I preached this in 2017 when it was the third Sunday of Lent –
the readings won’t feature in the lectionary in 2020
A little while ago I lost my voice. I lost it completely for a couple of days and could only manage a soft whisper for two or three days after that.
It was an interesting experience! So much we take for granted: making a ‘phone call, just saying hello to passers-by or a shop assistant, asking for a bus ticket – everyday communications became a bit more difficult or sometimes impossible.
I decided to see what I could learn from this experience of being without a voice in case it might come in useful for life in general and for a sermon in particular!
For me, it’s shed some light from a new angle on our Gospel reading for today.
Jesus says, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go to hell.”
Well, first of all, of course, we need to understand that Jesus is talking in dramatic words as he often does: exaggerating his message so that it has the greatest impact on his listeners.
And I wonder if we could change those words to:
“If your voice is causing you to sin, be quiet, stop talking; It’s better for you to lose your voice than to talk your way into hell.”
Without my voice I noticed two things in particular during those few days and I think they are linked to each other.
The first thing was that before trying to speak I made a quick assessment of what it was I wanted to say: was it necessary? would it be ok not to say it? or perhaps it would turn out to be better left unsaid. What would it add to a conversation with friends or a discussion at a meeting? And what effect would my speaking or not speaking have on others?
It surprised me that very little speaking turned out to be necessary and I thought twice about unnecessary speaking because I knew it would strain my vocal chords and Sandra had told me I must shut up for my own good!
So losing my voice gave me a greater awareness of how I use the gift and power of speech in everyday encounters.
The second thing I noticed was that very often the person or people I was trying to talk to would themselves start talking very quietly or even whisper to me. That was quite funny but it was also to me hugely fascinating.
How much does the way we speak, the words and the tone we use, the emotional weight behind the words – how much do all those things affect those with whom we are engaging and how they react to us.
And I think this is where my experience meets our Gospel reading.
Jesus has a very disturbing ability to look at us and see right into our hearts and minds, including those things we’d really rather he didn’t see, the things we keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves.
It’s not enough, says Jesus, to refrain from killing someone – we have to address the violent and angry thoughts that triggered violent (perhaps even murderous) feelings towards someone.
And I think he also says it’s not enough to refrain from swearing at people, complaining about situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves or passing on gossip. We need to address the issues behind these sorts of speaking and be aware of how our speaking is affecting other people.
There are a lot of very angry and very aggressive voices thundering around us at the moment: on the television and radio, in newspapers and on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Angry voices pouring out angry words, expressing hatred and prejudice, hurt and confusion and generally railing against people and institutions that many believe to be unjust, unethical, illegal, corrupt or just plain wrong!
And it seems to me that all that anger, bitterness and hatred only engenders equally angry, bitter and hating reactions in others.
Where will all this spiraling anger lead us when it gets out of control and cannot be contained any more?
Somehow, I believe we need to find stillness and the sound of absolute silence even during the world’s earthquakes, winds and raging fires of hatred. We need to find that stillness and silence because it is in that stillness, in that silence that the voice of God is heard
And I think this applies in our own personal lives and relationships just as much as it does to national and international relationships.
Our own anger, discontent and disappointment can be expressed in ways that engender negative reactions in others and that too can spiral out of control if we’re not careful.
We need to find a place of stillness and quiet in order to hear our own inner thoughts, pay attention to our own feelings and listen for the voice of God.
At times, during those few days when I had little or no voice and was thinking hard about what I wished to say, I became aware, and was ashamed, of how often I would have said something negative or critical, how many times my words could have been discouraging or wearing for my audience and how often I actually do speak without thinking.
This is the third Sunday before Lent. A bit soon, perhaps, to be thinking about how we want to mark Lent this year, if at all. But I have an idea about what I’m going to do.
Sorry, Adrian, I’m not going to give up my voice for Lent – but I am going to try and be more careful about how I use my voice, what words I choose to say and how I say them, be more aware of the effect my words may have on others.
And I invite all of you to consider trying this with me: Before we speak, let’s ask ourselves:
Am I about to say something kind and loving?
Is what I’m about to say going to offer encouragement and hope?
Am I about to say something positive, recognising the good in something or someone and giving thanks and praise for that?
Will my words uplift someone’s heart?
And if we do hear words that are unloving, discouraging, critical or angry, let’s hold back from reacting with similar words, let’s not feed the flame of negativity but allow it to be transformed by God into something more loving, more in tune with his compassion and mercy – something that will make a difference and help bring in his kingdom on earth.
Let’s finish by praying this verse from one of the hymns we’ve sung this morning:
Take my voice, and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips , and let them be
filled with messages from thee.