Scripture: Romans 11:5-13
Sermon: A Faint, but Recognizable Voice by Pastor Todd Buurstra
How do you know that God is really speaking to us? I mean is this really God’s Word, or is it just Man’s Word? Have you ever had a supernatural experience that confirmed God’s word in your life? Like a Japanese teacher friend at the school Natsuko and I taught at 30 years ago, Isobe sensei, who was dying of tuberculosis shortly after the war. There was no food, so both of Natsuko’s uncles died of TB also. So there lay Mr. Isobe, a war survivor in his 20s, on his deathbed when he hallucinated, or did he? He said that he saw a shining cross enter his room and come closer and closer and closer. God spoke to him through that cross, and he got better.
I’ve never had an experience like that, have you? If we haven’t, is there any other evidence of God? Bishop and NT scholar, N. T. Wright in his book, Simply Christian, writes about a voice that everyone hears. I’ll call it a faint, but recognizable voice. It’s sort of like hearing something when you’re alone in one room that sort of sounds like a familiar voice. So you go into the next room, or downstairs, and you ask, Did you call me? Tom Wright says that everyone hears God’s voice in four areas of life: justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty.
Isn’t God’s faint but recognizable voice what Paul is talking about in Romans? In chapter 11 Paul is wrestling with a problem: how could the Jews who have the Torah not recognize God’s voice in Jesus, their Messiah? Paul says they missed Jesus because they were focused on earning God’s love through obeying the law, rather than on God’s free, unconditional love in Jesus. The way he says it is, Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend to heaven to bring Christ down?’ Or ‘Who will descend into the abyss to raise Christ from the dead?’ [In other words, you don’t have to work that hard to save yourself!] But what does it say?
‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.’”
The word is near you—God’s faint, but recognizable voice—on your lips and in your heart.
So let’s look at each of Bishop Wright’s areas of life where we hear God’s nearby word. First, justice. Why is it that one of the first words kids learn is fair?—usually in the context of, It’s not! God has wired us for justice. Indeed, Dr. Johnson says the goal of justice is something every human in every culture longs for: to be happy at home. I resonate with a justice like that!
But you might point out, Yes, but if that’s so then why hasn’t the church made much progress towards justice? In fact, hasn’t the church perpetrated injustice like racism during Jim Crow, etc.? Yes, that is true. The church has failed this calling many times. But don’t forget it has also answered this calling in William Wilberforce by ending English slavery, in Harriet Tubman by ending American slavery, in Martin Luther King by ending modern Jim Crow, in Bishop Desmond Tutu by ending South African apartheid! Justice rolls down like a mighty…
Why do all hear this voice? Because God is a God of justice. And since humankind is made in God’s image, we recognize the voice in the cry for justice. The word is near you…
Then how does the faint, but recognizable voice call us in spirituality? Wright exposes how secular society has tried to cement over the underground springs of spirituality. He writes:
September 11, 2001 serves as a reminder of what happens when you try to organize a world on the assumption that religion and spirituality are merely private matters, and that what really matters is economics and politics… [But wait, that’s a sick spirituality! He goes on,] People who have been starved of water for a long time will drink anything, even if it is polluted (pp. 20, 25).
But you comment, The varied spiritualities—Buddhist, Wicca, Christianity—are just everyone’s own personal truth. While none of us is God, so all have a limited view of truth, there is still a God out there, an objective God of truth. On that basis we condemn the terrorist’s God of hate because the truth is: God is love! We know that deep down for The word is near…
Next, how does God’s faint, but recognizable voice call us in relationships? In the Western world we have shrunk intimate relationships down to just a spouse and a few others, whereas Africans live and love everyone in their village! And we all know, as Wright writes,
Marriages apparently made in heaven sometimes end not far from hell (p. 29).
Just think of the whole trend towards casual sex vs. committed sex. We know deep down that when we get too eager for intimacy, it usually blows up in our face. Why? Because God is a God of love. God has made us for real love. Indeed, the word is near you, on your lips and…
The last faint, but recognizable voice is beauty. You hear this voice when you stand in applause at a concert, or turn for a double take at a handsome guy or beautiful girl, or stand in awe at the Grand Canyon, or marvel at ornate woodwork. And yet, as Oscar Wilde said about the cigarette, this beauty is exquisite but unsatisfying, partly because it fades. Wright writes:
Helen of Troy may have had a face that…launched a thousand ships,
but most of us now wouldn’t rate her as worth a single rowboat (p. 41)!
Why? Because God is a God of glory. Isaiah pens that the whole earth is full of God’s glory! And made in the image of God, we are wired to worship glorious beauty. The word is…
How do you know that God is really speaking? As today’s version of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Simply Christian describes four areas where we hear God’s faint, but recog-nizable voice: justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty.Accept that the word is near…