“Listen”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 1, 2015 The Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 9:2-9

 

At Silver Lake Conference Center, our UCC outdoor ministry site here in Connecticut, any given day contains a lot of excitement. There are all the camp activities you might imagine—swimming, and the ropes course, and arts and crafts, and worship, and singing, and eating, and campfires, and, of course, s’mores. There are chores—composting, and gardening, and dish duty, and cleaning the bathrooms. There’s program time, when you focus on the theme of your conference. The schedule is full of things to do and people to meet and places to be from dawn to after dark. No one gets bored.

But there’s something else in the schedule, too. Every day, after lunch, everyone goes back to their cabins for Quiet Time. All the usual camp sounds stop; there is no more splashing of cannonballs into the lake, no more shouts from the kickball field, no more thunder of running footsteps, no more laughter and chatter as a group passes by on their way to the next activity. For forty-five minutes, every camper must be in their own bed—resting, or napping, or reading, or journaling, or drawing, or just zoning out. The whole campus—from the waterfront to the top of the hill, from the ropes course to the volleyball court, from the dining hall to the nurse’s office—gets quiet. And it’s amazing what you can hear.

You can hear the scratching sound a pen makes when it puts words onto paper in a letter to home. You can hear the whispering sound of pages turning as the plot of a book thickens. You can hear the rustling sound of a sleeping bag as its occupant stirs. You can hear the creaking sound of wind in the pine trees, the sharp sound of a stick hitting the roof, the sounds of crows cawing and blue jays shrieking and squirrels chiding.

When everyone and everything is still, you can hear the sound of your own breathing, your own heartbeat. In the absence of the familiar hubbub, you can hear the sound of your own thoughts. When the daily background noise dies away, you can hear the whisper of God’s still, small voice.

 

That’s how I imagine the climactic moment on the mountain that today’s scripture describes. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, and the four of them go off by themselves to climb a high mountain. And something happens—some kind of vision, some kind of manifestation, some kind of holy moment. There are bright lights and strange figures and loud voices. The disciples are understandably terrified and have no idea what to say or do.

And then there is a cloud that dims the light, and one voice booms out over all the others: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then everything goes quiet. And in the resounding silence that follows, Peter and James and John can hear the sound of their own ragged breathing, their own thundering heartbeats, their own scattered thoughts. And underneath that, they can hear the echo of God’s voice, as though it is inscribed upon their eardrums for all eternity. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

 

Now, usually when we use the word “listen” in the context of speaking to a son or daughter, it means something more like “obey” than like “hear.” You listen here, young man… But the Greek word used here does not carry that connotation of scolding into obedience. It is about hearing, perceiving, considering, learning, understanding, giving one’s attention to what is being said.

What would it be like if we took this season of Lent as an opportunity to practice the discipline of listening?

What would happen if, instead of formulating your own opinion and waiting for a chance to share it, you formulated a really good question and then simply listened to someone’s response? What would you hear if you talked a little less? What would you hear if you focused on what someone else is saying, on what God is saying?

What would happen if, from time to time, you paused and turned your attention to the words under the words, the message that underlies our daily hubbub and background noise?

What would the voice of Jesus sound like if you invited him to speak to you? Would it be deep or high, resonant or hoarse, loud or soft? Would it be a voice at all, or would it be music, or birdsong, or sunlight, or wind?

What would Jesus say if you invited him to speak to you? Would he encourage? Would he challenge? Would he bless? Would he pray? Would he teach you a lesson, or tell you a parable, or ask you a question, or sing you a song?

What would you discover if you took this season as a time to pause and listen, to be still and know, to hear what God might be saying?

It doesn’t have to be 45 minutes of Quiet Time every day after lunch. It might be five minutes in the morning, drinking your cup of coffee and reading your Lenten devotional. It might be ten minutes in the car on your way home from work, turning the radio off and just listening. It might be half an hour before bed, thinking back over your day and all that it held.

What would you hear? What would you learn? What would you discover? How would you change?

 

Because quiet time is so precious, and often so scarce, and sometimes so uncomfortable when we’re not accustomed to it, let’s take the opportunity now for a little glimpse of it, just a couple of minutes, and see if it doesn’t whet your appetite. So get comfortable in your seat. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable. Feel your feet on the floor, the wood supporting the weight of your body. Listen to your breathing; listen to your heartbeat; listen to your thoughts. And then see if you can’t listen to what’s underneath those sounds—to the whisper of God’s still, small voice, speaking directly to your heart, giving you the message God knows you need to hear.