13 May 2007

Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter - "Listening to Heal"

There was this girl I dated in college who talked a lot. I mean a LOT. We'd eat lunch together at the Student Union and she'd tell me how her day was going. In detail. I remember thinking one day how amazing it was that she could take half an hour eating lunch at Burger King to tell me what had happened so far that day. Half an hour – to report on maybe five hours worth of stuff. It was pretty incredible.

At first all that listening was endearing. After all, we were young, she was beautiful and I was infatuated. A guy will do almost anything at that stage in a relationship. But after a month or so I started feeling like I ought to be doing more during these conversations. Up to this point my only contribution had been making sure I kept my mouth closed while wolfing down my Whopper with cheese. I did offer the occasional one-word response: "Cool." "Uh-huh." "No way!" But those are the conversational equivalent of kicking your leg when the doctor taps your knee with the little hammer – it's a reflex, nothing more.

So I started talking back. That's when the trouble started. The thing is, I wanted to add to the conversation – get my two cents in, that sort of thing. So I started commenting on everything she was saying. So-and-so kept chomping her gum in statistics? Maybe my friend could kindly ask her to stop. People keep pulling Professor Whats-his-name off topic? Maybe my friend could steer him back to the subject with a pointed question about the day's topic. Pretty soon our conversations consisted of her telling me things and me telling her how to fix those things, and as you can imagine, that didn't last long.

One day she'd had enough. "Scott, I’m not asking for your help here – I'm just telling you what's going on." It wasn't opinion that she wanted: it was a listening ear, to know that she was with someone who listened eagerly to her and paid attention to what was going on in her life. She wanted connection, companionship, a feeling that we were in tune with each other – and all I wanted was a cute girl to make me look like I was a guy who could get a cute girl. It wasn't much longer before that cute girl and I weren't dating anymore.

Listening eagerly is an art form, and it might be one of the most difficult to develop. Four years into ordained ministry, I'm still learning to listen well. How does listening play a part in your faith? Where does the ability to listen eagerly come into the faith you've been given? When God is telling you what's going on, are you telling God how you can help?

This video by Rob Bell talks about listening well, listening eagerly, listening to heal – let's watch now and we'll talk about it when it's done.

The video is "Rhythm" in the Nooma series - you can order the video at nooma.com.

What do you hear when you hear about God? What does God’s word whisper in your ear? Are you listening to prove that you’re right, or are you listening to heal and be healed? Rob Bell talks about the song we sing and how we can be in tune with the song – has the music of God’s word ever spoken so deeply to you that you just felt that everything was right? If so, then I think you had a moment where you listened to heal.

Our reading from Revelation this morning talks about the leaves of the tree of paradise coming forth “for the healing of the nations.” For God, heaven isn’t about getting a right theology or having the right doctrine: for God, heaven is where the nations are healed and everyone lives in the presence of God. Heaven isn’t where everyone gets what they want: heaven is where everyone becomes what God meant for us to be. Heaven is where we stop listening to judge, listening to fix, listening to condemn. Heaven is where we listen eagerly, to heal and be healed.

In our reading from Acts, Lydia is described as a “worshiper of God.” In the New Testament, this meant that she was a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel, someone who found a spiritual kinship with the Jews. When she came to hear Paul down by the river in Philippi, she heard something, a word or a promise or something that she’d never heard before. The writer of the book of Acts says that she “listened eagerly” to what Paul was saying, and what Paul said brought her healing. Jesus said that the Spirit would come to help us learn and remember everything Jesus taught us, and so it does. Here where the Word speaks to us, where we hear the song of God’s creation and strive to be in tune with that song, we are healed by listening to God’s word. We are made whole by the promises God makes to us, washed over in our baptism and brought into relationship with a God who loves us passionately. Where this word of God is heard, where this song of God’s creation is sung, we are drawn into the life of Christ and made whole through what we hear. The Spirit given to the disciples has been given to us, and now, like Lydia, we have the ears to listen eagerly to God’s Word, to be healed by the fruit it produces in us. Let us pray:

Almighty God, grant that we, who have been redeemed from our old life of sin by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, may be renewed in your Holy Spirit to live in righteousness and holiness. Like your servant Lydia, help us to hear with eager ears the message of healing and salvation given to us through the help of the Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us in true faith. Bless the nations of this world with a foretaste of the healing that is to come in the day when your kingdom shall come. All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, our risen Lord. Amen.

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