Ears To Hear – September 9, 2018
The healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment is one of a long line of healings in the Gospel of Mark.
In light of the present climate the church finds itself in these days, this story proves to be a particularly poignant one. While on the most obvious level this story is about physical deafness, on a deeper level it’s also a story about emotional and spiritual deafness. Jesus has found repeatedly that the leaders of Israel cannot or will not listen to his message. And so, in response, he has turned his attention to the gentile world. And through the healing of this deaf man, who we suppose is a gentile, a subtle contrast is being drawn: There are those who are physically deaf - but are opened to the word of God. And then, there are those who can hear physically - but will not listen.
Many of you may know, but I’ve been working with the area clergy to create a Listening Post ministry on the Campus of UConn.-Stamford. This is an attempt to provide resources to the students who just need someone to talk to in their hectic and stress-filled lives.
What I suggest is unique about this budding ministry is the notion that we are providing people set aside to hear the needs and concerns of these students without pretext or judgment. Did you hear that? The students will have a place where they know they will be listened to - because many among us don’t have people that truly listen to us.
Culturally, we seem to suffer from a sort of impairment and it’s a terrible thing. In general, we modern people are not good listeners. We have lost the skill of listening. And I think this fact lies at the root of many of our problems as individuals, as couples and as a community of faith.
In the midst of a conversation I was having earlier this week, I began thinking about the way nature constructed us and I had a curious thought. It seems to me that we human beings have an anatomical mistake; that nature left something out. Have you ever thought about the fact that we can shut our eyes and we can shut our mouths, but that we cannot physically shut our ears- our ears are always opened to the world? Nature equipped us with eye lids, but for some reason or another never gave us ear lids. Have you ever thought about that? I find it curious.
Did you ever notice that during the wedding vows a metaphysical change happens- selective hearing becomes a prominent part of our being? At least that’s what happened to me- So I’m told.
It seems that as a culture we have developed something best described as selective hearing – we listen only to what we want to hear and are deaf to sounds that we don’t want to hear. And the real interesting thing is – nobody can tell. We can look right at a person and not hear a thing they are saying and there is no way they can know.
Laura suggests that we have a slight problem with this selective hearing at our house; And it seems to be localized in couple of areas, mainly the boys’ room and wherever I seem to have alighted for the moment. Does that ever happen at your house - selective hearing dead zones?
If we are willing to hear the truth, we, generally, are not very good listeners. Someone is speaking, but no one is there to receive the message!
Admittedly, in 2018 we are bombarded with so many sounds and so many bits of auditory information at any given moment that selective hearing is in part a defense mechanism against over load.
I don’t know if you noticed, but the days after 9/11 there was an eerie silence here throughout the country. Part of it was due to the fact that we were still in shock and not doing the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life. But it was also due to the fact that there were no airplanes flying over head. The sky was silent, save for an occasional military jet. We are so accustomed to noise all around us – including above us - that we don’t notice it unless it suddenly stops. So, at times, selective listening can be a protective mechanism.
But, there is another reason too that we are not good listeners: Really listening to one another takes discipline and we don’t like the effort that it takes to do it. Listening is actually a spiritual discipline. It’s a skill we should seek to develop. Ever notice that the root words for ‘obedience,’ are “ob” and “audience”? Ob is a prefix that denotes openness. Therefore, Spiritual obedience means to really listen, to hear God and one another. We don’t like the idea of being obedient to anything; because it means that we must set aside our pride and our desires and open ourselves up.
In our scripture for today, I suggest we can best see spiritual deafness as it is demonstrated by the Pharisees. Most of them could not or would not hear Jesus because they had pretty much made up their minds about how God acts in the world and what God looks like and who speaks for God. A made-up mind is perhaps the worst cause of deafness.
There’s a wonderful story about a drunken man and an Anglican priest on a London subway train.
A drunken man, smelling of beer sat down on a subway seat next to a very proper vicar. The man’s tie was stained, his face was plastered with red lipstick, and a half bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. The man opened his newspaper and began reading. After a few minutes the man turned to the priest and asked, “Say, Father, what causes arthritis?”
The priest, feeling indignant, said, “My son, it’s caused by loose living, being with cheap wicked women, too much alcohol and a contempt for your fellow man, sleeping around with prostitutes and lack of a bath.”
“Well, I’ll be…” the drunk man muttered, returning to his paper.
After a while the priest started feeling guilty and thought about what he had said, nudged the man and apologized. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?”
“I don’t have it”, the man said. “I was just reading here that the Archbishop of Canterbury does’.
Those who do not or will not listen are inevitably those who lead with their conclusions.
I suspect educators, in particular, know how problematic this can be. I have a friend who was an university professor. He once told me that one of the most difficult things he has to deal with is new students in seminary who approach the study of scripture with a set theological agenda. Rather than listen to the text and rather than allow the text to lead them into some new fresh insight, such students approach scripture as if it’s something to be twisted and shaped into a mold of their design. If they have a feminist agenda, they hear nothing but feminist issues. If their agenda is conservative, then they hear only those things that affirm their doctrine. And so they never really learn anything, because they are closed to the action of the Holy Spirit.
It’s fine to have opinions, even strong ones, opinions are welcomed. But it’s even more important to listen to one another. Listening is part of what it means to be spiritually obedience to God and a committed servant of Jesus Christ. Not listening to one another, on the other hand, nurtures the seeds of misunderstanding, prejudice and intolerance. The joy of being in community is we offer something different. Here we gather each week at St. Johns to listen to each other, to learn a bit more about each other; about scripture and its stories about God and about ourselves. OR if you want even to go even deeper - then our Bible study on Tuesday afternoons might be for you.
This gathering during the Sunday morning formation time is so much more important than just coming to the 8 or 10:15 services – because it serves to place the liturgy, the sacrament into its proper context. It’s where the rubber meets the road and keeps us from being on Cruise Control when it comes to our faith.
One thing I did not do this morning is mention our Epistle lesson from James. But, it’s a truly wonderful lesson. James goes one step further than even our Lord does. James, who is infinitely practical, says that listening is just the first step in being obedient to God: He says it’s not enough to be just hearers of the Word, but that we must also be doers of the Word. And then in essence he says, look in the mirror and ask yourself – which is moving, your mouth or your feet? What you see will tell you much about the kind of Christian you are. But, perhaps this is a sermon for another day.
Today, it may be enough for us to remember this wonderful image of Jesus sticking his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and saying to him – and I believe to all of us – “Ephphatha – be opened!”