Proper 8 Year A
June 29, 2014 St. James’ Quitman
Have you ever had the experience of having a conversation with someone and getting part of the way – or even all of the way – through the discussion only to be left with the feeling that you weren’t really talking about the same thing? I think you know what I mean. It’s that feeling that you just had a discussion with someone only to realize that you were talking about one thing and the other person was talking about something altogether different. It’s that experience of realizing after the conversation is ended that you and the other person weren’t on the proverbial “same page in the hymnbook”.
Sometimes we have the experience of being in a conversation and feeling that we just aren’t being heard. We feel that the other person just isn’t listening to us. And it might just be that we aren’t doing a very good job of listening to the other person. I think that one of the things that happens to us is that we are so concerned with our own thoughts and what it is that we want to say that we just don’t do a very good job of listening to the other person with whom we are engaged in conversation. Oh, we hear them alright – we hear the words that they say – but are we really listening?
I did some work a few years ago in a program sponsored by the Church Development Institute. And one of the things that we worked on was learning to do what’s called “active listening”. Active listening is a communication technique in which the listener “repeats back” – by way of summary or paraphrase – what’s been said to them by another person. And the point of that is to assure the person that you’ve heard and understood what they have to say. And when you “repeat back” to them, if what you’ve said isn’t what they meant, it gives them an opportunity to correct your understanding. Active listening is a tool – a vehicle if you will – that helps us be sure not only that we are hearing what’s said to us but that we’ve correctly understood it. In a word, it’s all about making sure we’re not just hearing but that we’re really listening.
And I think that’s at least part of what Abraham teaches us today is a lesson in listening. Abraham teaches us a lesson in listening to God – not just hearing God– but really listening to God’s call to us.
I don’t know about you, but I really cannot fathom being tested in the way in which Abraham was put to the test. I cannot imagine being asked to take the life of my child in order to demonstrate my faith and my trust and my obedience to God. But I think if we get bogged down in the potential horror of this story, we may just miss the point. If we stay focused on the test – or passing the test – then we’re missing the message – maybe we’re not listening.
And if we’re really listening, the message is this – God doesn’t just ask us to hear him. God doesn’t just call us to hear his word. God calls us to listen to him. God calls us to pay attention to him and to listen. Really listen. Actively listen. He calls us to listen to him – not just when things are going well for us. God calls us to listen to him and to pay attention to him even when things seem to be as bad as they possibly can – even when we are faced with the direst of situations that this life can bring.
When I was a teenager at First Presbyterian Church in Valdosta, we had a pastor who, immediately before he read the gospel lesson each Sunday, would peer into the congregation and say, “Listen for the word of God.” And it made me pay attention – it made me listen. So the point is this. Don’t be distracted by thinking that God is testing you. Don’t be anxious about what it takes to pass the test. Pay attention and listen to what God is calling you to do. Pay attention and listen to what God is calling us to do.
Because what God is calling us – you and me – to do is to put our lives in his hands. He’s calling us to have faith in him and to trust in him and to depend upon him. He is calling us to listen to him and to discern what it is he would have us do with our lives in this world in which we live. He is calling us to pay attention to what he would have us do – not what we would have us do.
Among the best ways to really listen – to actively listen to God – is through prayer. Several years ago, when I was at the beginning of the process of discerning whether God was calling me to be a priest in his Church, I happened upon a prayer written by Fr. Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. I’ve shared this with you before – but I think it’s worth repeating – so Fr. Merton’s the prayer is this:
O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone. Amen.
And so my brothers and sisters, I leave you with this. Don’t just hear the word of God. Listen for the word of God. And say, “Here I am”. Listen for what he would have you do. Actively listen for the word of God! Desire to please God in all that you do. Have faith that he will lead you by the right road, even though you know nothing about it. And trust that he will never leave you to make your journey alone. AMEN!