Confessions of a Preacher Man
(Learning to Listen before Doing)
Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – Sunday 30 April 2023
(Week 2 of Everyday Witness Course)
Text: The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (from John 10v1-10)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Ok, it’s time to ‘fess up, and I hope I am not the only male of the Species present who is guilty of this particular peccadillo, I am rubbish at listening!
Well if I am honest I am not that bad at listening what I am really rubbish at is hearing only what I want to hear, doing only what I want to do – which is not the same as what I am asked to do, and then blaming others when things don’t go my way.
<Cue: Lesley-Anne Dotchin nodding her head vigorously from the congregation>
As I look back on my life I have come to learn that this habit of mine has no natural cause but is simply an incredible compulsion to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and that without regard to the consequences.
Anyone else face the same challenges?
There is a great deal of difference between listening and learning.
Is this some sort of congenital selfishness?
A throwback to the time of our first parents in the garden?
Am I, are we, doomed to always want to reach for the bright and shiny fruit not because we are hungry but because we are greedy?
Do we persist in our sins simply because we enjoy the moment and to hell with the consequences?
I’ve never understood the saying ‘as miserable as sin’. Personally I find sin, for the most part, quite enjoyable, else why would we persist in it. It’s what happens after sin, after listening but not hearing, that brings the pain.
For me though, and for others as well, sin has not always been about doing what I like or getting my own way. Sometimes I sin because I am lonely. Sometimes I have even done sinful things that I have positively hated doing just so that I am not left out of the gang on the playground, the clique at the college, or the caucus group on the Synod. Loneliness is a powerful driver for sin. Which is why the most severe punishment we give to anyone who is in jail is to sentence them to solitary confinement…
Before I was blessed by the tender forgiving love of my ever-loving wife I seemed to have spent far too much of my time alone.
Seven years at a Boarding School can do that to you.
Moving to a foreign land and leaving behind the few friends you have can do that to you.
Leaving your family in Cape Town and taking a long drive to Windhoek to live by yourself can do that to you.
As Virginia Baker, the character played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie Entrapment says ‘I hate alone. Alone sucks!’
When I lived in Cape Town I had a thought that being a vicar might be on the cards so I decided to polish up my halo and attend a Retreat led by Rev Ivan Weiss, who was then chaplain to the Archbishop of Cape Town. Even when trying to do something righteous we can still use unhelpful and sinful means to get our own way.
The Retreat was over a weekend in a convent in Hanover Park – which was then an area reserved exclusively for people of mixed racial backgrounds so to try to listen deeply to God meant first of all I had to break the law of the land. Little did I know that this was to be the prelude to over 20 years of law breaking in the struggle against apartheid.
It was during a very long eucharist – you can’t get God over and done with in under three hours in Africa – I was sitting in quiet prayer after hearing Ivan give the Absolution after an extended time of each of us confessing our sins to each other, that I felt a warm presence standing behind me. Then, as if I was being gently wrapped in a loving embrace I heard Jesus whisper the words, ‘Andrew, you are mine!’ That night when I closed my eyes to try and sleep I could only see fireworks and discovered a deep unshakeable joy within my heart.
The rest as they say, is history. Not that I no longer sin, nor that I have learned the difference between hearing and listening, nor even that I no longer have times when I feel lonely. But now I know the truth of the words, ‘Sometimes lonely, but never alone.’
‘Andrew, you are mine!’
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Yes, that’s it.
The antidote for loneliness is belonging
The answer for sin is the love of our forgiving Saviour
Each of us is known to and called by the Good Shepherd
No more wandering needed.
No more looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places.
We are kept safe forever with the Shepherd in the Sheepfold.
Or are we…
Look again at the lovely bucolic picture of the Shepherd and the sheep, the Gatekeeper and the sheepfold.
The Gatekeeper is not shutting the sheep safe in the fold. The Gatekeeper is opening the gate so that the sheep, uncertain and without direction in their life, can hear the voice of the Shepherd and leave the safety of the sheep pen!
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
The sheep are not called to come to a safe secure sheepfold but are called to go out and follow the Good Shepherd. We may thin that being part of the flock of Christ our story is all about being tucked up safe in the night protected from wolves with the Good Shepherd lying in front of the gate of the sheepfold to protect us – which He does when we are in need.
The task of the sheep is not to stay at home but to follow the Good Shepherd to green pastures and still water. Yes, as we follow we will pass through times of darkness and valleys of despair but they will not harm us if we but continue to listen for the shepherd’s voice
We are not called to stay in our safe little holy huddle but to go out and follow the Good Shepherd wherever we may be led. Remember the words of the hymn ‘Father Hear the Prayer we Offer’.
Not for ever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be;
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly.
Not for ever by still waters
would we idly rest and stay;
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way.
In the coming weeks as we continue on our journey of learning to become Everyday Witnesses may we always remember to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd, rejoice that we are not alone but part of the flock of Christ, and find the courage to leave the comfortable and familiar so that we may show to the whole world by our words and our deeds that we have indeed heard the Lord call our name.
This blog ‘Confessions of a Preacher Man’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023. It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.