March 17, 2019, “Let Me Hear”, Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

Psalm 85: 8-13


Having done some emptying out, we are now ready to listen for, receive and be filled with God’s word and the good news of God’s love which is for all of us.

Today’s scripture reading comes from Psalm 85 verses 8 to 13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,

    for God will speak peace to God’s people,

    to God’s faithful, to those who turn to God in their hearts.

Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear the Lord,

    that God’s glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,

    and righteousness will look down from the sky.

The Lord will give what is good,

    and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before the Lord,

    and will make a path for God’s steps.

The word of God for the people of God.

May God open our hearts to hear the good news.

Our second reading this morning is a reflection by theologian, author and philosopher, Howard Thurman

Give me the listening ear. The eye that is willing to see.

Give me the listening ear. I seek this day the ear that will not shrink from the word that corrects and admonishes -- the word that holds up before me the image of myself that causes me to pause and reconsider -- the word that challenges me to deeper consecration and higher resolve -- the word that lays bare needs that make my own days uneasy, that seizes upon every good decent impulse of my nature, channeling it into paths of healing in the lives of others.

Give me the listening ear. I seek this day the disciplined mind, the disciplined heart, the disciplined life that makes my ear the focus of attention through which I may become mindful of expressions of life foreign to my own. I seek the stimulation that lifts me out of old ruts and established habits which keep me conscious of my self, my needs, my personal interests.

Give me this day -- the eye that is willing to see the meaning of the ordinary, the familiar, the commonplace -- the eye that is willing to see my own faults for what they are -- the eye that is willing to see the likable qualities in those I may not like -- the mistake in what I thought was correct -- the strength in what I labeled as weakness. Give me the eye that is willing to see that Thou hast not left Thyself without a witness in every living thing. Thus to walk with reverence and sensitiveness through all the days of my life.

Give me the listening ear. The eye that is willing to see.

Pray with me. Holy God, give us the listening ear. The eye that is willing to see. Open our hearts to your Spirit and your message of peace. And now, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Let me tell you a story about a writer, Charles Swindoll, who found himself overwhelmed with too many commitments in too few days. Perhaps you know the feeling -- you can’t help but be tense. There is not enough time in the day to get everything done. And with a family, Swindoll was married and had children, it is all too easy to snap at the people you love the best, to rush through meals, to feel irritated by each unexpected interruption.

Before long, this approach catches on with the rest of the family. Everyone is doing everything in a rush. No one has time. No one has patience or flexibility. No one has any give, and pretty soon, it becomes unbearable.

It is at this point that we find Charles Swindoll and his family, in that unbearable place of no time and everything and everyone in a rush. It is on one such evening after dinner that Swindoll’s daughter Colleen wants to tell her dad about something important that has happened to her at school. She starts out hurriedly, “Daddy, I wanna tell you something. And I’ll tell you really fast.”

In this moment, Swindoll suddenly realizes his daughter’s frustration. Taking a breath, he answers, “Honey, you can tell me -- and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”

And Colleen takes a deep breath and replies, “Then listen slowly.”

Listen slowly.

Give me the listening ear.

Let me hear what the Lord will speak.

I’ve been thinking a lot about listening this week. I’ve been thinking about what it means to listen, to truly listen, to listen slowly. Listening is one of the first things hearing people learn to do. And “listening” with the eyes is probably one of the first things that a deaf person in a deaf community learns to do.

And yet, it turns out, listening is difficult. Listening is difficult because listening, truly listening, listening slowly is about relationship and presence -- it is about being present to ourselves, to this moment, to our children and spouses, to the person at the bus stop or on the street corner, to our co-worker or that family member who really knows how to get under our skin. Being present is difficult -- we are not always ready or willing to be present to another person’s seeking or yearning, to their questions or ideas that are different from our own, to their suffering or grief. Sometimes we are not ready or willing to be present to their wonder and awe, the joy that overflows and takes up space.

