Sermon for December 22, 2002
Advent IV (2nd Samuel 7:1-11 and 16, Romans 16:25-27, and Luke 1:26-38) God Speaks to Jessica
One time at a lunch with some other pastors, one person
in our group raised a question about a situation in his parish for all of us
to consider. It seems that a young girl in the congregation and her mother came
to his office one day. The girl's name was Jessica.
The family was involved in the congregation, but had never been deeply connected in very many aspects of the congregation's life.
Jessica and her younger brother came to Sunday School. Their father was baptized in the parish. Their mother had grown up in a different town and in a different religious tradition. But the two of them had decided to raise their family in the congregation in the town where they now lived where their father had roots. For all practical purposes, on the surface, at least, things were all right in the family, and Jessica was doing all right in school. This was not a conversation about those kinds of matters.
It was simply that Jessica and her mother wanted an honest professional religious opinion regarding a definite religious experience. Now, whatever one might think about pastors, congregations, and Christians in general, this is a rather rare experience. People are much more likely to come to their pastors with discouragements of the soul, difficulties of the body, problems within the family, complaints regarding congregational life, requests for assistance in one form or another, fears about where things in general are headed. Those are the usual causes for pastoral conversation these days.
But it turns out that Jessica, just recently, in second grade, had experienced something. In that experience Jessica had thought was God speaking to her. One day, at the playground at school, while walking along the fence, alone, she felt that the light around her changed. It was brighter, but not glaring. It was a soft brightness. Even though it was a cold day, she felt warm. And she heard a voice, or at least she thought she did. She did not know what the voice was saying to her. The voice was neither male nor female. And when she heard the voice she felt good and strong and hopeful.
And that was it. That was Jessica's grade school religious experience. For a week or so she shared it with no one. Then she explained it to her mother. Her mother was somewhat confused, as we all might be. She wondered if Jessica was ok. Was this a typical thing for second grade? Should she talk about it with the mothers of Jessica's friends? Or would that be weird? Was this a manifestation of an emotional problem?
She finally decided to talk it over with the school psychologist, who noted that Jessica seemed to be an solid second grader who socialized well, did above average work in school, was not experiencing any trauma, and suggested she talk with her pastor about religious experiences.
So there they sat in my friend's office. In the conversation, as things unfolded, the mother, Jessica, and my friend, together decided on a few things. In mutual agreement, they decided that God does speak to people, and that many times in our lives we feel the special closeness of God. Since God decides when that happens, it can be in strange places like playgrounds rather than in church buildings or at special religious times like Christmas.
They decided that Jessica's experience was a good, even wonderful, thing. It was special and good because she felt the light, the warmth, and the voice of the one who loved her. They decided that she did not need to understand the voice, but that it was enough in second grade to just know that the voice was there, caring for her.
They decided that she should not hide her experience. She was not obligated to share it with anyone. That was up to her. But she did not need to keep her experience a secret. And they talked about making sure her Dad was part of the sharing, too.
Jessica wanted to know if it would happen again. And they decided that they did not know, but that it could. And if it did, Jessica might listen more carefully to the voice and what it said.
My friend wondered what we pastors all thought. It turned out that each of us had been so focused on pastoral conversation as problem solving that we had not thought about the religious experiences of our members very much. But when we did think about it, each of us had some recollections of the ways that God had spoken to our people, sometimes in rather ordinary ways, sometimes in ways that were rather mystical. Oddly, there in a restaurant, in our mutual conversation, we knew that God was still visiting with the people of God. And over coffee, a group of rather cynical preachers marveled again at the wonderful ways of God.
Today in Luke, God speaks to Mary. Like Jessica, Mary is puzzled and perplexed by the encounter. Like Jessica, she discovers that God wishes her well. Perhaps as Jessica listens more for the voice of God, she will discover, like Mary discovered, that God has a purpose for her, as God has a purpose for each of us. Like Jessica, Mary turns to family, this time her relative Elizabeth, for support and comfort in sorting through what this all means as she grows more and more pregnant.
Today in the first lesson, God speaks to Nathan the prophet. David the king is Nathan's friend. The king thinks its strange that he lives in a palace while God lives in a tent. He wants to build a temple. But the strange voice comes to Nathan. Like Jessica, Nathan knows the voice wishes both him and David well. As Nathan listens more to the voice of God, he learns that God really likes living in a tent rather than a house. And that God will continue to build David's house rather than the other way around.
And today the second lesson contains the last verses of Paul's letter to the church in Rome. Paul also had a religious experience on the road to Damascus. And years later, when this letter is written, even in this formal ending of the letter, the impact of that religious experience is found in his emphasis on mystery and disclosure and obedience in faith.
Jessica, Nathan, Paul, and Mary. They remind us today to listen
more fully for the voice of God. To appreciate the experience of the religious.
To share it as we will. To feel the warm love as it comes our way. To listen
carefully for the instruction God provides. And to gather with family and friends
to interpret our experience, so that the personal love we feel becomes love
for those around us.
You may not have had a mystical experience. But even in the ordinary events of life, perhaps in the events marking this season, God may come to you, the light may slightly shift, you may feel the warmth of love, know that God is speaking in a whisper, reminding you of your purpose and the road ahead, and remember that nothing is impossible with God.