I have found myself really struggling to write the sermon this week. Sometimes that happens, when life takes over, where distractions get in the way. It is easy to lose focus, especially during lockdown, when the regular rhymes and rhythms have been discarded. In a way, this seems to me to be an important Lenten discipline – to attempt to focus on God’s will even if the sources of imagination and contemplation appear to have dried up.
If you were concerned that you were to be denied a sermon this Sunday, worry not! Although I am struggling, I will get there, I promise. I will summon the words and draw theological themes and exercise a form of prayerful perseverance. I sometimes wonder if the struggle leads to a greater grasp of the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The words that are composed are not necessarily my words, easily manufactured and processed, but the words graced by God. The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.
If we look carefully at this painting by Hofmann who delighted in re-creating the life of Christ on canvas, we can see the different levels of attunement which occurred in the Temple on that day. The priest, sitting down, clinging on to his known scripture – the Law. The cynic, gesturing the improbability and impossibility of Jesus’ vision. The old man, quietly reflecting on the words of this young prophet. Finally the listener flanking Jesus with a scroll wrapped in his hand, pausing in meditation. Who, out of these, is willing to be drawn into God’s will?
The congregation (or audience, in this age of livestreaming), is also given a responsibility. A certain duty is placed upon those who are listening to God’s word, to listen well. The liturgy of the Word is shared out for anyone who has ears to listen. But a relationship exists in this sharing out – speaking, listening, questioning, interpreting, inspiring, consoling. The homilist cannot speak without listeners to receive the Word. The congregation cannot fully attend without God’s Holy Spirit being fully present. A unity of purpose is formed through the filtering of this Word across the community. This is why the CATechesis group is so important – that we take time, more time, to consider what God is saying to us today. I would commend this weekly meeting to you, not that you are burdened to join each week, but it is an essential tool in tuning in to God’s will and purpose. (email me for further details).
God speaks when he shares his Word. The good news is that God’s story is one of hospitality, of welcome. When we attune ourselves to God’s story, wonderful things happen. We enter into a deeper relationship with the Word. We become a community shaped by joy and purpose. But this doesn’t come easily. You may have to struggle to attend to God’s Word. You may well have to fight distractions. You will need to find the space and time to listen well. If you are prepared to give of yourself in this way, be prepared to be changed.