Listening to Life

Posted: February 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

Listening to Life

Epiphany Five

It seems to me that there is something we need to do when we approach the healing Jesus spent much of his life engaged in. At the first approach we might remember and hold on to the fact that his message was affirming of the view that life was about the wellbeing of society, of the collective, of family and tribe and people and all people of the world. This view is consistent with the understanding of the resurrection being a general resurrection as opposed to an individual one. Consistent with Hebrew understanding. This means for us that we need to hold a priory for interpretation towards the collective or the community or society as opposed to the well-being and healing of the individual. I think that for Jesus the issue was that the individual was a vital part of the system and the healing that was required began with the individual but that its impact was upon the whole of society and one had to have an understanding of one’s worth in the big picture. This is not to say that the individual came second or is not vital to society but rather that the message was to for and with the society where he saw change was needed. It was to the political, social, and religious assumptions and culture he spoke strongly as in need of change.

I want to hold on to that collective priori as we work with today’s text from Mark My title listening to life is an attempt to suggest that healing is about listening to life. Paying attention to one’s life is about paying attention to what is happening for oneself, to the people with whom one is closest, to the things that happen to one. This, I think is at the seat of all healing and is the best, and most authentic, way to experience oneself being in tune with and participating in a divine life. That which we have traditionally understood as being at one with our God

Someone once said that “You never know what may cause healing. The sight of the Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. We can never be sure. But of this we can be sure. Whenever we find tears in our eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention for healing is taking place. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

This suggests that healing or that which restores healthy engagement with life is right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives…trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.

This healing that Jesus was performing is embodied in “the persistent presentiment that Something is trying to get through in the midst of the muddle of our day-to-day lives.

“…the persistent presentiment that Something is trying to get through in the midst of the muddle of our day-to-day lives.

But perhaps, as Fredrick Buechner claims, the most important place to listen is deep within the quiet in ourselves. He writes; “I have written at length about the way God speaks through the hieroglyphics of the things that happen to us, and I believe that is true. But I have come to believe more and more that God also speaks through the fathomless quiet of the holy place within us all which is beyond the power of anything that happens to us to touch although many things that happen to us block our access to it, make us forget even that it exists. I believe that this quiet and holy place in us is God’s place and what it is what marks us as God’s. Even when we have no idea of seeking it, I think various things can make us fleetingly aware of its presence – a work of art, beauty, sometimes sorrow or joy, sometimes just the quality of a moment that apparently has nothing special about it at all like the sound of water over stones in a stream or sitting alone with your feet up at the end of a hard day”

In his second memoir, Buechner writes that: “If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Our lectionary Psalm is an exhortation to praise God for the way God restores those who have been exiled and broken, for the way God provides for God’s people and for the creatures of earth, and for the way God treasures those who honour God. Healing is about the restoration of a nation of a people, of people.

Our Mark reading has Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law and this is the catalyst for many sick and demonized people come to be healed. Healing again is about the many people, the collective, the community, the nation. Jesus tries to go off alone to pray, because he senses his message might be becoming too personalised but Simon and others track him down. Then he leads them off to other towns to preach and heal. It is about towns and communities again.

All of the readings seek to give comfort to the reader and they speak about God’s compassion and grace in healing, restoring and strengthening God’s people. They name these people as those who wait on and honour God. It is about the bigger relationship, the purpose for life perhaps. In each reading there is a clear indication of the way God meets us at our point of need in order to transform our lives. A very traditional understanding of who God was, is and how God operates in relationship. Today we recognise a more cosmic non-interventionist supernatural God but the common connection in thinking is that the divine relationship is first a systemic collective and perhaps less conscious one. In the famous song of Isaiah 40, God’s saving power is praised and the weary exiles are reminded that God will restore and strengthen them if they will just turn to God in hope. The exiles will be restored as a nation In the Psalm, God’s gracious restoration and provision for God’s people, and for all of creation, is praised. Here it is about the restoration of the planet, the creation itself. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he explains how he strives to meet every person where they are in order to bring them to Christ, becoming as they are so that he can share the Gospel with them. Listen to life so that one might be restored as Messiah, the saviour of the nation of a way of life. Finally, in one of those wonderful moments of particular care, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. But, then, immediately the Gospel moves to a wider focus, as Jesus heals and restores the many who come to him, and then, seeks to travel throughout Galilee to preach and heal. The amazing grace of the God is for all at a point of need and restores and reveals a truly celebratory opportunity for restoration, and one might say resurrection into a new heaven and a new earth.

