For weeks, the words "to Listen!" have grown louder and more persistent! But listen to what? Listen to what's going on in the world around me? It seems that there is either a storm which has caused such havoc, or wild fires in California, or a group that has kidnapped young girls, or another mining tragedy, this time in Turkey, or one nation once again forcing their hegemony on another such as the situation in Ukaraine, ………….Then there's the momentary crisis with someone in my own family,or in my family here at church…….LISTEN?… HEAR?….Feel COMPASSION? Jesus says to us: Do not let your hearts be troubled?
On the other hand, maybe I could just put my hands over my ears so I don't have to listen.
That's what Stephen's crowd did when he spoke to them and delivered the news that they didn't want to hear. Stephen is recorded as the first martyr of the new Christian faith and by the way the patron saint of DEACONS. Not sure just what the implication is here……. but then.
Stephen was called before the Sanhedrin. He infuriated them and the crowd. They covered their ears, and with a loud shout all had rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; In the face of an angry mob, Stephen delivered a message that accused the people "of being stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears ---of rejecting the prophets, and of opposing the Holy Spirit…."
AHHHH! Perhaps that's the key …. We are able to listen, to hear, to have compassion, because we are unwilling to oppose the Holy Spirit. So now how do we align ourselves, as individuals and as a congregation IN TRANSITION so that we are indeed working in alignment with the HOLY SPIRIT? Perhaps because we are all concerned about our transition time and the importance of hearing one another, we can hear what Jesus was saying to the disciples in our gospel reading this morning. It opens with these words…"DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED……..IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE THERE ARE MANY DWELLING PLACES……..
Many rooms…JOHN'S JESUS ATTEMPTS TO ASSURE DISCIPLES THAT THERE WILL BE PLENTY OF ROOM for all. The relationship is going to continue, even as it changes. Let me say that again. The relationship is going to continue, even as it changes! Jesus is reassuring the disciples that his death is not the end, but "THE BEGINNING!"
Robert Jensen writes about God's 'roominess' in relation, not to space, but to time. God is willing to take all the time it takes, but are we, much of the time willing to set aside some of our TIME --TO LISTEN! God's promise to love us, to make room for all of us, to know and to be known by us, NEVER ENDS! THEREFORE OUR HEARTS NEED NEVER BE TROUBLED. That is if we don't put our hands over our ears…..WE HAVE TO LISTEN……Really listen to one another!
I like what Bill Plotkin says : "The first half of life" is doing our survival dance" That would be in my opinion the time when we create the many costumes we try on to fit the images we want to create. "The second half of life," Plotkin continues," can then become our "sacred dance." " That is when I believe that we SHOULD see ourselves dressed In the garments of the Spirit.
When we are too busy saving our souls, we never get beyond our survival dance; and so we neglect to ask the deep concerns of the soul --the necessary questions that lead us into the sacred dance! That place where we are found "not opposing the Holy Spirit" but partnering with the Holy Spirit! And to do that we have to listen!
Now, St. Michael's must be ready to move forward. Let's not allow the survival mode attached to our former group identity to be a distraction as we embrace the wonder of a new journey together. Let's catch the vision of what can be --and with joy prepare to dance the sacred dance. It's not that we forget or neglect to see and to even give thanks for all those early stages, but our energy moves with us as we go forward. THE RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES EVEN AS IT CHANGES!
Dragged by an angry mob, and stoned -- two kinds of actions are witnessed in our story recorded in Acts. The members of the Council cover their ears -- so they won't hear…..because they have already determined what they are going to do …..because they don't want to change their way of thinking. And then there is the action of Stephen….he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, (while they were stoning him)…."Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Stephen had emphasized how God had been with Israel throughout the wilderness period. He had tried to convince them that often their times of greatest growth had occurred during their greatest struggles.
Even our Psalmist says this morning in Psalm 31: "MY TIMES ARE IN YOUR HANDS;………….
