Continuing the sensory journey, we now go to hearing. In Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd, he says that the sheep listen to his voice. Now, what is interesting is that he is speaking of the sheep of other folds, not the ones in front of him. It is in the first part of the chapter where he talks about us hearing and knowing and following his voice. This is definitely a continuation of that idea, but now others are included. Who are these others? We don’t really know. There is lots of speculation about who these other folds might represent. But the truth is, we don’t know. Jesus often hints that determining who is in and who is out is not really our job. We are to invite and include as widely as possible.
So, how do we create a worship experience for listening for the voice of God? Let’s start with silence. How do we give space for those who have come to worship to spend time in contemplation and silence? We sometimes think that we have to fill the hour of worship with sound or with action or movement. If there is a lull, we fear that folks will drift away. But what if the “lull” is intended? The space to think, to pray, to just be for a few moments can be a gift and an opportunity to listen to voice of God.
Another arena for listening that could be modeled in worship is creation. Today is the Festival of God’s Creation. April 22 is Earth Day, and this is the Sunday designated for the observance of that event. We don’t advocate politicizing this subject, but we assert that we are called to partner with God in the stewardship of all creation. Too often, we see our worship space as the be all and end all of our responsibilities when we seek to encounter God. But we can hear the voice of God through the natural world. If we are to take seriously hearing God through the world around us, then we have to take seriously the care of the planet.
But how do we hear the voice of God without sounding crazy? Maybe a little crazy is OK, but certainly not dismissible. So what does the voice of God sound like? How do we hear that voice? It has to begin by listening to the scripture text that gives us an idea of how God speaks, the kinds of things God is interested in, what God seeks from us. Encouraging Bible study and conversation groups around biblical texts is an appropriate element of worship this week. To hear the voice of God, we must draw closer to God through our attention to the Word.
Of course, another avenue for hearing the voice of God is other Christians. We hear God’s truth through those around us. Sometimes revelation comes through something a friend or leader says. Sometimes this is through preachers and teachers, of course, but often the surprising one can startle us with a truth. This is why we need to recover the practice of testimony. We need to listen to one another; we need to hear the faith struggles and the understandings that come from those who occupy the pews next to us, from those who are viewing a screen at the same time we are viewing it. We need to be open and in the habit of listening to those who are different from us, who have a different perspective, who come from a different background, are of a different race. This is so we can cultivate ears for hearing the voice of God in different people and in different settings. We want to round out that voice and hear it in its fullness.
The invitation is to listen, to carefully listen. But not only listen, we expect to hear. What a radical thought that is for those who gather to worship this day. God is speaking to you! Not just to followers with more authority, not just to those who are farther along the journey of faith, but to you as well. The real question for us today is not, “Will God speak to me, to us today?” Instead, will we listen for that voice that is speaking? Jesus doesn’t say, “Listen and maybe I’ll have something to say.” He says, “Listen to my voice.” “I am speaking” is the implied message, so pay attention.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.