[Sorry, I do not have audio for this.]
Sermon – A Sensical God – Hearing
Joshua 6:1-21; I Corinthians 14:1-12
Farmville Presbyterian Church
July 24, 2022
- Experiencing God through our hearing
No, this is not Pirate Pete coming to you across the sea of life. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, he was asked what people should say when they pick up the telephone to talk. His response was “Ahoy.” Don’t you feel like you have missed something all of these years, now? I’m not so sure I’m sorry we did not pick up and run with his suggestion. Hello, out there. But if “ahoy” fits your fancy, go with it.
It is hard to truly imagine what life would have been like before the invention of the phone – just like my children could not really appreciate a life without the internet.
The phone revolutionized communication, but it also required that you rely heavily on one of our five senses in particular – hearing. This was no real challenge, however, since we have been working with hearing and sound from the very beginning of time. Just think about it, the earliest way that we really began to be able to communicate with each other was through some kind of verbal communication. We make noises that express our feelings and needs much more easily than with writing or facial expressions or gestures. Some kind of hand-signing for communication is as old as time, but the full expression of communication with all of the nuances and the variety of vocabulary comes with speech. Hearing is very useful.
Hearing is also the sense that gives us the most trouble. Sure, lots of people have vision problems, but glasses or surgery seem helpful with the general vision issues. Hearing problems are ubiquitous, and the solutions seem less effective. Hearing aids are very expensive and are limited, and surgery is not as common for hearing deficit. I know plenty more people who are seriously hearing challenged than vision. We are very aware of hearing.
When I was in India back in 1999, one of the greatest challenges for me was the noise. It was incredibly noisy all the time. It was not even the volume but the endless stream of noise. I was not even in a big city, but between blaring traffic, blasting music, and an abundance of people, it was incessantly hard on my delicate ears. At school ballgames, concerts, and in doing yardwork with power tools, you will see me with ear protection. I want to keep them ears working as long as possible.
Hearing is also very interesting when it comes to God. Perhaps you do imagine God as an actual person sitting up in heaven with a body and two ears. I don’t. Either way, however, we absolutely believe with great, great conviction that we can talk to God and God listens. This is called prayer: you may have heard of it. We also believe God talks to us, and if we bother to pay attention, we can “hear” God. There is only one time when I might have actually heard words from God in my life, but I believe God has spoken to me throughout my life in different ways. I expect that you might have had the same experience. Yes, that is also prayer. The real beauty of prayer for those who struggle to hear is that it does not even require ears or hearing. In that sense, anyone can hear God or be heard by God – brilliant!
We do have a biblical record of God actually speaking to people such as Moses (as we just heard) and the young boy Samuel as another a famous example (the “Here am I” story). God spoke to lots of people in the Bible either directly as God did to Abram, Moses, or Samuel, or through angels as to the folk in the gospel stories (Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, etc.)
But hearing is at the center of our religious life and our experience of God. Not only did God speak to the people of God but God’s angels are called “angels” because they are “messengers” which is what the word “angel” means. The root meaning of the word “gospel” is “good news,” again, something to be shared, announced, and heard. If we have ears to hear, we might remember that Jesus was known for his teaching. John’s Gospel opens with a careful, developed explanation of Jesus coming to the world as God’s Word. Now, the word “word” can mean an idea, but the obvious connection is to speech and hearing.
We have psalms, prophecies, teaching and wisdom sayings in Scripture. Parables, stories, and apocalyptic pronouncements that all work well when they are spoken. Joyful noise, laments for help, shouts of victory (even ones that brought down city walls), trumpets and other music, and natural cataclysms all have a place in the biblical text. It was not until the origin of the printing press in 1440 that people even had the possibility of reading the Scriptures, and even then it was in Latin. Nearly everything was spoken or heard. Yes, I might even suggest the Bible is better being heard than read. I think it lends itself to the spoken word.
What are we even doing here today as good Presbyterians who crave a good seat, good music, and a good enough sermon (only by grace of God)? Yes, the word “sermon” means at its root “conversation.” We are a hearing people that values this particular sense.
