“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1 NRSV)
Red Phone Skit – LInk
There is No Red Phone
If we’re going to talk about what it means to listen to God’s Spirit, then I think we need to address this idea of the “red phone.”
If you’ve spent anytime thinking about faith and what it means to listen to God then surely you’ve wished at least once for God to write something on a billboard or post a sign in your yard? Am I right?
How many of you have wished just once that God would just to tell you clearly and explicitly what to do.
To me that’s what we might call “the red phone syndrome.”
Some of you probably remember that when Sheri Hendrix shared her story with us last year she talked about a church she went to where there was a red phone at the pulpit and everyone once in a while it would ring and the pastor would answer it. Of course they never said who was on the other line, but that is apparently less important.
This red phone syndrome is all over over the place…
- It comes in the form of quick fix answers
- It comes in the form of formulaic spirituality
- It comes in the form of gimmicks that promise fulfillment for you life in 4 easy installments of $19 each (be sure to make those checks out too…).
- It comes in the form of wanting to be absolutely certain that you’re absolutely certain about something that we cannot be absolutely certain about.
The Red phone syndrome is sensational and it is momentary. We want it big and we want it right now. (Another catch is you’re beholden to the person who has the phone).
To put this more positively this red phone syndrome symbolizes a deep desire within our culture to make a connection to God, to know something true for ourselves, and to have that sense of security that we are okay, that we’re accepted, that we’re on the right track.
These desires are perfectly acceptable, it’s just that the way we go about trying to fulfill them isn’t always very helpful.
I don’t really think I need to tell you there is no red phone. But just in case – there isn’t. You don’t get a special phone as a follower of Jesus. You don’t get a special line upgrade if you become a member of Camas Friends Church. Nor do you get one if you are an elder, a clerk, and especially not if you are a pastor.
“Faith enlightens the path behind you, but as a rule, in front of you it is still dark.” -Rohr
But this doesn’t mean that we can never be comforted or never have a sense of affirmation from God. It just looks and feels completely different from the red phone.
The University of the Faithful
Real, authentic spirituality, deep and lasting faith that we see being handed down to us from the Quaker tradition is not one that is sensational and momentary, but one that is long and drawn out.
Some might even say it is, in a manner of speaking, boring.
That is because, in the words of James Alison, worship is a:
“Long-term education in becoming un-excited since only that will enable us to dwell in a quiet bliss which doesn’t abstract from our present or our surrounding or our neighbor, but which increases our attention, our presence, and our appreciation for what is around us” (46).
Wishing we had a red phone every time we came up against a difficult question, a conflict in a relationship, or a challenge in our community reflects our own lack of patience and unwillingness to apply ourselves to this long-term education.
To listen to God is apply ourselves to the hard work of stepping into the stream of living faith, where we hold onto those who’ve gone before us, and we reach out into the unknown.
To listen to God is become students in what we might call “the Holy Spirit’s university of the faithful” that the book of Hebrews here talks about. In the passage we read this morning we are given wonderful glimpse of people who were just like you and I, people who desired to be in the know, people who surely wanted a clear sign, but who “died without having received the promises.” And yet we now call them “the great cloud of witnesses.”
Just listen to the cast of characters who are listed:
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Esau, Joseph, Moses, “the people,” “the walls of Jericho,” Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. There’s “women who received their dead by resurrection,” there’s those who were tortured, those who suffered mockings, floggings, chains, and imprisonment. There are those who were stoned to death, sawn in two, those who fell by the sword, those who had to hideout in sheepskins and goatskins, and plenty more who experienced destitution. Plenty of faithful people have been homeless, poor, people have lived in caves because they were on the run, and lived in caves because they had no work.
And yet all these faithful people submitted themselves to the ongoing practice of listening and being open to God. And in the process they entered into this university of the faithful.
They learned that there are no quick fixes, only the long drawn-out education of what it means to be the people of God on a journey together.
They were like you. They had no red phone. They did not live perfect lives. And as the author says, their lives didn’t end with “happy endings.” Most of these folks were dirt poor. Some of them were outcasts, some were refugees, they were all “aliens and sojourners on earth.”
They were not any modern measurement successful, yet they applied themselves to this long-term education and took the risks that Jesus calls us to in faith.
These ancient friends teach us that to listen to and for God is itself an act of faith.
When Abraham set out on his journey he had no idea where he would end up.
When Moses stood before Pharaoh the odds were clearly against him.
When Jesus worked to rally the disinherited into a beloved community – people thought he was mad.
Linking Arms (building on what is there)
So if listening is not like having a red phone then what is it like?
The author of Hebrews says that, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and what I take this to mean is that faith lies at the intersection of the past, present and the future. Faith lies at the cross-roads of what we hope for, the experiences of the Spirit we have in the present, and the conviction that has been passed down to us through centuries of faithful people that we cannot see for ourselves but whose presence and impact we feel.
So instead of listening to God being like having a red phone, I see it being more like linking arms with those faithful ones who are in our community right now, and those who have come before us, and those who are yet to come.
[Will you lean to the person next to you and ask them if it is okay to link arms with them?]
To link arms with those in our community is to connect to and honor those right here who are also trying to listen faithfully.
To link arms with those in our community is to connect to those who have come before us and to honor their risking taking and faith-walking.
To link arms with those in the future means that we look to step forward into the unknown, trusting that in our listening God can guide us so that our community expands beyond our understanding, our control, and beyond our lifetimes.
To link arms with those in our past, present and future community is to recognize that true faith includes and honors those who have come before us without being beholden to them.
Our faith is a thread that connects us together while freeing us to actually listen and respond to God and what God wants us to do without being beholden to the memories of our moms, dads, granddads, and the other saints who’ve gone before us.
To link arms is a way to remain anchored while stretching out into the unknown future.
And we know that we can make forward movement as Camas Friends right now because we are anchored to Christ and in Christ through a long line of faithful people linking arms throughout history who also stretched out into the unknown future.
Just like those linked together in Hebrews 11.