My sermon notes from January 29 2023 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family and friends and all who have gathered for worship. Welcome, and welcome to all who are gathered online. As we go into our scriptures again for a time, may the words of my moth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been so energized by our discussions around the foundational practices of building life together! Thank you! I want to begin with gratitude! Our conversations in coffee hours, in the midweek study and the times in between have been rich, encouraging and so helpful. So far we’ve talked about the scriptural call to 1) be a people who listen well, 2) who ask good questions from a caring curiosity, and 3) who give the benefit of the doubt choosing to believe the best of one another.
All this is modeled on what we see in Jesus and from a basis of valuing one another and a desire to create the best possible space for our relationships and communities to grow. Today we make a little shift of sorts, from the way we might be responding and reacting to the way we are leading, projecting and actively shaping our conversations, interactions and relationships. We’re talking about the way that we are called to be a people who speak life, speak light and speak goodness into the world and the lives of the people around us.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Those who steal must give up stealing; rather, let them labor, doing good work with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
We hear in our readings today from scripture that our words have power and we are called to use that power to build up and bless, not to tear down and destroy. All of us!
The Greatest of Gifts
Have you ever been part of study on spiritual gifts? Have you ever done one of those spiritual gift inventories where you answer a lot of questions and get assigned a gift at the end? That was very in vogue when I was a young Christian. We would synthesize the various lists of spiritual gifts that the Apostle Paul gave in letters to the churches, then try and figure out how we might identify which gift we had each been given. It was a faithful effort to see and hear God in our lives, a faithful effort to get at what God might be doing in our lives. Those were fun exercises, though I’m afraid we sometimes missed the point a little. Those discussions from Paul were not in the context of deciding how to interpret a distribution of spiritual gifts, but reminders that we all in our various gifts and abilities share the work and shouldn’t ignore one another’s participation simply because our gifts were different. We are all called to ministry.
Those discussions in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 were far more about what brings us together than what separates and differentiates us. Paul wanted us to understand that we all carry the work of the church, all have our ministries and our parts to play in God’s redeeming work in the world. To be honest, we tend to know already who has gifts of hospitality and service, teaching, preaching and so forth. Paul doesn’t speak of any special way to discern your gifts, but speaks to us about making sure we accept the variety of gifts God gives to the church.
He also wraps up the discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 by elevating love above all other gifts and encouraging the church to seek it and let all other things flow from it. You know the passage, 1 Corinthians 13… Love is…
1 Corinthians 12…
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work powerful deeds? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13…
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
A Shared Calling
Whatever else God has done in your life to equip you for serving the church and the world around you, you are called to love and to let that love shape your speech and action. We each and every one share the call and the gifting to build one another up! To speak light and life into the lives of people around us. Pardon me for sounding like this is some incredibly deep theological concept, it’s really so simple… it’s often a thank you, job well done, you did great, you are wonderful, you did a great job, keep on you’re getting better, I love the way you said that… simply speaking from love and with intention, spreading encouragement and upholding other’s efforts and achievements.
Isn’t such a shame we have to grow up? We know how powerful our words are and we make sure that in every way we can we communicate to our children: job well done, you’re doing good, thank you, excellent work, look at you! We put stickers on their homework and shirts and we celebrate them and their successes and growth. But somewhere along the way we decide that we grow out of this, that we don’t have to be as expressive and speak that kindness and encouragement to one another. We’re all grown up, we should just do what we ought to do and mind our own business. Or worse, in the void of encouraging words we see critical words and more negative habits find a home in our hearts and minds and therefore in our speech.
It’s so simple and yet so powerful. We are every one of us called to build one another up and encourage one another. We are each called to throw off anger, wrath, bitterness and slander, and speak well of and to one another. We don’t grow out of this call, we don’t have another gift that supersedes it and negates this call.
Tend the Heart
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
And so we prepare the soil of our hearts; we till the soil and remove the stones of our anger and bitterness and aggravation. We plants seeds in that soil which will grow fruit to nourish us and those around us. As children we were warned that garbage in gets garbage out, and there’s truth in that. If we wallow in the anger, nurture the resentments and injuries, and allow habits of criticism and judgement to predominate our hearts and mind, we’ll speak out of that… they’ll show themselves in our speech and action. But more than just avoiding the garbage, what will we plant in ourselves to grow the good stuff?
We have scripture. We have prayer. We have one another. We can be wary of the voices we allow to dominate our days, in news, in entertainment, in literature and music. We can choose wisely the streams of goodness and encouragement with which we feed ourselves. And we can practice, practice and practice. Don’t hold back the gratitude or the compliments.
