Sermon based on Mark 9:30-37
When I was in seminary we were required to take extra curricular classes called “growth in faith” courses. The idea was that you’d take 5 different classes over the course of your seminary career where you’d definitely, actually grow in faith and then write a paper about how you grew in faith as a result of taking the class. Because….apparently you can quantify things like that, and apparently it’s important to document every time you’ve grown in faith….and apparently if you say you’re growing in faith you are.
So, as flawed as the logic behind these classes was, there were still some really good ones. One that I thought was going to be stellar was about the psalms…because I had recently fallen in love with the Psalms at a conference I had gone to. This particular class was taught by a faculty member who has spent his whole life in the old testament, and I’m pretty sure he can speak ancient Hebrew fluently in conversation….if that ever was a need.
The class was at 4pm on Thursday, after the last class of the week…so needless to say it was often hard to pay attention when all my other classmates were at the bar and I was stuck learning about the psalms in a way that was not what I was expecting….it was much more academic than it was devotional, and I just got bored thinking about how it’d be better to be with my friends.
One day my friend who was in the class with me and I started having a conversation about something while the professor was teaching us….we were sneaky—you know, whispering and such instead of talking out loud. At one point the professor got tired of us not paying attention and stopped teaching. We didn’t notice.
After almost a minute we realized that no one was talking, the professor was looking at us, and we quickly averted our eyes from him and stopped our chatter about something that was obviously unimportant, since I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. He then proceeded to begin teaching again after we had finished our conversation.
It was one of the most embarrassing academic moments of my life…in part because I was usually really good about having side conversations without anyone noticing (or calling me out on them anyway) but also because I had just offended one of the most brilliant old testament scholars alive.
This week, Jesus is teaching his disciples once again that he’s going to die and be raised from the dead, and they don’t understand what he’s talking about. And our story says they were afraid to ask him.
This week, I’ve been wondering if they were afraid to ask him because they were ashamed that they had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest the whole time and hadn’t actually heard him. I mean, I feel like it’s likely that the disciples were doing something similar to what my friend and I were doing, and when it came down to the important stuff…when Jesus stopped teaching them and asked them for their thoughts, they clammed up, they were silent, because they honestly had no idea what he had actually said. I think the disciples maybe suffered from a syndrome of not being able to listen because their mouths were open.
There are many studies that we can’t actually multitask-when we try to, our minds really just switch back and forth from one thing to another and do neither thing well. And I believe it…we can’t listen and talk at the same time.
I feel like sometimes…okay more than just sometimes…that I can’t hear God in my life when I want to. Like God is some sort of being that will speak to me when I’m ready to listen to God, when I’ve calmed my life down enough to listen to God. Only I’m really good about not actually ever calming down enough in my life. And I think on some level it’s not *just* because I don’t want to actually listen to what God has to say (because trust me, sometimes the gospel feels like the worst good news ever when I know it’s right and it convicts me because I’ve been looking out for myself and not for my neighbor)…I think it’s not just that. I think on some level I’m not just afraid to listen to God, I’m also afraid to let God listen to me.
The disciples were afraid to tell Jesus that they had been arguing about something stupid…they were afraid to tell the Son of Man what was really worrying them, what was on their mind, because they felt like it didn’t meet the qualifications of something that they could bring to God. That if they were going to talk to Jesus it was going to be something that was spiritually critical, or was going to show them that they had paid the most attention and were the best students.
I think that listening and being listened to go hand in hand. The disciples didn’t make time to listen to Jesus…and then they wouldn’t let Jesus listen to them. How often is it that we find ourselves in smilier situations…Me not listening for God means I spend much less time praying and talking to God than I should. Which in turn makes me continue to look in on myself, and not out toward the world, where God is all around and always present, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
So maybe if the disciples had had the courage to talk to Jesus…maybe if they had spoken to him…maybe they could have heard what he was saying to them….maybe they could have heard God speaking the things they needed to hear, the things that would release them from the shame and fear of silence, the things that would release them to listen, to hear God in their lives. The disciples were too loud when they should have been listening and too quiet when they should have been talking…all because they were focused on their own lives, and not focused on how their lives intersected with the divine.
God speaks when we listen. God Listens when we speak. And when we listen *and* speak with God, the shame of only doing one gets erased…because God isn’t in the business of only letting people with the right words speak, and certainly isn’t in the business of only speaking to people who have got it all together….God is in the business of listening to the most impassioned, well articulated argument to the tiniest of whimpers when we have no words left to say, and God is in the business of speaking to us where we are, and speaking freedom and life into us even if we don’t feel like we’re worthy enough to let God speak to us…because we are. Broken or whole, God comes to us….and we can come to God.
How has God spoken to you? How do you find yourself listening to God? How do you speak to God?