Sunday, 10 March 2019

Deep Listening - Isaiah 6 / Matthew 13

Video games are immersive experiences - even without the VR headsets! People have been known to game for hours and hours before re-emerging from their game. Yet we should remember that whilst the game might be compelling it is not the real world, it is a false reality, it is not actually living.

2,500 years ago a guy called Isaiah heard God speaking: 'be ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving, your hearts become hard and dull'. In other words tell the people that you have your senses working but you are blinkered, in a false reality, you can't actually see the bigger/proper reality around you. Doesn't that describe people engrossed in their video game? For sure their senses are working ... but they are no longer aware of what is physically around them!

Worryingly the message through Isaiah goes on: 'Let that happen - otherwise they might see reality, understand, turn and be healed'. Its kind of God saying 'if thats the way you want to go, then go that route and become closed off', even though the end result is bad news. Now from other verses we know that this is not God's ultimate desire: He wants us to know Him, but He won't force Himself on us, He gives us freedom/space to choose: to be in a closed world or the world of God's love.

Yet people then make a mistake. They thing 'I need to do the God think, so I'll go to church, even sing some of the songs, tick the "God box"'. Well God talks to Isaiah about that too: 'people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me, their worship is just based on human rules they have been taught'. We need to know that God wants us to know Him, not just to follow a set of rules and do certain 'churchy' things. To know God is to perceive true reality, where every person has a dignity before God, where God's longing for wholeness for each person makes healing from brokenness possible.

God has enabled us to know this through a man - the man Jesus. Physically born 2,000 years ago he lived like no other, being real and authentic in every conversation he had. He was the one who would ultimately give everything, 100% of his whole life, his very last breath - so that we can be free: free to break out of our virtual closed world and experience all God has for us. He was the one cruelly executed and buried - but 3 days later was alive again. This showed that the physical life we know is not the sum total, but in fact reality is way way bigger.

Yet Jesus in his life did a quirky thing. He talked to the crowd using stories, rather than simple statements. His followers asked him about this, and in reply he said that it is about people seeing but not getting it, hearing but not understanding. In other words he was quoting those same words from Isaiah. Jesus knew that if he gave simple statements and then asked 'put your hands up if you agree', then at first one person would put their hand up, and then everyone would put their hand up! That's normal crowd behaviour! Jesus didn't want people who just follow the crowd, he wants people who are willing to stand apart from the crowd and embrace God's bigger picture, the true reality. He wants those who will step out of the game.

God's invitation is there in Jesus: believe in Him and you will know God's love. Yet you have to be prepared to properly listen, to look more carefully around you, to see this true reality.

That is what our baptism candidate today has been quietly doing: thinking about Jesus, listening and paying attention. He has sensed God saying 'be baptised'. Note it is not us saying 'now you are at secondary school, be baptised'. Generally we don't tell young people to be baptised, for we don't want false religion. We want people to make their own response to God, to have their own encounter made possible in Jesus.

God speaks to people in different ways: some quiet, some loud, some over a long period, some in a quick flash. But there are common features: a sense that God is with us, that we can trust our whole lives to Him, that Jesus enables us to be forgiven, and that He now calls us to live different. Listen to our candidate's story carefully and you should have heard each of these aspects. The result is that the person wants to be immersed, not in a video game but in the vast wonders of what God has for us. Our old self - our old way of seeing & hearing - we can leave behind as we go down, to then com up to new life knowing and following Jesus. Baptism illustrates this: down into the water to wash away the bad and leave behind the old, being immersed in God's goodness, then up and out to new life.

All this is possible because of the hard and actual physical reality of Jesus, a man born 2,000 years ago. Yet he is not just in history books - he is someone we can know and experience today. Will you open your eyes and ears to perceive him? Will you soften your heart to embrace Him and all He is ... to find the way to truly live in the fullness of God's reality. Maybe for you its time to step out of the game!

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