And I am Listening

This morning, I preached. A sermon entitled "And I am Listening" when I feel like I'm not doing enough listening. I feel like I'm missing the voices that really matter to me -- those justice-seeking types. Those are the voices I miss. But, it was my first sermon being the associate pastor so I need not barrel in with prophetic wisdom. Needless to say, it did not come together easily.

The text is our familiar story of John the Baptizer crying out in the wilderness as read in Luke 3:1-6. But, this was not the only sacred text we shared. In the spirit of our still speaking God, we read a poem entitled "Voices" by 18-year-old Ashley Blount of Iowa City. I found her poem on a website of Poets Against War. And it goes like this:

Sitting here in absolute silence transforms my reality
Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Suddenly the darkness becomes blinding light
And the light, infinite darkness,
The kind of darkness that envelops all
And can be felt from deep within.

And the silence will no longer remain silent!
Thousands of inaudible sounds suddenly make themselves heard.
Voices from across the globe fill my ears
Crying their song in silent agony
Wishing only that they be heard.

I am no longer myself.
My eyes, so well trained to see black as darkness
Can now see rainbows of colors.

I can no longer recognize even my own image
Because I am not myself
I am you
And you are me.

Your pain swells into my heart
Flowing with the river of my blood.
But I accept it willfully
Because I know it will not last.
And for one moment,
I wish for nothing more
Than for you to experience the joy that fills my days.

I have heard your voice
And I am listening.

And then my sermon begins, something like this:

One voice. One voice calls out in the wilderness. It is just one voice calling out. Not many. Not a few. There is just one voice that is calling. So, who gets to speak for us? Whose voice is it? Is it a prophet from afar? Is it my voice? Is it yours? Whose voice is it that calls from the wilderness?

Certainly, it can’t be my voice. I have called my own answering machine and cringed at the voice on the other end. No, that voice should sound something like… Something like what?

Whom do we let speak? There are anchors that convey the news on television and columnists that comment on the world’s affairs. There are storytellers that we love to listen to. And there are those that we defer to – those that we listen to without even realizing that we are giving them the power of speaking. They are the ones that get to speak for us.

Luke knows this – as he lists the people that get a voice in Roman society: the Emperor Tiberius and Herod who ruled Galilee and the list goes on and on. In our own political sphere, a woman is taking on the role of speaker of the House. Like the voices that Luke lists, Nancy Pelosi has the power to speak. And perhaps appropriately, she told us honestly that she is struggling with her voice. When it really matters, she tells us she will use her “mother-of-five voice.”

Is that that voice that John the Baptizer used? When he “came to the region around the Jordan to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” did he sound like a stern “mother-of-five”? Is that the voice that we use when we long to be heard?


Or is there merely silence? A silence that seems to pervade in such harsh ways that in the midst of December, we wonder what the Christmas season is really all about. And so we wait. We wait for something to happen. We’re not sure what. Perhaps it is just one voice that will break through the wilderness of our silence.

One voice of Ashley Blount from Iowa City. Not the mother of five, but a young woman. Not a booming baritone that echoes through the wilderness, but the soft soprano of an 18 year old girl. She describes that familiar silence as something that transforms her reality

Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Perhaps John the Baptizer did have that voice quality – that sound that I do not quite know how to describe – that would have caught our attention. Like lightning striking a tree mid night. But, what would that sound like? Can you imagine?

I find myself longing to hear voices. Not of my own broken, disjointed voice but voices from the past and voices from the present. I long to hear some kind of sound so that the silence will cease – that silence that pervades. That wilderness that we each know. This silence that is all too familiar.

Last year, before the silence of Advent fell upon us, I gathered with a group of my fellow seminarians to pray. That night when the death toll of American troops in the war in Iraq reached 2,000, we prayed in the silence of the seminary chapel. We sat in the silence and lit candles for peace. We told stories of friends and loved ones. And into the too familiar silence, we sang. Out of tune, into the wilderness of the night, we sang:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease
Fill all the world with heaven's peace
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

That October night, long before Advent, we sang in one voice not knowing how else to express the longing in our hearts.

It was the only way that we could claim that longing. The same longing that Luke desires when we quotes the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah’s words boom Like lightning striking a tree mid night.

A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

That October night, our unprepared voices sang as one. It doesn’t matter if it was in season or liturgically appropriate. That night, I felt that longing. In my out-of-tune singing, my voice called out into the wilderness for hope. The silence of the wilderness disappeared. Perhaps that’s what Luke wants us to hear from John he Baptizer. Simply by quoting Isaiah, Luke urges us to remember that the wilderness is not a hopeless place. Instead, the wilderness is a place inbetween what is familiar and what is to come.

And so Luke invites us to hear the voices that call out for new beginnings. Listen to John the Baptizer on the banks of the river. One voice calling to the inbetween for change. One voice daring to imagine a new possibility. One voice calling into the silence.

It is still silent. Pause. Perhaps we are still in the inbetween. And we can only imagine what this silence – this awkward inbetween – will release when it no longer remains silent? Is it just like the young poet Ashley Blount writes?

Thousands of audible sounds suddenly make themselves heard.
Voices from across the globe fill my ears
Crying their song in silent agony
Wishing only to be heard.

Can you hear it? Can you hear the Thousands of audible sounds suddenly make themselves heard? Can you hear the song inbetween what has been and what will be?

In the silence of that October night, I heard what this young poet describes. As my voice mingled with others to sing of our hope, I discovered that I was not myself. I discovered that my out-of-tune voice mingled with those that gathered to light candles of peace. Our song was indeed like lightning striking a tree mid night.

Something happened. Something changed for those of us that began to sing of new possibility on that silent night. It was subtle, but it taught me to listen. And to listen carefully for those often unheard voices crying out. To listen in the inbetween to hear God still speaking.

I have heard your voice
And I am listening.

1 comment:

steve said...

Positively beautiful. Thank you.