Rev Lindsey: The old, old story of Jesus’ endless love, it doesn’t find us when we’re in glory. It finds us in the wilderness. The story of Jesus’ endless love finds us in the wilderness. We are in the season of advent. It is a season of wilderness wanderings, of waiting, of changing ourselves while we’re waiting, of preparing ourselves while we’re waiting. So here’s a quote, “True self, when violated, always resists us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth. Vocation does not come from willfulness, it comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about quite apart from what I would like it to be about, or my life will never represent anything real in the world no matter how earnest my intentions.”
This is from Parker Palmer who writes in a book called Let Your Life Speak. Well, let’s just hear the first part of that again. “True self, when violated, always resists us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.” This quote has companioned me for several years. It was one of those quotes–when finding it in a book–I underlined it boldly as if it has something very important to tell me. I have until preparing for this sermon with you, I have thought of it mostly in individualistic terms, thinking about how to discern my life, right? Me as in Lindsey, what does God want me to do with this life I have and observing those places where for example, the cost was showing up, that I wasn’t doing maybe what God wanted me to do with it.
“True self, when violated, always resists us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check until we honor its truth.” So for me, I heard this and it was very important and continues to a very important quote for me to hear it, about decisions I make with my life, my one little life, right? And how to honor the true life that God is maybe speaking through me in the decisions I make about what I do and how I live and what I don’t do and how I don’t live, right? In our Scripture reading this morning from the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is talking to the crowds–followers of John the Baptist–who has been put in prison for sedition, but who had been in the wilderness before prison, which is also a wilderness, baptizing with water those who found him there, preparing the way in them for something called Messiah: Christ.
Jesus discerns that they are…that this crowd, the crowd that’s gathered, confused about what’s going on now that John is imprisoned and about who to trust and how. And Jesus asked them–to help reorient them, is how I read it. He asked the crowd, “What did you go in into the wilderness to look at? What did you go out in the wilderness seeking? What did you hope to find there,” basically. Then He says, “Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal places, not in the wilderness. So obviously you didn’t go out into the wilderness to be comforted by something as familiar as royalty.”
This crowd that’s gathered, they have in common that they have been “in the wilderness” with John. So they got in the wilderness by some means, by choice or by loss or by struggle. But Jesus asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness seeking?” You didn’t end up there. You didn’t go there just looking for a fluffy teddy bear, looking for some familiar thing. What then did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you hope to find? Jesus says, “A prophet. Yes, a prophet.” Prophets reside in the wilderness. Prophets are people, are beings who disrupt the way things are. Prophets are people endowed with some gift of God to hold our lives up to a more robust and sacred call than what we often live inside of.
We go out into the wilderness seeking that calling. We go out in the wilderness enticed by, scared by it, hoping to be healed by it, wanting a calling that is worthy of our lives, even if it’s hard and challenging. We end up in wildernesses sometimes not by choice, or not intentional choice at least, but even there I think we’re seeking that bigger meaning. We’re seeking that greater call that our little lives are a part of and we want to be claimed by it.
Jesus in this reminds us that it’s in the wildernesses, not in royal places, not in square houses and steady boxes and not even in a beautiful sanctuary like this that that calling claims us, that prophets reside, that big radical change finds us. To discern a prophet, to discern whether the radical way that they point toward is toward life for us, right? Because it’s hard to understand sometimes when you’re inside those wildernesses what to listen to, what to trust and what not to, and to try to figure out which is worth listening to. It demands a pretty robust practice of listening. I had always thought of this Parker Palmer quote (at the beginning there) about true life holding us in check until we let it speak, I’d always thought about it as an individual call, but it also speaks to a collection of people I think.
There is also a corporate true self, and by corporate I mean corporal, I mean body, the body made out of many. More to the point I am thinking of the body of the church, which Scripture boldly claims is the Body of Christ. That there a true self of the Body of Christ, the body of church attempting to speak through us, and which will hold our life, our collective life as church, as the gathered people, the Body of Christ, it will hold our life in check until we honor it’s truth.
Imagine listening as The Church, and you all who are here today are the church. Whether you have been here for 30 years or whether this is your first time in the sanctuary, you are the church. Imagine listening with ears that are connected, that are part of a body together and that you’re a part of this by being among us now, by being in our prayers and our thoughts, in this shared space, by entering this sanctuary–you are part of this body. You are no longer alone and so you’re always listening for your own life and for the life of the body together. And that there is a true life that speaks through us as the church, that if we don’t listen to it, it will hold us in check. There will be costs. We will start getting cranky. We will not be the best we could be.
