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God Speaks


01:45:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1821 words  
Categories: Ordinary Time 2013

God Speaks

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
June 23, 2013

Scripture Readings
1 Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39


The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders. —Psalm 29:3

We’ve done it for several weeks now. We’re going to do it again today. And then again next Sunday. At least that much. It’s a really good thing that we’re doing. We’re talking to each other. We’re listening to each other. We’re wondering together. Wondering out loud. Wondering whether God is leading us to take a great leap into a campus ministry partnership.

A few weeks ago, Mike Mattes presented an outline of what that ministry partnership might look like. Then he answered our questions. After that, for two more Sundays, we had our own conversations. There were questions and answers. Probably more questions than answers. Today Mike is with us again. He’ll join us for another conversation after the service.

Mike will be with us next Sunday, too. He’ll be preaching. Then, after the service, he’ll introduce us to one or two current CCO staff people. They have been working on campuses and with congregations. Next Sunday, they will tell us about some of the nuts and bolts of their work. And they will answer our questions.

All together, it’s a lot of talking and a lot of listening. We’re listening to each other. And that’s a good thing. But what we’re really listening for in all of it, in all the descriptions, in all the questions and answers, in all the worries, in all the dreams—what we’re really listening for is the voice of God.

Trouble is, the voice of God is unpredictable. Elijah learned that on Mt. Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai. Sinai, the place where God spoke in volcanic rumblings of fire and cloud, of thunder and lightning. Only this time, God wasn’t in the rumbling and the shaking. As Elijah learned, sometimes God shouts, but sometimes God whispers. And, of course, sometimes God doesn’t say anything at all.

We’ve been waiting for God to speak. Not just about campus ministry. We’ve been waiting for God to speak for years now. Waiting for God to speak. Not to teach us. That’s been happening right along. Not to comfort us. For the most part, we’ve had enough reassurance to get us through the dark valleys. We’ve been waiting for God to speak. Not to chastise us. We might need a little scolding. Or maybe even a lot. But nobody waits for that.

No. What we’ve been waiting for is for God to speak to us and to give us our orders. Waiting for God to speak and to tell us what he wants us to do. What’s our mission? What belongs at the center of our prayers? What’s all our money for? (And let’s admit it. We have a lot of money! Money we use for all kinds of things. Some to build the Kingdom of God, some to feather our own nests. And we know what the proportions are.) What’s all our money for? And what’s all our time for? We wouldn’t mind a clear signal from God that says, I don’t want you spending your time or your money on that; I want you to spend your time and your money on this!

Maybe God has been speaking to us already. But maybe we don’t hear so well. Maybe we don’t listen. Maybe there are too many other voices, all of them making their own demands. Maybe we don’t know what we’re listening for. Maybe we want something big and loud and obvious. Like an earthquake or a peal of thunder. Maybe that’s what we want. But maybe God has been whispering all along.

Maybe we’re expecting God’s voice to come packaged in a special brand of holiness. In something extraordinary. Something definitely not down-to-earth. Not something as mundane as a ministry organization from Pittsburgh that says, Have we got a deal for you!

I’ve heard the old story several times in the last few weeks. About the man who was trapped on the roof of his house by floodwaters. He prayed for God to rescue him. And he was sure that God was going to come through. So when a boat came by to help, he said, No thanks. God’s going to take care of me. And when a helicopter came to lift him off the roof, he said, No thanks. God’s going to take care of me. Well he died in the flood. And when he appeared before God, he said, I thought you were going to take care of me. And God replied, I sent a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?

So it seems to me that we’ve been asking God—I know I’ve been asking God—asking God to speak to us. Asking for years. Just tell us what to do, God, and we’ll do it. Just send us, and we’ll go. But I wonder if we’ve got that wrong. As well-intentioned as we may be. I wonder if we have it fundamentally wrong.

Today’s Gospel reading tells an important story. At the heart of that story, Jesus helps a man who has been ruined by demons. He’s a wreck. He has been for years. He hasn’t had a bit of hope. He has been terrified and terrifying. But Jesus comes along and helps him.

