Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Lent 5 sermon

Today I want us to think about the value and importance of “silence” in our lives. Many of us hardly ever get to experience silence. The TV is left on in many people’s houses, regardless of the fact that there may be no-one watching it. Many are in constant conversation with someone on the other end of their mobile phone, regardless of whether they have anything to say or not. Many spend hours in front of their computers, sending and receiving emails, twitters and updating their “Facebook” pages. I’m not doing a “grumpy old man” whinge about modern technology because it does have a lot of virtues and uses – but the point I want to make is that there is a virtue in being still, being quiet and finding the truth in the statement that “God is with us always”. Something we may have been taught but regrettably we are no more aware of that truth than we are of the non-stop muzac in the supermarkets. We need to bring silence into the equation that balances our life pattern. I shall return to “planning quiet times” in a while, in the mean time, let us look at our Gospel reading and see what that has to say to us today. The story is set in the “house at Bethany” a place where Jesus seemed to relax and get away from the cares of the world. The house was home to Jesus’ friend Lazarus, whom we are told “Jesus loved” and Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. Martha and her sister Mary were different each from the other. Martha was the “domestic” person – she always seemed to be busy around the house. Cleaning, cooking, waiting at the table whilst Mary just appeared to wait around and listen to whatever Jesus was saying as he spent time with this family. One busy and one quiet, one being unable to stop and the other valuing time of quietness. Martha wasn’t happy. I think one thing missing in her life was time for contemplation – time for silence. Do you have this problem in your life? I shall return to the value of quiet before the end of this sermon. Our story this morning goes on to describe how Mary took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet with it and then let her hair down and wiped his feet with it. The aroma of the perfume filled the air. Jesus praised Mary and defended her action that was criticised both by Martha and Judas. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to face trial and persecution. He was on his way to face the death of a common criminal. If Jesus didn’t know all about what was coming in detail, he did know that what lay ahead of him was not going to be easy. (Total understatement!) How important this time spent in the company of his friends in the house at Bethany must have been to him. As we read and listen to the story of the next two weeks in Jesus’ life it might be good to try and note how often Jesus “kept silence” – went off to be alone – went off to pray. He did this to gather strength to face and deal with the task that God had given him. The task that he undertook for you and for me. We can also think of others who have used “the sound of silence” to their advantage as they faced their desert journey that is ours through this life. We can read about Elijah finding that God was not in the earthquake or storm but rather in a “small still voice”. We can read of Christians through the millennia who went off to the desert to be quiet and seek God who used to say “to live without speaking is better than to speak without living”. The wise Dalai Lama when asked by his followers how they should reply to all the questions being asked of them replied “Remember that sometimes silence is the best answer.” A quote from Mother Teresa “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” So let me return to the value of silence. All our frantic searching for God is fruitless because God is already here in our hearts; all we have to do is quieten down and listen to the silence. Sometimes we may hear God speaking, more often we will become aware of God in our hearts; giving us a strong feeling about what it is he wants us to do. The purpose of prayer isn’t to talk to God until we succeed in having him change his mind! The Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote “Prayer does not change God; it changes the person who prays”. We should aim to be more like Mary who made time to listen to Jesus in silence and she was changed ‘until the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ We need to find or make time in our lives for silence. As least once a week for a period of time from five minutes to an hour just to be completely quiet. Quaker, William Penn said “True silence is the rest of the mind, it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body; nourishment and refreshment.” Silent contemplation is the ultimate aim of all prayer. The peace and the power which contemplation offers are available to the simplest Christian beginner who makes time to be silent. You could start your contemplation by thinking on the words of a Psalm and thinking of “be still and know that I am God”. The church is going to be open for quite a lot of time during Holy Week – you can find details on the page inside this week’s service sheet. Why not try and come to one or more of the services being offered and find God who is already here in our hearts! Determine to make time for silence, make time to find God. Rev Mike Gibbs 17th March 2013

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