This week, listening has been difficult because it has included listening to the pain and the grief of those in New Zealand trying to make sense of the shooting deaths of at least 50 people at prayer in Christchurch mosques. It has included listening to the heightened fear of our Muslim neighbors here in the United States who wonder if something like this may happen in one of their mosques at one of their prayers.

This weekend, listening has involved paying attention to our youth who call for change in our approach to caring for our planet.

Listening is hard. We prefer, with good reason, the safety and security of our own lives -- far from New Zealand. Disengaged from our Muslim neighbors – after all, it is unlikely that most of us will set foot in a mosque any time soon. Far, or so we may allow ourselves to believe, from the concerns and impacts of an ever-changing climate.

But even in the safety and security of our lives -- listening is hard. How easily our mind wanders. How eager we are to multi-task, to half-listen to our child or spouse or neighbor, our pastor or teacher or mentor. How many times are we “listening” while in fact formulating our response or wondering what we are going to cook for dinner or when we will have time to finish that project due on Friday? How often do we find ourselves talking while someone else, eyes glazed over, nods uh-huhn, uh-huhn? How often, when some thought or question or fear or hope arises within us do we quickly answer with a thousand reasons why that would never work or why that’s a faulty idea or why we should never ask questions like that to begin with? How quickly we shut ourselves down.

See, we learn how to listen. And then, as we adjust to a world full of noise, we learn how to block things out. And in so doing, we sometimes block out the good stuff -- the good news, the messages of love and hope that we are hungry to hear. The truth that we know deep within ourselves if we just turn down the volume of everything else and listen.

True confession: I have not always been good at listening to myself. In fact, I’ve had periods of being downright awful at it. I remember clearly a conversation with a dear friend who told me: “Thandiwe, your work is to turn down the volume of everyone and everything else. All that outside stuff -- turn it down. And turn up the volume of your own spirit. What is your Spirit trying to tell you?”

A good question. Along with a challenge -- to turn down the volume of the world and to turn up the volume of the voice that speaks from within.

See, God speaks from within. God speaks from without, too of course, but how often do we need only to find some quiet, to spend some time in solitude, perhaps in nature, perhaps by a crackling fire, perhaps sipping a cup of tea or coffee or even a glass of wine. When we pause, when we clear some of the clutter and listen, to listen slowly, God speaks. God speaks peace.

Even in the face of grief and disaster. God speaks peace. I think of the parent whose child was killed this weekend in Christchurch who said: “I know where my son is. He is at peace.” I think of the stories that have begun to come out of people throwing themselves over other people, to be human shields of protection and love, of life and hope. God speaks peace. God speaks righteousness. God speaks love and faithfulness – even in the midst of tragedy. This is good news! See, there is always good news. There is always news of redemption and hope, of healing and new life. If we will only listen.

I want you to think about a time when you felt really heard and listened to. Remember where you were. Remember who you were with. Close your eyes and try to see and hear and smell that place. Go inside your body and explore what it felt like physically to be heard, to be listened to. Explore your emotions? What emotions come up when you are listened to? What happens to you emotionally when someone pays attention to you?

When you’re ready, open your eyes again and look at me. If you’re comfortable, share a word or phrase about the experience of being listened to.

Now, close your eyes again. Where, in your life, are you having trouble listening to yourself, to the people around you or to God? Imagine yourself in one of these situations where you are having trouble listening. Recalling the feelings in your body and spirit of what it was like for you to be listened to, imagine yourself listening, really listening, listening slowly to yourself, to that other person or to God.

When you’re ready, open your eyes. This is what it is like to turn to God in your heart. You are practicing hearing what God the Lord will speak.

Will you pray with me? 

O God, you constantly try to get our attention. You stir and call in the most unlikely places of our lives -- people and situations that we dismiss as not being able to contain your presence. You beckon us to those corners of our inner selves where we have yet to discover you. Open us so that we will not miss your presence today. Help us to learn how to “be” and to let go of our need to be swallowed in activity. In your name we pray. Amen. (prayer written by Joyce Rupp)