May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27
It’s Pentecost – what’s not to love? There is wind and fire. There are colors and sounds and candles. There is chaos and there is something new blowing in our midst! And today, our children and youth are leading worship! Last Sunday, Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit before he floated off on a cloud. He told the followers to wait and they did just that. They gathered in a room and suddenly things went haywire.
I’ve been thinking about getting my hearing checked. Too often in a conversation, I find that I am missing words and phrases and I wonder if the issue is some hearing loss or if there is something else going on. I went to dinner at my friend Erica’s house recently. Her partner, Ryan, is deaf. I learned sign language as a child and I was excited to communicate with Ryan, but I realized that I am WAY too slow to keep up. Ryan, undaunted, grabbed a computer and we typed a conversation back and forth. I type much faster than I finger spell. It is so important to be able to hear each other in whatever form we can find to do so.
But hearing is much more than being able to distinguish sounds. After telling the parable of the sower, Jesus described a people whose hearts have grown dull, who are hard of hearing, and who have shut their eyes. (Matthew 13:15) It is clear that Jesus isn’t talking about our physical ability to hear or see, but a choice to tune out other voices or visions. As I watch the incredible divisions in our country become a chasm that seems impossible to bridge, I wonder if we can create the capacity to listen. I am wondering if that is the greatest counter cultural act we can do right now – to open our hearts and listen to each other. It doesn’t excite people. When we create opportunities to listen, we don’t get a massive response, but we get beautiful results.
This year, I have led a group spiritual direction process with some of you. The whole point is to listen to one another. Healing and hope show up in powerful ways when we are heard. Look at the story Lilly read. The people have gathered to wait. Chaos ensues as the Spirit descends on them. Then they are speaking in so many languages, but they are HEARING in their own language. That is the beginning of a church that spread like wildfire. The early church wasn’t growing because of some great billboards or youth programs. The church was growing because people were transformed by hearing God and each other. What they heard gave them the boldness and power they needed to be God’s people in the world.
One of the miracles in the story of Pentecost is the miracle of hearing. Can we develop the capacity to really hear?
Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, "What an interesting place to hear a cricket."
His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"
"No, I’m sure of it," his friend said, "I heard a cricket."
"That’s crazy," said his friend.
The man, who thought he had heard a cricket, listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.
"That’s incredible," said his friend. "You must have superhuman ears!"
"No," said the man who heard the cricket. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for."
"But that can’t be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."
"Yes, it’s true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.
"See what I mean?" asked the man who heard the cricket. "It all depends on what’s important to you."
This room full of people from all over are speaking and more importantly, hearing in their own language. Listen to their question, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:8)
How many problems in relationships are caused by our inability to hear one another? What if we could hear as God hears?
Bradley Schmeling asks, “Is this what God hears, one great cry offered up from our hope and our fear. We may experience division on the ground, but God hears us as one human family, crying out for blessing.
Maybe the Pentecost story isn’t so much about us and our hopes to unite or divide as it is about a God who can make a diverse creation into a place of blessing and new life. When we hear about the crowd’s ability to understand in their own language, we experience the way God has always heard us.” (Bradley Schmeling, Christian Century 2017)
I am sure that many things we do in the world today must cause God terrible pain and suffering. We can put the shooting at Santa Fe High School at the top of that list this morning. I believe it is time that we create a new list – a list of ways to cause God great delight. Listening to one another may be one of the greatest ways we can cause God delight.
In recent months we have disagreed over some difficult issues. I have witnessed some refuse to listen to one another and the willful tuning out others. Just this week some people I love had a terribly painful fight. Healing happened when those same people chose to listen to one another and invest in each other again. The miracle of Pentecost is available to us as we commit to listening to one another. The miracle of Pentecost will come when we soften our hearts and open our ears and hear God’s word for us today.
I often talk about our text study conversations in my sermons. What makes that experience so important to me is that we listen to one another. We don’t always agree, but we keep listening and as we listen, we learn, and we hear the voice of God. Our annual meeting is right after worship today. It is our opportunity to practice the Pentecost miracle of listening and to hear God’s voice among us calling us to boldly carry this fierce love out into the world. I invite you to open your hearts and listen in our annual meeting today and to listen God and one another in the coming months. You will be astonished at the healing and love that comes by hearing.
Miracle of inclusion – there is room at the table for everyone
4 year old Austin superhero from Birmingham