Unsaid

This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage:  Mark 1: 21-28

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Can you hear me now?…Can you hear me now?…Can you hear me now?…Remember that Verizon campaign with that now famous slogan.   It lasted for nine years and always showed a guy going to different places with his cell phone to show what fabulous network reception Verizon had.  He’d be out in a field or down in a hole or in some sort of tunnel and with those words, would test out how well his phone worked.  I suppose it was a fairly clever advertising campaign for the phone itself.  But it also acknowledged that there are other factors in play when it comes to trying to hear someone.  There’s the instrument of hearing itself.  There’s the distance between the hearer and what he or she is trying to hear.  And then there are those things that get in the way, whether they are physical impediments that stop the sound or other sounds and voices that interfere.  As we know, hearing is not that easy.  It involves listening and sometimes that’s not as clear as it sounds.  Sometimes we, too, have to hone our reception capabilities.  

But how do you hear the voice of God in the midst of this noisy, chaotic world?  Jesus…Jesus showed us that.  If we just pay attention, Jesus taught less about how to act and more about how to listen to the voice of God.  At first reading, our Gospel passage for this week seems to be about some sort of exorcism of demons or some sort of evil spirits.  Now, admittedly, that’s just downright odd for us.  But before we relegate it to the status of a B-rated horror flick, let us look at it from the standpoint of the one who Jesus healed rather than the demons themselves. 

Think about it.  I don’t think this was what we think of as “demonic possession”.  This is not “The Shining”.  This person was an interruption.  He didn’t fit.  He didn’t belong.  He was in the way of proper society and right religion.  But not only did Jesus acknowledge him but he also welcomed him and healed him.  Yes, the world as it was known with its comfortable rules and its “right” ways of being was ending.  Even that which doesn’t “belong” is being redeemed.  God is gathering everything in so that it can be re-created—even, I suppose the demons, whatever those might be.

We are told that Jesus brought an unquestioned authority to his teaching.  What was that?  Well of course, it was the Word of God.  But what does that mean?  It was not an overpowering; it was not a violent overtaking; it was a silencing, a silencing of the powers and voices of this world that are not part of that vision that God holds.  The Greek word is the same one used to depict the way Jesus calmed the storm, created order out of chaos.  Maybe that where we’re called to be.  Maybe that’s how God speaks—in the silences, when we’re listening.  You see, Jesus’ teaching was not just about words; it was about transformation.  It was about taking that which did not belong and speaking it into being again.  It was about silencing those voices that were in the way of hearing the voice that we’re called to hear.  It’s about clearing those things from our lives that are so loud that we can’t listen to that which we’re supposed to be listening.   Shhh!  Can you hear me now?

Listening is about more than just words.  A listening faith affirms that God sees more than we see, imagines more than we imagine, and believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.  We’d like this voice to which we’re called to listen to be clear and concise and controllable.  If we’re honest, we’d like to be able to turn it off once in a while when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.  But that’s not how it works.  Changing the world (and changing ourselves) is sometimes messy and wild and even dangerous.  Living into God’s vision might sometimes mean that we have to speak the voice of God and probably more likely that we will actually be called to silence our own perceptions and desires and fears that the world might not be what we think it should look like so that we can hear God speaking our Creation into being once again.  Our main work is listening, rather than speaking.  In fact, on some level, we have neglected to perfect the language of listening.  We have not learned to empty our filled-up lives so that God can speak them into being.

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a little book called When God Is Silent that is so full of words and thoughts that we people of faith need to hear.  In it, she quotes French philosopher Max Picard who claimed that silence was the central place of faith, the place where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it.  Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation.  We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again.  She speaks of silence as the womb from which we came and so returning to it, is to allow ourselves to be recreated.

We need to remember that faith is not about affirming our old shopworn lives.  It’s about newness; it’s about re-creation; it’s about following God down pathways that we’ve never walked before.  Faith is drifting off a little in a sermon and then finding yourself in a new land. Faith is about singing a song that you’ve never heard before and realizing that in the deepest part of you, you already know the tune.  Faith is about hearing unexpected voices say things that we never thought we’d hear.  Faith is listening and learning when to speak and when to hear.  And the more faithfully we listen to the voice within us, the better we will hear what the world is trying to tell us and what God envisions that we should hear.

So where are those voices to which we should be listening?  I think they’re here, all around us.  They are out there on the street.  They’re on that chaotic mess that we call television and they are all over the internet.  They’re in the sanctuary and they’re on the Zoom call and they’re in the streaming worship to which you’ve become so accustomed.  They are there.  But we have to learn to hear the voices that God is calling us to hear.  God is not silent.  God is straining to be heard by us above all the other voices.  But knowing which voice is one to which we should listen is deep within us.  In the moment of silence when we begin to hear, the words settle into our hearts and begin to be claimed and shaped into who we were meant to be.  And, through it all, we “unsay” ourselves so that God can re-create us. So, can you hear me now?

