Brian Knapp recently joined us for Devotions. He talked to us about 'reflection'. 

As a church we find ourselves in the season of Lent, a season of preparation for Easter and an opportunity to reflect and live at a different pace of life, from that which is led for the other 325 days of the year.

Lent is a time to stop, to reflect and ponder and then to move on with the lessons learnt. 

To see the world and our own place in it from a fresh perspective.

My church in this season of Lent is thinking about Listening to God and Listening to Others. With the subtitle Exploring the art of Good Listening  The very act of listening has at its core I want to suggest, intentionality and love.  To listen effectively and properly you need to be intentional.

That means not only listening with your ears, but watching with your eyes, standing or sitting in an open, invitational way, to receive the information or concern the other is wishing to express. You need to engage a number of factors, and your body language needs to reassure the other that you are interested and care.   And effective listen is of course about reflecting on what is and what isn’t being said, but maybe is being conveyed in some other manner.

At the same time as we are running Lent courses I am also preparing three couples for Marriage and last week we were thinking about Effective Communication.  What was interesting to hear from the feedback and from the discussion the couples were having privately, was the lack of self- awareness as to how each person was perceived or came across to the other.  With one partner insisting to the other in growing terms of intensity “I always listen to you and what you say”, whilst the other was saying “well it doesn’t always feel like that to me.”

There are a number of stories in the gospels of Jesus’ intentional listening, but one I have chosen may not be so obvious at first, but I hope you agree fits. 

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13

There is nothing like a meal shared with others for intentional listening to take place.  People seem to let their guard down, reveal all sorts of things and have frank and honest conversations when seated around a table eating.  Research carried out at Oxford University suggests “ that the more often people eat with others the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives. ...

The results suggest that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing, and enhances one's sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.”  To me that all speaks of intentional listening.

So the question I am left with, before we think about love is where is our intentional listening, whether, as an individual, as a team member, with our group of friends, or within the cries or challenges this organisation was set up to help.  The call is to make sure we are always intentionally listening and never assume we know the answer before the question has been asked.

That second core ingredient is of course love.  For love at its very core is the desire to value the other person, to value who they are as a human beings, as one made in God’s image, a treasured position, a child of God’s.

Listening is a form of love. For by listening, we put aside our own agenda, and take a break from what we are doing, and we give our attention to the other. Listening requires selflessness and humility. As I am sure you know in Greek, the language of the NT there are four different words for LOVE. Éros meaning "intimate love" the love of the sexual passion."   Philia meaning "affectionate regard, friendship", usually "between equals".  Storge meaning "love, affection" and "especially of parents and children" Agápe meaning "love: esp. charity, especially in terms of sacrificing one’s own needs, it’s a selfless love directed towards the other; the love of God for his creation and of those created for God."

Going back to that reading from Matthew’s gospel it was sad that the religious elite of the day had not picked up the meaning of those words Jesus asks them to reflect on from Hosea.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  In his own words Jesus put it likes this

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Matthew 9:12

Jesus’ calling here was to reach out those who were sick, irrespective of whether they knew it or not.  Whereas it seemed that the religious elite considered those who were spiritually, morally sick to be beyond redemption, to be beyond helping.  Jesus here is willing to show that Love that is ‘agape love’ the love of sacrifice or charity, the love that doesn’t count the cost.  The love that puts us in the thick of it, and does not worry about what others may think or of the social and religious norms of the day.   The first of these responses surely shows sacrificial love, whereas the second does not. 

In other words Jesus gathers around him people who are sick, he goes to where sickness is, he places himself amongst those who need healing and he sits, he talks, and he eats and listens to them –and in doing so he identifies with them and their need for healing. 

In a recent homily Pope Francis said this “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness and proximity.” – he then goes onto describe the church as being like an army field hospital.

All this sort of thing You will I know far better than I about, as you identify with those who are sick and in need of help, that is after all what this charity was set up to DO, and to BE.  Love in action.  But it is always worth reminding ourselves from time to time of our motives, what drives us, and of not only the journey we are on, but that which we have travelled.

As we continue in this season of Lent and with more and more people getting anxious about COVID 19 I am left with the words in this passage “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The words of Jesus are of course true.  But we will all know that healthcare has moved and is as much about prevention of illness, as it is cure - as we are challenged to live healthier lives, walking more, eating the right food and having a better work / life balance. 

So maybe this time of Lent affords us the opportunity each day to set aside just 5-10 mins to stop, to reflect and ponder, and then to move on with a new emotional, spiritual, physical, wellbeing that helps us to Listen more effectively, and to express Love in a more concrete and effective manner in all that we do.