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Dragged Along?

Guest essay by David Buschart. W. David Buschart serves as Associate Dean and Professor of Theology at Denver Seminary (Colorado), and as a theological consultant to churches and organizations. His book Exploring Protestant Traditions: An Invitation to Theological Hospitality (InterVarsity Press) is due for release this September.

For Sunday July16, 2006

           Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B)
           2 Samuel 6:1–5, 12b–19 or Amos 7:7–15
           Psalm 24 or Psalm 85:1–13
           Ephesians 1:3–14
           Mark 6:7–13

John of Berry's Petite Heures (14th Century), St. James the Less with the Prophet Amos.
John of Berry's Petite Heures (14th Century),
St.  James the Less with the Prophet Amos.

           Into our cultural cacophony of endless noise, the lectionary for this week offers a piece of radical wisdom: “I will listen,” says the Psalmist (Psalm 85:8).

           In an interview late in his life, the Swiss psychiatrist and Christian Paul Tournier (1898–1986), widely regarded for his perceptive insights about the human condition, made the following observation: “People lack silence.  They no longer lead their own lives; they are dragged along by events.  It is a race against the clock.  I think that what so many people come to see me for is to find a quiet, peaceful person who knows how to listen and who isn’t thinking all the time about what he has to do next.  If your life is chock-full already, there won’t be room for anything else.  Even God can’t get anything else in.  So it becomes essential to cut something out.”

            I believe that Tournier was correct in his analysis.  Many people probably came to him—and many people probably go to counselors and friends of all sorts today—hoping to connect with “a quiet, peaceful person who knows how to listen.” As I thought about Tournier's words, I wondered if the same is not true in some sense for God.  I wonder how often God longs for someone who will listen to Him?

            “I will listen to what God the Lord says."

            Sometimes God says things that we would rather not hear.  The Old Testament prophet Amos once had a vision of God standing next to a wall that had been built “true to plumb”—that is, perfectly straight and upright (Amos 7:7–9).  Amos then heard the Lord say, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”  Holy places would be destroyed and a sword would be brought against God’s elect people. Whereas Amos, the small town farmer-turned-prophet, was attentive to this disturbing and rather unpatriotic news from Yahweh, the priest Amaziah turned a deaf ear to the message: "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there" (7:12). Amaziah could only defend the political status quo of King Jeroboam against what he interpreted as a conspiracy; Amos, somehow, heard what most people of that time and place did not want to hear.  

The prophet Amos.
The prophet Amos.

           Similarly, the Gospel for this week reports that in sending out the twelve apostles as spokespersons for God, Jesus “gave them authority over evil spirits,” but then he added, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:7–8). This could not have been welcome advice to the twelve.  Furthermore, anticipating that many people would neither welcome them nor listen to them (they were, after all, going to proclaim a message of repentance), Jesus instructed his followers to “shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11).  Sometimes God says things that we would rather not hear.

            But not always. At other times God says things that we gladly receive.  In the epistle for this week Paul tells the Christ-followers in Ephesus that “God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. . . . In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:3–4, 7–8).  He goes on to say, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (1:13).  

            “I will listen to what God the Lord says.”

The prophet Amos.
The prophet Amos.

           Immediately following his pledge, the Psalmist gives voice to both kinds of messages from God—those that we welcome and those that we would rather not hear.  “[God] promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly” (Psalm 85:8).  God says, “Peace be with you” to those who honor and obey him.  “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,” and the Lord “will indeed give what is good” (Psalm 85:9, 12).  These words of affirmation and invitation are easy to hear.  And, they are spoken by the God of the plumb line who confronts the spiritual and political status quo (recall Amos 7), the God who sends out spokespersons with neither bread nor money with a message of repentance (recall Mark 6).  The Psalmist describes this God as loving, yes, but also as righteous.  In the face of our human arrogance and failure to listen, this God, he says, is capable of “fierce anger” (Psalm 85:3).  Nonetheless (or, should we say, “Because of this”), we do well to listen to this God.

           God eagerly turns away from his anger and, in “unfailing love” (Psalm 85:7), turns toward those who listen.  And, those who listen to the voice of God will be blessed by and become witnesses to his “love and faithfulness . . . righteousness and peace” (Psalm 85:10).  God eagerly longs to “give what is good” (Psalm 85:12) to those who listen to him.  In listening to God we can live such that we are not, in Tournier’s words, merely “dragged along by events.”

           "Almighty and loving God, amidst the ceaseless noise of our day and age, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to follow your voice of love."

For further reflection:

* Consider a sign that I saw at a local church: "God is still speaking."
* What challenges do you encounter in trying to listen to God?
* How ought we to distinguish between hearing the true voice of God as opposed to our own voices?
* How do you think Amos and the twelve apostles felt about the word of the Lord that they heard?

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