God speaks in the silence of the heart.  Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Speechless

Joseph with Infant Christ (Murillo)
“Joseph With Infant Christ”, Bartoleme’ Estaban Murillo, 1665-1666, Museum of Fine Arts, Sevilla, Spain

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.
(Matthew 1: 18-25)

The writer known as Matthew is the one that gives Joseph his moment.  But, interestingly enough, he doesn’t even get a chance to ask a question (like, “How can this be?”)  or voice his opinion or perhaps shake his fist in utter disbelief.  I don’t know if it’s the moment or the Scripture, but Joseph is somehow rendered speechless.  He’s not even given a small speaking role.  Instead, Joseph, who had apparently already decided what he was going to do (a plan that it should be noted in the face of the tradition was merciful and compassionate).  He was going to quietly dismiss her.  And, I suppose, Joseph would have faded into the pages of the story with no other mention.  Perhaps Mary could have gotten help from her cousins.  They probably would have put her up.  And Jesus and John would have grown up like brothers.  It could have all worked out, but that’s not what happened.  Because in this moment, Joseph is handed a dream.

It was apparently a wild fit of a dream.  I mean, the Lord came.  That cannot have been a comfortable situation.  And, true to form, God tells him not to be afraid.  “Oh, no,” Joseph thought, “I have read this before.  When the Lord tells you not to be afraid, things tend to happen–things like the floor of your world on which your standing giving way and you falling uncontrollably into something that you never imagined and for which you certainly could never have planned.  Hold on!”  And the Lord hands him a story that doesn’t even make sense.  Joseph is being asked to step back into the story.  And oh what a story it has become.  Joseph is being asked to raise the child that IS the Messiah.  Joseph is being asked to love him and guide him and discipline him (Good grief, how do you discipline a Messiah?  I mean, does he get like some sort of Divine time out?)  Joseph is even told what to name the child.

Well, I’m betting that Joseph’s first thought when he awoke was that he had eaten some bad shrimp or something (wait, that wouldn’t be…crustaceans and all…maybe he wondered if he had had a bad piece of lamb).  He probably laid there for a few minutes processing it all.  I mean, remember, the verses before the ones we read remind us that Joseph was descended from a long line of dreamers.  In fact, old Grandpa Jacob (like 34 “greats” ago) had fought back, wrestling until the break of day!  Remember that?  And then Joseph got up and moved out of the way and followed.  He had plans.  He had a reputation to think of.  He had a face that he had to present to the temple.  He had a life.  But Joseph moved aside and fell speechless.  And then God gave him his voice.

Advent should be our reminder to fall speechless, to get out of the way, and listen.  We, too, will be given our voice.

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Fear not the strangeness you feel.  The future must enter you long before it happens.  Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

FOR TODAY:  Shhhh!  Fall silent and let the Lord give you your voice.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Silencing the Frenzy

dreamstimefree_2009266120But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! (Habakkuk 2:20)

Well, tis the season!  THIRTEEN MORE DAYS!!! 20% OFF ONE DAY ONLY!!!  FREE SHIPPING TODAY ONLY!  FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS RECEIVE A FREE ______________ [I don’t know, just fill in the blank!]  The truth is, we are frenzied!  We live at a frenzied pace with which, truth be known, none of us can keep up.  I think about my last couple of days.  I haven’t even been able to breathe. Today I decorated five Christmas trees (one big one, four small ones), straightened my house, decorated all over the house, made a cheesecake, and now I’m writing this really late blog. Oh yeah…I wrote a sermon too! I think it’s just a conspiracy to keep us from dancing!  (Sorry this is so late in the day!)

But, think about it–we’re probably not the first people on the planet to live frenzied.  Think back–”Joseph, you’ll need to spend the next few days and take off from your carpenter’s job (unpaid, I’m guessing) and pop over to Bethlehem to pay this new tax that we’ve concocted.  We hope that works for you. Oh?  Your wife is about to go into labor?  And, really, she is birthing the salvation of the world, the Son of the God, the Messiah?  Well, that’s great, but you still need to pay your taxes on time or we can garnish your wages or take your house or throw you into one of those new Roman prisons.”  And so they went–Mary and Joseph, supposedly on a donkey or a mule or something of the like.  They arrived in Bethlehem.  But apparently everyone had gotten the same notice.  Do you believe all this traffic?  Why didn’t we make a reservation?  (Oh, really, Joseph?  What were you thinking?) Where is that first century Groupon when you need it?  Mary, I know this is hard.  I PROMISE that I will find a place for us to spend the night.  You’re WHAT?  NOW?  Are you kidding me?

We all know the story.  There would be no room.  There would be frenzy.  And so we made do.  We took what we could get–a sort of back room filled with hay and cast-off blankets.  It was filled with animals cowering from the cold.  And there Jesus was born into the frenzy of the world.  Truth be known–there was never calm but there was always peace.  But the point is that God still came–came into the frenzy of the world.  God does not wait until everything is calm and together.  God does not come because you have all the decorations up; God does not come because you finally have all the gifts wrapped; and God does not come because the world is ready, because the world is at peace. God just comes, frenzy and all.  And all we have to do is put on our dancing shoes!

So, THIS Advent, let go of the frenzy and remember…the Lord is already in the temple…the Lord has already come…God is just waiting for us to notice.
There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli