Yesterday morning, I was listening to Radio 4s Saturday Live programme.
The theme of the programme was all about communication and people at home had been invited to phone in to share stories about when communication had for some reason or other broken down.
One woman who called the show told of her younger days as a teenager when she used to earn a bit of money by baby sitting. She was looking after a neighbours baby one evening when he began to cry and just would not stop.
She tried all sorts of things to calm the baby – singing to him, rocking him gently, but he continued to scream out. The woman decided to telephone the baby’s parents at the local pub they had gone to.
She called the number of the pub and the landlady picked up and beckoned the child’s mother to the phone. There was a bit of static on the line, but the young woman was able to share the problem. “I’ve tried everything” the young woman explained, “but he just won’t stop crying”.
“Rub some honey on his tummy, that always works’ the mother advised. The babysitter put down the telephone and went to get honey from the kitchen.
An hour or so later, the parents returned to find the baby laid across the sitter’s lap, still crying out loud, and the young woman rubbing honey on his tummy. “It’s just not working” she cried! The mother looked the babysitter in the eye. “His dummy, rub some honey on his dummy!”
I’m sure we’ve all had conversations over the telephone when interference or static has got in the way – and in this age of mobile phones, dipping in and out of signal can cause real problems in our communications.
In the gospels it sometimes seems like there is interference on the line when Jesus is speaking to the people. No matter how loud or long Jesus proclaims the message, it seems like some just don’t have “ears to hear.” There is a failure in communication.
It’s troubling that the religious people are especially hard of hearing when it comes to Jesus. Why can’t God’s chosen ones hear Him?
In our reading from the gospel of John this morning we learn that they can’t hear Jesus because they are not willing to listen. They don’t recognise the voice of God in the man from Nazareth because the man and his message are so different from what they expect to hear.
I wonder about Christians gathered in churches across the world today? Can we hear Jesus? Do we recognise the voice of God in Him? Do we hear and obey what he says?
Over the years many have used the particular passage we have heard this morning as a way of saying we’re right and you’re wrong. They say with pride, “We listen to Jesus because we are Christians. We are a part of the church. Obviously this passage applies to those other people whose beliefs differ from mine.”
But, how do we know that the voice we hear is the voice of Jesus or some other voice? This is a difficult but critical question to answer.
We do know that down through the years many terrible things have been done in the name of Jesus. Wars have been fought and terrible destruction has been wrought all in His name.
Did the voice of Jesus really tell people to do what they did? From our vantage point we can confidently say, “No, of course not. Isn’t it terrible? Those poor benighted souls misunderstood and misused the name of Jesus. I’m glad we’re not like that.”
But, can we be so sure that we too won’t be misled by our pride?
If people of every age have misrepresented Jesus, if people of every age have failed to hear and heed his voice, we have to at least consider the possibility that we sometimes do the same thing.
If there is one group in the Bible with which we should always identify, it is those who fail to hear and understand.
If we are not careful it becomes all too easy to wander around in life like a person with a bad mobile phone connection. We think we’ve heard something, but we’re not sure. There’s too much interference, too much static on the line.
Communication with God and with each other is disrupted by the static of our personal problems, the static of our political views and even the static of a traditional religious teaching that may be (at least in some ways) at odds with what God in Christ is really trying to tell us.
Sometimes we assume that because a person is familiar to us that we know them and that we listen to what they have to say. This is especially true when it comes to those we are close to – our spouse, partner or a family member.
We sometimes hurt the ones we love because we often ignore the ones we love. We don’t really listen to them. Instead of listening, we make assumptions.
We assume that we already know what that other person is thinking and feeling. And this can cause all sorts of problems.
“You never listen to me” the lonely loved one cries. And it’s often true.
I think that every important relationship in our lives needs an element of mystery. We need to always ask ourselves, “I wonder what she thinks about this or I wonder what his opinion might be about that.”
Assumptions can be deadly. Do away with your assumptions if you want to strengthen your important relationships. People instinctively know when you are really listening to them. And when you really listen, some amazing breakthroughs can be made.
In the same way, our relationship with Jesus breaks down because sometimes we do not listen to him. We assume that we already know what he has to say and so we do not have that quiet time to be still and know God.
We are too busy speaking. We are too busy telling Jesus who he is and what he needs to do for us in order to make our lives happy and healthy. There is no mystery in our relationship with him.
And if there is no mystery in that relationship, we will not listen. Our love for Jesus will not grow. We may even stray to the point that we no longer hear his voice at all and so risk falling away from his flock.
Sometimes I think the problem is not that we don’t hear or even understand the voice of Jesus. The problem is that we have selective hearing, filtering out all those things that we don’t want to hear. We are afraid of a word of challenge or change or to take a risk in our own lives in order to respond to what he is calling us to do.
Though we do walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” though we do have difficult days as we seek to follow Jesus, there is a promise in this morning’s gospel that gives us hope.
If you’re in the hands of Jesus you’re in God’s hands. And God is going to care for you today and for all eternity.
It is this promise that allows us to put our daily struggle into perspective. As the Apostle Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If we are in God’s hands who is going to harm us? Who is going to snatch us out of God’s hands? The answer is no one. The promises of God are sure and the hope that is ours in Christ is forever.
The number one reason people don’t listen to Jesus or to each other is that they are afraid. And their fears prevent them from being all that they could be. Their fears prevent them from really listening.
Jesus invites people everywhere to put away their fears. Jesus invites people everywhere to trust and obey.
So my brothers and sisters in Christ, Listen for the voice of Jesus, listen and respond to His calling on your lives. Be faithful to Him because He is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. Follow Him and live!
May Almighty God Bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.