As disembodied voices go, it was impressive!
As disembodied voices go, it was impressive! Last night I took the M6 south to Werrigton and Wetley Rocks, which as you know is six miles east of Stoke-on-Trent. Former curate, Michael Follin, was being instituted as team vicar. A great service. As usual for a newly installed vicar, Michael’s main contribution was giving the notices at the end of the service, a peculiarly Anglican tradition. There he told us about the disembodied voice. On the previous evening he was strumming his electric guitar in the vicarage alongside the church – its what we vicars do when we have the house to ourselves. He is then startled to hear a voice very clearly saying “ Michael, we are pleased you have come to St Philips and St John’s!” Understandably Michael was startled “hearing the voice but seeing no one.” (Acts 9:7). Could this be a theophany? If so, very uplifting. However, unlike me Michael is technically accomplished and he was soon able to work out what was happening. It seems his guitar amplifier was picking up the radio signal of the church pa system as the warden was rehearsing for the service! Nevertheless, I am sure that this was God speaking to encourage Michael at the very beginning of a new ministry. That is what God does. There are very few instances in the Bible of God speaking, so to speak, out of thin air, a disembodied voice as an objective event. Just three times, I think, in the New Testament: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:17), “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” at the conversion of Saul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:4) And that’s it. Normally it is not God's way of doing things. Instead he relies on human beings to speak for him. At the moment my daily BRF Guidelines is taking me through the Old Testament book of Amos, the earliest of ‘the writing prophets.’ We know a lot about his message; hardly anything at all about the man. Amos explains his ministry in a key verse: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). The Message paraphrases this verse: “The fact is, God, the Master, does nothing without first telling his prophets the whole story.” God is intent on communicating his purposes to his people so that they may respond. Put God first, keep your side of the covenant by caring for the poor and vulnerable. “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts”. (Amos 5:14f). Here is God speaking to his people. A clear message which if disregarded has consequences. Part of the deal, so to speak, is that God speaks to his people so that they can never say “Well, nobody told me!” The Hebrew prophets, like Amos, have a degree of self-awareness. They know that they have been entrusted with God’s message, whatever the cost. So Jeremiah, a sensitive man, tries to keep his mouth shut but he cannot, such is the compulsion from the Holy Spirit. ‘I will not mention his word or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.” (Jeremiah 20:9) And God continues to speak to us. It is an integral to his personality, so to speak. So he regularly uses each of us to speak to others, just like Michael’s new warden welcoming him to Werrigton and Wetley Rocks. He thought he was speaking into thin air with no realisation that Michael was actually listening. Typical of God. Every so often, when I am preaching in church, I find myself saying something I had not planned to say. “Where did that come from?” It has happened enough time now for me to expect someone to come up to me, not always right away, and share that that phrase or sentence spoke directly into their situation. The test is always is this consonant with God’s word in scripture? It’s all so matter of fact for the simple reason that we are God's creatures living in God’s world. And he is far, far more active in our lives than we could ever imagine, using even us to speak for him. So we make it easier for God by walking in his Spirit (Galatians 5:16)