The Sound of the Lord God Walking–How Impractical Is That!?

May 23, 2011

Genesis 3:8 and Revelation 2:1

Each of the passages that we’ve read this morning offer beautiful images. The garden setting of Genesis and the lampstands of Revelation are very intriguing. But I want to focus with you today on how impractical they are. That is, what good does it do for us to ponder God walking anywhere? Or what possible benefit could there be in seeing Jesus as walking among a certain kind of light fixture? I mean, isn’t heaven fully wired for electricity? Does the risen Son of God really need anything to see where he’s going?

You see, each of these word-pictures is a little surreal, and because they are so surreal that it’s difficult for us to know what response, what activity, they recommend to us. For example, in the Life of Brian comedy, Brian loses one of his sandals as he’s being chased by the crowds of people who confuse him with the Messiah. He doesn’t stop to pick up his footware and that inspires all the people to remove one of each of their own sandals. “It’s a sign,” they say. But is it? Isn’t it just silly?

And so, I’m wondering about practicality, and whether the overt push for all things practical isn’t a little misguided when it comes to faith in God walking and in Jesus walking.

Bill Gates—that famous software guru and now that extremely wealthy philanthropist—once said that he cannot imagine a bigger waste of time than worshipping on Sunday mornings. And accordingly part of way he helps poorer countries is to provide as many children as possible with their own laptop computer and access to the Internet. You see, in the world of Bill Gates, information is practical and what’s practical rules the day. And yet, I wonder…

I wonder, for example, about the ways by which we are often cajoled into interpreting the Bible as if it were comprised of useful information and simple cause and effect relationships. “Pragmatism runs rampant in American Christianity,” writes Peter Nelson. “If faith does not ‘work’ it lacks value. We expect prompt and measurable results from knowing Christ…”

Years ago a young mother approached me with a concern. It had been a long and hot summer and in our local area of Pennsylvania there were no public pools or YMCA’s. One Christian school, however, maintained a pool, but they had a requirement. Each member of the pool had to sign a statement of faith in Jesus as well as in a certain understanding of the Bible as well as certain important social issues. This particular woman confessed to me that she didn’t believe in everything that the pool authorities wanted her to believe, but she had signed the document because it was impractical for her to travel another half-hour and join another pool in the lower income section of the suburbs. And, you see, that utilitarian shape of faith has been pervasive for a while and today many Christian leaders are wondering about the damage that’s being done.

Larry Crabb, in his book, The Pressure’s Off, says, “I have no strategies in mind to give you a better marriage, better kids, a more complete recovery from sexual abuse or a quicker healing after your divorce. Nor, I believe, does God… We can’t get life to work; it never will until heaven.”

Now, from my reading of the Bible, one thing is very clear and that is that God is speaking and continues to speak through his Holy Spirit. But the second thing that’s perhaps even more clear is that we are so busy, walking here and walking there, that we have trouble hearing this divine message. And, the only remedy to this sort of crisis, of course, is stopping—either being forced to stop or by stopping in some voluntary way. And both the Genesis passage and the Revelation passage provide us with what our ancestors in faith thought they heard when they stopped.

Namely, Adam and Eve felt as if they heard the sound—or thought they heard the sound –of the Lord God walking. And the pastor named John, who wound up being exiled to the island of Patmos, thought he heard the sound of Jesus, walking and talking among the churches of Asia Minor, and mystically speaking, it was almost as if these churches resembled lampstands marking out road into the future.

And again, let me repeat something that I’ve said before: none of these churches which are mentioned in the book of the Revelation to John exist today. They are all in ruins and their people buried by the sands of time. And yet, we live off of their legacy. We survive as a faith community, not because they found ingenious and profitable ways to keep going themselves, but because at some point they stopped and when they stopped they heard what John heard on the island, the sound of Jesus walking. Likewise, the very first man and the very first woman, according to tradition, stopped. They ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they each realized that they didn’t want to eat anymore. They didn’t want to know anymore information. In fact, whatever knowledge about life they acquired in the catastrophic moment worked against them. They didn’t need to have their eyes opened so that they could see like God. They needed to listen for God at the time of the evening breeze when all the work of the day was done.

Friends at Latah—I do have a vision for this congregation, and I hope you do too. But let’s not get so carried away with being practical that we can’t hear both the sounds that are so challenging to us and the sounds that are so incomprehensibly comforting to us.

Amen.

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