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Listening for a Pin to Drop, November 12, 2017

Listening for a Pin to Drop

(inspired by a sermon by Tripp Martin)

I remember when I was a kid, I got some walkie talkies for my birthday. I put in the double AA batteries, found my friend Jimmy, and we spent the whole next day running all over the place to test them out. We went to opposite sides of the house. One of us went out to the back yard and the other to the front. We spent the day imagining we were on a secret mission to save the world.

Jimmy would call, “This is Redhawk. This is Redhawk. Can you hear me? Over!” Apparently, you have to have a really cool nickname when you are using a walkie talkie. I said, “Jimmy, this is Yme—I mean Redhawk, this is LongJohnHotPants. I can hear you Redhawk. Over!”

He said, “LongJohnHotPants is too long of a name, pick something different.” I said, “No, it’s not. Over!” We spent the remainder of the afternoon, running around, hiding, and talking to one another on those walkie talkies.

I learned a couple of things early on—1) you had to be close enough to each other to get a good signal; and 2) you couldn’t yell into the walkie talkies. If you talked too loud, the other person only heard static. You had to slow down and talk softly to be heard.

And here’s the important thing for my point this morning—when you were listening, you had to be still and ignore everything around you. You couldn’t run from one place to another and still hear what was said. You had to slow down; you had to focus on the voice on the other end of the call.

Part of being the church is to learn how to listen in a world that only wants to speak.

We listen for all kinds of reasons, and it’s becoming increasingly hard in a world that likes to talk all the time.

We listen for information. Tablets and smart phones and computers are always sending out more information into the world, and sometimes, that’s like listening for your plane information in a very busy and noisy airport.

We also listen with a friend, to hear what she is really saying to us. We pay attention to their words, but also to their body language and their facial expressions. We listen deeply to hear what they’re really saying to us.

We also listen for discernment, sifting through the questions of life. We learn to slow down and listen, not to react quickly to every dilemma, but to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully. We learn to listen not only to speak, but so we can speak truthfully, kindly, and compassionately.

Listening, I think, is also at the heart of the church.

For me, that’s what worship is all about. We gather together and pause long enough to listen. When we sing, it is for our ears. When we read scripture, we are trying to hear what we have not heard before, or what we need to hear again. When we pray, we listen for God’s heart beating with the heart of the universe. After all my words in the sermon, we pause for a time of silence so that we can listen for the presence of God.

At least, that’s true in our Anglican worship. Other churches don’t take this kind of silence. They want worship bands and constant energy and all the same kind of visual and audio stimulation which they find in the world. One church in town says in its promotional literature that “if you’re looking for reverence, you should go somewhere else.”

Good! Come here! Worship with us! We slow down in worship. We take time. We make time. We are intentional about it, because I am convinced that it’s only as we slow down and be silent that we can actually listen for that still small voice.

This morning, our Psalm invites us, “Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” The Psalmist calls the people to slow down and listen … so that “we may recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.”

The thing is that God does continue to speak in our world and in our lives. Just as God speaks through parables and old sayings, God also opens our hearts to new ways of living shaped by God’s grace and compassion.

But if we are to hear God, we must learn to slow down, to stop speaking. In a world which knows only how to speak, we have to learn again how to listen.

Too often, we are busy speaking at each other, past one another, over each other, or about each other. Sometimes we listen only with half an ear because we are trying to think of what to say next.

But not with God. God is whispering to us, reminding us that we belong to God and to one another. In order to hear it, we must listen. In order to distinguish God’s voice among all the others, we must listen.

We are learning to recognize God’s voice in the silence of a walk in the forest. In birdsong in the evening. In the first light on the mountain peaks. In those unbidden thoughts that come to our hearts in the middle of the night.

We are learning to recognize God’s voice in moments of quiet. When a sudden thought causes us to stop and take notice. When the choir finishes singing and the beauty of the song fills the room and we do not have the words to describe it. When we hear something or feel something or experience something, and we know that we are in the presence of something holy.

We are learning to recognize God’s voice in acts of love. In works of justice and healing. In moments of compassion. Or at the end of worship when we turn to someone else and ask, “What did you think of worship today?” which is another way of asking, “What did you hear?”

What did you hear in the songs? In the prayers? In the people around you? In Scripture? In the sermon? In the silence? In coming forward for Communion? In the voice of the one who looked you in the eye and said, “Christ’s peace be with you”?

Do you hear whispers of forgiveness? Do you hear how everyone belongs? Do you hear the cries of some people who are in need? Do you hear how precious you are, that God cherishes you as a beloved son and daughter?

This is part of the work of the church—learning to listen. We do that here Sunday by Sunday so that we can better listen for those same things in the world. We learn to recognize God’s voice in worship so that we can also recognize God’s voice wherever kindness is spoken, wherever justice is needed, wherever humility is voiced, wherever compassion is given, or wherever community is formed.

In her book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain tells the story of Rosa Parks, the woman who sparked the civil rights movement in the USA.

It happened in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955—62 years ago. She got on the bus after a long day of work, standing on her feet and leaning over an ironing board. She sat down on the front row of what was called the “colored section” of the bus. At each stop, more people got on until the “whites–only section” filled up. Then at the next bus stop more people got on, but there was no place to sit, so the driver ordered Rosa Parks to give her seat to a white passenger. She refused. Even when she was arrested, she refused to give up her seat. As a result, a boycott of the bus system was organized, which lasted for 381 days.

I believe it was a sacred moment, one in which she led other voices to speak up as well. We still hear her voice today.

In many of the obituaries written about Rosa Parks, Susan Cain noticed how she was often described as timid, shy, and quiet. But I believe Rosa Parks learned to speak up because she first knew how to listen.

God continues to speak. We quiet ourselves to listen. It’s like learning to listen for a pin to drop—but if we incline our ears to hear the voice of mercy and the need for justice, we will learn how to speak up as well, and tell the story of God’s grace to generations yet unborn.

And then we realize that we are learning to experience God’s voice as God speaks in us. Through us. Among us. We listen … so that we might learn to speak the truth of love and grace.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

November 12, 2017 (24th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 33)

Psalm 78: 1–7

Joshua 24: 1–3, 14–25

Matthew 25: 1–13

1 Thessalonians 4: 13–18