Rev Ron Ham
When we encourage someone to read the Bible, do we realise what a discouraging task we might be giving them if they begin with the Gospel passage we have heard this morning? They might say, “If this is typical of the rest of the Bible, I think I will watch TV!”
When I looked through this chapter, which is the set Lectionary reading, my first thought was, “This is too hard. I think I will choose something simpler.” We have here the calling and sending out of the apostles – that is fairly easy to understand. But then there are words of Jesus, probably collected from what he said on different occasions about coming persecutions and the possibility of divisions even in families over following Jesus. Matthew packs these sayings into one chapter for the Church to read. That is why, at a first reading, we may feel we can’t take it all in.
I am glad I did not give in to my first impressions, so I am sticking to this part of the Gospel and I have decided to look at only one brief saying in verse 27. Jesus said to his disciples, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”
Jesus was making the point that we learn some things gradually. We may not understand something at first but with reflection, and perhaps with discussion, we finally get it! It is like listening carefully to something whispered until we are sure we have now heard. Then we are confident to live by it and to share it – the image Jesus used with the apostles was that they should “proclaim it from the housetops”.
Jesus may be referring to the fact that he spent many, many hours with his disciples who had time to listen, to ask questions and to gain insights into his teaching. It was private; it was new and called for careful attention – it was like listening to something whispered and so different to what was being taught loudly by their religious leaders.
I suggest that God is a whisperer!! We tend not to think of God whispering. If we are familiar with the Bible, we like to refer to the ways God spoke in spectacular fashion: to Moses out of a burning bush that was not destroyed; to Israel with thunder and lightning at Mt .Sinai; to Israel’s enemy by knocking down the walls of Jericho; for the new Church in violent wind and tongues of fire at Pentecost; and to the Apostle Paul struck down on the road to Damascus. In these examples God is shouting!
But the prophet Elijah is an excellent example of God whispering. Elijah had his share of the spectacular when he scared King Ahab and his 450 false prophets with a spectacular display of fire from heaven; but when Ahab’s wife put the frighteners on Elijah and Elijah ran scared to Mount Sinai, God told him to strand on the mountain before the Lord, “for the Lord is about to pass by”.
What happened? Was there another spectacular demonstration that might have been the presence of God? Yes: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.”
Where was God? – “and after the fire, a sound of a still small voice.” God whispered to Elijah, as though God was saying, “You have become too accustomed to big displays. We needed that to wake up stupid King Ahab, but you my friend need to be quiet because friends don’t need to shout at each other!”
Whispering was what was happening between Jesus and his apostles when they spent so much time together in private. Shouting from Jesus would have done nothing for them. Jesus did not want to scare them, and to force them to accept his experience of God. He gave them time so that the learning went deep. He had no interest in bullying them into seeing how wrong were the religious leaders of their day in their interpretation of the Law, and in their injustice to what were the “asylum seekers and refugees” of their society.
You may learn from this a new way to listen to God. You may have said, “God never speaks to me like God spoke to people in the Bible, or like the way God seems to speak to some Christians.” Forget about expecting that. And although God may come to you in spectacular ways, I urge you not to seek that, because it may stop you from listening when God whispers!
What I want to assure you of is that God will whisper to you! Again I don’t mean information or instructions or insights in actual words. I suggest that God is whispering to you already in things you are doing. Some of the things you are doing are obviously ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ things; some of the things you are doing are simply your daily routine. God can whisper through both of these parts of your life.
You may be praying that God will help you to moderate your bad temper or some even more serious behaviour about which you are troubled. You may be discovering the need to change your opinions and to admit that your attitudes and behaviour are wrong. Rather than confront you in an unforgettable encounter, God may be using your human connections and experiences to show you what you ought to be and what you can be. I think that is hearing God’s whispers.
You may not know where the answers to these prayers come from as God ‘whispers’ to you through the network of your many activities. But it is as though God says to you, “I am whispering to you when go to worship services in this church where you hear the scriptures read and you listen to sermons preached, and when you meet after the service to drink tea and coffee and talk to your friends – and when you are caught up in the business of your daily life.”
When you hear God in this way, you are ready for the “proclaim from the housetops” part of this saying of Jesus. That simply means that when you learn to hear God’s whispers, you begin to live your life with greater confidence. You are learning to be alert for the presence of God in everything.
This listening to God’s whispers also applies to us as church. We are a church of individuals, but we are also part of the “Body of Christ”. We are called to do things together, and that calls for a community listening to the whispers of God. We will be discussing soon what changes we might make to this Sanctuary so that our worship is more meaningful; we are trying to discover how we may fulfil our mission in the development of the rest of our buildings as a church proclaiming the gospel for salvation, but also for justice. The answers to our questions are not often easy to find, but our thinking together and our praying and our listening to each other are so that we might hear the whisper of God.
Let us all give God our attention. If God should burst upon us with some answers, we will be listening, but I will be very surprised! But if God should help us listen carefully to each other and to what is happening around us, we might just learn that what we hear whispered we will more confidently accept and act upon.