In Silence

Mark 6:1–13
Len Scales
August 12, 2018
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Earlier this summer, Andrew and I had the opportunity to travel with a group of graduate students as a part of Princeton Presbyterians to worship, work, and study with the Taizé Community in France. God brought our group together from different parts of the country and world—Detroit and Miami and Tennessee and Zambia via New York City and New Jersey and Indiana. We came from different denominational backgrounds to Princeton and together onward to Taizé.

And we met others at Taizé from across the world—Kenya, Germany, Palestine, Korea, South Africa, to name a few. Anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 young people gather each week during the summer in a very small town in the Burgundy Countryside. The Taizé Community began with 3 brothers in the early 1940s committed to prayer and welcome, and has grown to around 100 brothers from Protestant and Catholic backgrounds and strong friendships with Greek Orthodox tradition. Around a dozen brothers live elsewhere in the world among impoverished people, 2 to 4 of them together in a place. Wherever the brothers are, they extend love, solidarity, and welcome to their neighbors.

Princeton Presbyterians, the campus ministry Nassau supports, looks to Taizé as a model of hospitality and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit.

While we were there, one of the Scripture readings we studied was the Luke version of this story in Mark about Jesus going to his hometown.

Jesus comes to Nazareth after healing and teaching powerfully. But once in familiar territory, he is confronted with hostility from his childhood neighbors. In Luke’s telling, the people of Jesus’ hometown get so agitated, they even try to hurl him off a cliff! Jesus escapes. He moves on, and in Mark, he sends his disciples two-by-two to heal and preach the Good News further afield.

What made these hometown friends so mad at Jesus in the first place? In Luke’s version of the story, we hear a little bit more about what Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. Jesus reads from the Prophet Isaiah—The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[1]

These are powerful words. They continue to give hope to Christians today, as we look around our world and see suffering and fear, and are weary from trying to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. We long for these words to be made manifest in our midst.

Imagine though if you heard those words being spoken by someone who used to be the squirrelly kid at the family reunion?[2] Someone who grew up next door, and played soccer with your kids or your grandkids? Eugene Boring, in his commentary on Mark, says Jesus’ hometown crowd looks at him as “Mary’s boy from down the street?”[3]

Would he seem believable to you? Do those words sound feasible for you today, even hearing them from the pulpit? Maybe especially hearing them from the pulpit?

It is understandable, even easy, to find ourselves acting like the people from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth—filled with doubt, maybe despair, and even annoyance at someone who seems to cling to an unimaginable ideal.

But is there a way for us to have faith in those ancient words? How do we hold to the promises of God written in the book of Isaiah, repeated by Jesus?

Maybe we do identify with the doubt of the people of Nazareth, but can we pause and hold off from acting on that doubt, even for a moment?

Today I suggest one place to allow ourselves to envision possibility of goodness and freedom is in silence.

A significant part of prayer three times a day at Taizé is about 10 minutes of silence after the Scripture reading. It is a time of communication, even as words are not being spoken aloud. It is a time to hear from God.

There is much to listen to in the silence: the words of one of the simple chants that continues to repeat in one’s mind; a phrase or an image from the Scripture reading that stands out. Sometimes the sounds are a little more external: hearing, noticing the breathing of everyone around you, the shifting of legs on the floor, the rumbling of someone’s stomach (maybe your own stomach), the curious small voice of a child at the side of the sanctuary. There are many things that come to one’s attention during the silence of Taizé, both external and internal.

Even in silence there can be a lot of noise. Maybe some of it is worth focusing on, but much of it is only worth acknowledging and moving on from. I think this is part of why the brothers recommend coming to Taizé for an entire week. The first few days allow someone to orient to the newness of everything, the middle of the week really opens up space for things that have been buried deep within due to the busyness of life to surface, and the last couple days provide opportunity to actually hear and leave open the possibility, maybe even believe, have faith, that something new is possible.[4]

We are going to undertake the practice of silence today, though more briefly than in Taizé. We will listen to the words from Isaiah Jesus taught in the synagogue, and sit with them. I won’t force 10 minutes of silence this morning, but I do want to challenge us to rest in one minute of silence.

When we hear again those words in Isaiah, may find ourselves aligning with Jesus’ hometown neighbors more than with the twelve at first. We are uncertain and surprised and not ready to slow down enough to listen and change directions. But what if we held off from asking judgmental questions, stopped ourselves from tossing Jesus to the side, and, instead, simply paused to listen?

Let us do that now, by hearing these words of Scripture: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[5]

[1 minute of silence][6]

What if that is true? I imagine we are in worship today because we at least want it to be true or we love someone who believes it to be true.

Jesus calls you, calls us, to hold out hope—that there really is good news for the poor, release for the captives, healing is possible, freedom is real, and the Lord really does love you and all of creation.

Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, not alone, but with a partner. Someone could confirm for others and remind their partner, when needed, the kingdom is possible, and we are called to work toward realizing it together.[7]

Who has Jesus given you as a partner in ministry?

We are not alone in worship this morning. We are gathered as Nassau Presbyterian Church. Who are your fellow followers of Jesus at either side of you, in front of you, behind you? Look around and see them.

Now, everyone on Princeton Presbyterians’ trip to Taizé was tired after a long academic year, many having recently experienced deep grief, pain, and challenges.

I encouraged everyone to be open to surprise while on the trip, acknowledge expectations and to also attempt to set those expectations aside.

One surprise happened in a quiet garden. A trip member was taking some time in silence for reflection. She was able to name for herself some of the real struggles she had been carrying over the last couple years of seminary—lots of questions of where to go next, but also a question of was God in this mess of life and ministry at all? She was asking common questions. Somewhat like the folks from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. It was in the silence that God communicated through the beauty, seen and heard in nature—a surprising chorus of frogs came from the silence, ringing over the pond and across the field, breaking through the questions. Could that be a sign she was not alone? She could have easily disregarded the frogs.

But, not only did she experience the moment, but someone else in our group happened to be in the same area at the same time and later asked—did you hear those frogs? It was then she was able to acknowledge the reality before her, which often goes unseen—God had not left her and neither had community.

At the end of our journey, over dinner, I asked everyone to summarize their experience with the Taizé Community in one word. The words were: reassurance, freedom, surprise, permission, patience, simplicity, and humility.

The question before our group now, is what are we going to do with those words? How will our experience in silence and community continue to form us? Will we take time to listen now as we prepare for a new semester? Where are we being sent together?

I ask you, Nassau Presbyterian Church, similar questions—where is Jesus calling us to proclaim release to the captives, freedom for the oppressed, and good news to the poor today and every day? Amen.

[1] adapted from Luke 4:18-19

[2] inspired from Christoph’s comment from my Taizé small group on knowing Jesus from neighborhood BBQ’s

[3] M. Eugene Boring, Mark, The New Testament Library, p.165

[4] “something new is possible” from Brother Emile

[5] adapted from Luke 4:18-19

[6] inspired by the practices of Taizé and Mr. Rogers commencement address at Dartmouth College in 2002

[7] see M. Eugene Boring, Mark, The New Testament Library, p.174

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