Sermon Preached May 1, 2016
Texts: Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29
Prince, “When Doves Cry” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_tonrrxvYA
Since his death on April 21, I have been asked if I was going to do something with Prince in worship. So there it is, the first part of Prince’s hit song, “When Doves Cry.” If you know Prince, it is one of his recognizable songs. If you were unfamiliar with Prince, now you have heard his music. Some of you may still be wondering what all the fuss is about.
There has been, and continues to be a lot of conversation about Prince even ten days since his death. The cover of the most recent issue of The New Yorker is purple, with rain drops falling – “purple rain” after the Prince song and movie. Just a few days ago, on KDAL morning radio, Pat Cadigan and Pat Kelly were still talking about Prince. Yes, Pat Cadigan. Those of us long-time Duluthians know the voice of Pat Cadigan. He has been on KDAL radio since the 1960s. I think he had a show called “I’ve Got Your Number” – am I remembering that correctly. While his voice carries his age, you can still recognize it. So Pat Cadigan, who also does a Saturday morning polka music show on KDAL was talking about Prince with Pat Kelly. You can imagine Pat Kelly talking about Prince, but Pat Cadigan? Anyway, Pat Kelly was telling Pat Cadigan that some school teacher had corrected Prince’s song. Doves don’t cry.
Voices, cries. Will God’s voice ever be as familiar as those voices from the radio that some of us still carry around in our heads? What might it mean to even think about God speaking?
Our Scripture readings for this morning are about God “speaking.” Paul is traveling. The Spirit of Jesus is leading them. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
In John, Jesus is speaking final words to his disciples, and in John, these words take up over three chapters. He makes a promise to the disciples. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will remind you of all that I have said to you. He continues with some tender, touching and beautiful words. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.
These texts seem to say to us that God speaks, that the Spirit moves, and that we can “hear” and “sense” this “voice” of God and respond. I am not sure about your experience, but while I do trust that God speaks and that the Spirit moves, it is a bit like listening for the cry of doves – a little difficult, a little mysterious. When I feel as if God is speaking, it is not a lion’s roar or a fog horn or a train whistle, but a winsome whisper. It is not a loud voice, but a gentle touch.
Yet I think more can be said about listening for the voice of God in our lives, about what that can mean, and about what it means to try and follow that voice, that movement of the Spirit in our lives. I think a great deal more could be said, but I will say only a little.
When we look again at the passage in Acts, there are a couple of wonderful ideas about what it may mean to listen for the voice of God and respond. The story goes on after Paul and his companions get to Macedonia. They go to Philipi, a city name named after Alexander the Great’s father Philip who was king of Macedonia, where they remained for a few days. On the Sabbath day they go to the river, supposing there will be a prayer gathering there. They found a gathering of women and shared with them. One, in particular, responded to their message, Lydia.
Isn’t it wonderfully ironic that the person who appeared in a dream to Paul was a man, but when they got to Macedonia, women were who they met, and it is a woman who is singled out for special mention? If we are to follow the leading of the Spirit in our lives, and in our life together, sometimes we need to just take the next step forward, and then be open to surprise.
The story ends with Paul and his companions staying with Lydia. When she and her household were baptized she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. Here it is as if the voice of Lydia becomes something of the voice of the Spirit. We should not presume that God’s Spirit speaks to us only in the inner sense of our heart. Sometimes the voice of God comes to us in the voice of others. John Wesley believed that Christian conversation, Christian conferencing, could be a means of grace, that is, a way in which we might know God more deeply. In reflecting on conversation as a means of grace, Wesley offered these reflections and questions: Are we convinced how important and how difficult it is to order our conversation right? Is it always in grace? Seasoned with salt? Meet to minister grace to the hearers? The United Methodist General Conference meeting in Portland in a little over a week will be spending some time reflecting on how our gathering can be this kind of Christian conferencing. I trust that as we converse with each other we can sometimes be the grace of God for another, the voice of God in each other’s lives.
However we think we hear or sense the voice of God, the movement of the Spirit, it is important that we remember that not every feeling or inkling or “sense” is necessarily the Spirit. The voice of God, the Spirit of God always leads in certain directions. Jesus said it well in John, the Spirit reminds us. The Spirit points us in the direction of deeper relationship with Jesus, and deeper living into Jesus’ values – love (Jesus links loving with his way in John), inclusion (again, it is women who were important in Paul’s ministry in Philippi), healing (peace Jesus gives), reconciliation, repair.
I want to wrap up this morning with a poem, not everyone’s favorite way to wrap up a sermon, but this poem speaks so well about trying to tune into the voice of God. It is called “Flickering Mind” and the poet is Denise Levertov.
Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away—and back,
I have long since uttered your name
I elude your presence.
to think about you, and my mind
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I who am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?
Our minds flicker, but we keep listening and hearing and praying for the courage to follow Jesus’ way of love, inclusion, healing, reconciliation and repair. May we genuinely hear the dove cry of the Spirit and courageously take flight in the Jesus way. Amen.