Tag Archives: listening

My first sermon – the actual text

Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?

Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!

There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.

Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.

My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.

So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?

No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!

I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!

You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.

Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.

Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.

I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.

Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:

Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!

He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!

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Filed under Bible, body and soul, Community, My calling, New Testament, Prayer

Listening

There is something really powerful about having someone’s full attention and knowing they are listening to every word I am saying. It is no less powerful to give someone your full attention and listen to every word they say. You connect with the other person, you get to know them on a new level, no matter what you are talking about, and a new understanding is found. All of this makes listening one of the most important things we can do for others. Listening alone can make a huge difference in someone’s life and sometimes it is the only thing left to do.

Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Unfortunately this is hard and gets even harder if we don’t know anything about them. Caring about some nameless and faceless person is infinitely more difficult that caring about someone we know. Therefore I believe, that one part of our Christian calling should be to know as much as possible about the people we meet so that we might love them. If we love our neighbours, we want to be there for them and help them when they need our help. Again, if we don’t listen, we don’t know what they might need and we don’t know how we might help them. Sometimes the best help is just listening and being there.

At University I joined a Nightline, a listening service run by students for students. That means students sit at a phone at night waiting for their fellow students to call, to talk through a problem they are experiencing. This can be anything, from stress with an assignment to a break-up or even worse. By talking it through with the volunteer, the student has someone when nobody else might be available, they can clear their mind and sort through their options. The idea for it was born in Exeter more than 40 years ago and has spread rapidly. The first German Nightline was founded in 1997 and now there are 15.

As a Nightliner I was able to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with being there for someone who is going through great turmoil, and it has pressed upon me the importance of also listening to others “in real life”. In our society we learn much about how to express ourselves to others. We tend to forget that without people receiving the information and seeing us for what we are, there is something important missing. What is point of being able to tell everyone exactly what you think if nobody is listening?

As a Christian I feel that it is part of my calling to achieve a better understanding between people. I hope that by supporting and promoting the art of listening we can make a difference in how we see each other. I am sure that if we listen to each other’s needs, it will also change how we treat each other and the world will be a better place because of it.

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Filed under body and soul, Ethics, Life stories