I have so enjoyed walking in the snow this week, noticing birds and squirrels and foxes. The park has been an extraordinary place of crisp snow, exquisite swirly patterns on bark, soft sunrises and a frozen pond. And every time I walk round, I pass a gorgeous wrought iron bridge, joining the land with a small island in the middle.
It has caused me to reflect on the importance of bridges in our society today. People seem to be so polarised in their opinions, whether about independence, the effects of Brexit, or about the best choices in a pandemic. Everyone seems to have a view, and they often seem to be strongly held, and loudly articulated. And people are so busy speaking, there seems little room to listen.
Listening is underrated however. Listening attentively to another human being can lead to new understanding and a fresh perspective. At the end of the time, people might still have different views, but someone perceived as an enemy could have become a friend. Listening, helps to remove walls of division and hatred, brick by brick, and allow bridges to be built in their place.
In the book of James chapter one verse 19b it says: ” everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak” and the transformative power of this teaching, if applied in our world, would be powerful. Before we spout forth, we should check our sources, listen carefully, and ask God what we should say. The checklist, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?, is a wise one to consult, before we even consider speaking. We all regret saying hasty words that have given offense to others.
In the New Testament, one of the great listeners is Barnabas- Son of Encouragement. He was one of those people who listened to God, who saw beyond the superficial, and brought people together. An example of this is in Acts chapter 9, where Saul has had his conversion experience on the Damascus road, but when he got to Jerusalem, the Christian community were suspicious about the genuineness of his conversion, and wondered if he was trying to trick them. It was Barnabas who spoke for Saul, and told of his story, so bonds of trust could be built, and Saul, or Paul as he became known, was welcomed into the Christian community, and went on to become one of their most feverent leaders and letter writers. If Barnabas had not intervened, then we might never have heard of Paul!
And so in today’s age, let’s not be part of the vitriolic rage and criticism of others, but rather be reasonable and fair in debate, looking for the best in people, weighing things carefully. Let us see behind empty and critical rhetoric, and have courage to listen to God, to discern the wisest course of speech and action, so that bridges of insight and understanding can be built, and a shared way ahead found.
Let us pray. Gracious God, You are perfect, holy, good, yet because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the one who sacrificed His life for us, You look upon us with grace and mercy. You have reconciled us to yourself in Christ, and then give to us the ministry of reconciliation. Forgive us when we look for the speck in another’s eye, whilst there is a log in ours. Give us calm hearts, that we might listen attentively to others, to appreciate their views, even when we differ. May your Holy spirit inspire a ministry of reconciliation through Your people, and in this world, so we might work together for peace and justice, so we might value and honour one another. In Jesus’ name, Amen.