The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer online      6th September 2020
Hear the Word of theLord
Handley Stevens

OT Reading: Ezekiel 12.21 – 13.16
NT Reading: Acts 19.1-20
My text is the constant refrain of the prophets, in this case Ezekiel:  Hear the word of the Lord! (Ezekiel 13.2).  May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.
This evening’s readings are about the compulsion of speaking and the urgency of hearing the word of God.  Ezekiel had been taken into exile in Babylon when the city was first captured in 597BC.  With the profound insight of the prophet, he sensed the more complete destruction that would be visited on Jerusalem only ten years later, but he could not persuade the people to listen.  St Paul had a similar experience in the synagogue at Ephesus, though his message was better received once he moved to the lecture hall.  
We all need to listen attentively.  It is the awesome responsibility of the preacher so to interpret and proclaim the word of God as we find it in the scriptures that it may resonate in our ears and take root in our hearts. As listeners it is equally our awesome responsibility to test what we hear, to ask ourselves whether what we are hearing is God’s word or the deluded blatherings of a mere mortal.  I am here tonight as your preacher, but I am first and foremost a listener.
The church does its best to sort out those who should or should not be licensed to preach, but the process of discernment is not infallible, and the attentiveness of the preacher’s own preparation may vary too.  I may not always have listened as attentively as I should, but fortunately the message you receive does not depend on the preacher alone.  If as preachers and listeners we have opened our hearts to the word of God, as we pray before every sermon, we may very well hear a word, or receive a thought, which hasn’t actually been spoken.  I am sometimes surprised to be thanked at the church door for saying something I am pretty sure I never said.  At our best we are engaged in a joint enterprise, to which preacher and listener both contribute, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Like the Jews at Ephesus who were not to be persuaded by Paul’s preaching, the people of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day didn’t think they needed to listen.  They dismissed his visions of impending doom as something for the distant future.  They preferred the senseless prophets, behaving like jackals among the ruins, pecking about on the ground where they could see nothing but their own imaginings.  
A second group of false prophets was composed of those who cry ‘Peace’ when there is no peace.  They build a wall, and make it look good with a fine coat of whitewash, but in reality it is not well built, and when exposed to a ‘hard rain’ it will crumble and fall.  Building walls has a long history.
Down with the false prophets then.  But how are we to tell the difference between the true prophet speaking a word from God, and the false prophet seducing us with honeyed promises.  That’s where we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
Sure!  But how can we be certain that we have received such guidance?  And of course there is no absolute proof.  All I can say is this.  If we pray in faith for guidance and understanding, if we speak and listen with humility, we may very well sense and know the truth in our hearts.  
This month, as we enter the season of Creationtide, a difficult issue of high importance for us might be: what should we urge our government to do about climate change? How will the Prime Minister use his opportunity to chair next year’s COP-26 meeting of governments?  Another topic for prayerful consideration might be our response to refugees and asylum seekers risking their lives to cross the Channel in their overloaded inflatables.  Whether the issues which trouble us are matters of national policy or matters of more immediate personal concern, steeped in the Scriptures and led by the Holy Spirit our challenge is to seek the heart and mind of God.  We may have to wait for our prayers to be answered, but I am persuaded that in the end there is no issue that we cannot bring to God in prayer, in the confident expectation that we will be shown at least some indication of how to set about dealing with it.  
Hear the word of the Lord!  May His word light our way and guide our steps, now and always.  Amen

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