October 23, 2017

Listening for God’s Word

Road to Emmaus, Doré

Journey into New Life, part three
Listening for God’s Word (Luke 24)

Our Gospel text for this Easter season is Luke 24:13-35, the story of the risen Lord’s encounter with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. In this passage Luke tells us what it means to walk with the living Lord Jesus Christ. It is more than a story of something that happened back then. It represents what newness of life is all about, how it works, and what it is like to experience the new creation. We are the disciples on the road, and Jesus comes to walk with us.

• • •

“Then he spoke to them…” (Luke 24:25).

The story of the road to Emmaus is the narrative equivalent of a psalm of lament. The individual lament psalm is the most common type in the Book of Psalms, and it appears elsewhere in narrative and poetic sections of the First Testament, particularly in the prophets. One psalm that illustrates the form of the individual lament is Psalm 13:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The basic elements are: (1) Complaint addressed to God, (2) Petition for God to act, (3) Confession of trust in God, (4) Vow of praise to God. What is significant to note for our purposes today is that there is always a significant turning point in the psalm of lament, when the petitioner moves from complaining and interceding to trusting and praising.

Hannah's Prayer, von Carolsfeld

Many scholars think that the lament form may reflect actual liturgical practice in the temple. An individual would come to a priest to pour out his heart about problems in his life. He would express his troubles, complaints, desires, and requests to his spiritual advisor. Then the petitioner would be quiet and it would be the priest’s turn to talk. He would offer an “oracle of salvation” based on God’s promises, assuring the lamenting person of God’s love and help. At that point, the individual would respond with expressions of thanksgiving and praise, and make vows in response.

An example of this is the account of Hannah in 1Samuel 1. Lamenting her childlessness, Hannah prayed at the holy place, crying out to God. Eli the priest saw her and spoke a word of promise. Hannah received the word and later fulfilled her vow and spoke words of praise.

We don’t always see this “oracle of salvation” in the psalms themselves, because it represented the words of the priest and not the petitioner. But one place it has been preserved is in Psalm 12:5. In verses 1-4, the psalmist cries out for help. Then in v. 5 comes this word, presumably spoken by the priest: ‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’ Then, in verses 6-7, the psalmist expresses his confidence in the Lord and his Word. It was the word of promise that turned it all around.

My point today is that this same kind of transformation is what happened to the disciples on the Emmaus Road. Let me put it in simple terms:

  • They met with Jesus.
  • They poured out their griefs and disappointments to him.
  • When they finished talking, Jesus began to talk, pointing them to himself in the Scriptures.
  • That led to a transformation in their hearts and minds.

The point at which things change is when we complete
our talking and the risen Lord starts talking
.

I’m not saying that what we say to God is unimportant. Heavens no! It is essential to the process that we meet with Jesus, pour out our hearts to him, tell him our troubles, complain to him, express our actual feelings and thoughts to him, lament his absence and inactivity, and name our demons and enemies. He wants us to talk to him — he tells us repeatedly to do so, and he invites and at times even pleads for us to seek him and speak our minds with honesty and transparency. A conversational relationship requires two parties who give and take, speak and listen, share and receive. Talking to God is an essential aspect of our relationship with him.

But there is a time to speak and a time to listen. Many of us think we’ve prayed when we are done talking to God. No. That’s just the first part. Then we start listening. Like the two on the Emmaus Road, we come to the end of our words and we turn our attention to Jesus’ words.

We listen, and we recall who he is and what he has said. We remember his mighty acts in the past. His promises come to our minds and we meditate on them. Most of all, we think about Jesus, in whom all of God’s promises to us reside. We relive our baptism and once more die and rise again with the risen Christ. We lift up our empty hands to our ascended King and receive afresh the gift of his Spirit, who brings forth the fruit of love from our lives. We remember the Gospel: that God has inaugurated his new creation in Jesus, that the old has passed away and all has become new, and we can rise and walk, forgiven and renewed, in newness of life with him. We receive again his word of assurance: that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39)

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad of heart. Jesus also reminded them that they had been slow of heart in grasping what God was doing. But by the end of the story in Luke 24, they gave testimony that on the journey they came to have burning hearts.

What made the difference? What allowed them to turn the corner?

It was when they completed their talking, Jesus started talking, and they listened.

Listen.

Comments

  1. Beautiful and rings of truth.

    Even in our human relationships, when we are hurting we need to be LISTENED TO, uninterupted and without anyone attempting to jump in and problem solve or rationalize or explain. We have a spleen to vent….

    Then, and ONLY then, can we work through the pain/anger/fear/grief and start to put it into some sort of perspective…..

