First Presbyterian Church

“Listen”

Jeremiah 31:31-34
2 Timothy 3:14-17

Kahlil Gibran wrote The Prophet, said, “Speak to us of talking. And he answered saying, “You talk when you speak to be at peace with your thoughts. And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart, you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.”

Listening is not something for which Presbyterians are well-known. Rather than the old scripture, which says, “Speak Lord for thy servant is listening; we more often say, “Listen, Lord, for they servant is speaking.” As Columba Stewart explains, “Language can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, humbly or proudly. Perhaps we fill our world with noise because we are really afraid to face ourselves.

In his book Beginning to Pray, Anthony Bloom writes, “If you watch carefully, you will discover that we hardly ever live from within ourselves; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words we live by reflection, by reaction. We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things.”
The wise preacher of Ecclesiastes says that “there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak.” There is an old proverb to the effect that those who open their mouths, close their eyes.”
Michael Casey in Guide to Living observes, “One of the dangers of talking is that it restricts our capacity to listen, it banishes mindfulness and opens the door to distraction and escapism. Talking too much often convinces us of the correctness or our own conclusions and leads some into thinking they are wise. It can be a subtle exercise in arrogance and superiority.”

Wayne Mueller in Sabbath says that one of our fears of quiet is that if we stop and listen, we hear our own emptiness. We quickly fill all the blanks on our calendar with tasks, accomplishments, errands, things to be done – anything to fill the time and the empty space. But this emptiness has nothing at all to do with our value or our worth. All life has emptiness at it’s core. Without that emptiness, we are clogged and unable to give birth to music, love or kindness. At a retreat a physician took him aside and confessed that for him and many of his colleagues in medicine, part of their rush and hurry is fear of terrible things they will feel in the quiet. They are so close to so much suffering and death, they are afraid that if they stop, even for a moment, the enormity of that loss will overwhelm them.
The tongue is like a thermometer; it gives us our spiritual temperature, It is also like a thermostat, it regulates our spiritual temperature. Control of the tongue can mean everything. St. Dominic is reported to have visited St. Francis and throughout the entire meeting neither spoke a single word. Only when we learn to be truly silent are we able to speak the word that is needed when it is needed.
*Use the early morning moments upon first awakening for moments of silence, solitude and listening.
*Find a quiet space and use it exclusively for solitude and prayer. One family has a special chair and whenever anyone sits there, it gives the signal “Please don’t bother me, I want to be alone.”
*Discipline yourself so that your words are few but full. Become known as the person who truly has something to say when you do speak. Try to live entire days without words, with moderating your noise, without reacting to noise and distractions.
Thomas Merton said, “it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.
Jeremiah spoke to people who had something to cry/even to complain about. How dare we espouse listening!!! Sometimes our faith – our lives are not about listening but rather about defending ourselves-our beliefs-our ideas-getting our point across.
Practice grief in a world of denial? Practice sacrament in world of technique? Practice generosity in a world of scarcity? Practice obedience in a world of indulgence? Practice hope in a world of despair? As Dr. Phil sometimes asks, “How’s that working for ya?”
But God gave Jeremiah a new approach, “I will put my law within you. I will write it on your heart. I will be your God and you will be my people.” Before, the people had scripture cards they wore on their foreheads and in pouches on their doors. But now God would install His words on their hearts. He would inscribe what he wanted them to know in their hearts so they would always have it near.
What he is talking about was described in the passage we used this morning as our Call to Worship – the 119th Psalm (the longest Psalm in the Bible). The Psalmist said, “I love your law. I meditate on it day and night.” I love your instruction, your direction, your wisdom and I focus upon it intently.” To what – to whom do we listen? We listen to TV. We listen to each other. This makes a case for listening to scripture.
On the Today Show, actor Ian McKellen said, “I have often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in front saying that it is fiction. The Bible is out of season. People do not know what it is and at best do not think it matters. The former Princeton scholar Emile Caillet after the horrors of WWI found that nothing he believed no longer made sense until he came to the Bible and found again the Beatitudes, Blessed are the poor in Spirit, Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted, and so on. He rediscovered that when we read the Bible – in essence the Bible reads us. The Bible does not need a disclaimer to say that it is fiction but a warning to those who read it. It should come with a warning not to read it alone for with the Bible you are outmatched. We are outmatched by the love and grace of God who has given us His love. But to it we must learn how to listen – to allow it to open us in ways we don’t open ourselves easily or often to anyone else. To what and to whom do you listen.
Henri Nouwen said “How can we listen in a world that does it’s best to distract us for seemingly more urgent matters? Choose a sacred text and just listen to a word or phrase. Repeat it over and over again and ask, “What is God saying to me now, in this time?” One of the early Christian writers describes the first stage of developing a more silent and prayerful life like a man, who after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. The visitors who used to come continue to pound on the doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realize they are no longer welcome do they gradually start coming. We can never develop a deeper space for listening to God – in prayer and through scripture – unless we begin to say “No” to the incessant voices that clamor around us, close out the distractions that come from all directions and shut up the noise that bubbles up from within us and seems to need our words in order to prove itself. Henri Nouwen continues, “Silence is that station where we can recharge our batteries, or the corner of the boxing ring where our wounds can be oiled, our muscles oiled and our courage restored.” In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain. Just me-naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, broken where I have to face my nothingness. But when I stay in my silence, until all our seductive visitors get tired of pounding on the door of our lives and leave us alone. In their place come new voices that speak of peace, kindness, gentleness, hope, forgiveness and most of all, love. At first they seem small and insignificant but over time they grow stronger if we keep listening for them and to them. What we are doing is creating quiet cells where God can dwell.
The apostle Paul told the young preacher named Timothy that scripture was God’s way of speaking to us – to give us instruction, warning, wisdom and focus? How do we receive those things if we don’t listen carefully for those things? How do we hear God if we don’t create time and space to listen – to stop talking long enough to hear – to withdraw from the noise and distractions so that God voice can rise up within us and be heard?
I admit that it is not easy and I am the world’s worst. But I must ask myself and each of us…What is at stake if we don’t begin to listen, to stop talking long enough to hear, to learn to hear what God has been saying? What do we miss? What will become of us? Or greater yet – What can we become when we do learn to shut up long enough – to still the madness around/within us to hear what scripture may be saying (Just that one word or phrase a day that rises to the top?)
IN that stillness, we can learn to count on God to hear the ones around us who are weak, vulnerable, who have no voice.
In that quiet, we can count on God to hear those who have no where else to turn.
In that safe space, count on God to not always grant our requests but to hear the persistent prayers of our heart. LISTEN