It might not seem as though God speaks. After all, if God is speaking in the world, the world’s track record is not encouraging. Both the world’s silence in the face of ongoing atrocity and everyday suffering, and its contrary messages and cacophony of noisy voices, are deafening.
God speaks precisely because of the world’s track record, to break silence and to cut through distortions. God speaks so that all hear — hear what God intends for all to hear: God’s promise of new life.
In the Sinai wilderness, God said to the people God had brought out of slavery in the land of Egypt, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God the Lord alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
These wandering Israelites needed to hear God’s claim on them. The wilderness was a barren place. Some people thought God had abandoned them. Others thought they needed to do something for God to love them.
God spoke to show God’s love toward them, to establish a new life of promise with them — without condition.
God spoke for them to know that they were God’s people by God’s own choosing — without condition.
Where they heard and experienced death, God spoke and gave life — without condition.
God spoke then, just as God speaks now, to make clear the only thing anyone needs to do is trust the promise that God is God, that God always keeps God’s promises — without condition.
Trust and live life.
By a promise, that is by God’s own choosing, Christians come to be part of God’s people freely and without condition. On the cross, God speaks this promise: the love of God is stronger than every other force, even death. More than that, even as Christ Jesus is raised from the dead, so too, are all God’s people.
The central claim of Christianity is that on the cross, God in Christ Jesus brings all people to himself. Nothing — not even death — separates people from God. Where we see and experience death, God sees and gifts us with the experience of life. The promise God speaks is this profound.
Whether in a formal sermon or an impromptu homily, in an informal conversation or gestures made in liturgical rites, God’s unconditional promise of life is spoken for all to hear. It is proclaimed as a word for you by someone called to publicly serve the church. And as a word for you, preaching in its many forms is meant to build up both individual and community.
There is much in life that will naturally proclaim an element of, if not total, death. Hearing God speak is to always hear a word of life. Life freely offered. Life without condition. Life abundant for all. Life poured out in the midst of emptiness.
Because many people claim to speak for God, it is often times challenging to determine whether the voice is the voice of God or some other voice.
This is a reliable way to discern the difference, no matter who is speaking: to hear a word of death is not to hear God; to hear a word of perfect life is to hear God speaking — speaking directly to you and for you to know and live in the freedom of newness of life.