When critical thoughts and words arise in us, we can choose to set them aside. It may take some real effort and it make take some time to develop that habit, but we are called to be a people who speak life. We can be a people who yearn to be together, who hold one another up and build one another up. We can be a people who choose to revel in all the joy and life giving goodness of all our words can accomplish.
This is our call.
This is our shared ministry.
This is our future.
Amen, amen and amen,
My sermon notes of January 22nd, 2023, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Our next foundational practice for building our relationships and community is the exercise of giving the benefit of the doubt. The online Cambridge Dictionary says that giving someone the benefit of the doubt means to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either. It’s a choice to believe the best of someone, even when we may have a doubt about their intention, meaning or justification. In biblical language, it’s thinking the best of one another and making every effort not to judge.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”
Jesus, Matthew 7:1-6
We Aren’t the Judge
The case for not judging one another is one of the strongest in our scriptures, and sometimes the most difficult to practice or accept. Again and again we’re called to stop our tendency to judge and to open ourselves to believing the best in one another. We just read it, Jesus commanded it: do not judge. He points out in a wonderfully comic way the fact that we’re all in the same boat… I can’t be all about pointing at and focusing on the speck of sawdust in my friend’s eye while I’m swinging a plank around from my own eye! It’s a funny and tragic image.
Jesus calls us to use the recognition of a speck in another’s eye as a catalyst to examine ourselves and take appropriate steps in our own lives. Now, taking care of the plank in my eye doesn’t free me to then judge, but in fact prepares and enables me to be a helper. Taking care of myself and dealing my own issues is never a license to judge, but a prerequisite to be able to help.
James picked it up and included it in his letter, asking us a good question: “Who are we to judge a neighbor and speak evil of them?” He offers I think a couple of good answers even as he asks his rhetorical question. First, it’s not our job to judge and pass judgement on others, as though we were the Judge and not under the same expectations and in the same boat as others. And second, we don’t know everything. We don’t know enough to judge people as good or bad and condemn them, speaking evil of them. We don’t even know with certainty what we’ll be doing tomorrow.
Oh, there will still times when we speak from anger, express ourselves in ways we don’t intend, or simply fail to love one another as we ought. Practicing the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that suddenly hurtful things and judgmental things aren’t ever going to be said, but we have an arena to unpack them, together. We have an opportunity to move forward, together. We don’t judge people, even for their mistakes, and we can move forward, past mistakes. We create the space for a couple of other foundational practices we’ll come to in February, asking for and giving forgiveness.
Jesus is famous for creating this non-judgmental space with the people around him. I wish his church was as famous for it. You probably recall the story of the woman we’re told was caught in adultery in John 8, and brought before Jesus to face judgement… only Jesus didn’t judge her. He dispersed her accusers and seeing in her what they could not or would not, sent her out to do better. He did this with Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, a cheater and a crook who had swindled the people, but Jesus saw in him the best and said, “Let’s get lunch together. I’m coming to your house.”
This is definitely easier said than done, but I believe this is doable. I also realize it’s going to take a lot of prayer, practice and effort on our part. I think I was first pushed to consider the benefit of the doubt as a true expression of our biblical command not to judge, when I entered into spiritual direction almost 15 years ago with a wonderfully wise old Jesuit Priest in Georgetown, Fr Leo Murray. As we journeyed together through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola I discovered the words that St. Ignatius wrote for spiritual directors about the benefit of the doubt, like 500 years ago. He wanted those giving spiritual direction to do everything they could to avoid judging the person receiving spiritual direction… even when the person seems to be way off base, wrong or deluded.
“In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.”
St. Ignatius, the Presupposition from the First Week
We’re not all spiritual directors or engaged in direction, but can you hear in the words of St. Ignatius the practices we’ve been talking about, and more importantly hear in our scriptures? How much more constructive and community-building might our conversations and relationships be if we more and more intent on believing the best of one another and pursuing the deepest and most honest understanding and comprehension of one another possible?
What hurtful words might be forestalled by believing the best of the person to whom we speak? What cycles of hurtful words might be broken when the benefit of the doubt is remembered and a greater desire to understand comes into play?
Pearls and Pigs
Have you ever wondered about the last lines from the Gospel reading today? “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” I used to wrestle with what exactly Jesus is saying in those words, and I was not helped by English Bibles which break those lines into their own section like a detached stand-alone piece wisdom. I think those words are very much attached to what Jesus has talking about. I believe that Jesus is giving a somewhat comic and tragic image of what it looks like to lose the value of the person in front of us (the pearl, what is holy) and to throw them to the destruction of our judgement (the dogs and pigs). Falling into a judgmentalism that forgets the value of the people before us is as crazy and dangerous as throwing our valuables before the destructive force of mad animals and expecting a good result. Our judgmentalism is a destructive wildness that will come back to haunt us.
