The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s152g12  Christmass 1  30/12/2012

'listening .. and asking them questions'  Luke 2.46

Jesus listened and asked questions.  And I wonder just what questions he may have asked.  One would assume he didn't ask for evidence for the existence of God :-).  In a world which was harsh, neighbours hostile, and under foreign occupation, such niceties were irrelevant, indeed unimaginable.   At 12 he probably didn't ask about those of the other gender!   Perhaps he asked about the possibility of more modern music in worship ;-)   Perhaps he wondered why neighbours were hostile, why their land was occupied, why they always seemed to be blamed.

It strikes me that the world view of the twelve year old Jesus is vastly different from our post-modern outlook.   When I was privileged to have some extended contact with Sudanese refugees, one quickly realised the gulf between their outlooks and that of those in most first-world countries, where one goes to supermarkets to buy food and knows food will be there and not at an exorbitant price, where most people have not experienced rape, torture, homelessness, poverty and death as an everyday occurrence like they have.   No wonder Sudanese believe in God!   It is perhaps their only comfort.   But even as I type this I think of 'fortress America' that NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre sees as the solution to school massacres to think that some first-world countries are not much different.   Perhaps this is a reason church attendance in the USA is also high?

And Jesus listened.   Jesus listens, to hear our half-formed expressions of creativity, grief, concerns ..   Jesus invites us to express ourselves, for it is precisely in expressing ourselves that we grow, our creativity is enhanced, we work through our griefs, we see our concerns in a clearer light ..

In fact listening is the mark of a chaplain, only occasionally asking sensitive questions to elicit further clarification and exploration.

Jesus has no truck with the dictum: 'Children are to be seen and not heard' nor its logical extension: 'Parishioners are to be seen and not heard'.

I have no difficulty with well done worship, however sometimes it can come across as if the most important thing happens up the front.   In high-church settings it is the vestments, the ritual, the evident devotion.  In evangelical settings it is the compere and the band.   (When I looked up the spelling of compere I found that it comes from the french for 'godfather' :-)   In Cathedrals it is the choir and quality of the organ and singing.   And each and every one of these can be an aid to what is actually the most important, as well as getting in the way of what is actually the most important, the thoughts and prayers of the persons in the pews.   Fortunately God has selective hearing, and can hear even things not articulated, over the distractions of corporate worship and what happens up front :-)   And the issue in each case is just who is authorised to speak and who is not?   Are the folk up front more devout, more sincere, more practiced, so that the rest of us are only allowed to look on .. and marvel?  Are the devout folk up front, the more sincere, the more practiced, the only ones God listens to?   This seems to me to be contradictory to the message of Christmass; contradictory to the message of the incarnation itself.

And as I was thinking about this I thought of one of those 'hard sayings' of Jesus: 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.'  (Luke 14.26)   For me this means something like we must hate a spiritual heritage which has not listened to us, nor listened to others and demanded others listen to no one but themselves. 

Surely we are called to hate a heritage that in 1633 Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy" and it took until 1992, when 'Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled, and issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the Catholic Church tribunal that judged (his) scientific positions'  - three and a half centuries later!   (  

Surely we are called to hate a heritage that condemns innocent millions to continued poverty, illness and premature death - failing to hear the cries of children - because of an unwillingness to allow contraception.  

Surely we are called to hate a heritage that refuses to listen to the legitimate contributions of women and continues to condemn them to be marginalised - like the Church of England in her recent decision to not allow women to be ordained bishops.

Surely we are called to hate a heritage that so insists on the cross of Christ, the infallibility of the Bible or creation in six days and consequently my own personal salvation that we don't see that others might be included in God's love, we don't see the wonders of evolution or the contribution that other people can make to our existence, the contribution of scientists, artists, philosophers, poets, doctors ..

I have wondered before how much the loud and tuneless music of the young is only a reaction to 'children are to be seen and not heard' along with graffiti, an albeit fleeting brush with notoriety.  

I meet a lot of dogmatism in my life, from both churched and non-churched people.   Perhaps the later are better termed former churched people.   And I wonder if the dogmatism results from never being listened to.   People focus on one-issue - agin a new prayer book, a new form of the Lord's Prayer or Creed, ordaining women, accepting others - turning 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' into 'do unto others as has already been done unto you'.   This is no recipe for hope!

I have to extend my definition of being human.   Previously I have thought the marks of being human were standing on our hind legs and thinking.   But of course speaking is also distinctively human, and there is clearly an interplay between thinking and expressing ourselves, creativity and growth into being more human.   To not listen to others is to treat others as less than human, as less than worthy

And this Christmass season past, have we listened to others or have we been content to just listen to the carols in the stores?   Will the events of Christmass have lasting effects or just put to one side as we get back to real life, to be revisited again, just as fruitlessly, in another twelve months?   And if so, why wouldn't non-church and former-church people wonder if Christmass is just another waste of time and Christianity of no relevance to real life - not just not worth all the effort and hullabaloo - but a positive hindrance to a more listening and humane society?