“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleasing with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
Message: Listen (Sunday, July 28, 2019)
Sometimes the answer is no.
Somehow no has gotten a bad rep…but it’s really quite a wonderful and powerful word.
It signals our desires.
Do you want a cup of coffee? Yes, please.
Do you want sugar in it? No, thank you.
“No” signals clearly, and really quite simply, our wants and desires.
Onto this little tiny word…we pile all kinds of stuff. We create stories of what it might mean…rather than hearing it as it is.
Brene Brown in a number of her books explores the stories we tell or create to explain someone else’s words and actions. I commend any of her books to you. The concept is pretty simple. I ask you if you want to go to the movies with me. You say no. I hear that no, and immediately tell myself that its because “You don’t like me. You’ve never liked me. Not ever since the time, I suggested Old Yeller. Clearly, you hate me, and you hate movies, and you hate dogs.” That kind of thing.
Or, to insert your own illustration. How many arguments have you had with your spouse, child, friend, or anyone you’re in a relationship with that was not about the thing we’re arguing about, but rather, about the stories we’re telling ourselves…it’s not about the toothpaste.
It’s human nature to create stories, to tell ourselves stories to explain the world. Telling ourselves stories can be helpful, life-saving even. I see a snake. The story I tell myself, “There is a poisonous snake. It will bite me. I will die.” It’s a short story, but effective. I avoid the snake. Stories can be helpful, but they can also get in the way of clear, direct communication.
Sometimes no means just that…no. We can ask why, but we won’t always get the answer. We can imagine the why…but this can land us in deep, troubling water of our own creation.
Which brings us back to the Holy Spirit?
I’m glad you asked.
Our lesson today, from the gospel of Acts, shows the disciples traveling to spread the news, the stories of Jesus. And sometimes the Spirit intercedes, not this time with sighs too deep for words, but this time, with a big, bold no. The disciples were forbidden by the spirit to go to Asia. We don’t know why…we could imagine why—danger awaiting them, terrible weather, people out to kill them…or maybe it was that the spirit had other plans…plans like getting Paul to Lydia.
Sometimes the answer is no…because it’s leading to a great big yes.
The key…is to listen. Really listen. To spend time in prayer and meditation, to spend time not just giving God our to-do list…but listening for the wants and desires of God.
So often with creativity, we think the creative part is the work part: the painting, writing, etc and so on. But part of creativity is the unseen part: the preparing, listening, wondering, what if’ing, imagining, and so on.
To listen, really listen is to allow God to partner with us, in such a profound way, that at each step in the process, we’re open to the holy saying, “No,” not yet, not that way.
When we’re really listening, we’re more open to making changes. More open to heading in a different direction.
Without this openness, we begin to rely to heavily on our own wisdom and we begin to believe that we, not God, have all the answers.
If we remain open to the Spirit, we can hear nos for what they are: not failure or rejection, but rather the opportunity to move, learn, grow in a different ways.
To remain open, to listen deeply and prayerfully to the voice of the spirit, is a lot less exhausting then trying to have all the answers ourselves, or control the whole process. When we let go, when we listen deeply, God can energize us and our creativity..and the possibilities are endless.
Isn’t it time for us, as individuals, as a community of faith, and even our denomination as as whole to let go of the idea of control, and listen deeply for the wisdom and leadership of the Holy. To heed the holy no, and listen for what’s next.