“Listen, Listen, Listen”
James 1: 17-27, September 2nd
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words recorded in the New Testament, the letter of James, chapter one, verses seventeen thru twenty-seven”
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
“Let us now open our hearts to the words of this letter and their intended meaning. Let us listen with our hearts as to what this letter, attributed to James, is trying to say to us here in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Listen, Listen, Listen”
The art of listening is an attribute that brings with it a lot of benefits. If you are told how to get from your current location to the destination you have in mind, especially, when you are traveling in a far away location which is new to you, hearing the directions clearly the first time you ask, may save you a considerable amount of time and frustration. This is of course true only if the directions were accurate and were to the location you were seeking to find. This points out one true flaw to this whole concept of listening; especially, if you only listen with your ears. The one to whom you are listening needs to be someone you can count on to give you competent and accurate information. This is very, very important! It is quite evident that a great many of our youth as-well-as adults and even people whom seem to be very competent and successful are not listening to the right people. Saddly, some are listening to their own distorted inner voices. Others are listening to con artists that are preying on their naiveite. It is abundantly clear that many are lacking in experience, wisdom and judgement when it comes to worldly matters. Therefore, we need to pay careful attention to today’s teaching from the letter of James, in hopes that we will hear and learn more about how to be good listeners and good communicators.
Our writer this morning begins by telling us that recognition of generosity is the watch word when examining the many gifts which we all possess! James refers to God as the “Father of lights.” Many compare this imagery with Christmas lights or illuminations or the radiance of the gift of the Christ Child, Jesus. How-ever we grasp this, James is seeking to point out and remind us of the ‘word of truth’ which came through the gift of the Living God in the form of the man Jesus. He further infers and assumes we shall understand that in our baptism, into the realm of Christendom, we have been bathed in the Living and Holy Spirit of God. Thereby, it is an expectation that we shall bear the fruit of the living God. Essentially, it is our responsibility, to be careful as we move through our journey’s, to be diligent in our everyday jobs, our errands and our tasks, as-well-as our duties to be true to our calling. Having been baptized into the faith, the body of the Living Christ… we are charged with the task of passing on the love of God; being generous in our sharing of the ‘words of truth’, which Jesus has passed on to us. With these thoughts in mind let us examine the importance of our listening skills.
Again, our writer is pushing us, the listeners, to be aware there are many modes of listening. Quick is a key word in this. We are being told to listen quickly, meaning, don’t allow our biases or negative emotions to close the avenues of our listening skills. The word ‘profiling’ has become all to common a word used to describe how some are trained to be biased toward another, by the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes or the brogue or accent of their voice. These and other types of prejudice or narrow-mindedness can cause us to stop listening with an open heart to those we encounter along the way. When this happens, we are no longer listening with an ability to fully appreciate what is being shared with us. This is not the model of listening which Jesus taught nor is it the mode of listening which move forward the Christian message and movement! Rather, James is saying to us, slow down, slow way down before making quick judgements of others. He even interjects the word anger inferring that we may allow ourselves to prejudge another… based on intolerance and anger! This will negatively influence how we hear the opinions of those we have the opportunity to hear and witness to!
As Christians we are called to produce the fruits of righteousness as we interact with others, as we speak with our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in every setting in life. Virtue, honesty, and decency are characteristics of the righteous, not disrespect, insolence and rudeness. Opportunities present themselves every day. It is up to us to be open to each moment as it comes.
I was dropping off a shirt at the cleaners the other day. The woman waiting on me happened to be Hispanic. She has been working there for years as I have been going to the same cleaners for over twelve years now. She was polite as usual. We discussed the weather for a bit. There was a lull in the flow of customers and I took a moment to chat with her. She was listening to me and me to her. We started chatting about farm workers as I shared how I foolishly dressed like a northerner while putting down new sod on my lawn instead of like a field worker who understood the foolishness of sandals and short sleeve shirts and short pants, when doing such work. Before we finished chatting we had openly discussed bigotry, mine when I was younger! And how I had come to see my upbringing was wrong and how I had changed. I shared with her the diversity of this our congregation. She was truly in awe and grateful for the time we openly listened to each other with our hearts.
Our scripture lesson tells us “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” /James 1:22/ Every week, I find myself involved in writing another sermon and trying to find practical ways to live into the teaching. It is not always easy. Sometimes, God puts something on my plate of life, to cause me to pause and reflect. My encounter with the charming young woman at the cleaners was such a moment. It was a simple moment, nothing profound. But, yet, it punctuated my day and it felt that it uplifted hers in some way. The stories of Jesus, many of which are indeed profound and yes, even dramatic. Yet, somehow, I see Jesus more as a gently, loving man who went about his daily life in a more simplistic way. His humble acts of kindness as he encountered people along the journey of his short life were meant to be just that. It is only when his disciples tried to share those moments with others after his execution and resurrection that they become more closely scrutinized and ultimately dramatized to some degree or another. As we live out our days, let us practice the simple lessons and teachings of Jesus. Let us pay attention to those low-keyed opportunities to share our truths without dramatizing them and correspondingly to listen with our hearts to everyone we interact with when the opportunity arises.
Listening continues to be an action word. We have spoken of this in the past and this still applies in the present. When we do the will of God, when we are doers of the teachings of Christ, we shall be blessed in our doing. If we forget or neglect to open our hearts when we hear others, we shall fail to be good listeners and thus we will not be able to do as Jesus so simply taught us to do.
In recent conversations I have become more aware of how others see the church universal. Just let me pause for a moment and remind us of a truth. When I was young my mother taught me that when buying things like a bag of tomatoes, potatoes or even a basket of apples, it is important to sort them out and remove any that are over ripe or show signs of rot. She said, that one rotten one will spoil them all! In the same way if someone does or portrays an act of hypocrisy in the church universal, it affects individual churches locally, even if they are without blemish. With this thought in mind, we need to be conscious of how we walk the talk. If we say one thing and do another, we have become untrue to the words we speak. If we teach the unconditional love of God, and we do, then we need to carry that love to others, without reservation. I was so pleased to read this Sunday’s thank you notes on the back of our bulletin. Five members and friends of this congregation went to serve a hot meal this past Monday at the Dailey Bread. The call from Mary Beth for more volunteers was heard. Thank you, one and all! This is a sign that you listened and then responded through your action. Our lesson ends with these written words: “Faith that is strong and vibrant before God, is this: to care for All of God’s Children in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” /James 1:27/