I want to finish with a touch on how I think this collective application of message works. Over the last few decades the emphasis of human development teachers and spiritual gurus has moved away from self-sacrifice and towards self-actualization. This quest to “be true to oneself”, while it has brought some measure of healing and growth to some, it has also been used to justify all kinds of destructive behaviour, from the breaking of marriages and committed relationships in favour of “my needs,” to the militant and violent defence of materialistic and consumerist “ways of life” in wealthy nations. I think this is in danger of building a cult such as the cult of selfishness which is the exact opposite of both this realm of God that Jesus claims and of the interventionist God who comes as personalised in a supernatural Jesus with the surname Christ. This is not the cosmic Christ that the gospels try to reveal. The Scriptures offer us a startling vision of a God who is willing to go out of God’s way to meet us where we are – a God who would be incarnated and suffer death in order to draw humanity into God’s Reign. The problem with this personalised view is that the Reign of God which is established by the self-sacrificial Christ, also calls its citizens to follow in this sacrificial life by “becoming all things to all people” in order that they too may know God’s grace. This development and revelation of God’s gracious glory is a huge challenge challenge to every human system at work in our world – It sadly alienates humanity from a point of true healing and restoration by pushing the gracious God beyond human engagements and removes the human pathway to healing. In its distancing of the dive from the human it envcourages the careless consumption of planetary resources, and if we are to understand the American situation at all it has to suggest that this personalised God has given support to the power games played in national and international government, from the self-interest of big business and political and religious lobby groups to the violence that all too easily erupts between factions, ethnic groups and countries who refuse to share.

How different might our world be if leaders sought to be “all things to all people” and if they, like the cosmic Christ, were willing to meet people at their point of need, and spread the good they do as far and wide as possible? How different might our world be if the Christ followers, rather than trying to manipulate the world’s systems according to their own agendas, were more willing to serve and restore the systems of well-being for all others irrespective of differences in belief, conviction, morality and association? The question of what healing is and can do in our world might be to put down our own interests and commit to being true followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and if there is to be a sacrifice it is to put aside our own interests and agendas in favour of the greater good of the people who would heal the divine human relationship for it is our world.  This is our global pilgrimage.

On another kevel it is both shocking and disturbing that, in many segments of society, Christianity has been used as an excuse for an attitude of entitlement. The way the Gospel has been presented has left many outside of the Church feeling coerced and manipulated and rejected. It’s like we’re saying that, rather than us meet others where they are, they must change to become like us. Rather than touch and heal the sick and demonized, we have told them that they have no place among us, while we have refused to acknowledge our own demons. Rather than become “all things to all people” we have tried to make all people become like us. Rather than inviting people to be restored and saved by God’s grace, we have used the Bible as a club to break people down when they believe or live differently from us. In this way the divine restoration has been hidden from the world, rather than being reflected through us. In this way the Christ has become for many a false prophet rather than a true reflection of the glory and grace of God. This week, while we can celebrate that God meets us where we are and offers us healing and restoration, we must also acknowledge that we need to change to become those who give of themselves and put aside – our own needs, our own desires, beliefs and agendas – in favour of the wholeness, justice and goodness of others. If we are to embody the Realm of God which Jesus preached and demonstrated we need to release our self-interest and begin to step into the shoes, and the worlds of those who seek to experience God’s love. This will mean letting go of our need to be right, and our need to be comfortable and our need to control the world and replace it with our responsibility for the world we create. And this means the planet itself, its place in the universe and it will also lead us even deeper into that which we call God’s grace and love as we are to experience the divine working in us and through us even more. Amen.

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