How do you respond to the unusual, the new, wacky, the intellectually challenging new situations, ideas?
Do you revel in what is different, embrace it because it's novel, are you suspicious because of it's source, or antagonistic because it challenges long held beliefs and ultimately your security?
It seems that almost every week someone comes up with new 'research' telling us for instance, that the only way to stay healthy is now to eat 10 a day instead of 5, go on a yo-yo type of diet which will kick start immunity against diabetes, avoid butter, eat butter...............and so on. I'm sure you can add to the list!
Does all this make us more cynical? Does it push us towards the safe, well trodden, middle road of 'moderation in all things'? Do we close our ears or do we embrace it reasoning that the 'experts' must know something?
Often we just don't feel qualified enough to sift through the facts, and so the line of least resistance can be to dismiss it all as newfangled nonsense.
Move away from the illustration of food and diet. Consider fresh thinking, often we don't listen properly, we only pick up half of what is being proposed and because we haven't taken in the whole scenario, our reaction can be out of proportion with what is actually being suggested. We hear the words, but attach our own interpretation to them.
When Jimmy Carter was president of the USA, he visited Japan, and addressed a large delegation, speaking through an interpreter. He thought he would break the ice by beginning with a funny story. After he had given the punch line he waited for the interpreter to translate, and was surprised at how quickly he relayed the story. Immediately it was followed by an explosion of loud laughter and clapping, with delegates practically falling off their seats.
I knew it was a good story, he thought to himself, but not that good!
Afterwards he asked the interpreter how he had managed to relate the story so suscinctly.
That was easy came the reply, I just said, President Carter has told a funny story, laugh now, loudly!
We need to be clear about what we hear or experience before jumping to conclusions. Especially so in our spiritual life.
Peter, James and John were certainly confronted by something so unusual and different, not least to say, frightening and mysterious. We wouldn't blame them if they'd turned tail and galloped off the mountain! It wasn't merely new teaching, but a whole new experience, which would have rocked anyone to the core-a voice from heaven, appearance of people long dead, scary changes in Jesus' appearance and peculiar weather. Not the kind of thing your average church-goer expects to encounter!
In our weekly Home group, we've been looking at what Prophesy is all about. First we needed to debunk commonly held notion that it was confined to the OT, to people like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that God only spoke to the super spiritual like them, or that it was about telling the future or predicting some catastrophic disaster.
But as we delved into the NT accounts which mentioned prophesy, we found that it was more widespread within the early Church than we'd expected. Normal, even. Part of the presumed everyday life of a believing community.
And following logically, that it should be, like the other gifts of the Spirit, part of our everyday Christian life.
Why? Because at Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled believers with gifts so that the Church could be built up and the Kingdom of God that Jesus had ushered in would spread throughout the world.
We learned that prophesy was more often than not, about the small issues, everyday events; the things that many might put down to coincidence. We are learning, through our time together, and also through the Step-Up course, that we need to listen carefully and to expect God to speak. Now does that sound way-out, wacky? Have you already decided not to listen to anything more, because the whole idea of God speaking to you sounds impossible?
Let me share an example that puts the idea of hearing from God into a more understandable context.
One of the members of the Home Group had felt for a while that she needed to share something with the PCC, but was unsure whether it was right or not. You know, that shall I, shan't I debate with oneself when we're not sure about a course of action? It's so easy to think something like that is your own idea. But that same evening, not knowing any of this, another person in the group, felt they needed to say that we should be brave enough to speak out if we felt it was God speaking to us, and even if we'd got things wrong, no real harm would ensue. That the words, once spoken, if not actually for any specific individual would just 'roll into the centre of the floor, curl up and die', so to speak!
The Holy Spirit was using the gift of prophesy to affirm another's reception of God's voice, which in turn would benefit a wider group. You see how it works? Not big, life-changing disclosures, but gentle nudges which benefit the wider fellowship.
We're all in this together, all subject to one another's wisdom and discernment. In order for the gift of prophesy to become normal and commonplace, we need to share those nudges with one another. To talk them through, discuss whether they might be from God, or just our own imagination.
I wonder if that was why Peter, James and John were all present on the mountain? If it had only been one of them, how easy it would have been to dismiss the experience as personal imagination, to explain it away, as we so often do in retrospect. But the 3 together were an insurance against that, and later on in his letters, Peter was able to look back and be strengthened by that powerful outpouring of God's glory that he and the other two had experienced.
How much more the Church of today needs to revisit that supernatural realm that cannot be explained but that points to the one who is above and beyond all we can imagine or understand. Has our church life together become too worldly? Too cosy club-like? Too lacking in any life changing spiritual dimension?
I'm not suggesting that we should seek such experiences as the disciples had for the sake of proof, for if you've noticed it was only the 3 inner-circle disciples who were party to this phenomenem. Signs and wonders must always take second place to the gospel, it is their creator we follow, not the created. They are a gracious manifestation of God's presence and are not an end to a means.
When Peter heard God speak, what did he say?
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.
And was Peter listening? What did Peter do?
He wanted to build three shelters, reminiscent of the Tent of Meeting in the OT where the people were to bring burnt offerings and God would meet with them and speak to them. He was assuming that God was always going to act as he had done in the past. Peter knew his OT, but God didn't want another OT Tent of Meeting. He was doing new things. He wasn't wanting a repeat of the past, he wanted to move the disciples on to new things, new revelation, new ways of being Church.
But Peter was running ahead, of God, intent on 'doing' instead of 'being'. He didn't take time to listen before he acted. And so he got things wrong.
He didn't take time to find out what God really wanted.
Does that rings bells with us? It does with me. One of the hardest things is to do nothing until God's voice becomes clear. What is he saying in our present situations? In our local church/chapel? In the wider diocese/circuit? In our personal journey with him?
Are we taking enough time to really, really listen?
Don't be distracted- remember;
Almighty God said Listen to my beloved Son.
What did Peter do? He tried to build a tent.
Does anything change?!