Lent · Sermon

Sermon: Noise Cancelling Lifestyle

Noise Cancelling Lifestyle

Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe 

18 February 2023 – Sunday before Lent

Text: 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ (Matthew 17v1-9)

God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.

Ok everyone ‘Listen in.’

Oops, sorry I forgot it’s a Sunday morning sermon not a gathering of a gaggle of our wonderful Air Cadets who need to all pay attention to the person about to give orders…

Sunday morning congregations should never be addressed as if they were a ‘gaggle’ should they and of course every one present pays full attention to every word from the pulpit. Well at least at the beginning of the sermon…. 😉

How I should have begun this sermon wass with the single word ‘Listening’.  

Listening is much more difficult than one would expect it to be isn’t it?  I know I find it so, and I’m pretty certain my beloved Lesley-Anne is nodding her head vigorously as I say these words.

For the last fortnight I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time listening, or at least trying to listen, or (on the hard days at General Synod) simply affecting a pose of listening.  

General Synod was difficult with so many issues besides the blessing of Same-Sex marriages being discussed. Honestly held convictions were sincerely and forcibly expressed – some with passionate oratory, raised voices and even insults. When the volume is raised and the noise levels increase I find it even more difficult to listen. It’s almost as if the noise cancels out the words.

I did get to say a few words at Synod, about the care of the dead and welcoming the generosity of historically wealthy Dioceses to those worse off than them. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t get to speak in ‘that’ debate – typical gobby vicar that I am, I did have a few words prepared… I suspect if I were called to speak I would have used my two-minute slot as a time of silence instead of saying even more words, words, words – Eliza Dolittle is my General Synod Hero.

This I was able to do on the days following Synod when I escaped to an attic room on a Scottish Island where there was no TV and very poor internet signal. Of course just because things were less noisy that did not mean I was listening more deeply. It did mean though that I could make no Martha of Bethany-like excuses of being ‘worried and distracted by many things’(Luke 10v41) and join her sister Mary at the feet of Jesus

It is not for nothing that the very first word of the Rule of St Benedict, quoting the Book of Proverbs, is ‘Listen’.

Listen carefully, my child,

to your master’s precepts,

and incline the ear of your heart  (Proverbs 4v20)

…and it is a fortunate happenstance of the English language that ‘Listen’ is an anagram of the word ‘Silent’.

For the place where listening, and learning, and growing in godliness begins is very often in silence.

In today’s gospel readings it is only when the voice from the cloud says ‘Listen to him’ that the disciples stop prattling on about establishing a religious tourist attraction on the Mount of Transfiguration and realise that they are in the very presence of God. It is when we consciously enter into Silence that we perhaps come to the one place where we can hear God’s voice clearly and then learn what to do next.

This can be hard as for us, just as it was for the disciples. It may mean exchanging mountain top camping for the hill of Calvary and the glory of God for the gore of a cross on Golgotha. Sometimes I find myself choosing to not listen because I have a sneaky suspicion that what God wants to say to me, or call me to do (or to stop doing) is going to make me go ‘Ouch’. Too often I find myself to be like a foot stomping toddler in a tantrum running around and screaming at the top of my voice whilst having fingers stuck in both ears.

The church, at the beginning of Lent is called to a time of stopping and listening and a deeper silence. A time of particularly listening to the words of Jesus. How are we to do this?

Like the committed audiophile who is oblivious to the world around them when they listen to music through a pair of ‘Noise Cancelling Headphones’ we may do well by trying to live a ‘Noise Cancelling Lifestyle’ over the coming 40 days so that we may hear the words and start to do the works of the Beloved Son. We must aim to get rid of the ‘noise’.

There are familiar ways in which we can do this.  

Each Sunday our liturgy will reminds us that Lent is a time when;

Through fasting, prayer and acts of service
you bring us back to your generous heart.

Through study of your holy word
you open our eyes to your presence in the world
and free our hands to welcome others
into the radiant splendour of your love.[1]

Or in the words of the Sunday School song, join in if you remember the tune;

Read your Bible
Pray every day (x 3)
Read your Bible
Pray every day
And you’ll grow, grow, grow (x 3)
Read your Bible
Pray every day
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.

Fasting, praying, and bible reading works and every one of us should be searching for ways of embedding these practices into our daily lives and not simply our Lenten devotions.

But just doing these will not stop the noise of the world and the busy lives we lead.  To ‘listen to Him’ as we are commanded in today’s gospel reading demands that we must needs go in search for that ‘Still small voice of calm’.  After all even the prophet Elijah endured a forty day and night desert pilgrimage, hunger and thirst, earthquake, wind and fire, before hearing that voice (1 Kings 19v1-13)!

So where will we hear the voice of Christ?  Our prayers, our Bible Studies, our self-denials (and please do attend or sign up for all those that might be helpful to you this Lent) are but signposts on the road, they are not the destination themselves.   After all being able to quote Chapter and Verse – as we will discover next Sunday – is not the preserve of the righteous alone…

If we want to hear the words of Jesus, really listen to the words deeply, we need to be where Jesus told us He would be.  

We know we will not find him in Kings palaces and fine houses; the Magi learnt that lesson at Epiphany.

We will not find him in temples and places of worship; he had a very, shall we say, unsettled relationships with the Religious Leaders of the day.

We won’t even find him in a Carpenter’s shop in Nazareth; because Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8v20).

As I have said many times and will say many times yet, before I am shovelled off to a home for superannuated vicars, our King goes about in disguise and if we want to meet him and listen to His voice we must meet with and listen to the voices of the hungry, the thirsty and the naked, the sick, the prisoner and the stranger. And when we meet them we must remember that we go to them to listen and not to instruct, to learn of God not to give people a telling off.

(Andrew – you do know you are preaching to yourself don’t you).

This is very difficult because all of us come to each other with our noisy needs and those with whom our Beloved Saviour choices to consort can be very noisy, very loud, very demanding, and occasionally, just a little smelly.

Yet, as Amy Grant reminds us in her song ‘Giggle

When I see somebody cryin’,

Some person who’s real mean.

I want to quickly walk right by him,

But I’ll stop for You.

Dear Lord, but

Must I hug him real tight now?

He smells so bad, I’ll faint.

What will my friends think if I kill my pride, I can’t.

(Preaching to yourself here again Andrew). Can I, can we, kill our pride, despatch our prejudice, and hand over our personal power to God so that we can listen more closely and ‘grow, grow, grow’?

Sadly, with the Cost of Living crisis affecting every community of our own nation, it has never been easier to meet Jesus every day and listen to Him.  

We will find Him huddled around radiators in the library, 

We will find Him sitting in empty shop entrances in Hamilton Road,

We will find Him struggling to make Hinself understood to bus drivers who don’t recognise the language He speaks, 

We will find Him alone in the fog of Alzheimers in the care homes of our parish praying for a visitor to give Him respite from the routine of preparing to die.

Jesus has never been far away from us.

Jesus, the Word of God, has never not been speaking to us.

Jesus will not leave us unloved or alone.

But will we listen?

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’  (Matthew 17v5)

Note: This blog ‘Noise Cancelling Lifestyle’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023.  It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.

[1] Proper Preface for Lent from Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England

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