Updated: Jan 30, 2021
We have reached the fifth Sunday of the Lenten period. We are now 35-plus days towards 40 days of self-sacrifice, with next Sunday being Palm Sunday, followed by Holy Week, then Easter Sunday.
That is a Church-recognized calendar, which does not maintain a chronological connection to historic events. Jesus spent his 40-days in the wilderness – what the Church calls Lent – prior to beginning his 3-year ministry.
The Lent of Jesus signaled his being filled with the Holy Spirit while in the Jordan River with John the Baptizer, as he was then immediately called to the wilderness to be tested.
Regardless of what is upcoming on the Church’s calendar, we need to stay strong and finish this period of testing.
As long as we have chosen a significant sacrifice as a test of our metal, the eyes of God, the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit within will keep us strong.
Now, I know the seminaries of America teach young priests to go out into the Christian world with a funny anecdote, a warm and fuzzy story, and a message of unity.
Above all – they teach – “DO NOT REREAD THE READINGS – as a sermon!”
For the past four weeks, on those past Sundays, the message contained in the lessons has been, “Same song, different verse.”
Today, there is more of the “Same ole same ole.”
I have come to the conclusion that EVERY Sunday the same sermon can be preached, without any readings being chosen as the excuse.
That message asks the parishioners, “Are you filled with the Holy Spirit advocated by Christ?”
If you can HONESTLY respond, “Yes,” then the next question is, “What have you done today … yesterday … and every day since you were first filled with the Holy Spirit … to get others to likewise be filled with the Holy Spirit?”
If you have to HONESTLY answer, “No,” to the question of being filled with the Holy Spirit advocated by Christ, the follow-up questions are then, “Why not?” and “When will you be?”
The reason the seminaries of America highly recommend a young priest NOT preach that sermon is:
A. They, themselves are NOT filled with the Holy Spirit.
B. After two weeks of preaching the same sermon they would then have no one in the pews left to hear it again … much less have anyone left to drop a check into the offering plate.
That is the very sad, but most HONEST truth.
It is why Christianity is dying. It is why the true meaning of Lent is so important to grasp.
“My term as CEO will be brief … not because I plan on dying, but because I plan on going back to doing the things that bring ME pleasure.” [a paraphrase]
Christianity is not about buildings – as if a church were defined as a clubhouse where only paying members could come to get exclusive use. It also is not where members, through association with a church within a community, get recognition as having a holy club membership (regardless of the denomination).
A “Church” (as a building or institution) is not a ticket to Heaven.
Christianity is ALL about people being filled with the Holy Spirit, advocated by Jesus Christ, whose commitment to God and Christ has been tested, allowing them to become representative of those who have since gone into ministry, bringing others to become the next in line to “FOLLOW CHRIST.”
So, after I quickly review the lessons read today, I will give you my anecdote, warm and fuzzy story, and message of unity.
In the prophecy of Jeremiah, we hear the voice of God tell him about how the future will require one of God’s children to have God within (not external), with the law written on that person’s heart.
The VOICE of God said that (if I interpret that correctly), meaning a priest of God MUST be filled with the Holy Spirit, for those conditions to be met.
In Psalm 51, David sang, “I have been wicked from my birth,” and David spoke for ALL human beings born of the flesh, born of this material world.
By being human and mortal, we are pre-destined to sin.
David then begged the LORD, “Purge me, wash me. Make me hear the joy of gladness.”
What does that mean?
David then explained, “Create in me a clean heart. Renew a RIGHT SPIRIT WITHIN me … and take not your holy Spirit from me.”
Again, if I am correct in interpreting that song of David, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to sing about others realizing they need to hear the voice of God calling them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Can you hear God?
David alluded to the voice of God by writing, “And so you [God] are justified when you speak and are upright in your judgment.”
From that song of praise, we then hear Paul, as he wrote to the Hebrew-speaking people of Rome – the Jews of Rome – remembering what God had said about Jesus:
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” and “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In the reading from the Gospel of John, we hear how God spoke to those surrounding Jesus, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
God’s voice was heard by Jesus, but not everyone, as “some of the crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.” We then read how, “Others said, “An angel has spoken to [Jesus].”
The implication is that few – maybe only John and Jesus – heard that voice of God clearly, even though some heard something.
Jesus said, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
To me (if I am correctly interpreting that), hearing the voice of God is of personal importance, and not something that all people can hear, when one does hear.
It requires a sense of dedication to not hear thunder, and instead clearly realize how God speaking to YOU … individually … personally.
Now for my anecdote.
