The Sound That Came Out Of Silence
I read for you a parable of Jesus from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke, beginning to read at the fifth verse. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him,” and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me. The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything?” I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks received, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
This parable of the persistent neighbor is one of the most baffling parables Jesus ever told. Perhaps then a word or two of background may prove helpful. It seems that in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, it was the custom for travelers to journey well up into the evening hours in order to avoid the blazing heat of the Middle Eastern days. That’s precisely what happened in this story. A traveler journeyed up in the evening hours and arrived at the home of a friend at midnight.
Now it was also the custom in Jesus’ day – no, wait. No, it was more than just a custom. It was, in fact, a religious obligation that when a guest came to one’s home, that guest had to be welcomed, and welcomed not with a little midnight snack but with a full meal spread wide. Now, in this story, this traveler arrived at his friend’s home unexpectedly at midnight and immediately put that householder in a most awkward position. Apparently, his cupboard was bare, or, at least, he did not have sufficient provisions to make a full meal. And thus, he was in danger of being unable to fulfill the sacred obligation of hospitality.
Now, faced with a very difficult, awkward, embarrassing situation, this fellow did what I suspect most of us would have done. He decided that he would go next door and see if he could borrow some food from his neighbor. Now, remember, it was midnight. But he did it anyway. He went next door, and he knocked on the door, and he called out, “We have unexpected guests at my home, and I haven’t sufficient food. Can you lend me some food?” Now, at that point – the story says – the man inside the house, obviously disturbed, called out, “Go away. Can’t you see that the house is locked up; the lights are off; the children are in bed; the cat’s out; and we are asleep?”
Now, under ordinary circumstances, perhaps, the man would’ve been willing to leave the neighbor alone. But no, he had a serious problem. He had a religious obligation to meet, and he was determined to meet it. And so he wasn’t put off by that. Instead, he began banging on the door for all he was worth and shouting at the top of his lungs, creating a terrible ruckus in the middle of the night. And finally, the man in bed got up, exasperated as the dickens by this time, not at all in the spirit of goodwill, no, but grumbling and complaining and cursing the whole way, he got up and went to the door to grant the man’s request. And Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” That’s the story.
Now, how, in Heaven’s name, are we to interpret that parable? That’s a problem. Because if we take it as it reads, then we gain the picture of a God who does not wish to be disturbed by us or by our needs, a God who wants to be left alone. And that – you know as well as I – that is not the God of Holy Scripture. So how do we interpret the parable? I believe that when Jesus told this story, He was using the technique of ironic humor in order to communicate a message to us.
That is, Jesus gave us this rather humorous picture of a fellow standing and beating on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night and creating a terrible ruckus as a way of saying to us, “You may have to raise Cain to rouse your neighbor in a time of need, but you don’t have to come to God that way because God knows what you need before you speak. So ask and the answer will be forthcoming. Seek and He will help you to find the way. Knock and He will open His heart to you. And you need not cry very loud because God is nearer to you than you think.”
That’s the first message that Jesus is communicating here, but I think there’s more.
I think He’s communicating something else. He gives us this rather humorous picture of a man being awakened in the middle of the night and then going down the stairs to the front door, grumbling and complaining and cursing the whole while, in order to meet his neighbor’s need. And Jesus is saying to us, “Your neighbor may raise Cain if you wake him up in the middle of the night, but God won’t do that. God doesn’t come to you with loud noise and grumbling and complaining. God comes to you quietly.”
You know, that’s one of the great truths of Scripture. God comes to us in silence. You remember Elijah, at the end of his rope, in an hour of great need, he cried out for God, and what happened? Well, first, there was a great wind, but God wasn’t in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake. But God wasn’t in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire, but God wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire, the Bible says there was silence. And then in the silence, there was the sound of a still, small voice. The Hebrew literally translated at that point reads, the sound of thin silence. And God was in the silence speaking with a still, small voice.
You’ve heard that still, small voice some time in your life, haven’t you? Maybe there was a time when your problem seemed so overwhelming that you couldn’t get to sleep at night, and you tossed and you turned in your bed, and you wondered if you were going to make it to the dawn. And then suddenly, you thought you heard a whisper down inside that said, “Try it one more hour,” and you did, and you made it, and you knew it was the voice of God. Or maybe there was the time when you had to stand helplessly by and watch as someone whom you loved had their life begin to ebb away, and you stood, and you watched, and you thought to yourself that you would never be able to go on without that person. But then you thought you heard a whisper down inside, a whisper that said, “Do not be afraid. I will give you strength. You can go on,” and somehow, you have gone on, and you know the voice you heard.
Or there was a time when you were feeling desperately lonely, lonely as, well, W. H. Auden describes it as “unattached as a tumbleweed.” And in the midst of that loneliness, suddenly, you felt a faint echo down inside, and you heard a voice whispering to you and saying, “Lo, I am with you always,” and your loneliness was eased. Or there was a time when you faced some great bone-crushing, nerve-grinding decision, and you didn’t know which option to choose. It was all spread there before you, and you were almost paralyzed by the choice. And suddenly, the conviction began to build within you that said, “This is the way,” and you took the way, and it was the right way. And looking back on it, you call it the leading of God.
Somewhere, somehow, in some way in the course of your living, you have heard that still, small voice. That’s the way God comes to us, you know. He comes to us in the quiet, in a still, small voice. Oh, it’s so important for us to remember that at the Christmas season, a time when we prepare for the celebration of the coming to us of God in Jesus Christ. Because Christmas – you know it – Christmas is all clamor and chaos. And we need to remember that God doesn’t speak to us in the clamor but in the quiet. We need to remember that God doesn’t come to us in thunder and lightning, but he comes to us in the soft rustle of angel’s wings.
Dr. Clyde Walker, our counseling minister here at First Presbyterian, has prepared a marvelous little booklet for our use. It’s called “Coping with the Holiday Blues.” And he’s got so much of value to share in that little booklet, but there’s one thing especially that Clyde Walker says. He says – and listen very carefully – he says, “Write into your holiday schedule private time for prayer and medication and Bible reading.” He’s right. God speaks to us when we are quiet. God speaks to us in a thin, small voice.
No one’s ever said it better, I think, than Phillips Brooks in his carol, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heaven.”
In just a few moments now, we shall be quiet. We shall in silence come to this table. And there, we shall hear still, small sounds, the sound of breaking bread, “Crack, crack, crack.” The sound of pouring drink, “Drip, drip, drip,” sounds which mean the breaking of sin and the shedding of healing blood, and the gift of life made whole again.
And if we listen closely, you and I, in the midst of that silence, if we listen not just with our ears but with our hearts, then we shall hear God say, “Because I love you, I come to you not with rolling drums and a victory parade through the streets of the city of Jerusalem, but rather I come to you as a little baby, soft, crying, in the middle of the night, in an out of the way stable, in a little town called Bethlehem. Because I love you,” He says, “I come to you not with thundering choirs but with the whisper of a mother to a newborn baby in the quiet of a night. I come to you in My baby Son, Jesus Christ. I come so that you and you and you and you and you, so that you may have life and have it abundantly.”
Let us pray. Almighty God, let the still, small sound of Your voice whisper to us now in the midst of the silence through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.