I’ve been a big fan of Superman…for as long as I can remember. I was weaned on DC comics, and Superman was always my favorite. For many of the “superheroes” in the universe, the big issue is always “will they survive their latest challenge?” For Superman, that was never really his issue. Instead, his issue was always “was he willing to do what was necessary to get the job done”. In other words, his was never a mortality issue- it was a morality issue.
From 2001 to 2011, a TV show aired that focused on Superman’s early years. That show was called Smallville and it centered around Superman…Clark Kent…as a teen, growing up amid the corn fields of Kansas and trying to come to grips with his extraordinary powers. In the show, as Clark’s powers start to manifest themselves, he begins to think he’s going crazy. The power, the extra perception…and the sounds. In this scene, he and his earthly parents are trying an experiment to help him gain better control of his hearing.
(Video from Smallville)
“Listen for your father’s voice.” Today, we continue our current Sunday morning sermon series- The Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries Psequel! Psalms are religious poems, designed to be set to music. These 150 Psalms encapsulate every human emotion, every circumstance of daily life. This 5-week series is carrying us through the rest of the summer…AND through the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of life.
Exodus 19:16-19 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke,because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. “Listen for your father’s voice.”
Today, we spend some time walking around in Psalm 81. This Psalm is what’s known as a festival song. It was probably written for use at both the New Year festival (also known as the New Moon Festival) and the beginning of the Festival (or Feast) of Tabernacles. These two festivals are reminders of God’s saving acts. At events like these, Israel called the people to celebrate, remember and recommit.
This Psalm, among others, addresses the cause of Israel’s troubles- they have turned their backs on God. If they had only listened to God, things would’ve been different. They have forgotten their responsibility to God. They have forgotten how to listen to…and for…God.
Psalm 81 Sing joyfully to God! He gives us strength. Give a loud shout to the God of Jacob! Let the music begin. Play the tambourines. Play sweet music on harps and lyres. Blow the ram’s horn on the day of the New Moon Feast. Blow it again when the moon is full and the Feast of Booths begins. This is an order given to Israel. It is a law of the God of Jacob. He gave it as a covenant law for the people of Joseph when God went out to punish Egypt. There we heard a language we didn’t understand. God said, “I removed the load from your shoulders. I set your hands free from carrying heavy baskets. You called out when you were in trouble, and I saved you. I answered you out of a thundercloud. I put you to the test at the waters of Meribah. My people, listen and I will warn you. Israel, I wish you would listen to Me! Don’t have anything to do with the gods of other nations. Don’t bow down and worship strange gods. I am the Lord your God. I brought you up out of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. But My people wouldn’t listen to Me. Israel wouldn’t obey Me. So I let them go their own stubborn way. I let them follow their own sinful plans. I wish My people would listen to Me! I wish Israel would live as I want them to live! Then I would quickly bring their enemies under control. I would use My power against their attackers. Those who hate Me would bow down to Me in fear. They would be punished forever. But you would be fed with the finest wheat. I would satisfy you with the sweetest honey.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt often had to suffer through long receiving lines at the White House. He often complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. So one day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. As the people passed through the line and shook his hand, he muttered, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests consistently responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work, Mr. President. We’re proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It wasn’t until near the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned in and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
The first 5 verses of Psalm 81 represent God calling Israel to worship. Verse 1 jumps right in with both feet, calling us to praise God. United Methodist founder John Wesley has 6 directions for singing that are found near the front of our hymnal. #4 says, “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.” Psalm 81 also doesn’t want us half asleep or half dead! Instead, our worship is to be full of strength. We’re supposed to give a loud shout out to God- as if our favorite team just won the World Series!
There is supposed to be lively music, with tambourines, harps and lyres. We are to blow the horn. And it’s not a suggestion…it’s an order. I have read Bible scholars who say that we should NEVER use the expression, “The Bible is clear…” But you know what? The BIBLE IS clear that we should live our lives in joyful worship of God and not just sit on our hands and watch the world parade by us.