While going to a large Episcopal church in the capitol city of this state, a high-ranking member of that church, a member who dedicated both his time and his wealth to the church (perhaps it is only coincidence, but this man is a lawyer … like were the Pharisees), he asked a study group he led, “What does the voice of God sound like?”
He immediately followed that question with the remark, “I have never heard it.”
He made that statement because so often in the books of the Holy Bible one reads, “God said.” God said this and God said that, and God spoke, and God told this prophet and that prophet where to go and what to do.
He implied that this auditory experience happened much more in the Old Testament, and much less once Jesus came to town.
The implication of this well-to-do Episcopalian was, “IF GOD SPEAKS, then why haven’t I heard his voice, since I put so much effort into this religion stuff?”
I told this man, “I imagine God’s voice sounds a lot like your voice.”
“Wait a minute … you’re not the god of Oz!”
I said that because when one hears the voice of God, those surrounding one might not hear anything at all … or they might think someone’s stomach rumbled … maybe they will hear thunder outside.
I told that important lawyer … who had a saved spot in one particular pew in the large church’s nave … what I told him because I have heard the voice of God.
It sounded like my voice, I imagine, if I made my voice deeper, as if acting like I was God speaking.
I did not … at the time … know for sure it was God speaking; but I did know a voice of importance was audibly heard (to me … and I was the only one present).
I was 22 at the time. I was in trouble, based on the direction my life was heading.
I had reached one of those forks in the road, where one has to choose, “Do I go this way or that way?”
Without getting into the specifics of that troubled life, I will say that I not only heard the voice of God, but I also heard the voice of Satan.
Those were two separate and different voices … again, both voices sounded like I imagine I would sound, if I was asked to recreate a conversation between God and Satan.
It was a discussion between those two, with me as if I were a casual bystander, although I was the topic of their discussion. Neither addressed me. My thoughts were meaningless at that time.
Satan was claiming my soul, based on the foolishness of my young mind and the desires of the flesh that came from my young mind, which had led me to that fork in the road of my life.
God was telling Satan my soul was not his to take. Regardless of what bargains Satan thought he had with me, for my soul, God was not allowing that to happen. God said He had plans for me and I was born to serve Him.
Now, as this conversation was going on, it sounded to me as if it were taking place outside my body, right above my head, slightly in front of me.
I kept looking up to see who was speaking; and I imagined I saw two faces, one to my right – God – and one to my left – Satan. The imagery was real to me, although not solidly clear.
As I was trying to see these faces above and before me, looking left and then looking right, keeping up with who was speaking … I held a pad of paper in my lap, with a pen in my hand.
As the conversation went on, I feverishly wrote everything down … without looking at the paper, except to flip to a new page.
When the conversation was over … with me knowing full well that I was protected by God … BUT HAVING TO MAKE IMMEDIATE CHANGES IN MY LIFE… I got an envelope, folded the papers I had written on, and without looking at what I wrote, I sealed those papers in that envelope and stored that with other things I had written … my collection of poems and short stories of my youth.
Years later, I found out that there was a name for what happened to me that night. It is called an “Automatic Writing Experience,” and many other people have had them, without any of them getting together to make up a story about writing things, without looking at the pad of paper, as if someone could claim being special for saying, “That happened to me!”
Like I said, I was 22 when that happened. I immediately made changes … BUT for as much as I knew God was watching over me … because I came to the conclusion I heard the voice of God arguing over my soul … I did not become filled with the Holy Spirit.
After that experience, I lived my life as I wanted to live my life, but that life was fairly bland, nothing special, and a quite ordinary life. Despite all the specific differences that separate all of us here today, the life I lived, after taking the right path following that night hearing the voice of God, has been just like yours.
We are no different, in the sense that we are born humans.
As David pointed out, we are all inherently “wicked from birth,” born of flesh that is mortal, which means we live to die. That is, as we have read Paul say, “death in the flesh.”
Death in the flesh means reincarnation, regardless of how little you may or may not want to hear that word uttered in a Christian church.
Seminaries do not send out young priests to tell congregations that simply going to church will not get anyone in Heaven. Christian organizations do not embrace the concept of “failure means repeating a grade,” where death means being reborn again as death in the flesh.
However, that message is repeated often in the books of the Holy Bible.
Ask yourself, “If God was telling Jeremiah, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah, which will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, who broke that covenant,” then what happened to all those law-breaking sinners of the original covenant?”
Did they all go to Hell and stay there until Jesus was crucified and died in the flesh for three days … when he descended?
No, I say. Those souls who refused to serve the LORD as His priests … those sinners who are forbidden from Heaven … have been recycled … over and over … just as the seasons repeat, and just as perennial plants die and are again born anew.
As is nature, so is God’s love of mankind.
So it was when I was 22. I was given another chance, which would not change until I was 47. That was when I began hearing the voice of God inside my mind … not outside.
I had then reached another Y in the road.
Paul wrote, “In the days of the flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
When I was almost 48, the fork in the road had forced me to choose between maintaining the status quo … simply staying out of trouble, while trying to get an edge up on the rest of the world (as much as I could) … or becoming a priest for God.
I lived for quite some time offering up prayers and supplications, with a loud voice and tears to God, begging Him to let me keep what I had worked 25 years to gain.
“PLEASE, GOD, DON’T LET ME BE PENNILESS!“ I prayed, with tears running down my face.
“I promise to serve you,” I begged like a child, “if you just let me keep this … and this … and that … and certainly a lot more of the THINGS I have earned.”
That is not the way it works. Parents may understand how the Father can turn a deaf ear to childish wants … and only hear the true needs.
In the Gospel of John, in the chapter prior to the one read today, before Jesus returned to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead, we read what is called the shortest verse in the whole Bible.
We read, “He wept,” where “he” was Jesus.
We see that as a powerful statement about the emotions of Jesus, but we miss the point on how many were his tears and supplications before God at Gethsemane. We miss out on how Jesus survived 40 days in the wilderness, able to get Satan out of his way, by (as Paul wrote), “offering up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”
Jesus wept because being a saint, when everyone else is not, is not only lonely, but it is known to come full of persecution and spite.
Jesus was serious about pleasing God. Jesus was emotional about serving his Father. Jesus would go into places of solitude to let his tears flow and to pray for the strength and courage that it takes maintaining the Holy Spirit sent by God.
In my personal story, I foresaw a life of rejection, if I chose to be a priest for God, without any pedigree, without any diplomas, without any paycheck … and without all the THINGS I could have surrounded myself with, in order to attract the support of others … those others who love to sin, more than they love to serve the LORD.
Their attitude is like the Jews who crucified Jesus: “Your sermons make us look bad. Your sermons spread guilt onto well-to-do people, who spend more money on their churches than you make in a year. Your sermons are your way of making you seem better than the rest of us.”
Paul said, “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed” to that position of authority.
Those who are born into high priest positions, which come with pedigree, diplomas, and wealth … like the man who asked, “What does God’s voice sound like?” They are not true servants of the LORD because they lack that appointment, which only comes from the voice of God. They don’t hear that voice, so they appoint themselves. They then serve self.
Take all you want, of whatever you like.
It is so much easier to serve others what they want to be served … what they want to hear … so that one’s self is soothed by the coos of others saying, “Beautiful words. They made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Thank you.”
Jesus was not sent by God to be a paid figurehead, surrounded with a mansion in a subdivision with a security gate, or a palace with Swiss guards holding spears.
Jesus was not sent to be someone no normal people could ever approach, just to ask a question of, such as, “How do we get to Heaven?”
If you have never heard the voice of God, then you have no answers to give to anyone … no answers that come from God.
Pretenders can always make something up … but pretenders are always exposed … in the end.
Jesus was born of the flesh, as Paul wrote, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Jesus was born as are all humans, as “death in the flesh,” but he died of that flesh when God blessed him with the Holy Spirit, beginning his ministry.
Jesus’ Lent was about the death of that flesh that dies and becomes dust again. Jesus’ Lent was about his rebirth, filled with the Spirit. Jesus heard God say, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
It will be glorified again through anyone who chooses to suffer through the rejection that comes from those who are too weak to serve God properly. It will be glorified by those who are willing to pray and cry out loud for God’s help.
As Lent comes to a close, if you have only been pretending to serve God, thinking you would prefer to be sitting before someone with the proper credentials to preach warm and fuzzy sermons, with a call to be unified with buildings and organizations, representing the blind leading the blind, with unity coming through seeking safety in numbers, then think of today’s sermon as your fork in the road.
The new Alb of the Warm and Fuzzy.
Or, as my fork in your side.
See how God gives second chances. There is still time, if you actually make immediate changes.
Jesus was a grain of wheat that fell to the earth, died and bore fruit. That fruit is only found in those who hear the voice of God, and who serve God as His priests.
Thus, Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
Listen … can you hear it?
I hear God is calling to YOU, saying “Be Jesus. Serve me like my Son.”