The days are surely coming, says the Holy One, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their spouse, says the Holy One. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Holy One: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Holy One,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Holy One; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Human One to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Creator will honour.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Holy One, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Will you pray with me? Gracious God of all times and places, give us grace to hear and to listen; to recognise your voice. Give us the courage to hear your voice, in all the many ways you speak to us in our lives. In all your names, amen.
The clouds are gathering. We are getting closer and closer to Good Friday—can’t you feel the wind picking up, the temperature dropping, as we come nearer to the day of dread—the day when Jesus is crucified. We aren’t there yet, not quite. But there are hints, foreshadowings. This talk of being lifted up, of Jesus feeling troubled in his soul...it doesn’t sound good. And then God speaks to Jesus. Some of the people who were there hear God’s voice; others hear thunder—which was the loudest noise humans had ever heard, remember, before gunpowder was invented, or known in the West.
What, I wonder, would you and I hear, if we had been there? Would we have heard God, or would we have looked for a coming storm?
The people near Jesus—including many of his disciples and apostles—heard only thunder.
Do we hear God’s voice? Do we believe God still speaks? Do we believe God would speak to us? Three very important questions.
God doesn’t always speak in our language, our human language. Sometimes God speaks through events, or through other people, or the actions of other people. I thought I might have a call to ministry, but didn’t believe it, really, until, in a Bible study exercise we were asked to list the Christian qualities we saw in the others in the class. I was shocked to find that several of them saw me as an apostle, as a leader and teacher for God. I had heard God’s voice, but I didn’t really think God would speak to me, directly. Others, though, believed it—and they believed in my call. That group of 10 were my staunchest supporters, all the way through seminary and after.
Because we know God cares for us, we have to believe God is still speaking. If you love someone, if you care about them, you communicate with them, you speak to them. One of the first signs of trouble in a relationship is that sense that the other person is not communicating with you. And by the way, that doesn’t have to be verbal communication—we all know people who have difficulty speaking their feelings aloud, but find other ways to communicate.
So we hear God, we believe God speaks—but do we believe God would speak to us? That was part of why I didn’t really believe that I had a call—I didn’t think God would speak to me. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to answer! I had just finished a master’s degree program, was settling into a comfortable life in suburbia, bought a house…I knew God’s call would change and disrupt all that. So sometimes we are afraid of what it means, and so we pretend we didn’t hear.
Sometimes we think we aren’t “good enough,” that we are not the sort of person God wants or needs. But God is perfectly aware of our shortcomings—and yet God still us, calls us in spite of them, sometimes because of them.
God speaks to us in other ways—God does not only speak to call people to special work. God speaks to us to comfort us, to share our pain when we are grieving or lost or afraid. And God speaks to us in joy and approval when we celebrate—a renewed relationship, healing, simple beauty. God celebrates with us. Sometimes I think we remember God only when we are afraid or sad, and forget to thank God and celebrate with God too.
God speaks—in the hug of a friend, in the rain, in the smile of a loving parent, in the embrace of a partner, in the bloom of a rose, in the rising music of an orchestra, in the blaze of a sunset. And God speaks in the silent places of our hearts, to us alone, in a language known only to God and ourselves; and God comforts and God challenges and God encourages and God celebrates.
God spoke to the Hebrews, promising them a covenant that would be written in their hearts. Some would say we have received the fulfillment of that covenant in Jesus, but I would challenge you to look at the signs of that fulfilled covenant that Jeremiah talks about, and tell me if you see them around us…do we all have the knowledge of God written on our hearts? No. We are still working towards that realm of God, aren’t we?
The realm of God…it’s not some pie-in-the-sky heaven where we all sit around plucking harps. It’s a world where all people are treated with justice and love, where no one goes hungry, or is homeless, a world where there is no war, no hatred. The message of Jesus is that we can have that world—if we are prepared to work for it. It’s such a radical message—don’t hurt others, don’t judge others, make sure everyone has enough to eat and a place to sleep, that everyone is safe from attack and from hatred and mockery—such a radical message that people will tell you it can’t happen on earth, not with humans the way we are. But Jesus says, yes, we can. It won’t be easy, and some people will be so angry at the thought of such change—and the loss it would bring to them—that they will kill anyone who talks about such a place—the realm of God—as Jesus was killed, and Paul, and Peter, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Ghandi, and so many others.
But we do fall short, don’t we? We judge other people, we hold grudges, we belittle others, we don’t care for the hungry or homeless as we should, we hurt other people. That doesn’t mean we should give up and say it can’t be done.
I once had friends who trained for a marathon—not something I was interested in doing, but I supported them! And it seemed so impossible to me—run for 26 miles, 42 kilometres. Running for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours did not seem like a good time to me! But they persevered, and ran the marathon in about 5 hours. They didn’t just get up one morning and do it, though. They worked at it—they ran every day, each day a little longer. They watched what they ate, staying away from heavy fats and too many carbs. They made mistakes too. One of them trained too hard, got shin splints and had to rest for a week. They got bored with running that far (this was before the days of Walkmans or iPods), and sometimes didn’t run the whole distance they had planned for that day. But they kept at it, in spite of their mistakes and the temptations to quit. And when the day of the race came, they ran the whole marathon, never having to walk or stop. And they did it together, pacing and challenging each other. They agreed to stay together the whole way, and they did. The next year one of them tried it alone—and his time was worse because he pushed too hard and had to stop because of leg cramps. His time was worse the second year.
When we listen to God speaking to us, we’re in it for the whole marathon—we have to work at bringing about God’s realm. We don’t do it alone—we have our sisters and brothers in God to help us, to challenge us and to pace us, to keep us from burning out as we work together towards making God’s realm real. It seems impossible, even against human nature—but we remember that with God, all things are possible.
Sometimes life feels like a marathon—so many different demands on us, of family and work and our own needs, so much to do and no time to rest—that we have to remember we are not doing it alone, and we don’t have to do everything at once. As long as we keep up a steady pace, don’t stop, we can keep going. With the company of our friends, our sisters and brothers in Christ, we can pace each other, we can challenge each other. Keep listening for the voice of God, in pain and in joy, and know that you are never alone, as together we work to bring about God’s realm.
In all God’s names, amen.