What do you hear? Sermon 18th March 2012, MCC Auckland

A little girl comes home from her first day of school.  “What did you do today”, her mum asks… “Well, we heard a story”.  And she goes on to explain…
There was this girl, she liked red – a lot, in fact she wore it all the time.  One day she decided to go off and to see her grandma.  She walked through the woods and at first she couldn’t find her Grandma but then she did, they had tea and then she came home.  It was a really boring story.
The mother was a tad confused as this wasn’t the Little Red Riding Hood story that she remembered.  What did her daughter forget?  (ask congregation to respond …. Woodcutter, wolf, cutting open etc)
Her daughter decided to only hear the ‘nice’ parts.  Unfortunately that takes the excitement out of the story.  Without the bad bits it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Plus there’s not much you can learn from the Little Red Riding Hood story without the key Wolf character.  It’s important for us to hear the whole story. 
The wonderful Rev Jean White often drew our attention to how we view the symbol of the cross.  She preferred an empty cross, as opposed to one that shows Jesus being crucified.  I would have to agree with her reasons.  It’s important that we remember that Jesus rose from the grave – that he is alive.  It’s an essential part of our Christian faith.  However, the fact that he rose from the grave is only so amazing as we know the other parts of his story. 
For us it’s so mind blowing as we know that he had a miraculous birth but he was born just like us, in humble surroundings.  It’s so powerful as we know how much he suffered before he died.  It’s so comforting as we know what happened next and we know how it relates to our future.
Recently when we were in LA we visited a church.  It was beautifully decorated, colourful yet peaceful and it was fascinating to see all the paintings that told the story of Jesus.  When we were outside we discussed what Jean would have thought of all the images and statues of the crucifixion. 
Later we got talking to a local and we asked her about it.  It was really insightful as she talked about how there has been a lot of persecution in Mexico and how the churches in this area reflect the pain that they have suffered.  She calmly explained that the people here relate to Jesus’ pain.
What I want you to think about tonight is “what part of Jesus’ story do you listen to”.  Do you listen to the whole story?  The time of Lent can be hard.  It’s not nice to listen to how Jesus was betrayed, how he died a horrible death on the cross.  To hear how his mother and his friends felt scared and helpless and they had to stand aside and watch.  It’s a pretty bloody story. 
But I have learnt over the past couple of weeks just how important listening is.  We all know how annoying and upsetting it is to pour your problems out to someone and it becomes clear that they are not really listening.  
I have discovered that I am a terrible listener.  Instead of listening to someone tell me their whole story I jump ahead.  I get impatient.  I offer solutions, that usually are not appropriate, as I don’t have the full picture.  I am so busy preparing my response I don’t take all the details in.  Worst of all I don’t allow people just to talk.  99% of the time they are capable of sorting it out themselves – they just need someone to listen to them.
Listening is an essential skill as listening is what enables relationships to work.  The more we listen, the more learn about other people, the more we can empathise.  Not listening can be dangerous.
In 1973 there was an arson attack on an MCC church.  Listen to how the GLBTW encyclopaedia tells the story: it was at the “Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar that had been used for services by the New Orleans MCC congregation. This deadliest fire in the city’s history took the lives of 32 people, including the MCC’s pastor and assistant pastor along with about half of the congregation. The tragedy was compounded when most of the churches in the city denied [Moderator Troy] Perry’s request to use their buildings for memorial services for the victims, some of whose families refused to claim the bodies.” 
However, 25 years later things have changed.  On Wednesday, June 24, 1998, members of the Gay and Gay friendly community meet together to remember and celebrate the lives of these victims. In 1998, representatives from varied religions and Christian denominations took part in the Memorial Service.  Gathering with the Gay community to celebrate the lives of those who perished were the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church, the local Senior Rabbi, many local reverends and a city councilman.
I believe things have changed as people are telling their stories and more importantly people are beginning to listen.  It’s a hard leap to make sometimes – putting ourselves into another person’s shoes.  To understand what they are going through.  Who they are.  What makes them tick.  The more we hear about other people’s lives – the easier it gets.  I think you would agree that we all still have a long way to go.
It important for us not to forget these stories, its important they we retell them – that we don’t forget.  But we need to remember to listen too. 
What do you hear when you listen to the story of Jesus?  Do you hear about his love for you?  Or do you jump ahead?  Do you listen, or are you like me, you think you know the answers already? 
Everyone in this room has heard the gospel stories a hundred times.  Do we still listen?  Or do we assume we’ve heard it all before?  Maybe the challenge is to start telling Jesus’ story a little differently so we might listen more closely. 
Today Chris read that God is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  We also heard that God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn us but to save us. 
I hope throughout this Easter period we can listen and reflect on the whole of Jesus’ story.  Let’s listen to how much he was like us.  He got angry, at times he was overwhelmed, he cried with his friends, he also laughed and enjoyed a good party.  Let’s listen to his awesome relationship with God.  Let us listen and  marvel at the miracles he performed and how he conquered death and provided us with a direct line to God through his suffering. 
Above all, let’s take time to listen to God and to listen to each other’s stories. 
I’m going to finish with a quote from Mother Teresa.  I reckon she knew a thing or two …
Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.  Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.

Many thanks to Lynne Babb from Otago University who has opened up my ears to listening!  Also to Peter Williamson from Crossroads Methodist Church for the Little Red Riding Hood idea.  🙂

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