Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Listener to Sounds Mystical

In his first homily on the Gospel of John, John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407 AD) writes, “Let us then show much silence and orderly behavior; not today only, nor during the day on which we are hearers [of this sermon], but during all our life, since it is at all times good to hear Him. For if we long to know what is going on in the palace [perhaps we could substitute “the White House” or “Hollywood” or “Wall Street], what, for instance the king has said, what he has done, what counsel he is taking concerning his subjects, though in truth these things are for the most part nothing to us; much more is it desirable to hear what God has said especially when all concerns us. And all this will this man [the Apostle John] tell us exactly, as being a friend of the King Himself, or rather, as having Him speaking within himself, and from Him hearing all things which He hears from the Father. ‘I have called you friends,’ He said, ‘for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.’ (John 15:15).”

We can’t listen to cacophony and to God’s Word simultaneously, we can’t live confused lives and expect to hear the clarity of His Word. The Psalmist speaks of the weaning of his soul, the quieting of his soul – weaned from that which is passing away and learning to seek God for life, for bread, for sustenance. This age which is passing away tries to convince us that we can’t live without it – we can’t live without the latest and greatest things, we can’t live without being in “the know” about entertainment, we can’t live without the newest toys – when the truth is that we can live very well without the things that are advertised, in fact we can live much better when we resist the seduction of consumption.

We can also live much better when we are weaned from artificially-inflamed economic, political, and social passions; we can live better when we realize that in the religious realm nothing is equal to the Gospel, nothing but Jesus and His Word serves as the Bread of Life.

Haddon Robinson once preached a message titled, as I recall, “How to Listen to a Sermon.” Chrysostom sets the stage for his eighty-eight homilies on the Gospel of John by addressing his listeners’ attitudes toward hearing the Gospel – what we bring into the church building, what we bring into our gatherings, influences what we hear and retain. If we bring disordered lives into our gatherings it is as if we are bringing buckets with holes to draw water from a well  - we will not carry the water with us into our families, our neighborhoods, our society.

If we are attracted by what goes on in the lives and homes of the rich and famous, in the boardrooms of business, in the corridors of political power – how much more should we be attentive to the Word that the Father gave the Son, the Word which the Son in turn gave His Apostles (John 17:7 – 8).

Chrysostom continues, “…let us preserve deep silence, both external and mental, but especially the latter; for what advantage is it that the mouth be hushed, if the soul is disturbed and full of tossing? I look for that calm which is of the mind, of the soul, since it is the hearing of the soul which I require…If a man cannot learn well a melody on pipe or harp, unless he in every way strain his attention; how shall one, who sits as a listener to sounds mystical, be able to hear with a careless soul?”   

What would he say today, looking out across congregations in which young and old fiddle with their smart phones as they are ostensibly gathered for worship? What would he say when confronted by Christian gatherings with little sustained attention to the Bible, little reading of Scripture, which often bear greater resemblance to an amusement park ride than a gathering of serious disciples of Jesus Christ?

We cannot quiet our minds, we cannot quiet the voices of this age, and so rather than insist that we wean our souls we cater to the cries of infants…stuffing pacifiers in mouths, constructing bright and shiny mobiles, ensuring that we’ll never be bored…and also ensuring that we’ll never really hear the call of Jesus to follow Him, worship Him, belong to Him.

Hearing the Word of God is not akin to changing radio stations, we can’t listen to the spirit of this age one minute and think that we can tune into God the next and truly hear Him – God calls us to a relationship of obedience, He is not our friendly DJ who plays music we want to hear, to hear His music we must repent, follow Jesus, and desire Him above all else – He is our Lord.

Chrysostom concludes his sermon thusly:

“Such is its power [God’s Word], that it can raise us at once to heaven, if only we approach it with a sober mind. For it is not possible that he who is continually under the influence of the words of God can remain in this present low condition, but he needs must presently take wing, and fly away to the land which is above, and light on the infinite treasures of good things; which may it be that we all attain to, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom be glory to the Father and the All-holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.”

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