“Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it.” – Thomas Merton
In our Sunday night meetings at the church we have been talking a lot about people’s stories and the power of sharing what God is doing and has done in our lives. The question was asked recently about how we relate to someone else’s story when it involves hurt and suffering and especially when those are the current status of that person’s life.
I have thought a lot about that question and the responses we discussed. I keep coming back to the idea of silence. I don’t mean a silence of indifference or uncaring but the kind of silence that communicates that we are present and listening to someone. As I have thought through times of struggle or trial in my own life I remember some of the things people said at those times. Certainly the speakers were attempting to be kind and comforting but at times it had the same affect that occurs when a cashier says “thanks for shopping here” and we respond with “you too”. We mean to be polite but it makes no sense. I am certain that many times in ministry I have failed to provide comfort precisely because I did speak and not just remain silent.
In my father’s last days as he lay between this world and the next, I said many things to him. I told him I loved him. I read scripture. I recited stories he had shared. But very often the most powerful moments were silent. A father and son together and each contemplating how one of them was looking beyond the shores of this world to what Tolkien called “a swift sunrise on a far green country”. The silent moments are the ones I cherish.
I was taught in seminary that the one (and only thing) that Job’s friends got right was their initial silent presence with Job in his misery.
12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:12-13
I think we should grasp that as more than just a pastoral anecdote. There is a tremendous power in the silence of simply being present and listening to another. So let me encourage you to practice this ministry of silent presence. When someone who is hurting or wounded shares with you, do not be so quick to speak, let your presence and listening provide the strong comfort that they truly are. Then pray (silently) for God to direct your words. Perhaps we can all be better comforters when we use our presence before our words.
By: Pastor Tom Covington
Last year I finally finished climbing a mountain, or at least it felt like it. After a year of trying, I finished reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. And I am glad that I did. It is an incredible book especially when its central point is grasped at the end. For all its stories, characters and descriptions of ancient Paris, the book is truly the story of 2 men – Jean Valjean, a convict, and the law-abiding Inspector Javert that hunts him. Valjean begins the book as a paroled criminal and a man for who prison did nothing to change his heart. But early in the story he is treated to an incredible act of grace that changes his entire life. That grace becomes the North Star for the rest of his existence. But as Valjean seeks to live in the grace he received and show that grace to others, he is hunted by Javert – the figure of the law – who does not care about good and evil or grace, only about the law. It is a stunning picture of how the law hunts us when we are outside of God’s grace. The law hunts us and tells us “you must obey”, “you must work harder”, “you must do enough to earn your salvation”. All while Grace says “you can never do enough, but in Christ you don’t have to.” Law vs. grace. Valjean vs. Javert. Until the book’s climax, when finally the 2 men are face to face. Javert seems to be the victor until Valjean performs an act of Christ-like grace. Valjean agrees to surrender to Javert and spend the rest of his life in prison in order to save the life of another man. This act of sacrifice and grace overwhelms Javert. But Javert and his law based soul cannot comprehend this grace and it wrecks him. He proclaims to Valjean that he has tried his entire life to never break a rule. And in that moment the upright, rule-keeping Javert realizes he can never find salvation in rule-keeping while the criminal Valjean has been saved through grace. In a stunning final act, Javert is wrecked by grace.
When we encounter God’s grace it does wreck us. That is a good thing. Hopefully grace wrecks us like it did Valjean. We see the darkness of our sins and our soul and we receive God’s grace and are rebuilt from the wreckage. But there is a danger that grace will wreck us like Javert and we will see our inability to ever be good enough as a bad thing and we will try harder or we will simply give up trying. We will come to hate both grace and law and we will retreat farther from Christ.
I pray today that you have been wrecked by Grace and are being rebuilt by it. That you are being rebuilt in the image of Christ and are seeking to live your life as an expression of the grace you have received.
Each January I preach a “State of the Church” Sermon. Please take the time to click the link below to listen to this year’s sermon.
State of the Church 2016