Sermon Ideas For Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Part 5
One of the most difficult aspects of becoming a good pastoral counselor is learning to listen. We know how much people enjoy talking. Clergy also have the special ability to be great talkers and often poor listeners. Like most people, we like to talk about ourselves. I have been accused of some long- winded sermons and certain times in my life when I sounded too self-consumed.
Throughout scriptures we are instructed to listen to a different voice, the voice of the Lord. Jesus taught us to pray alone in a room where we could be attentive to the speaking of the Most Holy God. This is the same Creator who spoke through the forces of nature and the revelation of the prophets.
As you and I have learned to be attentive to what others are saying, we have become more aware of our own needs and trials. As we have listened to the voice of the Spirit in our prayers and devotions, the leading of God has become more evident.
When someone tells me that I am a "good listener", I take that as a compliment. Part of learning that process was being able to really hear the voice of another person; soft, loud, high, low, peaceful, anxious, unsure or determined. The pitch and tone of someone's voice reveal many things. When I listen to the tapes of my sermons, I think about what my own voice is transmitting to the congregation. Sometimes I do not like what I hear and wonder where some emotion or tone has come from. In this way I learn a lot about myself, even though the lessons may be difficult.
Have you ever been sharing something about yourself, and before you can finish the other person interrupts? They begin talking about themselves or telling some story before you have even finished. You probably felt as if you were never really heard at all. I remember fourteen years ago when my brother died. I was in a lot of emotional pain. But it seemd like every time I talked to someone about how I felt, they would interrupt and tell me about someone else they knew who had died the same way. It was very frustrating. To listen means to hear a story, to relate to an emotion, to give empathy and understanding as best we can.
In the text from Luke's Gospel, we encounter a group of people who were listening to John the Baptist. He was the one who was "the voice in the wilderness, "sent to prepare the way for someone greater, for the teaching and salvation of the Son of God. The voice of John the Baptist was strong, clear and determined in its focus and message. He spoke so well that many wondered if he was the Messiah. Luke writes, "As the people were in expectation, and all questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ." Certainly we can assume that some wanted him to be the human fulfillment of God, the Messiah sent to save Israel.
When I thought about this in terms of my own ministry, I realized there have been times when members of my congregations wanted me to be someone I was not. They even thought in their exaggerated feelings toward me that I could solve all of their problems or that I was so close to God that all the answers about faith were at my fingertips.
Can you think of a time in your ministry when people wanted to give you too much authority or too much power? Was there a time when you allowed others to place you too high on the ladder to heaven? Maybe they did not think of you as the Messiah, but you were at a crossroads as to how much glory or power you were going to accept. In the church it is easy to let popularity and position trap us into being someone we are not supposed to be.
John the Baptist found himself at that crossroads as the people heard him speak. But John made a very wise decision. He told the crowd that he was not talking about himself, saying, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of those sandals I am not worthy to untie."His words were not self-directed but Christ-directed. He pointed the people to the Son of God, the one who would "baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire." John did not take advantage of the situation or let himself be built up with an inflated sense of pride and power.
This is a good lesson we can transmit to others in our sermons and teaching. We are to direct people away from ourselves and toward Jesus Christ. We are to make it clear with our voice and with our actions that it is Jesus alone who provides nourishment for the soul and the life. This is not always an easy task with so many temptations before us, so many voices in the congregation speaking to us. The one voice we need to hear above all others is that of the Spirit. In this way we can prepare the way for people to know Christ, to be led to him through our example.
I remember sitting in a small chapel with a woman who was experiencing a great deal of turmoil in her life. She felt as if the world was caving in around her. I listened carefully to her story. I felt inadequate to respond as she had many important decisions to make. Finally I asked her, "What do you think would be a first step in beginning to restore your life?Without hesitation she responded, "I was hoping you could tell me that." I knew right then she wanted me to tell her what she ought to do. Again I asked her about an initial step she could take to make things better. After some moments of silence she said, " I need to return to daily prayer. I used to feel God was very close to me, but that feeling has left. I need to start praying again." When we talked about how she knew God was very close to her, she referred to the speaking of the Holy Spirit. The voice she had grown to love brought her comfort and peace. In the midst of her troubles she had stopped listening to God. Certainly she needed pastoral guidance, but even more she needed the leading of God.
When we think about the ways in which the Lord has spoken to us, most of us can describe experiences when we have felt very close to Christ. God has the power to speak a word of calm amidst the chaos, to bring us forgiveness when we are burdened with guilt. But we need to be good listeners.
I like what the psalmist says about one blessing of God; "May the Lord give strength to his people." The strength comes from hearing the voice and knowing the presence of God. The psalmist also tells us, "The voice of the Lord is full of majesty." From God we find strength and by his speaking we come to know the majesty of our Creator.
The text for today has been particularly meaningful to me. Over the years a lot of attention has been given to my voice. In some ways the attention has been difficult, even painful. I have what my seminary professor called a "nasal quality."
My father, a pastor for more than fifty years, spoke with a deep resonating sound that would transform a sermon into a special worship experience. For many years I fought feelings of inferiority and even embarrassment. I knew I could never sound like my father.
The turning point came when I heard the voice of God speak to me during a worship service. The word that I heard was a loving word of assurance and acceptance for me. For the first time I knew I has something special to share even if my voice was not very special.
The text from 1 Corinthians chapter twelve says, "To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit." You have gifts, I have gifts. We have the ability to speak, but we also have the need to listen; to others and most of all to God who calls us to the Son. As we hear the voice of God we know that we are loved and accepted. But we also know we must point others not to ourselves, but to Christ, whose name is mightier than any other name.