The Narrative Lectionary readings for Sunday, November 18, 2012:
optional reading: Luke 5:8-10
In the past few months, you may have accumulated quite a list of people who speak with unclean lips, people who need an application of burning coal. But truth be told, we could all use a cleansing.
I spent much of last Advent last year muted. I came back from Thanksgiving with one of the more severe colds that I've had in the past decade. I lost my voice, regained it, and lost it again. I had a case of conjunctivitis (pink eye), which along with the cold, limited my social life.
When I did make it to the office, I limited my speech, since I really couldn't talk easily anyway. I tried to determine whether conversations were worth the pain that I'd feel from the effort. Along the way, I realized how much of my conversations aren't essential at all. What keeps me in the pit of gossip and speculation, when I'd really like to be connecting on a deeper level?
It's a lesson easily forgotten when one's voice returns. It's so effortless to talk about politics, about work issues that won't be important in a year or even a month. It's so hard to talk about the issues that really affect people.
How handy it would be to have an angel swoop in with a tong holding a burning coal to remind us to keep our conversations on track. Instead of crosses and other religious symbols around our necks, maybe we should wear a chunk of coal.
Or maybe we should accept that we need a certain amount of inessential talk to warm up our tongues. Maybe we should look for ways to steer the talk in which we engage towards something more meaningful. When colleagues rant about health care costs, we can ask about health issues that plague them. When we talk about office politics, we can steer the conversation to people's hopes about the future of the company or about alternate career paths.
Are we called to do this? Are we called to consider the quality of our conversations? It's hard to imagine an Old Testament prophet demanding that we listen deeply to each other. We think of God calling us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set the captives free.
How many of us feel held captive in an increasingly noisy world where we feel we can't be heard? We may as well be in prison when we consider the difficulty in scheduling a meal together. We leave messages on answering machines and text snippets to each other, but how rare it is to talk to each other.
God calls us to many tasks, and one of them is to be fully present. We see an example of this in the call story of Isaiah, who asks God to send him before he even knows what the task will be. It's an unusual call story. We're far more familiar with the Jonahs of the world who run away and have to be held captive in the stomach of a fish before he'll do what God needs him to do. We may feel sympathy for the Moses figures who tell God why God has chosen the wrong person.
When God calls to you, can you hear? What will your response be? Will you run away?
Or will you volunteer eagerly, no matter the task?
And if God calls you to leave your hurtful speech behind, could you silence that speech? Could you turn your tongue to proclaiming good news, instead of grim news?
Advent approaches. Maybe the gift of leaving hateful talk behind is what we all need. Try it as your Advent discipline.