Listen then Reform

Scripture|  John 14:15-27  |  1 Thessalonians 5: 12-24

While at dinner with our college students this past week, Pheobe Myrhum, who is Denison’s chaplain, shared a quote with our group that I found incredibly profound. 

It comes from Dr. Hal Saunders, a former Assistant Secretary of State, and the founder of the “sustained dialogue” method of conflict resolution. The quote that we found so profound is his definition of what dialogue is.  He writes

“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn” 

or to simplify it a little more:  

“Dialogue is a process where we listen to each other
deeply enough to be changed by what we learn”

At the time we were discussing interfaith dialogue, and what it means to be in dialogue with people whose faith is different than your own: it means you listen to each other deeply enough that you are changed by what you learn from one another.

This was so profound to me! No wonder people find interfaith work to be so intimidating, and also so life-giving!

In order to be in relationship with people who are different than yourself, in order to both address our differences, and embrace our similarities: you have to truly be in dialogue together, you have to listen to each other intentionally, you have to listen so closely, and deeply, that you are changed by what you learn.

So clearly, I was moved by this quote. And it stood out to me in more ways than how it applies to interfaith work.

Because it seems that this definition of dialogue applies elsewhere in our lives it applies anytime we encounter difference, any time we encounter things we don’t understand, and people who come from a different background.

In order to dialogue, you must listen you must be open enough to the encounter, that you risk being changed by it.

But I think the main reason I found this quote so profound is how I see this definition of dialogue applying to faith.

Faith… This idea of how we encounter and are in relationship with God

And how through this relationship, we are called not only to listen but called to change and grow.

So let’s change Dr. Saunder’s definition of dialogue one more time…  
“Faith is a processof dialogue with God where we listen deeply enough to be changed by what we learn” 

Faith isn’t stagnant.  It is a process, an ongoing dialogue between us and God, 
When we aren’t sure what decision to make, there is a voice guiding us, if we listen.
When we see brokenness in our world, there is a voice correcting us, if we listen.
When we feel hurt and devastated, there is a voice healing and hope, if we listen.

And this voice that we are listening to, that voice teaching us, helping us to judge between right and wrong, just and unjust, loving and unloving decisions? That is the Spirit. Guiding us, teaching us, calling us to listen deeply, and calling us to learn.

When we truly and deeply listen to the spirit, what we learn changes us our hearts better reflect God’s love,  God’s compassion, and mercy. We are drawn closer to the heart of God. Or at least this is what should happen…

Throughout history and even now, the church has not always made this our practice We have not always been the perfect model of faith in our history and we certainly have not always modeled the kind of virtues named in our Thessalonians’s passage.

There have been times where people of faith have failed to be in a process of dialogue with God where they’ve failed to listen deeply,
where they have not changed,
and not only that… but there have been times
where the church has suppressed the Spirit
where we’ve chosen to listen to louder voices…
where the corrupting voices of power, influence, and greed
have drawn us away from the Spirit’s call for change
and where we shape our faith, and our lives
not in God, not in the goodness of God’s love… but in distortions of the Gospel.

But this is not God’s vision for the church. God’s vision looks a whole lot more like Paul’s vision…

“Don’t suppress the Spirit.” He writes “Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages,  but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.  Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak.  Be patient with everyone.   Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else.  Rejoice always.
Pray continually.   Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

and this is why I thank God, that whenever people of faith have “suppressed the Spirit,” and “Brushed off God-given messages.”

There have also been people of faith who have risen up and lived out these values. People who have been in dialogue with God through the Spirit who have examined everything carefully and hung onto what is good, what is right and just and avoided evil. People who have prayed continually, seeking guidance, discerning God’s path and because of that, found a reason not only to rejoice always but also to speak out against those who are disorderly.

My friends, this is what we saw in the Protestant Reformation a church… who had ceased to listen to the Spirit

leaders… that had removed themselves from dialogue with God. But we saw also how people of faith rose up, because of their lives rooted in the Spirit. Folks who were willing to name that God’s right & wrong are different than the world’s. Folks who were willing to name the sin and brokenness they saw in their world as boldly as 95 theses nailed to a door in their community. Folks who did not lose hope, but saw an opportunity for reform.

My friends, this is our heritage. We can trace our lineage back to these Reformers These people who were willing to dialogue who were willing to listen closely to the Spirit, who were willing to learn what was wrong with their world, with their church, and let what they learned provoke them to create change.

God’s call to the church is no different today…
So here is my question to you…
How will we follow?
In this world of so much suffering, God is still speaking
In this world of so much injustice, the message of Christ’s Resurrection still rings out
In this world of so much brokenness, the Spirit’s is still pushing us towards reform.
How will we, in faith, start this dialogue?
Are we willing to listen to the Spirit?
Are we willing to listen deeply enough, that we change?

Amen.