Are we willing to not be anxious or troubled to the degree that it interferes in the sacred dance with the Holy Spirit in this transition time? Opening our hearts with compassion, and listening -- truly listening?
Wednesday night, I had one of those nights-- you know when you go to bed and several hours later you're still wide awake…. Well, I really wasn't worrying about anything in particular, but nevertheless, sleep just wouldn't come…. Eventually I just got up. I had read earlier in the evening and wasn't in the mood to read more now, so I switched on the TV. SIGH! Well, at that time of night there was nothing I wanted to see or hear….so I watched the a rerun of the GOLDEN GIRLS! You laugh…but believe me, those comedy sitcoms often times deliver a powerful message….AS IT DID IN THIS ONE.
Blanche has announced that her brother Clayton is arriving with a big surprise. "Maybe he's bringing home his girl," she says hopefully, where upon Dorothy reminds her that Clayton in gay. "Oh", says Blanche, "I think that was just a phase he was going through"! Well, as you may have guessed, Clayton does arrive with the big surprise that he and his partner Doug are going to get married! The other roommates accept Doug and welcome him, but Blanche refuses to be a part of anything that is going to be made public.
BLANCHE CLOSES HER EARS (in a sense she holds her hands over her ears as well as her heart)…..SHE DOESN'T HEAR WHAT DOUG AND CLAYTON OR HER ROOMMATES TRY TO TELL HER.
Well, eventually using comedy and many clever comments and situations -- at the end…..Sophia the elderly member of the household and the mother of Dorothy, speaks the words that Blanche finally hears. I guess Sophia might be said to symbolically play the part of the Holy Spirit.
Here's what Blanche says to Sophia as they sit across the table from one another…"Well it's easier for you, Sophia, to accept the situation- He's not your brother. I can accept the fact that he is gay but why does he have to slip a ring on the finger of this man so the whole world will know?" This is Sophia's answer, first in the form of a question! "Why did you marry George?
Blanche answers without a moment's hesitation. "We loved each other…We wanted to make a life-time commitment… We wanted everyone to know that!
BIG SILENCE--- then:
Sophia's quiet reply: "That's what Doug and Clayton want.. Everyone wants --someone-- to grow old with. Shouldn't everyone have that opportunity?" You can surmise how the situation ended…….. With joy of course and celebration, of course!
We too have to listen to one another: to hear God's promise to love us and to make room for all of us: to know that even in our wilderness times, the time of our transition, God is calling us to DANCE THE SACRED DANCE WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT!
AND THEREFORE, To never allow our hearts to be so troubled, NEVER TO PUT OUR HANDS OVER OUR EARS AND REFUSE TO HEAR WITH BOTH HEARTS AND EARS!
Our relationship is going to continue -- even as it changes!
Cleopas and his friend are on a journey.
They are walking through the afternoon, to a place called Emmaus.
They trudge along, heads down, dejected and lost.
A stranger joins them on the road.
“What are you talking about?” he asks.
They are amazed, and they tell him a story
- a story of a man named Jesus, who spoke of God in a new way.
- Who worked wonders among the people.
- Who they had hoped would save them from Roman occupation. Until he was killed. Some women told a story that he was raised from the dead –
- but really, how could that be?
Each of us is on a journey.
Maybe it is a journey heading straight toward a goal –
or maybe it is a wandering journey, with an unclear destination.
Our journey may be leading through green meadows beside still waters –
or we may feel we are on a steep and rocky climb, ever upward
Sometimes in our journeys we lose all our footing and feel like we are in free fall.
And sometimes we get stuck.
Whether in comfort and complacency, or in doubt and despair,
sometimes we seem to come to a stop in the road.
