|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
February 1, 2009
had been an exhausting day, the kind that settles upon your shoulders like
a heavy chain driving you even further into the ground of your own despair.
The tired man had spent his day haggling with bureaucrats and their lesser
gatekeepers who seemed so intent on protecting policies and procedures that
they had lost their memory of what it is to be human. He was trying to find
some help for a young mother who was facing eviction – a series of
unfortunate events had left her unable to eke enough money out of her too
meager paycheck to pay the rent, but she was one of those unfortunates who
manages to find every crack in the system and fall hopelessly into it leaving
him few avenues to explore for her assistance. All day he stubbornly worked
the phones and after many hours with little to show for his efforts, the
man questioned his own stubbornness. Why couldn’t he just shrug his
shoulders like so many others had and give the woman up as a lost cause?
But then, into the midst of that weary moment, he heard the voice of Christ
saying, "Let me tell you the story of the persistent widow and how
she harassed the authorities into providing justice." The words cut
through his fatigue like hot steel and his weariness fled. The man picked
up the phone once again determined to persist in his own pursuit of justice.
She gripped the blanket tightly with worry, and then, in the quiet of the night she heard the whisper of Christ's voice saying, “I am with you. Do not let your heart be troubled, do not be afraid. My peace I give to you." The feverish fear left her and she felt ready to face the night and another day.
In this short passage in Luke, we see the many faces of the power of Christ's word: he speaks in the synagogue and his teaching strikes the listeners as important and insightful. With a word, he drives out the demons that alienate us from one another, and the sound of his voice has the ability to heal the sick-hearted, the broken, and the lost. 2000 years after he walked the streets of Capernaum, his words still have power and when we allow him to speak to us today, they can instill our lives with meaning, challenge society's demons, and comfort us in our darkest places.
But how does Christ speak to us? This is a question that comes up time and again in church discussion groups, and its clear that there is no one right answer for all people. Some people experience Christ’s voice as a gut feeling that nags at them to make a certain choice or pursue a particular cause. I have heard people describe it as, “I just couldn’t ignore this feeling that God wanted me to do something about this issue,” or “I considered other choices but no matter how hard I tried to make them fit, none of them felt as right as this one.” Some people sense Christ’s word as a sudden unexplainable feeling of comfort that steals over their uneasiness to bring a sense of calm. Some even talk about Christ’s voice as a pestering guilt that drives them to make changes in their lives that they resisted at first but finally recognize as necessary to their wholeness.
Other people experience the voice of Christ speaking to them in more pragmatic but no less compelling ways. They mull over possibilities with friends; they listen to the preaching of the church; they study scripture and finally after careful consideration, they are able to decide on the path that they believe Christ is calling them to. People who trust gut feelings are often frustrated by the careful thinkers feeling that they are too deliberative in their approach to faith while the careful thinkers are often mystified by those who talk about gut feelings, wondering how people can make important decisions based on no more than an abstract tug at one’s gut. I have come to the conclusion, however, that the differences between the thinkers and the feelers, the mystics and the pragmatists, are a mere matter of personality, no different than those who choose a good book because they like the look of a cover versus those who choose their books on the basis of the NY Times Book Review.
But whether we listen for the voice of Christ with our guts or with our brain, we all face the same dilemma; namely that we want to insure that the voice we are hearing is truly the voice of Christ and not simply our own desires dressed up in a holy pretense. And this is the role of the church. Here in the church, we listen to the scriptures, we talk over matters of faith, we learn the traditions of 2000 years of people struggling to grasp the will of God; here we work to plant the teachings of Christ so deeply within ourselves that even if our own voice speaks, it will speak automatically and even unconsciously with the tones of Christ.
I like this automatic response to what I as a musician call “finger memory.” When you first begin to learn a piece of music on an instrument, you have to think through the finger placements and practice over and over again until your fingers are able to move properly through a difficult passage. Anyone who has played an instrument knows that strange feeling of realizing that with enough repetition, the memory of how to play the piece has moved from your brain to your hands. In other words, though your eyes may still need to look at the score for memory cues, it is your fingers that are actually doing the remembering, so much so that if you try to insert your brain back into the process and think about what you are doing, your fingers will inevitably trip all over themselves -- or really, they trip all over your brain which has suddenly gotten in the way. I have had the odd experience of getting out a guitar piece that I haven't played in years and while I am struggling to read the forgotten piece, my fingers will suddenly fly through a couple of measures without any help from my brain. My fingers recover a memory that my brain has long sense lost.
I believe that, in the same way, we can incorporate the authority of Christ's voice over our lives by our commitment to the study of scripture, the preaching of the church, and to discussion with the fellowship of the faithful so that Christ’s words sink so deeply into our hearts, our minds, and our hands that we come to follow his voice without even being conscious of hearing it.