The next section, verses 6-7, represents God’s reminder of redemption. While the people worship, God speaks directly. He reminds them that He set them free from carrying heavy baskets- a reference to their work as Egyptian slaves. He redeemed them. He also spoke to them…and tested them “at the waters of Meribah”- a reference to when the Hebrews argued with Moses about water during their 40 years of wandering. Sadly, their contentious, ungrateful hearts were revealed through the test.
The next section, verses 8-10, is God’s call to faithfulness. God calls the people to put down their idols. The inherent understanding here is that idols are already being worshipped. This isn’t a “I’m trying to keep this from happening” sort of thing. This is a “You are already neck-deep in idol worship. Listen to Me before it’s too late.” And why do they need to set down their false gods? Because they have THE God- the Lord. He brought them out of captivity. He saved them. He saves us. If we will but open our mouths, He will fill them with good things.
The next section, verses 11-12, is God’s judgment on the unfaithful. God speaks, but the people refuse to listen, refused to obey. So God is going to let them have it their way. “You won’t listen to Me? You think you know what’s right for you better than I do? Go ahead…prove it. Knock yourself out.” They’re going to have to walk in their own way, under their own power. All they’ll hear is their own voices. Why should He bother speaking if we refuse to hear?
The last section, verses 13-16, is God’s reminder of His promises that have yet to be fulfilled. God cries out for the people to listen to His Word and walk in His ways. And that sums up a life of faith. It’s by faith that we hear His voice and it’s by faith that we obey Him. If the people will respond, God promises to reverse their fortunes. No bread and water- He’ll provide the finest wheat and the sweetest honey. There could simply be no greater promise that, “I will satisfy you”.
We live in a world of competing voices. We’re constantly bombarded with a WIDE variety of voices from the radio, TV, music, newspapers, the internet…And all of those voices are constantly shouting at us, all at the same time, trying to tell us what to buy, how to spend our time, how we should act, what we should think, what we should accept, what we should believe- how to live. So the question for us is, “To whom are we listening?” What…and Whom…you listen to determines how you live.
When you turn a radio on for the first time, you get a whole lot of…static. But when you intentionally dial into the right frequency, you can hear what you are seeking clearly. God wants us to hear what He is saying to us. But it doesn’t help to just sit around and listen- hoping that whatever it is you’re supposed to hear will just magically come along. Like the radio has to be tuned in, we have to be tuned in to God if we hope to hear what He’s saying to us. When we’re tuned to God, instead of just hearing the hiss of white noise, we’ll more clearly hear what it is He’s asking us to do.
Have you ever done this? Someone is talking to you and you are simply NOT paying attention? Instead of actually engaging with them, you blankly respond with, “Hmm…yeah…uh huh”. They know we’re not listening. When God speaks to you, do you listen? Or do you just mumble, “Hmm…yeah…uh huh”?
If want a more meaningful relationship with God, if you want to trade in fleeting moments of happiness for eternal joy, then ask God for the ability to listen- listen and then yield to His Holy Spirit. Ultimately, we hear what we listen for. Slow yourself down, quiet your heart. Listen for that still, small voice. If you do- you WILL hear His voice. Oh, it may take some time…but you’ll hear it. I challenge you to ask God to give you a listening heart. It’s a risk worth taking.
Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
When you come to worship, are you simply expecting good advice, Biblical insight and inspirational thoughts? Or are you expecting God to address you personally? Do you go away from worship with a “warm fuzzy”…or with a Word from God? You shouldn’t settle for simply a “warm fuzzy”. Instead, always look for the “word within the Word.” Look for that moment when the Holy Spirit anoints you with that special message that He has just for you. Here’s the way it works- we worship…and God speaks. This should be the structure of our life with Him. When we offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices in worship, He transforms us. His will is revealed through our worship. When we worship God, we should EXPECT that Word from Him. As we open our hearts to God in worship, He reminds us of all that He’s done for us and calls us to more closely follow Him. And if we respond, God’s blessing will be ours- a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.