July 24, 2022 ~ 7th Sunday after Pentecost
“Discipleship by the Sea” ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
A middle-aged man was distraught over his wife’s stubborn refusal to admit she had a hearing problem. So he asked his family doctor for advice on how to bring this to his wife’s attention. The doctor promptly told him that when he got home, he could confirm the hearing problem by opening the front door, and from there asking his wife, “Honey, what’s for dinner?’
Then the doctor said, “If she doesn’t answer, move closer to the kitchen. Repeat the question again, and if she still doesn’t answer, move right up to her ear and whisper in it, ‘What’s for dinner, honey?’ In this way,” the doctor assured him, “she’ll have to admit she has a hearing problem.”
So the man raced home, all excited, and opened the front door. “What’s for dinner, honey?” he asked. No reply came. So, he moved closer to the kitchen and asked again, “What’s for dinner, honey?” Again, nothing. When he looked into the kitchen, sure enough, there she was at the kitchen counter. So, he tiptoed over to her and whispered in her ear, “What’s for dinner, honey?” She turned and looked him straight in the eye and said, “For the third time, I said we’re having meatloaf!”
Hearing / Listening : How closely are we paying attention? Did you know or remember that sound travels at the speed of 1,130 feet per second? That’s 770 miles per hour. Our ears never stop working, even when we’re asleep. The ear continues to hear sounds, but the brain shuts them out (if we’re lucky!). The ear’s hammer, anvil and stirrup are the smallest bones in the human body–all three could fit together on a penny. I hope you are listening because someday we will need this trivia in order to ask the correct question when playing Jeopardy!
Some of you have been listening to sermons on this passage, or the similar one from Matthew’s gospel, all of your lives. So you may be asking yourself, “How will this sermon be any different?” Usually, when preaching on this scripture text, we unpack the meaning of the Parable of the Sower, or the Parable of the Soils. Today, however, as we hear this Parable from the Gospel of Mark, we will focus on Jesus’ words that bookend the parable. After Jesus gets into the boat to teach, he captures the attention of the folks on the shore by saying, “LISTEN!” And then, after telling the story, he asks, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” The NRSV translation, with which we are more familiar, has Jesus stating, “Let anyone with ears to hear LISTEN.”
Jesus desires to teach lessons about living God’s way to the disciples and crowds using stories with images and settings that would be familiar to the hearers. And Jesus knows that in order to comprehend these deep and challenging truths, the hearers must really pay attention. So, Jesus tries to get folks to focus on these teachings by reminding them to LISTEN!
Those who work with groups of persons of any age know how challenging it can be to quiet the chatter and get people to listen to important lessons. At church camp, two strategies are utilized. The first one I learned was when a leader at camp would hold up their hand. Everyone else was expected to hold up their hands and close their mouths. The second was also participatory, as the leader would offer a “clap,” and others needed to listen carefully enough to echo that clap back. (demonstrate)
In other church circles, as well as in worship at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, the leader may say, “The Lord be with you.” and expect others to respond, “And also with you!” Thus signifying that they are ready to focus on the spiritual instruction or prayer to be offered.
And we know that when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, after hearing Martha’s complaints about her sister’s lack of assistance with preparing and serving a meal for their guests, Jesus reminds Martha that Mary, who was listening intently to Jesus’ teachings, had chosen the appropriate activity.
So today, Jesus asks us, are you listening? Do we hear the Word of God? Are we responding to the truth in such a way that it changes our lives? When the Gospel is sown in our lives, does it actually take root and produce fruit? Are we, like Mary, yearning to sit at Jesus’ feet and soak in every lesson Jesus has come to teach us? Are we willing to listen deeply enough to embrace the New Life Jesus has in store for us? Are we listening? Really listening? We often associate discipleship with “doing” — and certainly that is part of it. But we must also return time and again to the Teacher at the sea who offers us the stories that encourage, challenge, provoke, and sometimes confuse us. We are called to be thinking and discerning disciples who act out of understanding and compassion. True, fruitful listening requires time, focus, effort, learning, and application.
The “Desiring God” website features an article by Executive Editor, David Mathis entitled “Six Lessons in Good Listening,” which I found to be insightful and timely reminders about how important listening is to our growth in Christian discipleship. I will summarize the high points here, and I encourage you to look up the article for your own spiritual growth. David Mathis contends that “true, sustained, active listening is a great act of faith, and a great means of grace,…” When we actively and attentively listen to another, it displays our respect, honor, and love for the other, as well as our desire to understand what the other has experienced and who the other is. David states that the charter text for Christian listening might be James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” It seems like a simple principle, but can be challenging to practice.
So, in short, here are the “Six Lesson in Good Listening” contained in the article:
- Good listening requires patience. Janet Dunn wrote, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.” Good listening requires concentration and means we’re in with both ears, and that we hear the other person out until they’re finished speaking. Mathis quips, “Rarely will the speaker begin with what’s most important, and deepest. We need to hear the whole train of thought, all the way to the caboose, before starting across the tracks.”
- Good listening is an act of love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, contends that poor listening rejects; good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. “Just as love to God begins with listening to the Word, so the beginning of love for [people] is learning to listen to them. He concludes, “Good listening goes hand in hand with the mind-set of Christ as it flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves. It looks not only to its own interests but also to the interests of others. It is patient and kind. (Phil. 2:3-5; I Cor. 13:4)
- Good listening asks perceptive questions. Perceptive questions are open-ended, requiring more than a “yes” or “no” response. Giving the other the opportunity to tell a story with words and non-verbal communication helps to draw out the speakers’ ability to reason, connecting faith with life experience. Carefully worded questions posed with genuine interest can result in fresh perspectives.
- Good listening is ministry. According to Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” God wants more of the Christian than just our good listening, but not less. There will be days when the most important ministry we do is to sit with a hurting person, and listen to their pain. Good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed. This compassionate and understanding listening makes us channels of God’s affirming love.
- Good listening prepares us to speak well. Sometimes good listening calls for enough silence to choose well the few words of grace with which to respond. Just the other day, I encountered a person who was showing signs of distress and uncertainty. I offered to listen, adding the caveat, “no judgment here!” and then watched the tension melt away from that person’s face. Just a few words of grace may open the door of a profound relationship.
- Good listening reflects our relationship with God. Bonhoeffer warns, “Our inability to listen well may be symptomatic of a chatty spirit that is drowning out the voice of God. [One] who can no longer listen to [another] will soon be no longer listening to God either….This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life….Anyone who thinks that [their] time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God or [neighbor], but only for self.
David Mathis concludes, “Good listening is a great means of grace in the dynamic of true Christian fellowship. Not only is it a channel through which God continues to pour grace into our lives, but it’s also God’s way of using us as a conduit of grace in the lives of others. It may be one of the hardest things we learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort. Jesus asks, “Are you listening? Really listening?”