Friday, January 13, 2012

Listen and You will See

“Where have you seen God at work here in the last six months?” This was the opening question at our congregation council retreat. “Where have you seen God?” We broke into small groups and people began sharing. As I listened, it was kind of like listening to microwave popcorn. An idea would come forth but then there would be a pause, but little by little it took off with bunches of thoughts and people joining in energetically. Sharing where they’d seen God. Sometimes asking each other if what they were describing was really about God; being told by others how it was. And through them God spoke and we listened. And came to grasp that we’ve seen God: In new faces and new volunteers; in increased Sunday School participation; in our 100th anniversary; in re-energized committees; in increased worship attendance; in a new Prayer Circle group; in a re-vitalized Dove’s Nest program; in the commitment of Council to the work of the church; in God’s abundance that we’ve had the resources to carry out ministry; in a new Facebook page and the fact our Cub Scout pack is back with 17 boys. In the sound of our renovated organ; in our dedicated staff. In our renewed outreach in our neighborhood. And we’ve seen God in our worship and liturgy; in hands working together in our intergenerational event; in the visitation of our members and the chances we’ve had to reconnect. We’ve seen God in the listening and encouragement of change and in a renewed spirit of the people. It’s a pretty inspiring story! Told first in small conversations then gathered into larger ones as we helped each other see God. And I watched as smiles and a spark of light broke forth as people could see an even bigger revelation of God’s presence and work, active in our community. Maybe that’s what ears tingling in Samuel is about. The response really good news brings.

Then I asked the group- if someone told you six months ago, that you would be able to say you have seen all this, on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you have been to say it would look like this? “One” means almost impossible and “ten” means you were absolutely sure. Where would you be? Everyone around the room was a “One.” Six months ago, low expectations- That’s a pretty dark place.

In a very real way this mirrors the sense of darkness at the opening of our lesson from Samuel where “the word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.” Where for whatever reasons the ability to see God active or hear God’s voice had evaporated. Maybe it seemed easier to just lie down as the light of hope technically was still flickering but seemed likely to go out soon. Where any connection to the Lord seemed more driven by going through the motions than inspiration. It’s tragic, yet we in the church are sometimes the ones who least expect to see God revealed. And a real direct calling from God? One might wonder if THAT kind of revelation really exists.

We see the world as it is, finding it hard to be amazed, quite sure that nothing new or good can come. Yet one writer suggests this behavior is rooted in our way of being, not God’s. We become hard of hearing, hard of heart, believing that the word of the Lord is rare, and expecting nothing new. Not because the Lord has withdrawn from us, but because we can convince ourselves that we hear nothing and see nothing. It’s all too easy to get to such a place. Once we settle in there, though, to get back from it takes divine intervention.

In our midst God has been doing just that. And the greater things we will see are about grasping that our expectations will and must be surpassed by a greater vision.

Bernard of Clairvaux noted that “if you wish to see, listen. Listening is a step toward vision.” When we let our collective chatter prevail, we never really give space for God to speak or for our perception to be altered. Our council retreat provided that space for us, like for Samuel, a time when we stopped our daily routine, and could say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” And through the words of those gathered even those who not so long ago couldn’t expect it, God spoke.

As we listened to each other, little by little we connected the stories and had an epiphany. Not only had God been at work in all of these moments, God had been at work in our hearts. As we shared we saw that hearts had moved, and then moved a little more. It is a thing to be amazed by, our seeing leading to insight and our listening leading to discernment of a greater vision. New possibility opened up because God had brought us together and was revealed to us together.

Yet as powerful as all the events we highlighted were, more powerful was the realization it happened not by our works. The one thing, the only thing that had brought this forth in us was the One whose hand called and gathered us that we might be enlightened: Jesus the Christ. Out of Christ’s work a new vision and connection to God have been made known. By God alone, hope and light have been revealed. And the lamp really isn't going out after all. It took being together for this revelation to develop. These stories were not about a private revelation. It took setting time aside, being together and listening to God in others. In greater and greater circles this vision emerged. In community, and centered in Christ. This is how God creates us to be, how God speaks and how God works. And this is the vision we serve, a vision not only about the “leaders” but all of us. God has called and gathered all of us to enlighten us, to hear of marvelous things and of the God who has brought them into being. And our expectations will continue to be surpassed, when we come together here, to be energized by the power of what God is doing here and to tell others: Come and see! Listen to God’s story in our lives! This is the vision that will shape our mission and ministry as God’s servants. A vision we believe is inspired because God is with us, a vision of light and hope speaking now. Listen…

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