During my study this week, I came across this story, told by Alyce McKenzie, a professor at Perkins School of Theology:
I was at the Philadelphia zoo some years ago. My older brother Wade and his family had joined my family for a zoo day. The kids were watching the seals, but Wade and I were standing in front of the bear exhibit before we went to join them. The Philadelphia zoo had recently gotten rid of the cages and built a new, more open habitat for the bears with beautiful foliage, a bubbling creek, and room to roam. The younger bears were strutting their stuff, enjoying being bears in the open space.
But back in the corner there was an old bear. He was a shaggy, mangy old bear and he was putting himself through his paces. On all fours, his eyes on the ground, he would walk ten steps to the right, then do a strange shuddery shake that involved his whole bear body. Then he would turn and pace ten steps to the left, stop for the shake, then turn to do his ten paces to the right. The same journey over and over again.
I stood for I don't know how long, watching his back and forth. "Look at him," I said, elbowing my brother standing next to me. "He kind of reminds me of me."
"Yeah," said the man, a complete stranger to me, who was now standing where Wade had stood. "I know what you mean."
Cleopas and his friend are in such a place.
They cannot see the whole picture,
because they are stuck in a place of “we had hoped.”
So the story they tell the stranger misses the point.
The irony is, as we know, the stranger is Jesus himself.
They tell Jesus his own story.
At this point, perhaps we’d like to see Jesus come back with a gentle, compassionate response.
We’d like some comfortable pastoral care from Jesus.
Instead, Jesus sounds impatient.
“Have you even been paying attention?
“You seem to have missed part of the story.”
Instead of telling them what they want to hear,
he tells them what they need to hear.
As I’ve shared with some friends this winter and spring the challenges facing St Michael’s and my own struggles, a few of them have responded,
“What is all this teaching you? What gifts does this hold?”
Not always the gentle commiseration I was looking for.
But in the end, more helpful.
And I’ve realized something.
I have seen a number of counselors and spiritual directors who are supportive and kind.
Who hold my hand and encourage me when I am hard on myself (which is always.)
But sometimes what I need is someone who will kick me in the pants.
Someone who will hold my feet to the fire and help me out of the stuck places.
Cleopas and his friend tell their story,
and they are stuck on the haunting phrase, “We had hoped . . . “
Amy Hunter, poet and episcopal lay leader, writes,
For them the story is over. Their hopes have proven empty, and they are defeated. But then Jesus tells the story back to them, this time through the lens of their own faith tradition and scriptures. "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe. . ." The story is not about them and their disappointment, he says. It is about life, the universe and everything in it.
Jesus reconnects Cleopas and his friend with their religious tradition.
He reminds them what they know about God and God’s faithfulness to God’s people,
throughout centuries of history and prayer.
He reminds them of the prophets and the long years of waiting for the messiah.
He reminds them of a God who has always been in the business of redemption.
Jesus joins Cleopas and his friend on the road, and tells them what they need to hear.
Then he joins them for supper,
where he somehow becomes the host.
He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.
And suddenly they know him.
They know who it is that has walked with them, listened to them, and taught them.
They know who it is who has brought them to this moment,
even though they thought they were the ones inviting him in.
Alyce McKenzie writes about this story:
The plot of the walk to Emmaus scene epitomizes the plot of the whole Gospel of Luke (and, for that matter, of John). Jesus is our companion on the way, but we do not recognize him.
That is what this story is about.
Whatever journey we are on – Jesus comes alongside us and walks it with us.
The road to Emmaus is an ordinary road –
the road each one of us is on every day.
Cleopas and his friend could be any of us.
Again, Amy Hunter:
This story shows us a God who walks alongside human confusion, human pain and human loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.
The story ends with Cleopas and his friend returning to the other disciples.
From trudging away in despair,
they now rush to share their joy.
Their road forward is with the community of followers,
to study the Word
and break bread together,
and invite others to journey with them in new life and new hope.
Jesus has led them out of their own box of expectations and assumptions,
into nothing less than God’s own mission of love in the world.
Their journey ahead may take them, with the other apostles, to unknown places and new understandings –
but now they know that Jesus will go with them all the way.