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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

After The Beep

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

"For when I called, no one answered,

    when I spoke, no one listened.

They did evil in my sight

    and chose what displeases me.”

Isaiah 66:4b


During the 1980s a marvelous new gadget began to appear in millions of American homes – the answering machine. As a result, “After the Beep” has become one of the most familiar phrases in the English language.  Some creative souls entertain us with witty, out-of-the-ordinary messages, like my son, Kurt had on his machine at one time. Something like, “Congratulations! You are the 1,000th person to call the Reiter’s, and you’ve just won $1,000! A check will be mailed to you within 3 weeks – unless it is prohibited in your state. In the meantime, you may leave us a message.” I think he changed it after his boss called and got it. But most of the time we pretty much know what to expect when we hear the answering machine pick up, don’t we? “Hello, this is you-know-who, and we’re not you-know-where, leave a you-know-what, and we will – well, you know!


I didn’t used to like the “Beep!” Sometimes I’d just hang up; sometimes I’d leave a message and say (after I’d hung up) “I hate those things!” But I’ve gotten over my dislike of answering machines, and have actually come to like them. I can ask people to call me instead of trying to call them over and over – and they can do the same with me.


Some of you still don’t like them, but you might as well get used to them. The marvels of technology can’t be reversed. Gone are the days when you just picked up the phone and a pleasant voice said, “Number please” or “Operator”. And you merely replied, “159W please,” or what ever number you wanted to call. And without a touch-tone phone, you can’t pick whether you want the information in English or Spanish, you can’t pick which option you want out of a half-dozen choices, and you can’t reach the department you need to contact. And with the touch-tone phone has come more features like call waiting, call transferring, speed dialing, last number redial, 3-way calls, the star button for faxes, connection to modems, voice mail menus, and much more! And I’m sure it will get worse! I can picture the day when you call home from your office and your wife’s’ recorded voice says, “Hi, this is your wife. To find out what’s for dinner, press 1. To apologize for what you said last night, press 2. To say “I love you,” press 3. If you would like to speak to me personally, press 4 and wait. I’ll be with you shortly.”


One of the real advantages answering machines have provided is the ability to “screen” you calls. This is the 21st century, and you only have to speak with those persons with whom you wish to speak. So marvelous is this idea that you can now add “Caller ID” as a feature on your phone. Every time the phone rings, presto! There’s the caller’s number on digital display – and maybe their name!


So, you’re home and the phone rings. Caller ID says it’s your pastor calling, but you don’t want to serve on the Stewardship Committee, so you don’t answer. Or you’re just walking out the door on your day off, headed for the mall or your favorite fishing hole, when the phone rings. In the old days, you didn’t know what to do. “Should I pick up the phone, or not?” “No, I won’t. It might be the boss calling me to come in to work. But what if it’s Ed McMahan calling to award ten million dollars!?”


“Screening” calls has been around for a long, long time – long before Alexander Graham Bell. Adam and Eve did a fine job of screening their calls long before the technological machines of our day. In Genesis Chapter 3, the Bible tells us about a call Adam and Eve received one nice, cool day. They didn’t want to pick up the phone because they knew it was God calling. They’d broken God’s rule and didn’t want to answer for it. They “heard the voice of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”


In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word translated “voice” is the Greek word, “phones.” The ancestor of our word “phone.”


Adam and Eve didn’t need caller ID. When they heard the voice of the Lord, they knew who was calling. And they knew they didn’t want to speak with Him. Adam and Eve screened out that call. So God began to leave a message” “Adam, where are you? Pick up the phone, Adam. I want to talk to you, not this machine!”


But Adam and Eve had sinned, and one of the tragic results of sin is damaging the lines of communication with God. “I’m not available to take your call right now. Please leave a message after the beep.”


It’s possible to treat God like an annoying telemarketer. We don’t have time for all the things God might be trying to sell us. Some people have answering machines with messages like, “No, we don’t need a new roof. The siding on our house is fine. We already have health insurance. And we don’t want to be in your survey. If after all that, you’d like to leave a message, do so after the beep.”


And can’t we respond to God in much the same way? “No, I don’t wish to consider changing my life. I do not wish to be more faithful to church. I am already quite happy with the extent to which I devote my talents and resources to the church. No, I do not wish to sing in the choir. No, I do not wish to come to the Bible Study. No, I will not serve on any board or committee of the church. If, after all that, you wish to bless me instead of nag me, then please leave a message after the beep.”


Maybe it was just that type of response – or lack of response – that God had in mind when He inspired Isaiah to write, “When I called, no one answered, and when I spoke, no one listened!” (Is. 66:4b)


The book of Hebrews opens with a reminder that God has frequently called. Even though His people were often unavailable to take the call, God continued to try other ways to get His message through. The ultimate call was made direct to Bethlehem. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son!” (Heb. 1:1,2a) God, in His grace, didn’t give up trying to reach His people.


Here is the Good News of the Gospel. God has sent to the world His ultimate message: His own Son. We might say that God got tired of leaving messages on our machine that we ignored. He finally decided to come right to where we are and confront us, person to person. God Himself descended into the grit and grime of our human condition. God “became flesh and dwelt among us,” John tells us. (John 1:14)


God left a message. We have a revelation from God. “This is the message,” says 1st John 1:5-9, “that we have heard from Him, and now declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all! If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


God’s message to us, when He finally gets through with a clear line, hasn’t changed much from His message to Adam and Eve. “I love you despite your sin. I promise a Savior for you. I have provided a covering for you.” That message comes person-to-person – from God to you and me. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.”


It's one thing to screen out calls from people we don’t want to talk to – it’s rude at best. Though it’s certainly possible to be tied up or rushing out so we just can’t answer the phone at the moment. And, of course if we’re not home, we can’t answer the phone, and that’s why we have an answering machine.


But, to screen out God when He calls to us is a lot worse than rude – it’s insane! He may call to us through His word in the Bible, or through another person, or through circumstances – good or bad, from our point of view.


But God truly does call to us, and we mustn’t screen Him out. Even if He wants to speak to us about our sins, like He did with Adam and Eve. Or if He wants us to get to work for Him, like He did with the Apostle Paul.


We need to be faithful in calling to Him in prayer – and we need to be tuned to Him so we hear Him when He speaks. Don’t make God speak after the beep!



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