You’re all wonderful and amazing. God loves you. It will all be alright in the end. That’s what most of us want to hear. The words are true but are they what we need to hear?
Last Sunday morning I spoke of the role of friends who act as God’s hands, helping mould our lives and part of that friendship is about them saying to us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.
Inevitably hearing what we need involves some kind of challenge or question. It’s not just saying “yes it’s all fine” because sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes we need someone no matter how uncomfortable it might be for us to say “hang on a minute, think about what you’re doing, what you’re saying, this really isn’t ok.”
That is the great merit of Sacramental Confession. It’s a place where we name those things of which we are most ashamed. A time for spiritual honesty.
One of my friends worked with addicts of various kinds and the most important step they take, is to name their problem.
We too, sometimes need to name our sin because that’s what God is interested in redeeming and works with, not who we think we should be, but who we really are.
So whilst we may want to say everything is wonderful really sometimes it isn’t and we need to be honest with ourselves.
If we are lucky we are helped along the way by gentle and wise priests who help us open the dark places of our hearts to the light of Christ, help us think of what we need to say.
And so having named the unnameable, when we hear those words of forgiveness, the chains do fall off, we know the wonder of God’s forgiveness all the more and are free.
But it’s not just in that ‘holy’ space, that we encounter one who tells us what we need to hear.
I guess at some point or another we have all met people, who in some ways are a pain in the behind, who are always asking the awkward question. They sometimes tell us what we need to hear.
And maybe we too have had to have that awkward conversation when we’ve had to tell someone what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.
Now before you say this is all rather gloomy, remember this morning’s Gospel with St. John preaching repentance, hardly an endearing catchphrase. Repentance starts with honesty, what we need to hear.
That said I’d want to say that most of the time encouragement rather than challenge is the way. We get the best out of each other by encouragement not by telling each other how hopeless we are, something I was reminded of in a recent interview I heard with Richard Branson describing how he got the best out of those with whom he worked.
Yet every so often we, gently and with love, need to be challenged. Not in the finger pointing way of the Apprentice “You’re fired” but with graciousness not flinching from what needs to be said.
That was Micaiah’s job. In our first reading Micaiah’s his was a lonely voice.
A whole plethora of prophets came together (about 400) and tell the king of Israel, go go go and do some serious warring.
Yet King Jehoshaphat is suspicious, he asks for another prophet. It’s too good to be true kind of thing.
The King of Israel knows there is another but doesn’t like to hear from him because ‘he never prophecies anything favourable’ yet he summons him, likely because he knows he is a man of God.
Micaiah’s is the lone voice. At first, maybe afraid, telling the king what he wants to hear but then when pushed he says what he needs to hear
‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd.’
I think we can be a bit like King Jehoshaphat and surround ourselves with people or with things that help tell us what we want to hear.
Newspapers are a good example. I’m something of a chameleon when it comes to buying them. Sometimes it’s the Times, sometimes it’s the Telegraph, sometimes it’s the Guardian, and sometimes it’s the Independent.
I like to experience all of them because they challenge me. For example the Guardian will have a very different perspective on welfare reform than the Telegraph and both of them help inform my thinking.
It’s good to read an article that makes us go, Yes, yes, yes but then it’s also good read something else that makes us go no, no, no. It helps us work out who we are.
But that’s just one example, more profoundly and I guess in some way inevitably we can surround ourselves with our kind of people.
That’s ok again, so long as our kind of people don’t help us demonise those other people who aren’t really like us.
One thing I’ve learnt about people, having worked in parishes that are amongst the most deprived in the North West is that though things might look different the same basic human needs and desires for love, acceptance and hope are always present.
So hearing what we need is something about being in those places of disturbance and challenge and listening.
You are wonderful and amazing, God does love you and it will be alright in the end but sometimes we get a bit lost along the way and we need times like the season Advent to ask different questions of us.
The 400 prophets told the king what he wanted to hear, the lone voice of Miciah was the one he needed to hear.
We get obsessed with our own needs and wants, we all do it, we listen for the voices that tell us what we want to hear, yet that’s not always what we need to hear.
Instead we need to listen to the voice of ‘one crying in the wilderness.’ And the one that cries out from the crib.
Come Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.