How do we discern this true self as a church? Perhaps unhelpfully and to the frustration of many Type A planners and get-it-done-ers among us. We listen. We listen. A key element of this listening that I think we too often easily forget or maybe we haven’t really even thought about is we, especially the church, the followers of the way of Christ, in the mission statement who claim to courageously follow Christ and the prophets we listen to and with and sometimes in the wilderness. Listening is a practice that is familiar with and willing to go into the wilderness.
The place unknown, the place unordered. The wilderness is where profits reside. The wilderness is where we are born and reborn. It is the edge of every center. It is unfamiliar. It is wild. It is scary and it is alive. While inevitably each of us crave comfort, security, predictability, who here doesn’t, right? So appealing: comfort and security and predictability. It’s so appealing. While we all crave it and deserve it to some extent, right? We need that care, the comfort and security or the care, we also need the wilderness. We also need the wild.
We, like the crowds who started following John the Baptist in the wilderness, we seek a baptism, an immersion into a calling worthy of our lives. I believe we do; and to live lives worthy of our calling. As a church we crave this, right? I think South craves that, for there to be a pulse of vitality in us that comes from a sharp attunement with a prophet, with the prophets in the wilderness, with listening.
Rev Lindsey: As a church, we must listen in the wilderness to discern the life that wants to live through us. We need to be a people, and I like this image for me, who dance with the edge, who dance between the center and the edge. Church has often been thought of as a place of the center, where you get formed into good people, right? We need formation into being good, but we also need to be a steward of that wild space. The church needs to be a steward of this spirit, which is always moving between the center and the edge. Okay, and who here is a really good listener? Okay, we got one. We got one really good listener…. We got three, four. Awesome. For those of you, what are some of the skills when you feel like you are listening well, what are some of the things you’d have to do?
Speaker 2: Pay attention to what the person’s saying.
Rev Lindsey: Pay attention to what the person’s saying.
Speaker 3: Be empathic.
Rev Lindsey: Be empathic. Can you say more about that?
Speaker 4: [inaudible 00:14:18].
Rev Lindsey: So pay attention to what the other person’s saying and then maybe imagine the feeling that’s there. Any others who listen well?
Speaker 5: Concentrate.
Rev Lindsey: Concentrate. So the paying attention. Yeah, Glenn?
Glenn: Eye contact.
Rev Lindsey: Eye contact. Eye contact. So there’s some verbal, I mean bodily cues that you’re listening.
Speaker 7: [inaudible 00:14:52] in your mind, but you also have to criticize or be critical of what you’re hearing.
Rev Lindsey: To listen?
Speaker 7: To listen, you really have to pay attention and then you have to examine it. You have to sit back-
Rev Lindsey: Yeah. There’s the first, there’s the listening and then there’s sort of the assessment.
Speaker 7: Yeah.
Rev Lindsey: Someone outside had their-
Speaker 8: Understanding.
Rev Lindsey: What’s that?
Speaker 8: Understanding.
Rev Lindsey: Understanding. That’s some of the empathy I think, that feeling with-
Rev Lindsey: Patience. Nick.
Nick: [inaudible 00:15:26].
Rev Lindsey: Right. So that do not interrupt someone when they’re speaking, as I just did.
Speaker 10: Don’t nod off. [Laughter]
Rev Lindsey: Don’t nod off. Yes, falling asleep is not good. There’s some real basics to good listening. Right. So listening is paying attention, concentrating, feeling with, imagining the feelings of the person that you’re listening to. It’s allowing yourself to receive what’s said and then saying, “I’m going to discern it. I’m going to assess it,” right? It’s patience. It’s the bodily practices of not nodding off and eye contact and of not interrupting. Right?
Speaker 11: Do not text while listening.
Rev Lindsey: Do not text while listening. [Laugher.} It’s funny, the bodily practices are huge, right? Because there’s so much of this energy among us in the world today, that kind of, like the tight shoulder energy, you know what I mean? The get-it-done, the ‘time is money’ energy, and listening, all the things you just said, they’re like open some space and hang out there for awhile. They require in a real basic way time. To listen takes time and a quality of openness that is itself risky. Right? It’s hard to listen. It’s really hard to listen.
Rev Lindsey: I once read, and I can’t remember where, that the idea that for any real conversation to take place, and that means listening on both sides, all sides, all of those involved in the conversation have to show up open to the possibility that the conversation will change them.
Rev Lindsey: That’s also the risk of listening is that something you hear will change you, right?
Rev Lindsey: We as church get to be wild people. It’s obvious, right? Isn’t it obvious that we are the most wild people? We as a church get to be. We get to be people who take time to listen with and for the wild spirit that tells the old, old story of Jesus’ endless love over and over in new ways. So may we as South, let’s discern the moving of that Spirit first by listening. Amen.
Recorded December 15th, 2019