholeness that only God can offer.

Through grace God reveals to us our true nature, our full identity. To recognize who truly are we need to listen. Listen deeply in community, and hear how God is resonating through us. Listen deeply in  prayer. Listen deeply to one another, see how God’s love resonates through each one of us, calling us to harmonize in tune with God. Listen to God who has named us and enlivened us to our true selves. Listen to what God is saying within. God says, you are worthy. You are loved. 

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