Now imagine the community that deeply values one another and cherishes one another as the greatest of treasures! That’s what Jesus is building in us! Believing the best of one another, may we grasp every opportunity and make every effort this week to listen and understand one another. Can we have a couple more Bible verses? St. Paul says in Colossians 3:13&14 in the CEV says it this way: “Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.”
Let’s go create cycles of love and encouragement! Let’s put the dogs in the kennel and the pigs in the pen, and keep the pearls around our necks! Let’s go into the week and into our homes and schools and jobs and make everyone wonder what’s going on with us, because we are lifting them up and treating them better than they might ever have imagined they deserve! Let’s go and do this so that they and you and I may flourish in God’s grace. Amen, amen and amen!
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
Asking Good Questions: Curiosity that Cares. My sermon notes from January 15th, 2023, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Good morning again, and as we begin some time with scripture talking about building our life together, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
We began our Life Together series with a reminder that we need to develop a caring posture of listening for one another, emulating our God who lends an ear to us when we pray. Listening well is truly an act of caring, and you may recall that my fear is that when we stop listening we too easily begin competing. The day wasn’t over last Sunday, in fact I wasn’t out of the building before someone said to me, “You know, I find that listening well means that I ask clarifying questions to test to my comprehension.” I tried not to panic, but I was like wait, please, that’s next week! They were exactly right. Even as we use our hearts, minds and bodies to listen well, we still might not understand what the person is trying to communicate. We’re only human and hopefully doing our best, but entering into a posture of listening is just the beginning.
Our Next Foundational Practice: Asking Good Questions
Asking good questions. Someone might immediately ask why we’re talking about this at church? Listening? Asking good questions? It might sound like at first glance we’re getting into some other field than theology like communications or linguistics, but just a moment. These aren’t just good communications principles which we’re studying: Jesus asked questions constantly! And just as importantly, Jesus didn’t always give answers! That’s maybe a striking admission or realization for some of us. We like answers. We like having the right answers. We like having the only answers. But Jesus was not an Answer Guy who roamed the countryside of his day giving out copious amounts of information. In fact, he was a storyteller who in classic Jewish rabbinical tradition often asked questions, often answered questions with questions, and always encouraged deeper thought.
I recommend the 2014 book Jesus Is The Question by Martin Copenhaver which explores this idea in detail. The author asks us to consider why “Jesus asks many more questions than he is asked. In the four Gospels Jesus asks 307 different questions. By contrast, he is only asked 183 questions.” He also points out that Jesus begins and ends his life with questions, “Why were you looking for me? I’m going to be in my Father’s house” and “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In his ministry Jesus uses questions to engage his audience and bring them into the process of his ministry. In our Gospel reading today in Mark 10 we find Jesus on a normal day, traveling about the countryside, passing through Jericho when he is hailed by someone wanting his attention… “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd isn’t pleased and tries to shush the man, but Jesus does exactly what we’ve been talking about with heart, mind and body… he values this man, stops his walking and calls the man to himself… he’s prepared to listen, and he opens with a wonderful question, “What would you have me do for you?”
This is really a beautiful scene. Jesus stops and prepares to listen to this man, and doesn’t make any assumptions about the situation, but invites the man to speak. Oh, I’m sure Jesus could have known what was up. We often are told in scripture that Jesus knows something through the Spirit. Jesus could have used what I suppose we’d label common sense. If he can see by movement or different clues that the man is seeing-impaired, and he probably wants to be healed of his blindness. Jesus stops and says let’s talk. What do you want? What mercy can I give?
It might seem like a small thing, but I think it’s huge. Jesus shows a caring curiosity toward the man. He does this often actually. Asking questions which bring him closer to people, engender conversations and get people thinking. When a woman sneaks up in the crowd to touch the hem of his clothes believing that will be enough to make her whole… Jesus stops and asks who touched me? And he finds and speaks with the woman. How valuing and validating that must have been for her!
When asked what someone must do to inherit eternal life in Luke 10, Jesus answers with you tell me, how do you read the Law? And you probably know the story, the one who asked the question gives the right answer, love God and love neighbor. But then he asks another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a story we call the Good Samaritan. Ultimately Jesus answers the question with a question, “Who acted like a neighbor?”
Jesus masterfully uses questions to bring people closer to himself, to engage with them, to make relationship with them, and to push them into thinking deeply about issues.
