A Direct Encounter With The Living God

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I have found that so many times in my life I have longed to hear an audible voice of God, especially when I’ve had to make tough decisions, or when someone has died, or when I just needed to know God was with me.  It seems like I have always wanted something more than what I was given, which was mostly silence or something that was rather difficult to decipher whether or not it was God’s voice.  This is why I will never forget the time when I decided that I never wanted a direct encounter with God.


Pentecost Year C 2013

Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.24-34, 35b; Romans
8.14-17; John 14.8-17 [25-27]

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and peace to you from the one whose
presence is made know through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I have found that so many times in my life I have
longed to hear an audible voice of God, especially when I’ve had to make tough
decisions, or when someone has died, or when I just needed to know God was with
me.  It seems like I have always wanted
something more than what I was given, which was mostly silence or something
that was rather difficult to decipher whether or not it was God’s voice.  This is why I will never forget the time when
I decided that I never wanted a direct encounter with God.

I was in seminary on an exercise bike in the
Re-formation room and was reading the book, “When God is Silent,” by Barbara
Brown Taylor.  Her book takes the reader
through the movement of how God has interacted with God’s creation, particularly
human beings, from the beginning of creation, to the birth of Jesus until

When God creates Adam and Eve God walks in the
garden and converses with them.  After
they are expelled from the garden because of disobeying God, God speaks and
interacts with others in various ways: God tells Noah to build an ark, God
speaks with Abraham and tells him and Sarah to journey to a far away land and
settle there, God speaks to Moses through a burning bush and he even sees God’s

What made me decide that I never wanted a direct
encounter with God was at this point in the book when Taylor writes: “…God
spoke the ten commandments at [Mt.] Sinai…Not one of them [the Israelites]
missed it:  God’s own voice, with thunder
in it and lightning cracking all around; the sound of a trumpet none of them
knew how to play, with notes that made their scalps crawl; the mountain itself,
smoking like a kiln, shaking so violently that the ground slid beneath their
feet.  It was an encounter with the
living God, and in about five seconds they decided they had had enough.  Turning to Moses, they said, “you speak to
us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die (Exo.
20.19) (pp. 58-59).”

The Israelites, granted, were a bit dramatic in
the wilderness, but this recording of events, have been enough for me to now
pray, “God, speak to me, please, but gently, through your Spirit or through

From the experience of the Israelites at Mt.
Sinai on in the Old Testament, with the exception of Job and a few others, God
speaks to human beings through prophets: people like Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah,
Joel, and Amos.  God uses a mediator
between God and people because that is what they asked for.

Then of course, God tries something completely
new and comes to earth in the flesh in the human being of Jesus.  God again walks among the people and
converses, but as one of us, as a human being.
What is so amazing to me is that even God in human flesh walking beside them,
eating with them is still not enough for some.

This is where God in Jesus meets Philip’s
question in our Gospel reading today: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be
satisfied (vs. 8).”  How understandable
that Jesus would be quite annoyed at this point.  “Have I been with you all this time, Philip,
and you still do not know me?  Whoever
has seen me has seen the Father.”

Philip doesn’t get this.  Jesus looks like any other human being he has
been around.  Sure, he performs some
miracles in healing people, he talks about God with authority and a kingdom
that is not of this world, and there are moments in which he does and says
things that leave the disciples speechless, but all in all, they are wanting
more than what they are given.

Are we not like Philip too?  “Just let me hear your voice, God, and then I
know I will believe.  Just show me Jesus
and I will be satisfied.  If only I could
see you, God, I would know you are real.”

Philip’s question, the history of God’s
interaction with humans, and my own experience in life and ministry has made me
wonder why we are often so unsatisfied with how God chooses to relate with
us.  We think if only we could have a
direct encounter with God then my faith would be stronger, or I would know the
puzzle of my life or that everything is going to be all right.

The problem with desiring the direct encounter
with God, whatever that may be, or always wanting more than what we are given,
we miss the ways God is already active, present, and working in our lives.  Philip and the rest of the disciples often
missed the fact that they were eating with the Creator and being taught by the
life-giver himself because they were always wanting something more.

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday.  Now that Jesus has died, rose from the dead,
and ascended into heaven, God chooses to interact with human beings anew again
through the very breath and Spirit of God.

Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit to his disciples
in our Gospel reading today and tells them it will be his presence with them
always wherever they go.  The Spirit will
teach and remind them of everything he has taught them and will be their
advocate and companion.  The Spirit is no
less than the very presence of Jesus, or no less than a direct encounter with
God or an audible voice from heaven.

In our reading in Acts today we get to hear about
the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the world and into the hearts, minds,
and bodies of believers everywhere. The same Spirit who filled the lungs of the
believers that day fills us too this day in Hope Chapel.

As we breathe in we take in the breath of God,
God’s presence and life force animating our bodies and making us who we
are.  And when we are involved in a body
of faith like this one at Heart River, we have the privilege and joy of
experiencing the living God through one another in the power of the Holy Spirit
that is alive and well in us.

But are we satisfied with this…that God now
chooses to interact with human beings through the Holy Spirit?  Are we still longing for something more?

Because of Shera I came across another great
piece of writing by Barbara Brown Taylor, which I think will help us all think
about the current way God is very present in this world in the Holy
Spirit.  This past Thursday, the Church
celebrated the Day of Ascension, when Jesus ascends into heaven and leaves his
disciples.  It is in Jesus’ leaving in
which Taylor begins writing:

No one standing around watching the
that day Jesus ascended could
have guessed what an astounding thing happened when they stopped looking into
the sky and looked at each other instead. On the surface, it was not a great
moment: eleven abandoned disciples with nothing to show for all their
following. But in the days and years to come it would be very apparent what
happened to them. With nothing but a promise and a prayer, those eleven
consented to becoming the church and nothing was ever the same again, beginning
with them. The followers became leaders, the listeners became preachers, the
converts became missionaries, the healed became healers. The disciples became
apostles, witnesses of the risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, and
nothing was ever the same again…And once they did that, surprising things
began to happen. They began to say things that sounded like him, and they began
to do things they had never seen anyone but him do before. They became brave
and capable and wise.  Whenever two or three of them got together it was as if there were
someone else in the room with them whom they could not see — the strong,
abiding presence of the absent one, as available to them as bread and wine, as
familiar to them as each other’s faces. It was almost as if he had not ascended
but exploded, so that all the holiness that was once concentrated in him alone
flew everywhere, flew far and wide, so that the seeds of heaven were sown in
all the fields of earth.

–        Looking
Up Toward Heaven
 by Barbara Brown Taylor

These “seeds” from heaven have also been sown
here among all of us.  How have you felt
the presence of Christ in your life in this place?

Perhaps it has come in the form of friendship, of
support or comfort, or a sense of belonging.

Perhaps it has come as you have heard Scripture
read or a sermon, through sharing the peace or Holy Communion, or through the
singing of music.

The presence of God is tangible and real in all
kinds of ways, we simply need to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s work
among and around us.

Gary told a good story/joke this morning in Bible study.  There was a storm one day and so much rain fell that it began to flood.  A woman was in her home and noticed that the water was getting higher and higher.  She made her way up to higher levels of her home as the rains still poured down.  She eventually ended up on the roof of her house and she started to pray to God, “God, please help me!”  Shortly after she prayed this a person in a canoe was paddling by and said, “Here!  Get in my canoe.  The water is rising!”

“Thank you, but no.  God is going to save me.”

The water kept rising and another person in a boat came by and said to the woman, “Lady, please get in the boat.  The water is rising and you will drown.”

“No thank you.  God is going to save me.”

Finally that water got so high and the woman was clinging to the last patch of dry roof and a helicopter came to resuce her.  Again, she denied the help believing that God would save her.  Eventually the water overtook her house and she drown.  When she got to heaven and was face to face with God she asked, “God, why didn’t you save me!  I prayed and asked you to save me.”

God said to the woman, “I tried!  Three times I sent you people who could save you in the canoe, the boat, and the helicopter.”

We often miss the many times in which God is present and acting in our lives because we’re not paying attention or brushing things off as coincidence.  Just because you might not hear an audible voice
from God doesn’t mean that God isn’t speaking to you in other ways.  We can choose to be disappointed and keep searching for God
in all the wrong places, or we can open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit
in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

If you
want nothing in your life to change or experience the living God, by all means,
do not pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.”  But if
you are longing for something more in your life, for change, for
transformation, for God…then pray with a ll your heart: “Come, Holy Spirit!”