Monday, January 16, 2017

Epiphany 2 - A

That Voice… I Keep Hearing that Voice


Do any of you have trouble doing nothing? I know lots of people do. When they have time off they spend it doing chores. When they go on vacation they spend it frantically sight seeing or visiting long lost relatives. I know others who simply cannot stop talking. If you let a moments silence enter into the room they begin to fill it.

Part of that is reflex. We are a people who work hard at life, at surviving... part of it is old fashioned religious folk tales which we have somehow adopted, like “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

But part of it, I am sure, is fear.

I don’t know what each person is afraid of – but we all have trouble just sitting and thinking. We all have trouble with silence. And there must be some deep seated reason for that. Perhaps we are afraid that we do not have any deep thoughts so we better not test the theory. Perhaps we are afraid other people will think we are lazy. Each of us might be different. And each of us might be better or worse at this... but we all suffer from it, at least a bit.

But here is the thing. If you are the one talking all the time, you are never listening. If you are the one doing all the time you are never being done for. Which means you are not learning, and you are not letting yourself be loved.

It is also true that if we are always active, if we are always moving, if we are always talking, then there is no room for God.

The Divine, the Spirit, God... that is what you find in moments of candlelit silence... that is what you find when you stand still at the edge of the ocean.... that is what you find lying on the grass at night watching the stars and fireflies... that is what you find when you listen to other people saying things you never imagined...

It begs the question... what are we filling our life with?

Isaiah 49:1-7

The Servant’s Mission
Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”
And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Time for the Young at Heart:

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places 2-inch rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. He says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, he adds a scoop of sand to the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. So he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, saying, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” he replies. Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.” Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?”


John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Wrestling with the Texts:

Let me say my opening remarks a different way.... if we are the ones who are always talking and doing ... we are probably going to miss a lot.

Let me tell you a story... this man was going to a party where he would be meeting his wife’s coworkers from her new job for the first time. He felt anxious as the time for the party grew near, and wondered whether they would like him or not. He rehearsed various scenarios in his mind in which he tried in different ways to impress them. He grew more and more tense.

But on the way to the party, the man came up with a radically different approach, one which caused all of his anxiety to melt completely away.

He decided that, instead of trying to impress anyone, he would spend the evening simply listening to them and summarizing what they had just said. At the party, he spent the evening listening carefully to everyone, responding with phrases like, “I understand what you’re saying, you feel strongly that. . .” and “Let me see if I understand what you mean. . .” He also avoided voicing his own opinions, even though at times it meant biting his tongue to keep from doing so.

To his amazement, he discovered that no one noticed or remarked on the fact that he was just listening. Each person he talked to during the evening seemed content to be listened to without interruption. On the way home, his wife (whom he had not told about the experiment) told him that a number of people had made a point of telling her what a remarkable person he was. The word “charismatic” was used by one person to describe him, while another said he was one of the most “articulate” people she had ever met.

Interesting, no? When we take the time to listen not only do we become better people, but those around us start to think better of us. We have become open to other people and we begin to understand them.

So let me put this in the context of our Bible readings for today... there were in and around Galilee and Jerusalem a group of unhappy people who were looking for wisdom. They were followers looking for a leader. And they spent a lot of effort looking for a leader. They were used to following after people... asking them tough questions.... getting them to jump through hoops. Because they knew exactly what they were looking for.

So imagine their surprise when they are just hanging around, sitting with their master John, and Jesus just walks by. He seems a rather un impressive and un remarkable man. He seems like no one... just a local carpenter... and then John the Baptist says, look.... there goes someone really important.

Most of them ignore this. Most of them are so sure of what they are looking for they do not take the time. They are so full of wisdom and talking that they cannot imagine just sitting there listening.

But not Andrew. He decides to just go and see. To follow. To listen. Then he goes and finds Simon his brother and says, you better come... and they actually just spend the day with Jesus. They just relax and listen. And in the end, to their surprise. They have found their Messiah.

Conclusion of Theme:

There is a band that I really like called the Fray. I guess I really liked them because their songs were "interesting" in terms of the way they saw the world.

One of their first hits was a song called You Found Me... which was about God. And it presented God in a very non traditional way... Here are the opening verses:

I found God
On the corner of first and Amistad
Where the West was all but won
All alone, smoking his last cigarette

I Said where you been, he said ask anything
Where were you?
When everything was falling apart
All my days were spent by the telephone
It never rang
And all I needed was a call
That never came
To the corner of first and Amistad

Lost and insecure
You found me, you found me
Lying on the floor
Surrounded, surrounded
Why’d you have to wait?
Where were you? Where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me...

I didn't say it was a happy image. But it was a surprising image about finding God hanging out alone on a street corner smoking his last cigarette.

This is not the first of last time someone wrote a song with God unexpectedly showing up. Back in 1995 Joan Osburne had a popular hit with What if God was One of Us... and the chorus went like this:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?

The power of these images is that they break through our traditional conceptions about God and faith, and what it is all about... which is something we desperately need.

That is part of what Jesus came to do, right, to change people's conception about what religion means, what faith looks like, how to live in God's way.

And perhaps we find ourselves there again. So completely sure we have it right that we are not looking, we are not listening, and we are not expecting. ... what if we started looking for something new? What do you think we might find?


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