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Worshipful Silence

Sunday, September 1, 2019. Rev. Annamarie Groenenboom, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Psalm 46

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[NOTE: This worship service was a Taize service. Rev. Groenenboom’s introduction (included in this video) was followed by 5 minutes of silence.]

Tomorrow, we will celebrate our 125th Labor Day in the United States. Labor Day celebrates the creation of the labor movement in America and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. Labor Day represents the official end of summer and the beginning of the School year. It is also known at Lewinsville as a time of silence and contemplation. On this Sunday, Lewinsville recognizes a yearly need for a reminder for silence.

Lewinsville is a community of hard workers who have extraordinary gifts. We do a lot of good work here for the kingdom of God. When I read our first passage from Hebrews, I thought of Lewinsville and our commitment to using our gifts to serve those in our community and those who are struggling. And God loves it when we do these things. When we work to make the world a better place, provide hospitality, and empathize with those in need, we are worshipping God and fulfilling our calls as Christians.

But I find that we are less confident with our second reading from Psalms. We are good at doing work and never stopping. But God has given us the gift of silence and created silence to be a normal part of our lives.

If we take a look through the Bible, we can see that God is present in and speaks through silence. Our Psalm today expresses how awesome and mighty God is in the midst of chaos, yet even God commands us to “Be still and know that I am God.” In the New Testament, we see Jesus often going out to be alone after big events like feeding the five thousand. God created sound, but God also created silence.

Silence is actually considered to be a spiritual discipline, something that can bring us closer to God but we have to practice. Silence is often something that we are uncomfortable with and we try to stop at all costs. When we get into the car, we turn on the radio. When we walk into the house, we put on the TV or listen to a podcast. When we stand in stores or even in an elevator, there is always music playing in the background. Even in a church service, someone is leading worship or playing music. Noise pervades our lives and when there is an absence of it. We feel uncomfortable.

Silence is especially difficult when we are around others. I remember when I first encountered Taizé worship. Every Monday, my seminary would offer a Taizé style chapel service. Chapel was always right before lunch. I eventually found myself actively avoiding the Taizé chapel because it seemed whenever we would enter into a time of silence, my stomach would start growling. I felt like I stuck out and was ruining the experience for everyone. I was filling the space with noise that wasn’t supposed to be there. The Taizé service was always the lowest attended because many of the students felt uncomfortable with or exposed by the silence.

Silence is difficult and anxiety provoking, so what’s the point? We have many other ways to worship God, why should we engage in silence? Silence helps us listen. My mother is a band teacher, and one of her classroom rules is when she is talking, all of her students must be silent. If her students are talking or if there is noise, it causes distraction and the students cannot hear what my mother is telling them. Just like my mother’s students, silence is required from us to listen well. Silence gives us each an opportunity to listen for what God is trying to say to us.

Silence allows us to truly rest in the presence of God. When we have no other distractions, when we allow ourselves to just sit and breathe, we can feel that God is with us. Silence also allows us to feel each other’s presence in a way that we usually don’t get an opportunity to feel. It’s not often when we have the opportunity to sit with a big group of people and experience the presence of God with no distractions.

Silence promotes healing and harmony within our inner selves. Silence forces us to look inward and sometimes we don’t like what comes into our minds: worries, memories, uncomfortable feelings, busyness. All of these thoughts can bombard our minds when there is no external noise to focus on. But in the silence, we can give this internal noise and distraction up to God and begin to heal.

Finally, Silence allows us space to be still, breath, and focus only on God. We have so many activities and obligations pulling us every way. We have literal noise we hear but also noise from the media and chaos of our world. Silence allows us space to put those distractions aside and just be still for a brief moment. It allows us solace and peace.

For the next five minutes, we will be practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. I want to emphasize the word practice because silence can be difficult and some of us may not have the opportunity to engage in it often. Silence like most things takes practice. You can use this time of silence to rest in the presence of God, breathe, listen, and seek harmony. After five minutes, you will hear me ring the meditation bowl 3 times and then we will enter into a time of prayer.

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Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for giving us this gift of silence today and every day. We thank you for always being present with us no matter where we are or what is happening in the world. As we come out of this time of silence, please continue to help us feel your presence and love. In Jesus name, Amen