    …and maybe see some glimmer of God’s hand, the proverbial silver lining, and a flickering ember of beauty and hope.

    When those I love have been afraid to get mad at God, I try to remind them that He is big enough to take it. Many of His saints had some choice words when they were on earth….

    • The world needs more CM & Patties. (Choice words indeed.) I sat under a rigid pastor who told me: Woe to those who strive with their maker… Loved this essay. Thank-You

  2. I am very grateful that God gives me permission to rant and rave – a privilege I have to say I use quite freely! However, when it comes to listening, well, that is HARD. Listening for me seems to require both time, and a peaceful heart, and it seems to be pretty rare that those two things coincide. On a day to day basis, I guess I’m just not very good at listening to God. I’m curious to know how other people listen to God, especially in the busyness of a normal day. If I’m not hearing God, is it just that I’m not listening properly? Or maybe I’m just listening for the wrong things.

    • “On a day to day basis, I guess I’m just not very good at listening to God.”

      Join the club.

      We all seem to have our own agendas. At least on Sunday, I try to tune my ears to His Word of law (to expose me) and to gospel, to give me new life again. And at least on Sunday the Lord who so wants me to hear His Word of promise and love and forgiveness, crams it down my throat in the bread and the wine.
      That’s one way to get me to pay attention, even when I don’t want to.

    • Time and a peaceful heart – I know what you mean. It can take a long time to get to that stage as well.
      I notice that when the children have been on holiday it seems to take me a good few days of solitude to get me back to that point. I love having them around it’s just in order to be quiet enough to hear God I need to be still in a way I can’t be amongst other people.

  3. “His promises come to our minds and we meditate on them. Most of all, we think about Jesus, in whom all of God’s promises to us reside.”

    Thanks for these words, Chaplain Mike. I love your entire post.

    Lizzie, you may be interested in reading the book Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating (a Catholic priest/monk/abbot) who wrote about how to pray in a way that we can begin to listen to, rest in, trust and love God. I found it helpful. I wish you well!

  4. What a beautiful piece. Thank you!

  5. Oh, that I may have eyes to see and ears to hear. Thanks for an oasis in the middle of a stormy week, CM.

  6. petrushka1611 says:

    You will probably never know how needed this was.

  7. Aren’t we all exposed to grief, suffering, pain, disappointment…on an almost daily basis? Yet we seldom hear such true words as are in this post from our pulpits. It’s almost as if we’re afraid of these things.

    Nick Baines (The Blogging Bishop) had some great thoughts on suffering yesterday, and how things don’t always turn out how we planned…

    “God’s grasp of us is more important than our grasp of God. So, relax and take the pressure off. A future with hope is not the same as a hope for a particular future. As Timothy Keller has written: “Christianity is not advice, but news.” Christians should never be embarrassed to announce the news that God has not abandoned us – learn to wait and be faithful, even if you will be long dead before the deliverance comes. And God’s not abandoning us must compel us to demonstrate this by us not abandoning anyone else – which goes well beyond the Christian community itself and into the wider world.

    I recall Jürgen Moltmann’s great lines: “God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.”

    Life is sometimes total rubbish and we cannot simply escape it. Indeed, being Christian might actually be the cause of it sometimes. But, we can learn to help each other by creating the space in which the suffering can be lived with and not rushed. And the church can learn to provide its people in worship with a vocabulary for those times of complaint, lament, argument, questioning and pleading… as well as for those times of resolution, praise and celebration. ”

    I like the idea that suffering should be “lived, and not rushed…” To me, that concept provides us the space we need to acknowledge that our pain is real, then to allow Jesus to speak into that pain…not necessarily to tell us everything will work out according to our plans…but to remind us that He is present.

    • “A future with hope is not the same as a hope for a particular future.”

      Very important distinction; I like the way that’s phrased.

      • CJ, I’ve only been reading Nick’s blog for a few weeks now, since his name emerged as a dark horse candidate for Archbishop of Canterbury. He puts most of his homilies up after he has delivered them. Very good stuff!

      • That makes two of us!

        Also, sometimes the only thing that I CAN do with suffering is “offer it up” and remember that I have a God who is quite well acquainted with suffering, pain, death, betrayl, and loss.

  8. A still, small voice…

  9. The Previous Dan says:

    “The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad of heart. Jesus also reminded them that they had been slow of heart in grasping what God was doing. But by the end of the story in Luke 24, they gave testimony that on the journey they came to have burning hearts.”

    Amen. Thanks.

  10. Very well put. I wish more people would read this, or get this message in some way. So many miss the point that a relationship requires interaction, and that it is no different when it comes to Christ. Conversations with God can be amazing. We just have to make sure that we aren’t the only ones talking.