A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
“I love the Lord, because he heard my voice: the voice of my supplication.” Psalm 116 verse 1
I have great affection for the psalms. These are the songs expressing the emotions of each one of us. Within the psalms we identify ourselves and our reactions when we are faced with the everyday uncertainties of life.
There are psalms that are full of joy; psalms that are full of sorrow; psalms that reflect our uncertainty before God; psalms that offer thanks to God for answered prayers; psalms of adoration; and psalms that describe the sometimes bitterness of interpersonal relationships. In the psalm tonight the author speaks of faithfulness in God, even when at the point of death. He also speaks of his frustration and anger in verse 10. “I believed that I would perish, I was brought very low: I said in my haste ’Everyone is a liar.”
The overwhelming theme of this psalm is the joy in realising that God listens and responds to his cries. When no one else listens to his words, when he feels isolated and alone, he knows and believes that God listens. More than this, God responds to his circumstances and to his prayer.
When we stop and think about the most rewarding, or reassuring times in our lives, very often we will discover that we are recalling a time when someone has listened to what we had to say, and have encouraged us to expand our conversation. It is a time when someone has wanted to hear us and in listening, they have encouraged us. It may well be as simple as recognising that someone is interested in who we are and what we say. This is the joy of the psalmist tonight. God is listening and responding.
We live in a society where we are expected to be educated and articulate. We are taught to speak publicly, and we are often judged according to our ability to orate. We live in a noisy, jabbering, and demanding environment. Silence so often eludes us, and should we find ourselves to be in a silent environment, we will want to create noise. We turn on the television, or the radio, so that there is noise. We have an inbuilt desire to be distracted from life around us.
The psalmist reminds us that silence, a listening ear, an encouraging response, is far more important than busyness and noisy distraction. It seems to me that a relationship, any relationship, will be more mature and enjoyable when we can sit together in silence. In that silence we know that we are loved and cared for. We do not need words and noise to convince us that we are loved: The intimacy of our silence speaks far more powerfully of our love for each other. This intimacy experienced with someone we love is replicated when we sit in silence before God. Or perhaps it is the reverse. The intimacy of silence before God is replicated in the intimacy experienced when we sit in silence with someone we love.
Our life always appears to be very busy. There is always so much to do and so little time in which to do it. We can be busy and noisy, rushing from one engagement to another, wondering why we are becoming more and more tired and increasingly frustrated. The suggestion that we stop and listen too often falls on deaf ears. We are too busy to stop. We are too distracted to think. We do not have the time to enjoy the silence.
The psalmist does stop. He cries out to God, and even when he is close to death, he remains faithful. “The cords of death encompassed me, the snares of the grave took hold on me: I was in anguish and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord, ‘O Lord, I beseech you, deliver me!”
The psalmist remains convinced that God always listens, God is always present, and God always responds. The promise is that our prayers are answered. Maybe not in the manner we expected, but nonetheless answered. Just as God listens to us, we listen to God. True friends listen to us, and we listen to true friends. The theme of our faith in God is firmly based in a relationship of listening: Listening to God and listening to each other.
The fourth century Greek Philosopher, Zeno summed this up by saying: “The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is so that we can listen more and talk less.”
After the psalmist has been healed of his affliction he promises to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to continue to call upon the name of the Lord. It was not a case of being healed and returning to a Godless life. His relationship with God was such that all of life was with God.
While some may pray in crisis and then move on, this was not the way of the psalmist. He is determined to sustain the relationship that he has with God. It is not something esoteric that floats on the wind of want or need. It is a relationship that gives ongoing meaning and spiritual support for life.
For our part we can take a valuable lesson from the psalmists. They write in such a way that we can read a psalm, any psalm, and recognise the emotion that is in the heart of the author. We recognise it because it is likely we too have experienced it. We too have been frustrated with life; we have been angry with God; we have forgotten to thank God; we have forgotten to pray with God; we have put friends aside and have failed them because we have been far too busy. We have been guilty of not listening. We may even have joined with the psalmist and declared that all people are liars.
In spite of our many failings, God does listen, and God does answer prayer. God is with us, and God is within us. This is the reality of our prayerful relationship with our God. When we stop rushing about in our busyness God will embrace us and God will listen to us. When we look back over our lives we will see where God has intervened and our many prayers have been answered. We may not have understood the answer at the time. We may have thought that God had not answered at all. But, when we look back and seriously examine our life, we will understand that God has answered, and God has guided us through many life events.