Are You Listening?
Words for 3rd Sunday of Easter – 3 May 2020 – Parish of Felixstowe
A Cyber Sermon from the Vicarage
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Lesley Dolphin from Radio Suffolk asked her listeners this week how they would come out of the Lockdown. She has recognised, as have many of us, that when the lockdown is over and Covid19 is past (soon Lord, please) things will not go back to normal. My response to her question was the I would hope to leave lockdown ‘with gratitude and travelling 5mph slower’.
The gratitude should be one of the emotions for all of us who hope to survive this pandemic but you may ask why the desire to slow down? As I have tried to help where I can in this time I have discovered that I no longer need to drive at the speed limit (and even slightly over the limit) everywhere. I have learnt that as I slow down I see more, I hear more, I enjoy all of God’s good gifts around more and I want more of that in the future whatever the future may hold.
My challenge with the ‘new normal’ I want to put in place is to remember to do it because so many other voices will, Siren like, call me to hurry a little bit more, neglect the beauty that is around me, drown out the noise of bird song and the gentle lap of the waves on the beach, and make a shipwreck of my ‘new normal’ in a vain attempt to catch up with living how things once were.
Fortunately the wonderful Elizabeth Corker has promised to check in with me come Christmas that I am still taking time to slow down, smell the roses and listen to the birds and squirrels around the vicarage and the church. How will the rest of us learn this lesson?
Often our world is very noisy and we cannot even hear ourselves think, but shutting out all noise is very hard to cope with as well. How many of us have recently taken delight in an extra-long phone call with a friend that was just chatting and not about getting a job done? Those of us fortunate enough to use things like Facetime and ZOOM have had the community of a Company of Voices worshipping together. I have found whispering Night Prayer with the students at Cuddesdon College each night enriching and comforting.
How do we find the balance between too many voices, where we find only bedlam and confusion and too much silence which can easily be filled with emptiness and anomie?
I learnt much about how to use silence from Fr Timothy Stanton CR who was imprisoned by the Apartheid Government in South Africa for refusing to answer the questions of the court which would have led him to break a confidence. On his release he surprised the clergy of our Diocese by saying how much he enjoyed his time in jail. For him it was being locked-up was like being on a compulsory retreat but without the poor cooking and hard beds of the Priory! He left jail someone even more deeply committed to his vocation. He had spent his forced lockdown not in silence, (although there was plenty of quiet as he was occasionally put in solitary for the amusement of the waders), but in a silent listening.
What if we could learn to view this lockdown as a sort of ‘compulsory spiritual retreat?’ A time when the ‘things of the earth grow strangely dim’ and we can see and hear the Good Shepherd more clearly? A time to use the ending of chatter and busy-ness to remind ourselves that the One who watches over us, the One who laid down His life for us, gently calls us to follow into the security of the sheepfold.
I have come to learn that the One Who Loves us Best is always speaking to us. Speaking the world into being in the beginning, the Word became flesh and spoke to us about how we are to live life in love for God and for each other, and now the Spirit beats in our hearts and whispers in our ears words of love and comfort, compassion and strength.
The Word, the Good Shepherd is always speaking because He knows that we know His voice. I have found that it not that God doesn’t speak to me, to the church, or to the world, it is that we are very poor at listening…
I do not know for how much longer this lockdown will continue. It seems as if it will be measured in weeks rather than months though. This means we may soon run out of time to use the time well. Decide today to listen more closely while there is still time to listen. Try to see the rest of this lockdown as not so much being locked-up but instead enfolded, safe in the flock of God where the only thing we can hear is the comforting voice of the Good Shepherd as we are led through this time of darkness to green pasture and still water.
[This blog ‘Are You Listening?’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Just before 9.30pm each night a different member of the community leads Compline.