The United Church of Christ – a sister denomination of the PC(USA) – has a slogan that says, “God is still speaking.” It is at the very top of their website. Individual congregations hang banners printed with this slogan on their church buildings and use it in their newsletters. It is a nice slogan, one that is meant to inspire the faithful and the not-so-faithful alike with the promise that God is still working on our world that often seems so troubled and forgotten. I suppose it is also meant to encourage us to lean in and listen for the divine word. God is still speaking. But what does God have to say, and what happens when God speaks?
Let’s begin with the Gospel reading. If you were here last week, you might recall that last week Jesus confronted his disciples with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” For this response, Jesus called Peter the rock on which he would build his church. Seemingly satisfied with Peter’s spiritual growth, Jesus goes on to speak an even more intimate truth to his twelve close friends: “I, the one you have called the Messiah, will go on to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and be raised. If you want to be my followers, pick up your cross and come along. In losing your life, you will find it.” God is still speaking.
We could look back a little farther for another example. You might also recall from last week that Moses, a Hebrew infant, was rescued from death by Pharaoh’s daughter and then raised in the royal family as her son. The lectionary leaves out the part of the story where an enraged Moses kills an Egyptian whom he observes beating a Hebrew slave. Moses becomes a wanted man and is forced to flee to far-away Midian and become a shepherd. It is here that God speaks to Moses from an ordinary piece of desert scrub set ablaze by an extraordinary flame: “I have seen the suffering of my people. I have heard their cries on account of their task masters. So come, Moses, I will send you back to Egypt – to Pharaoh – to set my people free.” God is still speaking.
I have heard God speaking before, too. Not in a face-to-face conversation as between Peter and Jesus. And not through a voice from a bush set miraculously alight. But with conviction deep in my spirit that the voice I heard was God’s voice. Sometimes is has been a word that comforts. But more often, it is a word that challenges and unsettles me.
Peter and Moses hardly find God’s address to be inspirational. They are not so sure that they want to lean in and listen to this divine word. The word that confronts Peter runs counter to his every expectation. He has just proclaimed his allegiance to Jesus, the Messiah, the deliverer of Israel. He know – or thinks he knows – how the Messiah is supposed to act, what is supposed to happen next. Peter is ready to go into battle with Christ the King. When Jesus foretells his own death Peter insists that such a thing will never happen. I wonder whether Peter meant that he would make sure of it. God is still speaking, but Peter’s limited earthly expectations have prevented him from understanding the eternal heavenly dimensions of what God is up to in Jesus Christ.
Moses has his own objections to this divine intervention in his life, and for good reason. Moses’ first objections are self-centered: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” I am certain that Moses knows full well who he is – a murder and a wanted man among Egyptians; a traitor among the Hebrews; a husband and father at home. Moreover, Moses insists that he is not eloquent enough for the task of confronting Pharaoh. Moses lacks confidence in his own identity and abilities, and he does not hesitate to let God know how he feels. But Moses also lacks something else. He seems to be unsure of the power of this god to actually deliver Israel from the might of Pharaoh. He cloaks his question in the veil of practicality, but the question is there: “Who are you?” Who do you think you are, Moses seems to be asking, that Pharaoh will submit and the Israelites will follow me? Are you powerful enough? Are you compassionate enough? God is still speaking, but Moses doubts himself and he doubts the Lord.
God does not withdraw when his short-sighted, self-centered, and doubtful people object. God does not retract the promises he has spoken, and he does not write-off the resistant or skeptical partners in these conversations. Despite the resolve of God to bring freedom and deliverance, despite the power of God to find someone else, God remains engaged with Peter and with Moses. God is not just speaking to anyone who will listen. God is speaking to Peter and to Moses. And God is speaking to you and to me. God wants Peter and Moses and you and me to be part of the conversation, to be part of God’s plans. Could God do it without you? Could God call someone else? Perhaps, but God does not work that way, and God does not want someone else. Is God still speaking? Oh, yes. The terrible and wonderful news is that God is speaking to you and me.
Like Peter and Moses, you and I have our objections. We have worldly, human expectations for who God is and how God should work. We believe in wealth and self-sufficiency, so we build a theology that says God wants us to be wealthy and take care of ourselves. Any call from God that challenges that expectation must be suspect. We believe in safety and security, so we build lives that protect and shelter us from harm. Any word that threatens our security could not be what God wants for us. We have worshipped at the altars of power and status and cultural superiority under the guise of manifest destiny. We are quick to resist the divine word that invites the last to be first and the first to be last. Like Peter, we find that we have fixed our minds on earthly things and lost sight of the divine power to turn our expectations upside down.
When we are mired in the troubles of this world – and they are plentiful this summer (the brutality of ISIS, the steady march of Ebola, the embedded racism revealed in Ferguson) – it is easy to feel like Moses, looking up to God and wondering “Who are you?” Are you really powerful enough to deal with all this mess? Do you really care? I feel that way sometimes. This is why it is important to know this story. Our world is in plenty of trouble today, and we are too prone to forget what God has done in the past. But if we can suspend our cynicism and apathy long enough to remember God’s story throughout the Scripture, we discover that God cares deeply and that God is powerful. The God who heard the cries of Israel and liberated them from slavery in Egypt is the same God who is liberating his people today from every sort of bondage: liberating people from poverty and from wealth; liberating us from genuine fear and from obsessive security; liberating us from oppression and from oppressing.
But God does not do all of this with a wiggle of the nose and a wink of the eye. And this is where Moses’ second objection comes in. “Who me?” we say with Moses. I do not have the right character, nor the fortitude to face the powers that be. I am not gifted. What about my family? Couldn’t you send someone else? The objections keep coming. God hears all of Moses’ objections, and our own, and firmly counters each one with the reassurance that God will be with us giving us words to speak and the power to act. And to that final objection, “Could you send someone else?” God gives in, not to let Moses off the hook but to give him a compatriot in his brother Aaron who will go with him. God, it seems, is willing to accommodate our human limitations by giving us partners to share the task of ministry.
God is still speaking. Will you pause from your daily grind to turn aside and see the bush that is aflame? Will you seek out a spiritual advisor that connects you with the intimate truths of God that lie beyond your own expectations? Will you listen to the silent longings of your own heart which may be the stirrings of the Holy Spirit? God might not do what you expect in the way you expect, but God is still at work liberating and bringing life where we see only death. Like Peter, you are invited to put your expectations of wealth, safety, and status aside and discover a new kind freedom that comes with the knowledge of eternal life. Like Moses, you are summoned to believe that what God has done in the past, God is still powerful enough to do today. You are called to forget your own unworthiness and incapacity and to receive the power of God for the work of transforming the world. And we are given each other for encouragement and company along the way.
God is still speaking! Go ahead, raise your objections, make your excuses, list all your fears. He has heard them all before, and still God wants you. God is still speaking. Let’s get to work. Amen.