Questions & Confirmation Bias
I enjoy reading across disciplines, so I rarely just read about something from a theological or faith point of view. I enjoy reading from a business and scientific perspective as well, and in studying this kind of questioning curiosity from a business perspective I read a powerful article on the importance of curiosity in defeating confirmation bias. You know the phrase confirmation bias?
confirmation bias, is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.
Without good questions and a healthy sense of curiosity a business can lose touch with customers and their needs. That company can lose track of what sells and why, and what might important in the future. Instead, things seen and heard are understood only within the interpretive framework of pre-existing views and beliefs about the market and customers.
Ok, enough about business… can we agree that confirmation bias could be as devastating for our relationships? How about its stifling and devastating effect on our religion and spiritual communities? Once I have decided something about a particular person, if I don’t have a caring curiosity, I can easily make up my mind about them and hear and interpret every single thing through those beliefs. A caring curiosity can not only help us get closer and increase our understanding of each other, but also help us break out of cycles of confirmation bias which could keep us from getting past mistakes, disagreements and even injuries. A caring curiosity is needed to ask good questions and move us past mistaken ideas, ignorance and assumptions.
I believe Dr. King understood this and pushed us to ask important questions, only using a different vocabulary of his day and specifically addressing the ignorance, falsehoods and biases which the civil rights movement confronted in our society. He warned about confirmation bias and a lack of a caring curiosity in a church which closed it’s mind and stopped learning. In the pursuit of the biblical command to love God and love one another, he said:
Must we not admit that the church has often overlooked this moral demand for enlightenment? At times it has talked as though ignorance were a virtue and intelligence a crime. Through its obscurantism, closedmindedness, and obstinacy to new truth, the church has often unconsciously encouraged its worshipers to look askance upon intelligence. But if we are to call ourselves Christians, we had better avoid intellectual and moral blindness. Throughout the New Testament we are reminded of the need for enlightenment. We are commanded to love God, not only with our hearts and souls, but also with our minds. When the Apostle Paul noticed the blindness of many of his opponents, he said, “I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Over and again the Bible reminds us of the danger of zeal without knowledge and sincerity without intelligence.
King Jr., Martin Luther . Strength to Love (pp. 39-40). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Dr. King called on us to have the moral and intellectual strength to challenge assumptions and beliefs, to be open to learning and growing and being wrong if it’s part of the journey to being right.
A Caring Curiosity
What do good questions from a caring curiosity look like? Those questions are open-ended and express a desire to understand. You can ask, “Tell me more about…” or “What you think (or feel) about…?” Good questions don’t supply an answer or steer a person in a direction. Jesus didn’t ask Bartimaeus, “Do you want me to heal your blindness?” He asked, “What can I do for you?”
Can we step back a moment to our earlier discussion of contrasting Jesus as an answer man vs. a questioner? What a gracious question: “What can I do for you?” How gracious is that question compared to trying to always have the answer, to explain or fix things? I had a friend years ago who had this amazing capacity for memorizing scripture, so much more than I have ever had. The problem was, he also believed that quoting scripture at folks around him was the correct response to every single situation. If I was feeling down one day, he’d be quoting rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. If I was angry about something, he’d quote do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil a foothold. If I was struggling with something and had a big decision to make, he’d quote let everyone in need of wisdom ask the Lord and they will receive. It got to where I wanted to strangle him for quoting the Bible! It was so conflicting! Honestly, it got to where I wouldn’t tell him what was going on with me. If he just could have had a little more effort to make relationship instead of trying to always have the answer. Some good questions and conversations would have gone a long way.
I believe sincerely that Jesus modeled a caring curiosity for us in the way he engaged with people and asked questions, the way he did not make assumptions but instead created conversations and space for more than just answers. I also believe that St. Paul picked up on the principle of caring curiosity and carried it into his letters to the churches, as we see in our reading from Philippians this morning, take the joy and consolation of knowing Jesus and let it be what drives us to value and be interested in those around us. We’re not being nosy or busybodies, but creating a caring community where everyone’s interests matter; we’re creating a community where everyone matters.
As we face a new week of opportunities to ask good questions and have a healthy, caring curiosity, we go with this prayer of Dr. King’s…
“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn. Amen.”
Amen, amen and amen!
These are my notes from the sermon of January 8th 2023 as we begin a sermon series Life Together on the foundational practices of building strong relationships and community.
