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Theme for Sunday, 23 June 2019

Scripture for this Sunday:
1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3.23-29; Luke 8.26-39

Elijah listens

Anna Maria Tremonti has been the presenter of a current affairs programme on the CBC radio network called The Current for 17 years. She is now stepping down from that role, having interviewed many people, from Henry Kissinger (who walked out!) to Malala Yousafzi. For her final interview, she agreed to be interviewed herself. She said this about what she has learned:

The humanity of an individual, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum, exists and it shines if you take the trouble to ask what they think. If you just take the time and talk to people, even the most polarizing of people, you know what — they’re human beings. And they’re not ogres and they actually want to talk to the other side.  

Those words are from someone who has spent 17 years listening. Because to be a good interviewer means to be a good listener.  

Listening is not a skill well developed in modern culture.  We seem to live in a world which is far more interested in shouting (never mind just speaking) than listening. Social media acts as a sort of “echo chamber” for voices that reinforce our own views and prejudices in a world where many would rather shout than listen.  

Today’s scripture, like much of the Bible, is about listening.  Listening carefully to the words of Luke’s gospel reveals an encounter with Gentiles in an occupied country in which Jesus demonstrates his power over both demonic possession and brutal military occupation – yet the people he encounters prefer the (known) shackles of empire to the (unknown) freedom of God’s reign – so, afraid to listen, they ask Jesus to leave.  

That politically and socially easy path is disturbingly reminiscent of how many people, even those who profess Christian faith, behave today.  Listening to Jesus can create disturbance and is not always comfortable.  

Listening to God, in general, isn’t always comfortable. The prophet Elijah, anxious and on the run, found himself hiding in a cave and confronted with a piercing question that echoes across time and space: “What are you doing here?”  

One of my favourite things to do with this passage from 1 Kings about Elijah is to repeat in my mind all the different ways – all the different tones of voice – in which God asks Elijah: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And a good exercise in spiritual self-awareness is then to let that question be asked of us – and then listen, not for earthquake, wind, or fire, but for the still, small voice from within that draws answers out of us – answers that may be disturbing and uncomfortable.  

Listening is a vitally important skill for communicating with one another, just as it is for communication with God.  The history of the Anglican church is one that upholds the tradition of the Via Media, the middle way, that defines an inclusive church with broad boundaries.  The risk attached to the Via Media is that the broader the boundaries, the more opportunity for disagreement and dissent that exists.  

For the inclusiveness that is the hallmark and strength of Anglicanism to prevail, we have to develop our listening skills – both to hear one another, and to be stirred by that still, small voice from within. The humanity of an individual, no matter where they stand, exists and it shines if you take the trouble to ask what they think.  And then listen to them!  

Meanwhile, that question remains: What are you doing here?  
What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?

Are you listening?

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