2-14-18 Homily Ash Wednesday - “Finding Your Life: Listening Deeply”
We don’t listen any more…
We live in a world of talk and we’ve lost the ability to truly listen…
Our lives have become so cluttered with things to do, things to see, or screens to look at that we’ve forgotten how to just listen…
Our world is full of noise - visual noise, physical noise, emotional noise, audible noise.
How do we expect to hear the still small voice of God over all that noise?
Do we even want to hear God over the noise?
I think sometimes we don’t, fearing God will tell us something we don’t want to hear.
If we just keep the TV going in the background, if we just keep our earbuds in or our headphones on we can control what gets in and what doesn’t, we can manage what we hear without risking hearing something that might make us think twice, that might make us pause, that might make us change…something…anything
Jesus warns in this passage that there are what he calls “thieves and outlaws” out there who will try to get us to listen to them. And often we quickly dump into that “thieves and outlaws” category those people we already don’t want to listen to: the people speaking a message that we don’t think we want or need to hear. And in doing that, by putting our proverbial fingers in our ears and singing “la-la-la-la-la” to ourselves rather than opening ourselves to hearing another viewpoint, another position, another theology, we may be turning a deaf ear to God.
We often stop listening when we’ve heard what we want to hear. We live in a world where many inhabit what are called “echo chambers;” that is, we mostly surround ourselves with people who agree with us. We get our news from sources that reinforce what we already think rather than challenge us to look more broadly. And I think social networking encourages this, aiding and abetting in this conspiracy with algorithms that detect what we like and gives us more of that, while it understands what we don’t like and shields us from that.
But we do it in our faith as well. We read the same version of the Bible because it makes us feel good. We read a few select scriptures, if we read them at all, because like getting our news only from Fox News or MSNBC, they reinforce what we already believe. And as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, we’re even selective in how we hear the scripture we do like. In John chapter 3 we tend to stop reading at the end of verse 16 because for many, it reinforces a point of view we like, whereas the next verse pushes back against that view, against what we have been told to think is the “truth” of the Christian faith.
The same happens in our passage tonight, we tend to listen until we hear verse 9, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” And after that we stop because we feel like we’ve heard all that we need, or want, to hear - namely that only Christians will be saved. Even though Jesus keeps talking we often aren’t listening any more because he said what we came to hear.
Or we think that’s what he said. (Pause)
Have you noticed how many of the musical acts of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are out touring these days? That is the music of the Baby Boomer generation and the marketers and promoters know that it is the Boomer generation that has the disposable income to go out and buy overpriced concert tickets. So they tour around - these 60, 70, and sometimes 80 year old rockers - singing the songs that made them famous decades ago, because they know that’s what the people want to hear. A high school friend posted on Facebook that she was going to see the band “Three Dog Night” at a venue near our hometown next month. I Googled the band and found that only two of the original members of that 9 or 10 member band were still with them - and only one of the three original lead singers - and that over the nearly fifty years they’ve been together there have been 29 members all together. And that makes me wonder, is that band really “Three Dog Night,” or do they just play the band’s music that the people want to hear?
When we only hear our favorite parts of Jesus’ message, or to think of it another way, when we stop listening when the band plays their new music rather than the golden oldies we came to hear, are we really listening to Jesus, or are we listening to something else? Because Jesus keeps talking and sometimes he says things, he “plays songs,” to further the metaphor, that some Christians don’t want to hear. Like verse 16, where he says, “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this pen. I must lead them too.” Okay, we begrudgingly think, he means other Christians, like Baptists or Presbyterians - certainly not the Episcopalians or Catholics - shudder at that thought!
And you’re right, he didn’t mean the Episcopalians and Catholics. Nor did he mean the Baptists, Presbyterians, or even Methodists. He didn’t even mean Christians, because there were no Christians when Jesus said this. There were people who practiced the Jewish faith, of which Jesus was a part, and there was everyone else - the Gentiles, which included all of the pagan religions of the day. So, when Jesus says he has other flocks other than that one, well…..a lot of Christians start reaching for their earbuds about then.
I saw a story on the news not long ago about someone who saved a person’s life when they grabbed them out of the way of an oncoming bus they had stepped in front of while walking down the street with their earbuds in and their eyes glued to their phone. I’ve also heard too many times of stories where there wasn’t a Good Samaritan nearby to make that save and persons were killed in that same scenario.
Sometimes, when we bury ourselves too deeply in our own echo chamber, when we don’t try to listen, we block out what could be a life-saving or life-changing message for us or someone else.
So do you see how we can get stuck when we only listen for what we want to hear, or when we don’t listen at all? When we drown out the “noise” of the other stuff that Jesus says, that maybe doesn’t go along with what our culture, our politics, or our own hermeneutic tell us we should believe, then we may find ourselves stepping in front of the proverbial bus. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Our series for Lent invites us, for 40 days, to be aware of all the things in our life that drown out what God is trying to say to us, what God wants us to hear above the din of daily life. It invites us to listen. Our worship will look different than it usually does in order to help us with that. We’ll explore different prayer styles, spiritual disciplines, and practices that will create opportunities for listening throughout the day for all the ways in which God is trying to connect with us. We’ll begin each worship service in prayer, opening our minds and our ears to the presence of God, not only in our worship space and time, but in our daily lives.
In addition, through Lent we will continue our exploration of John’s Gospel with Adam Hamilton’s study of John for six Wednesday evenings at 6pm in place of our evening prayer gatherings. Rev. Danny Dahl and I will be working together on this study and I hope you’ll consider being a part of it as well.
Jesus tells us in this passage that he is the Good Shepherd, the one who gives his life for the sheep. Clearly, we are among the sheep about which he speaks, not the only sheep, but sheep nonetheless. And his call to us as sheep is clear - listen. Listen for his voice, Listen to his call. And then follow where he leads.