Sunday June 21st 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
“Hear All The People”
We are living in an interesting time right now, when the main forms of social interaction that most of us are having is through technology: phone, email, and social media.
Now while there are so many wonderful things about social media, such as the fact that we can broadcast our worship services here via Facebook Live and we can worship together across geographical areas and even states and countries, we know that there is also much that can be toxic about online communication.
Anyone who has ever spent any time reading the comments threads on Facebook or Twitter knows what I’m talking about.
Something about not being able to see the other person’s face in a conversation leads many people to be much more hateful and crass in their speech than they might be, if they were interacting in person.
The other day I came across a Facebook post from a family friend who I hadn’t seen for many years, but in my recollection she was a wonderful sweet grandmotherly-type person. But she posted on Facebook something about certain individuals who she referred to as “vile excuses for human beings.” Her comment of course shocked me, since I could never imagine her in a million years saying something like that out loud, and yet she was willing to post it publicly on Facebook for all (including her grandchildren) to see.
The toxicity of such online communication has led to another phenomenon in our society, something that is being called “cancel culture.”
Cancelling is what happens when someone hears something that they disagree with, and so they refuse to listen to anything else that person has to say. In other words, they “cancel” that person’s perspective.
This is often a form of self-protection, and I do believe that there are times when it is appropriate to cut off communication with someones whose words are causing harm. But the fear that others might cancel us or might disregard everything that we have to say leads many people, especially those who are younger, to live in a constant state of fear that they themselves might get cancelled. This is the danger of “cancel culture.”
Jesus and Cancel Culture
Jesus experienced the equivalent of “cancel culture” firsthand.
The religious leaders of his day went so far as to not only disregard what he had to say, but they accused him of being by Beelzebul, “prince of demons,” another word for Satan.
The religious leaders were so antagonistic towards Jesus that Jesus warned his disciples to expect the same sort of cancellation. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” (Matt. 10:25).
Later, Jesus says that whoever wants to follow him must take up their cross. In other words, if we want to truly follow Jesus, living our lives in humble obedience to his will, then we too will most likely experience people canceling us or persecuting us, just as they persecuted Jesus himself.
Do Not Fear
But Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid of “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28a). He said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-30).
In other words, Jesus is saying that God “has our back.” We don’t have to be afraid of whatever others might do to us when we are living in God’s will. God knows us deeply and intimately. God knows the number of hairs on our heads. And if God cares about the sparrows of the air, how much more does God care about each and every one of us?
This doesn’t mean, of course that we should just go around saying whatever we want, criticizing people willy-nilly, or being mean to people, since part of what it means to follow Jesus is that we are kind and loving towards everyone — our neighbors, and even our enemies. Jesus taught us to treat others the way we would want to be treated – and what we say, and not just what we do.
Here is Matthew 10, Jesus tells us to speak to others what we hear Jesus speaking to us. He says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).
In order for us to hear Jesus speaking to us in the dark, we have to listen. In order to proclaim the words that we hear Jesus whispering to us, we must be silent and still.
Jesus is not saying that we should just go around saying whatever we want. Jesus is saying that when we proclaim to others the things that we hear Jesus whispering to us, then we do not have to be afraid of what others may do or say to us, even if they “cancel” us, because God will take care of us, and watch out for us.
Listen Before You Post
Last week, I suggested that the internet would be a different place if every Christian prayed before they posted comments on the internet.
And in the same way, the world would be a different place if each of us truly listened and heard from God before we uttered words — either outloud or on-line.
But how exactly do we hear from God? God speaks to us in many different ways, and it can be difficult to hear and discern God’s voice. Rarely does God speak in an audible voice, even in an audible whisper, although that does happen sometimes.
Most often, God speaks to us through the Bible, through nature, through our conscience, and through other people.
A few weeks ago, I had an idea for what I was sure would be a great Facebook post. It was a biting criticism/critique that I thought was particularly timely, and I could see the post gaining a lot of reactions — I thought that perhaps it might even go “viral”!
But there was something within me that told me to pause. Was it fear of how others would respond? Fear of being cancelled? I wasn’t sure, so I decided to show the post to my wife, who suggested that I write a draft of what I wanted to say, but wait 24 hours to actually post it.
I was worried that I might miss the window of opportunity, that if I didn’t write what I wanted to say right away that it might be too late by the next day.
But I’ve learned that God often speaks through my wife, and so I decided to take her suggestion. I wrote the draft, and waited 24 hours, but I didn’t end up posting it. Because, during that time frame I realized that my motives for writing the post were skewed. My post was not a word from God, intended to help others, but rather a word that I thought would make me look good. Although I do think that my post would have garnered a lot of “likes” from many of my Facebook friends, there were many others who might have felt judged, hurt, or cancelled by what I wanted to say.
Listen to All the People
Often God speaks to us through other people, if we will only stop and listen.
This past week I had the opportunity to speak with a number of different people who had a range of different perspectives on what is happening right now in our society.
I had the chance to interview a group of college students for a podcast that I’m hosting, about how they’re responding to the current events going on in our world today. I had the chance to talk with a young woman whose husband is a Baltimore City police officer, a pastor/businessman in a rural area of Pennsylvania, and several business owners here on the Avenue in Hampden. And I attended a couple of events put on by our denomination, where I heard from various ministers and community leaders about a variety of areas of need in our city and world.
In each and every one of those conversations and speeches, I felt that I heard the voice of God speaking.
Last week we talked about Seeing All the People — seeing that the harvest that is plentiful, but the laborers are few. But this week I want to invite us to Hear All The People — to hear what God might be saying to us through those around us, and what God might want to say through us to them.
Specifically I would encourage you to seek out conversations with people who have a different experience than you, who might have a different viewpoint on the situations going on in our world today.
There are some times when you might need to avoid conversations with someone who really gets on your nerves, or whose form of communication is particularly toxic. But I would challenge you to listen, as much as possible, to those people whose viewpoint is radically different from yours. Listen with the following question in the back of your mind, “What is God saying to me through this person?”
Rather than cancelling one another, let’s build one another up. Rather than being quick to judge or criticize, let’s listen for God’s words, both in the stillness and solitude of our own silent prayer times, and in the various conversations that we have, in person and on-line.
When we do speak, let us be sure that the words we speak are the words that God has given us for that person.
Let us boldly and courageously proclaim God’s words, without fear of being cancelled. But let us also listen for the voice of God through one other, and in all the people.