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sunday's sermon--Psalm 85.8

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of all possibilities.
* * *
[Teach “Let Me Hear” by Philip Newell]
Let me hear, let me listen, help me listen,
because I think God has something to say.
But I keep getting distracted. Do you have this problem?
There’s always something: the laundry, or work,
or it’s not practical to spend time in prayer or to advocate for…
ooh, look! a shiny thing…
It’s been a heck of a week for me at the Edge campus ministry house:
I’ve had to say “no” to a couple wanting to have their marriage blessed
even though I didn’t want to,
I’ve had to say “no” to a student
who wanted to continue to be a part of the ministry,
I’ve gotten to say “yes” to some exciting outreach plans
for the school year and spring break,
…aaand then had to say “no” again to our friendly neighborhood bum.
Bennie sleeps on the porch. And leaves trash on the porch.
And pees on the porch. And he’s a violent drunk.
And he’s the county’s arrest record-holder.
So I don’t kick him off on a whim—
it’s not a good situation for us and it’s not good for him either. The thing is, he doesn’t listen. Or he can’t listen.
Every time I see him, I tell him,
“Bennie, you can’t sleep here” at least five times.
And he says he’s not.
And then we find evidence he’s been there, or Bennie himself,
still sleeping off his cheap liquor.
His mental illness keeps him from understanding
what people say to him.
And I wonder if we, too, have something
that keeps us from understanding what people say to us,
what God says to us.
Do we have some sort of—let’s call it a mental illness—
that distracts from the abundant life God offers?
Yeah, we do. It’s called sin.
Not a pleasant word in our world,
not a word we want to apply to our not spending much time
in prayer
or our justifications for the comfort we have.
But it’s our word, it’s the church’s word
for all that distracts us from the amazing, delightful,
peace-filled life God invites us to.
Sin is thinking you have the right answer on your own,
it’s looking down on your parents or professors,
it’s hurting other people whether we know it or not,
it’s not practicing the generous faith we claim.
Sin is not listening to God.
My spiritual director gave me an article years ago which has stuck with me.
In it, the writer says that he always thought prayer
needed to be very calm, very spiritual,
approached from a calm, spiritual day.
You know, some yoga, a cup of tea, soothing classical music,
no…you know…actual life happening around him as it does.
He says his prayers never looked like that,
that he would stew over the events of his day
for the majority of the time,
then ask a kind of perfunctory “I’m here, where are you God?”
and then be done with it.
But he came to realize that his prayer was
more expansive than that—
that the stewing was indeed part of the prayer,
that God wants us to tell him everything,
even though he already knows it.
Turning over the events of the days in the presence of God is prayer.
And most of us never get past this part—
we talk at God and then call it a day.
But that’s not all of it.
After we can’t stew any more, we reflect:
“I think this is what’s happening here,
maybe this is how I ought to reply,
ah, that one story from scripture is kind of similar…”
If we’re lucky, we make it to this reflection part of prayer
and we think we’re deeply spiritual.
And it is an advance of sorts.
The vast majority of us rarely, if ever,
let ourselves get to the third stage: listening.
Emptying ourselves of all the stewing
and all the pride that we can figure it out
and just listening to what God might have to speak.
And all of this is what we mean by turning to God in our hearts.
But what does God sound like? What are we listening for?
Some really do hear words,
others feel a strong, repeated push towards something
over months or years,
others feel God in a sudden inspiration that seems outside
of what they could have come up with.
Scripture suggests that the voice of God is peace.
When we listen, says the Psalm for today, God speaks peace
to the faithful who turn to God in their hearts.
And not peace in the cute, marketed peace-sign kind of way
but what our Jewish brothers and sisters call shalom.
It’s a complex thing, shalom.
It means first wholeness and interdependence.
And it means truth, a deep, abiding truth
that speaks to our guts as much as it does our brains.
And it means love, but a challenging love of sacrifice,
loving something that we’re not entirely gung-ho about.
Because, again, we don’t want to hear it.
The word of God is about righteousness and faithfulness
and connection being the norm.
This is what Shalom is.
It’s like the moment right after you put your kids to bed.
It’s the place after all the “yes’s” and “no’s”
that we have to say during the day,
it’s the place where it all makes sense,
fits together, and is beautiful.
When God speaks peace and we hear it,
it’s not just hearing the vibrations in the air,
“yeah, ok, that’s nice” but a full-body kind of hearing.
Often, we can only hear the voice of God
because we’ve been practicing hearing it.
What we do regularly
—church, outreach, getting to know the neighbors, shopping—
what we do regularly shapes us,
it forms us into beings who can or cannot hear God speaking.
What we do regularly allows us to drop the distractions.
Or it allows us to keep those distractions, those sins, in place.
This is the practice of the faith—listening means practicing.
And God speaks peace all the time.
Shalom, wholeness, it’s few and far between in this broken world
—but it’s here nonetheless.
God is speaking peace to us constantly
—in our marriages and family life,
at work where things can get contentious,
in the middle of exam week or co-op decision time on campus,
in the middle of a movie,
in our conversations about theology or sexuality or politics—
God is speaking peace, is offering us a different way,
the true way that we’re struggling so hard to achieve on our own.
God is speaking peace, wholeness, vulnerability, faithfulness, peace
to every one of us in every moment.
To hear God, maybe we need to make time to listen
and not just assume that we’ll get it one day.
Let’s turn to God in our hearts
and reach out for the peace God’s offering.
Let’s practice listening for peace.
[Sing again.]