Not that the man asked for help. Not that he had been praying to the God of Israel for help. He was a Gentile after all. Living in a graveyard, near a pig farm. But Jesus came along, said a few words—not to the man, but to the demons—Jesus said a few words and everything changed.

The man changed. He was free. He was better. He put some clothes on and was ready to follow Jesus. Say the word, Jesus, and I’ll follow you. I’ll go with you all the way! But Jesus didn’t want the man following him. Jesus had other work for the man to do. Go home, he told him. Go home, and tell everyone what God has done for you. In other words, Go, and tell your own story, your own God story. Which is exactly what the man did. With clothes on and in his right mind.

All the local people were afraid of Jesus. Jesus had come, and scary things started happening. Sure, their neighbor was better. But the pigs. And the demons. And the drowning. Not just the pigs, but the demons, too. Because demons can’t swim. That’s why demons haunt dry, wilderness places. It was scary stuff. Jesus was not safe, not as far as they were concerned.

So Jesus wasn’t a prime candidate to head into the local villages and to announce the Kingdom of God. But the man, the man without any demons, he was available. And he had a story to tell, a Kingdom story to tell. Go and tell everyone what God has done for you. That’s what Jesus said. Only the man gave his story a twist. Because he went and told everyone what Jesus had done for him. Because his story was a Kingdom story. And the king is Jesus.

But here’s the thing that struck me. Jesus said a few words, and the demon-possessed man was saved. That’s what we want. That’s God speaking, God speaking through Jesus. But then . . . then God spoke through the man. The man who told his own people what Jesus had done for him.

When the man spoke, it wasn’t thunder and lightning. It wasn’t an earthquake. It wasn’t a huge, unmistakable, can’t-be-ignored, can’t-be-misunderstood voice. No, it was the ordinary voice of someone who had a story to tell, someone who had something to say about Jesus.

We are waiting for God. We are waiting for Jesus. Lord, speak to us. Tell us what to do. We’re ready to follow. But why does he have to say any more to us? Haven’t we heard enough? And don’t we have our own stories to tell? God stories? Jesus stories?

We’re waiting for God to speak. But maybe God is waiting for us to speak. Waiting for us to speak for God. Waiting for us to tell what God has done for us. Because we have seen God at work, too.

Some of us have our doubts about this campus ministry. We wonder, What do we have that could be interesting to college students? What do we have that could be a blessing to college students? I’ll tell you what. If nothing else, we have stories to tell. We have experience with God.

And that experience with God is all over the place. Because Jesus Christ is the Lord of every part of this world. And he is the Lord of every part of our lives!

Some of us have heartbreaking stories to tell. Sick when we were little. Time and time again in the hospital. But God came to visit and to stay at our side. Sometimes God looked just like mom. Sometimes God looked just like the minister from church.

Some of us have funny stories to tell. Funny now. Maybe not so funny when we were in the middle of them. About the crazy things we used to do when we were young and foolish or poor or in love. About how God saved us from our own carelessness. About how God kept putting food on our table, when we couldn’t afford it. But there was an envelope with a hundred dollars in it. We don’t know who from. But we know God was behind it.

Some of us have stories to tell about hard decisions we had to make. Maybe it was an ethical question. An unplanned pregnancy. Or a questionable business practice where we worked. And we struggled to know what to do. And we realized there would be a price to pay no matter what we decided. But echoing in our minds were words we grew up on. Maybe the Ten Commandments. Maybe the Heidelberg Catechism. Maybe the Golden Rule. And the voice we heard in all those words was the voice of God, guiding us on the right path.

Those are just hints of our stories. And we do have our stories. Because God has done so much for us. From before we were born right up to this moment. God has done so much for us as a church, too. And what we’re wondering about lately is what God is going to do for us next. What God is going to do with us next. What God is going to do through us next. That’s what we’re wondering about. And I can hardly wait to find out. Because when we do find out, are we ever going to have stories to tell!

In the Name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

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