Life Together: Listening, Our First Foundational Practice
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family and friends and everyone gathered for worship this morning. It’s January 8th, a feast day when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord (so we are liturgically white instead of green), the first Sunday after Epiphany, we’re commissioning our Vestry in worship, and we’re starting a sermon series entitled Life Together… sound like enough for one day? As we spend some time with our scriptures and a foundational practice for building our life together, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I love the story we read in John chapter 4 when one day along the hot, dusty road Jesus has an amazing conversation with an unnamed Samaritan woman beside a well. The two talk theology, comparative religion and about life in general. The woman will eventually become quite the evangelist bringing her whole town out to meet Jesus. I love the story because we see Jesus practicing what he preaches… accepting people without judgment, valuing them above societal, national or even religious reasons to withdraw from them, and listening. Yes, listening.
You may remember that back in Advent one of the contrasts we made between the ministries of John the baptizer and Jesus was that we have such a rich record of Jesus not only preaching, but also conversing and spending time with people. It’s something we really don’t have for John the Baptizer. And it’s so important for us to see Jesus with people and not just preaching. Oh, Jesus is a fine preacher, and surely we are who we are because of what Jesus teaches, but we are also so enriched to see him with people in daily life, building relationships and doing life together with the people around him. We’re enriched because this is where we most often find ourselves… not standing in the pulpit and exercising grand oratory skills, but praying together, working and walking alongside each other in the routine of daily life and community needs.
Even for a vocational preacher we’re just talking about a few minutes of each week preaching, ah but doing daily life and building relationships and community is the stuff of every single day. And so even for preachers, as for Jesus, as for all of us, the art of listening is so crucial to valuing and participating with one another.
Jesus Was a Good Listener
I mentioned that in the conversation with this unnamed Samaritan woman we see Jesus practicing what he preaches, and you’re probably familiar with the phrase “Let them with ears hear.” Jesus uses that phrase in conjunction with important parables, as in Luke 8 and the Parable of the Sower, to get people to stop and pay attention to what’s being said. The author of Revelation uses the same phrase many times as messages are delivered to the individually named churches, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, listen up!
Jesus not only asks for us to listen up, but he shows an active interested listening when he’s with people. He’s able to chat and have conversations because he cares about people and what they have to say. The long conversation in John 4 is just one example.
It’s actually one of the first things Teresa and I were taught at seminary in the process of getting our degrees in missiology, rule number one: before you teach, you must learn; before you speak, you must listen. The practical reasons for that are found in things like the importance of learning language and culture so that what you say has a better chance of being sensical and understandable. But the real value is found in making relationships and sharing life before you would try to teach or impart your message.
I’m sure you know the old saying, “No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Listening well conveys valuing, and it lays a firm foundation for all that may come after, like questions, dialogue, and even debate. Listening conveys respect, upholds dignity and brings two or more people closer.
Listening also helps us avoid the relationship breaking anger of speaking too much or too hotly. You’ve probably also heard the old saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so be quiet and listen!” It’s very similar to what James said in our reading this morning in (James 1:19-20)… lean into listening, be quick and curious to hear, but then slow down when you speak… because anger doesn’t bring about God’s righteousness. Oh, we all get angry sometimes, and it can be a good motivator when we need to make some changes in life and the world around us, but it’s not a tool for good when we’re in conversations. It makes us overstate things, tempts us to punish or attack; it leads us astray and begins to separate us further and further apart.
Listening to one another will help understand one another, learn from one another and move forward together. Honestly, I fear that when we stop listening we start competing. When we start competing, we start having winners and losers instead of community. We’ve all been there… we’re in a conversation and when someone starts talking we immediately start thinking of what we’re going to say back. When that happens we not really listening any more. We’re not valuing the person or wanting to understand them, but probably hoping to score a point and win the conversation. Any response we might eventually give will be so much the better for having listened to and having valued the one speaking.
And so our first foundational practice of building life together is the art and practice of listening, giving a gracious and welcoming ear to one another that communicates the love, respect and value we have for one another. And like all practices, it’s something for us to practice! It’s not about having always done it perfectly or being the best at it, but about practicing and making it an intentional habit and growth area.
God Takes the Posture of a Listener
And if we think about it, it’s emulation of God, who we believe is a God of listening. We believe that God hears us when we pray and listens when we cry out in life. As the opening lines of Psalm 116 sing aloud, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” We believe that God gives an ear to us, and what a gift for us to do the same for one another!
Sharing the Gift of Listening Well
O God, we would have ears and we would hear. We would hear you and one another, learning from you and from one another. Develop in us the gracious listening you showed us in Christ and that the Psalmist sings of in your giving us an ear. We would listen to one another in such a way that grows our mutual love and communal bonds. Help us slow our words and churning minds to make more room in our hearts for one another. We ask this in Christ Jesus. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd