National Bishop Susan C. Johnson

Rev Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.

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National Bishop's Turn

Are You Listening?

God may be trying to get your attention.

Let's conduct a poll. How many of you have had an experience like Samuel? You fall asleep and the next thing you know, you hear a voice calling you by name. You run to your spouse, child, parent, roommate, or neighbour, and say, "Here I am, for you called me." And they look at you like you're crazy and tell you they didn't call, not to bother them, and to go back to sleep. And so you lie down.

But the voice comes again, calling you by name. Again you run to your spouse, parent, child, roommate, neighbour and see what they want—and now they are starting to get really peeved. So you go to sleep and it happens again, but this time your spouse, parent, child, roommate, neighbour tells you that it is God calling, and next time you should answer, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." And that is exactly what you do and say. How many of you have had that happen?

Let me ask you another question: How many of you have been called by God? Hopefully you are all saying yes. At our baptisms we are called into a life of following Jesus, each and every one of us.

Final question: What new thing is God now calling you to? I can almost hear you thinking, "New thing? You mean there might be more that's expected of me?" I hate to break it to you, but the answer is a resounding YES! The problem we have is hearing and discerning these calls. An article I read once talked about how most of us are functional atheists. We live our lives without any sense that God has something to do with how we earn a living, raise a family, express our relationships, and live as citizens of the world. We are unaware that God might have something to say about all of our lives, not just the portion that is taken up with church activities.

But it is not just as individuals that we have problems hearing God's call. As a community of faith, we are called by God. And as a group, we can also get so caught doing the same old, same old that we experience difficulty hearing God's call.

Partly we know that God's call usually requires change—and often radical change. You don't read stories in the Bible where God spoke to people and said, keep doing what you're doing. No, when God tries to get your attention, usually there is a request to change something, do something, tell something, and these requests are not easy. Most often they require more effort, taking us in directions that we may not want to go.

But we also know that there is no once-and-for-all call. We do not get the message once and then never have to try and discern God's will again. No, instead the discernment continues to occur as we live our lives as disciples. This is why I am so excited about our March National Church Council meeting where we will be spending time trying to discern how and where God is calling our church and setting priorities for the coming years.

Are we listening? Are we alert and observant disciples? What is God doing to get our attention? Are we open and willing to say with Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." My hope and prayer for you and for me is that we are both open and willing.

Bishop Susan C. Johnson

Canada Lutheran, March 2008