Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Listening to the Voice of Jesus

Scripture appointed for the Last Sunday after Pentecost includes II Samuel 23:1-7, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 18:33-37

“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

On this Sunday, our readings invite us to consider Jesus Christ as King.

Is that a good idea?

I know that this Sunday has as its nickname, “Christ the King Sunday”… but is that a positive way to imagine your relationship with him?

Our Old Testament reading lets us listen in to the last words of another king, King David, Israel’s greatest king. He was so popular that Israel expected that when God would someday send a Messiah, God’s special agent, he would be much like David.

So these words are a long epitaph summing up David’s success as a king: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

Those are high approval ratings, aren’t they? That’s what a good king is like.

Then both our collect that we prayed together and our reading from the Book of Revelation speak of Jesus as not just a king, but as the King of kings.

But the more crowns we put on his head, the surer we need to be what kind of king he is.

And to learn that, we must listen to his voice.

“I’m not a king in the same way that you’re a governor,” he explains to Pontius Pilate. You have many hundreds of troops at your command. I have 12 disciples—well, make that 11—and they’re not a fighting force, believe me.

“But you insist you’re a king?” asks Pilate.

“You’re saying that,” replies Jesus, making me wonder how good an idea it is that we keep on calling him a king.

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to tell the world the truth about who God is and what God does and what God wants. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

That’s what I want to talk to you about today: listening to the voice of Jesus.

You have it on higher authority than mine that this is what Jesus wants us to do. Otherwise, we don’t understand what his kind of power is, or his kind of love, or his kind of justice.

There’s nothing more important for us to do here in this place than listen to the voice of Jesus. It’s why we prepare for worship when we first arrive in the pew. It’s why we stand for the Gospel, when his words and his story speak fresh things to us. It’s why we keep silence together after all the readings are finished. It’s why we have a sermon. And why we listen so carefully to what we and others sing. And it’s what’s going on in holy communion. These are all special moments when our intention is to listen to his voice.

We don’t do it just here. Here is where our listening skills are trained and encouraged. Every day, every person we meet and every place we go, we try to seek and serve Christ in all people. We promise that in our baptismal covenant.

And it’s not only in other people that Jesus Christ lives and moves. He lives and moves in you, in me, and our listening to his voice there—within—is like learning to use the global positioning system God has given us in our baptism. You must plug it in.

So I want to ask you today to consider the listening you do in church.

I can tell you that from my usual perch as preacher, you are really good listeners. And what a reward that is to a preacher, a choir, a reader, and anyone else who gets up to speak in church. You know how valuable it is to listen well. For example,

· To keep your eyes on the one you’re listening to, so you take it all in

· But sometimes to close your eyes for the very same reason, perhaps at moments when you especially don’t want to be distracted by anyone or anything

· And to not be afraid to show that you’re listening: heads nodding for that reason are a gift. Smiles—and frowns, and quizzical looks, whatever honest response you’re feeling—also become part of the chemistry in good listening. And while we’d probably have to go into training with Pentecostals and Evangelicals to get good at it, I’ve got to say it spikes my adrenalin when I occasionally hear an uninhibited soul break out with “Yes” or “uh-huh” or whatever personal exclamation might, in one of those other traditions, be “Amen!”

To really talk about listening, we’ve got to talk about distractions. But in a positive way.

I believe that good listening starts right at each doorway to this room.

Do you remember the signs that used to be placed at railroad crossings? Do you recall the three words on that sign?


It’s good manners, when entering a place like this that is set apart for listening to the voice of Jesus, it’s good manners to catch yourself at the doorway and Stop, Look, and Listen.

Are you hearing the still small voice of quiet? Then that’s how you should enter the room. Join that quiet. Contribute to it, don’t take away from it.

And if you know the worship service is underway, it’s even more important to Stop, Look, and Listen— so that you help the listening that other people are doing.

Again, from my perch in the pulpit, it’s quite amazing what happens when a person arrives late, or gets up to leave the room, or comes back from having left the room earlier. It’s like a Wave in a sports stadium: heads turn, eyes shift, it’s a message from the primitive brain stem, like when a dog sees a squirrel.

Does that help the community to listen? I don’t think so.

So I put it this way: Stop, Look, and Listen.

· As you’re about to enter this room, are you hearing a single voice speaking? Then maybe it’s a good idea to wait. Or at least to enter quietly and sit down in the nearest available spot—then wait to return to your own seat at a kinder moment. This example would hold true also if you hear the choir singing their anthem.

· On the other hand, when you’re standing in the doorway and you’re hearing the whole community speaking together, singing together, passing the peace together, come full steam ahead.

· And if you’re not sure what you’re hearing, use the third verb: step in far enough to look around, then you’ll know how to enter and join the listening community.

To expect all this of children is a lot, isn’t it? But from what I’m hearing from some parents, it’s the right thing to expect. It really needs to fall on adults to practice and model this thoughtfulness to Stop, Look, and Listen. Parents and other adults who love our kids are the best teachers of children to join them in developing this skill. Make it positive, keep it positive.

Never before have we been blessed with as many babies and toddlers as we have now. The wondrous range of sounds that babies make is music to my ears. It’s the sound of our future.

It isn’t easy keeping a little one happy in church. Especially if a parent is doing that single-handedly on a particular Sunday. Are we going to make that harder? Not on my watch.

But parents need to know that we’re committed with them to making sure they have their place in the community that listens to the voice of Jesus.

We offer a safe and appealing nursery for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers every Sunday, headed by a capable and popular early-childhood professional.

And the upper room, just through the porch, is available when a little respite is needed. The audio dimension of our service is piped-in there, there are sofas and carpets and, usually, something to eat and drink. It’s an oasis when a break is needed.

Each family has to judge how best to make church a positive experience for the child, for the parents, and for the community.

We are a community called to listen to the voice of Jesus. It’s the most basic and important thing we do together under this roof. It’s the call of God to all our generations.