Monday, January 16, 2012

Tough Mind and Tender Heart

It seems that we are living in a time like that of Samuel.
It seems that we are living in a time when the word of the Lord seems rare, when visions are not widespread.
I remember in seminary being at a discussion about social inequality.
A retired pastor got up and asked, “When are we going to see person like Martin Luther King again.”
He went on to talk about how young people didn’t care like they used to back in the day.
He believed that the church had become complacent with prestige and power.
I thought his assertions where not only not untrue, but extremely insulting.
First of all not all of us are called to be Martin Luther King Jr.
We are not all called to be a prophet of a movement for justice.
We are not all called to preach and call people to think about their actions in light of the Gospel.
Secondly, I thought it was offensive because there are plenty of people in our world fighting for justice; standing up for what is right and good.
There are plenty of people advocating for peace, working with people experiencing poverty, fighting the good fight.
I happen to know that in Concord there are many good people out there doing the Lord’s work with passion.

It is wrong to assume that Martin Luther King went into the ministry to become an international figure for justice and peace.
By all accounts he went into the ministry to preach the word of God.
It just so happened that just after arriving in Montgomery Alabama, to be the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King was called to be the leader of a movement.
That is the way calling works.
It is about our context and the circumstances around us.
One of the reasons there can never be another Martin Luther King Jr. is because there already was one.
Because Martin Luther King heard God’s call and saw the vision of a different world we no longer need to fight the battles that he fought.

We today have newer battles to fight.
This morning I want us to think about what it is that God is calling us to do?
Because when we hear God’s call, when we respond to it, two things happen.
One, we see and experience great things.
Jesus promised his disciples that they would, “You will see great things than these.”
Later in John’s Gospel Jesus will tell his disciples that they will also do greater things than these.
I believe responding to God’s call opens our lives to all sorts of wonderful blessings.
We get to see the heavens open up and angels ascending and descending.
The second thing is that our life will become harder.
Think about Samuel this morning.
After hearing God’s call the task that is given to him is to tell his boss, Eli, that God is firing him!
Not an easy task.
In fact, Samuel is reluctant to do it.

Hearing God’s call and responding usually means that we will have to take on something that is going to be controversial and difficult.
It means giving up some comfort on our part.
Again, it will bring great rewards, but always at a cost.

The people who have dared to follow God know this truth.
Because, ultimately following God’s call for justice and peace lead to Dr. King’s assignation.
Following God’s call lead Jesus to be crucified.
I am not suggesting that any of you go out looking to be crucified, but I will suggest that following God’ call cost us something.

This week I kept coming back to this question: Since we are not Martin Luther King Jr. or Jesus, What is it that God is calling us to?
It is a hard question because often times we have a hard time even hearing God.
I think one of the great tasks that we face in our day is trying to hear God through all of the clutter.
In our day when there are so many opinions about everything, and all those opinions are right at our finger tips, how do we hear what is authentically God?
There are people telling us that God is found only in traditional doctrines know by the church for centuries.
Others are telling us that God is found in new innovative programs, worship, and theology.
Still others tell us that we can only hear God’s voice through a literal interpretation of the Biblical witness.
Some will say that the Biblical witness must be heard through the cultural lens that we know today.
We hear opinions from politics from left and right wing preachers.
Each of whom is sure that God is heard and found where they are pointing.
In such a world with bloggers, pundits, and prognosticators with all their own slants, prejudices, and opinions how do we know what God is really saying?

This morning I would like to suggest some ways that we can hear God’s voice.
We can recognize God talking to us when we hear words that are tough minded and tendered hearted.
Dr. King in one of his sermons suggested that these are two characteristic Jesus’ demanded of his disciples.
On the one hand we must use our minds for “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment”.
Discerning God’s call always includes thoughtful examination of the facts before us.
We must in this time weed out those things that are not true.
Just because we hear something on Television, read it on the internet, or see it in print that does not make it true.
A tough minded person always asks the next question, and wonders at the possibilities.

But discernment can never forget to be tendered hearted.
When discerning God’s call we must remember that God always calls us to love.
God calls us to give of ourselves for others, and to love even those who are our enemies.
As Dr. King once said, “On the one hand, God is a God of justice who punished Israel for her wayward deeds; on the other hand he is a forgiving father whose heart was filled with unutterable joy when the prodigal returned home.”

For me it comes down to being able to stand up for the things I believe in, to fight for what I believe to be just and true, but it is also about never losing sight of the fact that God never calls us to hate our neighbor even if they disagree with us.

I think the implication of this is that when we set out on a course to be a disciple of Jesus Christ our lives are forever changed.
We see great things and do great things.
And our lives are never quite the same again.

When God calls you what will be your response?
When God calls you to see and do great things will you be able to hear and respond?

God will call you.
God will call you to have a tough mind and tender heart in all sorts of difficult situations.
Will you be able to hear that call?
Will you be tough minded and tendered hearted?
When your co-workers are gossiping about someone else will you be able to stand up for the person being picked on?
When your cousin asks for forgiveness for the remark they made about you at a party will you be able to forgive?
When your kids steal a candy bar from the store will you be able to discipline them?
When we hear on television that such and such candidate, said this or that, will we be able to discern what is true, honorable, kind and good?

We will be able to hear God’s call, if we talk about it with other people of God.
Just like Samuel needed Eli to help him hear God’s call, just like Nathanael needed Philip to help him hear Jesus call, we need each other to help us hear God through the clutter.
We will be able to hear God’s call if we are able to remain close to Jesus.
Just like the disciple’s needed to remain close to Jesus so he could show them the way, truth, and life we need Jesus in order to help us discern what God would call us to do.

In this time of what seems like God’s silence and visions that are not widespread let us remember to listen to God’s call and follow with a tough mind and a tender heart.

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