And this is with good reason. Obviously, the most basic human needs are food, shelter, and warmth, but hear me carefully: as social creatures, the most fundamental need we have is the need to be heard, truly heard. Because we need others and naturally gravitate to connections and relationships, our first need is to be heard. When we are heard, truly heard, then we know we are valued. We know we matter. We know we exist. We all want to be heard. We may not always have something to say, but if no one cares to listen to us, then it is next to impossible feel valued. Even Cinderella had animals she could talk to when she was shut off. No, it is no accident that Disney has a knack for having animals to value characters that no one else values. We need each other, and we need to be heard.
So what happens when we refuse to hear as a church?
This is the million-dollar question today and the issue in the worshipping peoples in Corinth.
Those fun-loving, cosmopolitan Greeks in Corinth apparently had a real love for gifts of the Spirit. They would have made excellent Pentecostals today. They were enamored with manifestations of the Spirit, and I don’t think any of us would say that is a bad thing. Seriously, (and this is hard for some Presbyterians) we need more active work of the Spirit displayed in our shared life.
They also, however, went overboard as far as Paul was concerned. This is the same letter that gives us our unofficial motto, “Do all things decently and in order.” Paul told them that because they were out of control with their life in the Spirit which looked a lot like living for themselves. They took advantage of Communion to party. They had a hard time understanding true love. They fought about which rules to follow and which ones not to follow. They were not very unified but created factions that followed whichever apostle baptized them. Yes, they sound like quite a church – we might feel better about our own situation in comparison.
In the midst of all of this, they let got into the Spirit so much that they were living for themselves in the gifts of the Spirit. To be honest, it seems like they were into speaking in tongues SO MUCH that they must have been focusing on that as a mark of faithfulness. This must have upset others and caused a fair bit of division, too. Paul spends a good bit of ink addressing this issue and is not very sympathetic. Again and again in this letter to the churches in Corinth, he stresses that the practices or rituals or acts that divide people should be avoided, even if you think they are the faithful thing to do. Are people getting hung up on circumcision? Don’t worry about it. Others getting worked up over food sacrificed to idols? It’s not that big of a deal. Don’t do things that divide the people. If it causes strife, don’t bother with it.
Paul realized that the big problem with the focus or obsession with speaking in tongues is that no one else could understand them. Maybe it makes the speaker feel better, but that gift cuts off the rest of the church. How long are you interested in listening to someone speak in a foreign language? My guess is not that long. We need words that build up the church body. We need speech that encourages and leads and challenges and explains. We need our ears open for the kind of hearing that happens when we open ourselves to God as a community, as a family, as a body.
Two ways this relates to us today. It occurred to me that there might be prayers that any one of us might be offering to God that we are also keeping to ourselves. Absolutely, we should all keep praying as our private conversation with God, but if there are prayers out there that might benefit us all to know such as ideas, hopes, and dreams for us, it might be really useful to hear them down here, too, and not only up in heaven. On the flipside, we might also be making prayers related to fears, worries, and concerns about our church family here, and it might also be good to know what is weighing your heart. This is beyond just complaints or gripes, but more things that are concerning you in the months and years to come. I’m just thinking that God might be speaking to us in that conversation, but if we don’t share that conversation, the rest of us won’t know.
The other way I see this passage directly relating to us is being aware of whose voices we are hearing and whose are we ignoring. Another way of thinking about this is whether we have the voices around us that we need to be a more faithful family of faith. This is a real gift of being in the Presbyterian Church USA to me. I used to be irritated by or fearful of or easily dismissive of voices that I didn’t care for. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if everyone had the same opinion and same values and same understanding? Maybe, but the world would be a whole lot less wonderful. We are much better off being a “big tent” church with lots of different kinds of people. It makes it harder sometimes, and we can disagree on a whole lot, but in the end, we are better off with more voices and different voices. The same goes for our own small church right here in Farmville. Historically, our community has struggled to value all voices. We should do everything that we can to make sure the voices of God’s children are in our hearing and that no one is excluded from our conversation as people in faith. However we can bring them into our hearing is worth trying. One way we have extended our hearing is on the internet and our online worship. Bless you for being there. Please share your thoughts, as well.
As we prepare for another week of ministry and service, it is my hope that our ears are open with our hearts. We should all be attuned to God’s voice, God’s leading, and the voices of our neighbor.
What do we hear? What are we missing? When our hearing is strained, how can we do better? What strengthens our hearing?
Hear me now, God is in our hearing. To whom be the glory. Amen.