Summary: God speaks gently to us when we are in a daily relationship with Him, but sometimes He needs to us a spiritual 2 x 4 to get our attention.
I read the following story in a sermon online by Joseph Smith (http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/major-adjustments-joseph-smith-sermon-on-church-purpose-of-60305.asp?page=0)
The old farmer claimed that he could command his mule with nothing more than a few soft words, no whips or prods necessary. She would respond, he claimed, with nothing more than gently spoken commands. So his buddy down at the feed store asked for a demonstration. “Prove to me that your old mule will respond with nothing more than gentle language.”
Out in the field they went, the farmer, his buddy, and the mule. As the friend watched, first in awe and then in horror, the farmer took a huge piece of lumber, a two-by-four about six feet long, and swung it with all his might, hitting the mule on one ear! When the animal stopped braying and bellowing and prancing around, the farmer then said, quietly, “Come here” and the mule came. “Sit”, and the whimpering creature sat. “Back up”, and she backed into the harnesses of a waiting plow and waited calmly for him to hook up. “You see? She’ll respond to a simple voice command”. But his friend objected, “Whatever are you talking about? You said all you had to do was talk to her, but you hit her with this huge two-by-four! What do you mean, you just command her with words! That’s not what I saw!”
“Oh, that,” said the farmer. “Well, first I do have to get her attention!”
This morning, I wonder what God has to do to get your attention? Does He need to use a 2x4? I’ve heard that expression before, God whacking us upside the head with a spiritual 2x4 to get our attention. It is often in the context of a good story, about God doing something that really demonstrates His power and His love to us in some really noticeable, really obvious way, that usually ends up accomplishing some fantastic thing in our lives as followers of Jesus.
But this morning I’m wondering why we do that to God. Why, when the nature of God’s voice is the “still, small voice” that Elijah met on the mountain when God was not in the earthquake or the fire, do we ignore God until He has to yell? Why, when Jesus described His “yoke” as “easy and light”, and His character as “humble and gentle of heart” (Matt 11:29), do we sometimes back Him into a corner until He has to break out the 2x4? Why, when God’s relationship with us is one based on grace and on our experience of God’s love, do we live our own lives and make a mess and force God to exercise discipline in order to shape our lives in patterns and activities that make our lives the very best?
I want you to keep that point in mind as we turn to Scripture this morning. It is a story of a spiritual 2x4 being used on a particularly important figure, at a particularly important time, in the Biblical story. We have been in a sermon series called “Pivotal Moments in the Biblical Story”, and last Sunday we re-told the story of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church and the response of the community of the church being born.
As often happens, this new beginning challenged the existing ways and beliefs and structures, and invited opposition. The Jewish leaders who thought they had dealt with the “Jesus problem” through the crucifixion now discovered that these followers of Jesus were not going to seep through the cracks and let life return to “normal”, in fact some of these followers started to make a rather large fuss in Jesus’ name. One story, in particular, of a young man named Stephen ends up with him being stoned to death as a heretic and launches an extended season of persecution. That story is interesting, especially in contrast to the story of Jesus. Remember, the Jewish leaders took Jesus before the Roman courts to have Him sentenced to death, claiming it was not lawful for them to sentence someone to death. But in the story of Stephen and his sermon before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, they fly into a rage and haul Stephen out and stone him. As you recall, it is at the stoning of Stephen that we are introduced to Saul, who becomes the chief persecutor of the church.
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”