Lord God, we turn our eyes to you. Take away our stubbornness, show us your mercy, and open our hearts to receive your Wisdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Listening is more than sitting in a room or across a table or in a pew while someone else talks.
Listening requires hearing what is said, believing that it could be true, trusting and honoring the speaker.
Listening isn’t passively sitting and being lectured at; listening is active. It’s a two-way street.
For example. You may have heard the term “mansplaining.”
Mansplaining is basically a word for when a man feels the need to explain something to a woman that she clearly already knows, or when a man repeats what a woman has just said – either because he wasn’t even listening to her in the first place, or to claim the idea as his own, or because sometimes people just don’t think that a comment is valuable until it comes out of the mouth of a man.
For example, at a General Convention for the Episcopal Church (USA), someone asked a procedural question. Gay Jennings, the President of the House of Deputies, who was presiding over the convention, answered the question. Then a male deputy went to a microphone and answered the same question in the same way.
Gay Jennings responded brilliantly: “The Chair believes she just said that.”
The male deputy at the Episcopal General Convention was not doing a good job of listening, and he got called out on it.
Now, I don’t actually like the term “mansplaining,” because even though I’ve seen it happen a lot, to other people and to me, I don’t think it’s fair to burden all men with the stereotype of being bad listeners.
The men in my family aren’t like that. My male friends aren’t like that.
But the phenomenon that is described by the phrase “mansplaining” – that arrogance of ignoring what is said because you don’t respect the speaker – happens all the time.
It happened to Jesus.
When he went to teach at the synagogue in his hometown, many who heard him said, “Hang on. We know this guy. We know his family. What makes him think that he can come back here and teach us about God and stuff? Who is he to tell us how to live our lives?”
And they took offense at him.
The people couldn’t be bothered to listen to Jesus.
They refused to change their assumptions about him.
They thought they knew him, based on limited information, and so they stopped listening and started judging.
This happens all the time.
It happened in the time of Ezekiel.
God gave Ezekiel a message to pass along to the people, but God also told Ezekiel that the people were stubborn and might not listen.
At the time of Ezekiel’s ministry, Israel was in exile. The prophet was trying to tell the people that it was not God’s fault that they had been conquered and taken captive… which left only the people of Israel to blame for their own situation.
It’s no wonder the people might be unreceptive to that message.
They might not respect your message, God warns Ezekiel, and they might not respect the messenger. But at the very least, if the words have been spoken in their presence, they can’t claim that they have not heard.
Maybe, someday, when they reflect back on it, they’ll realize that they had, in fact, heard the words of a prophet.
Initially, the people would stop listening and start judging. Maybe eventually they would revisit Ezekiel’s words and be able to learn from them.
Or maybe not. Prophets don’t often get warm receptions when God sends them to communities that need correcting or instruction.
Ezekiel experienced that.
Jesus experienced that.
Mary Magdalene and the women who witnessed the Resurrection experienced that.
The apostle Paul experienced that.
So did Dorothy Day, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero, and Gay Jennings from the Episcopal Church.
All of these prophets were given a message to share with God’s people.
They were not always well received.
People would stop listening to them and start judging them instead, and in so doing, people would miss hearing the word of God.
The Bible readings give an interesting instruction for prophets, for when their hearers disrespect them.
Don’t beat your head against a brick wall.
If the people to whom you were sent are unable to respect you and the message that you bring, that’s their loss. If they won’t listen to you, shake the dust off your feet and get back on the road and find some people who will listen.
Jesus instructs the disciples to spend their time and energy on people who are willing to engage in that two-way street of listening.
Don’t waste your time on people who are so arrogant that they don’t respect you, and aren’t open to really hearing what you have to say.
When you listen closely, you may just find that you are hearing the words of God through the mouth of a prophet.
When you fail to listen, you may be missing out on something amazing.
The people in Jesus’ hometown did not listen, and their loss was twofold.
Not only did they miss hearing the Word of God spoken from the mouth of the man who embodied that Word, but they also missed out on his miracles and healings.
The attentiveness of the audience can even change the authority of the speaker.
For Jesus, when his audience didn’t listen, his ability to perform miracles was diminished.
For women all over the world, when a man repeats something that we’ve said because he wasn’t listening when we said it first, our authority is diminished. Our opportunities for advancement in the workplace, and our ability to be respected by society at large are put at risk or even taken away by the disrespect of our listeners.
Listening is hard.
When we listen attentively to other people, when we respect them and honor their viewpoints, it can be risky.
If someone presents us with a new point of view that we hadn’t considered before, we might have to change some of our behaviors, or our assumptions, or our entire worldview.
The disciples listened to Jesus, and they were moved to respond. They followed him, and when he asked, they went out into the world with nothing but the clothes on their back to spread his message to others.
But sometimes taking extreme actions can be the result of listening well.
Maybe that’s why it’s such a hard thing for people to do.
Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if people had really listened to people like Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar Romero, and Jesus?
If we had really taken their ideas seriously, and followed up our listening with actions, we could live in a world without hate crimes, a world with no poverty, a world with true justice and equality for all people.
I would like to live in that world.
We’re not there yet.
But we can get there.
And in order to get there, a lot of listening needs to happen.
It can be risky.
And sometimes it needs to be followed up by actions that seem crazy at first but will be worth it in the end.
Today’s call to action is to listen well – don’t be like the people in Jesus’ hometown, but do be like the disciples who followed listening with actions, a changed worldview, and a new way of life.
Be open to the call of God to lead in places you never would have expected.
Be open to the Word of God coming from people you never could have imagined.
And may God, who has given us the ability to hear these things, also give us the will to listen well and follow through with actions. Amen.
From a sermon first preached on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9B), July 5, 2015, at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, WI.