Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
August 30, 2015
“Hear now these words from James, chapter 1, verses 17-27.”
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.
“Allow God to open your hearts to a deeper understanding of these ancient writings.”
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Years ago, when I was in a Dale Carnegie training class on listening, I learned, in chapter one illustration one, the importance of my attendance. I am certain, that as an Account Manager, (of a large high tech company back in the mid 1980’s) I thought there was little I could learn from the class. Looking back it would appear I had not listened to the clues as to why management felt the class, in my case, was needed. Chapter one was all about how, someone like me, working in sales and marketing, could do better at remembering the names of clients I met and needed to interact with. Imagine that! Me, needing help in remembering names!
OK! I probably ought to have listened a bit more in that class!
The first lesson strongly suggested that when meeting someone new that I needed to stop thinking about what I was going to say! Rather, I needed to listen, listen as they introduced themselves! Imagine that! The key to learning someone’s name is to listen to that person as they tell you their name! It went on to suggest tricks or methodologies to capture and burn that name into memory. Such as: have them spell their name and even writing it down. Practice using it several times and even ask questions about their name before moving forward in the conversation. I know, I know, I could use a refresher course on this subject!
Are you a good listener? Here we have gathered together today honoring and celebrating that which we call “Rally Day”! We are an assembly, we have united to support this moment in time and all it means to us. We do this every year, close or at least in proximity to the beginning of our public schools; and here in Florida we usually do it at the end of August. We are very much like a religious conclave gathering together for a unified purpose, just as a conference of churches or a convention of like minded people might do. We have an alliance, an agreement, one to another and we have rallied together today for the greater good! Specifically, we lift up our Christian Education program and the youth and the adults that are nurtured and supported by the activities coming from our efforts: to educate and support both young and old, novice, intermediate and even the well versed Christian in our midst. So let us open our hearts and minds to quickly listen to all we hear, as-well-as all we observe and feel. For listening needs to be done first and foremost and involves all of our senses!
One pastor: Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, pushes us to know what “Really Listening to Others,” truly means. She clearly infers that listening is a form or an expression of love. Have you ever felt loved because someone took the time to listen to something you needed to share? “To know that one is loved is the most freeing thing imaginable.” In our midst we have volunteers that have taken public and silent roles in stepping up to support our Christian Education efforts. Some do so with a great deal of energy, others display great compassion and still others excel in commitment and dedication. They have listened to the needs of this their church, our church. In response we are asked to honor and love their efforts by listening, with not only our ears, but more importantly through our response in word and deed! When these volunteers ‘feel’ our loving responses, they shall be freed from any insecurity and continue to go forward believing they have the love and support of a grateful community.
Idealistically, I ought to now be able to say amen, and sit down. Yet, holding up an ideal is not the same as speaking the truth, nor is it fully embracing the teachings from this writing, contained in this first chapter of James. Rather we need to accept, like the early churches that surely inspired this writing, we are less than perfect. Our lesson today speaks deeply about the ins and the outs of listening. Listen again to verse 19 & 20: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, (Let me slow you down here and be sure that everyone is listening, at every level, as we continue to hear what the writer is saying to us.) “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” I heard that did you? I felt it too, and I pray each of us here listening – did as well. How many times have I, have you, looked back and realized we spoke too soon or too quickly; thus saying something we later regretted.
I am fairly certain, we have all felt the words of someone speaking to us, or about us, whereby we can clearly see that what they are saying in response – does not, or did not, properly capture what we had meant for them to hear. Someone heard me read that sentence out loud and said: “The Story of my life!” We then both laughed. Truly, this happens all too frequently. Having said this, how many of us have been on the other side of this equation? OK, now this is when you try hard to not respond to this, so no one will see you confessing to having listened slowly or poorly, from time to time. We all know, all too well, that now and then, we have all failed at least once ‘to not listen well’ or ‘not hear properly’ what the other person was trying to say.
Lehman Strauss a professor of Old Testament scriptures offers up his view point. “From both personal experience and observation I think I know why James might have linked the two expressions ‘slow to speak, slow to wrath.’ We all are acquainted with the fact that words unfitly spoken often cause an outburst of temper. What starts out as a sincere and friendly discussion sometimes leads to an argument, with its resulting flare of anger. Among those things for which the Christian should seek wisdom, there is the ever-present need for a controlled tongue and a controlled temper. When we are swift to hear,” “we will be slow to become angry.” The professors observations have a lot of merit, no question about it. What we need to be sure of, is that we are hearing the message and heeding it as well!
Unfortunately, at the time of the writing of this passage, there were members of churches ‘not listening’ to each other well and were too quick to speak, thus saying things that were causing fluctuations in their relationships within these communities. Rick Morley, a priest in the Episcopal church says this: “From my perspective, the first century community that James addresses in this epistle was dealing with infighting and anger over the very nature of ministry and the divisions between those who have the resources to serve others, and those poor enough that they needed ‘to be’ served.” His remarks are saddening, yet all too apparently true.
As practicing Christians, we need to continue to seek out ways, methodologies and practices that will enhance our ministries to those that come to us seeking to learn more about the ways of God. Sandra Hack Polaski, assistant professor of New Testament studies puts forth this view: “Perhaps, if we as Christians were to follow James’s precepts, we would do a lot less talking and a lot more listening.” Simply by becoming better listeners we will become more capable to assist and more compassionate about those we ultimately need and desire to help! And ultimately, together, we shall continue to walk the journey of faith and service within the church; IE, the body of Christ.
When I hear a TV announcer talk about the fluctuation of the Stock Market my hearing is limited by my lack of direct involvement. Yet, when an investor hears the same their pulse begins to race. When a mother hears a baby cry her heart skips a beat; whereas a neighbor wishes she could keep her child quiet! When you listen to the weather you may not really listen when they speak of the cold spell in the region of Glacier Bay, Alaska this past July, but it strikes a chord for someone who had to buy a warm jacket while visiting there in late July. That’s right, everyone has some level of ‘selective hearing’! When you are sitting in a local restaurant, eating a nice juicy cheese burger, you probably are not reflecting on the plight of the hungry. If a news cast came on while you were sitting there eating, as you casually glance upwards toward that new flat panel TV hanging on the wall, your heart may not grasp the full impact of the rise or fall in the number of homeless and hungry in any given place or time being spoken of. But, if you are sitting at the front desk of our local community church, when someone comes in, with their sad story, leaving with a small bag of groceries from our small supply of food, you may have actually heard their plea and your heart may have felt their plight. Yes, listening is an art form, and it takes all of our senses to do so fully and compassionately!
Pastor Alan Brehm offers up this simple yet profound thought: “…we are to humbly seek to understand and then put into practice the teachings we discern in our faith and in Scripture. When we do that, then we can hear the (the voice of God) in a way that transforms our hearts and gets translated into the way we live our lives.” Not all of us need to ‘run out’ and take a course on listening put out there by Dale Carnegie, yet we all might want to examine our listening skills, being certain that we use all of our senses as we seek to become more compassionate, to ourselves and those around us. We need to focus on this phrase from verse 25 of today’s scripture lesson: “being not hearers who forget but doers who act.” When we truly hear we then need to respond from our hearts; we need to respond as Christians who follow in the teachings of the New Testament. We need to listen to the wisdom of the ages, all the way back to the time of Jesus.
Yes! Let us listen quickly! Today is Rally Day! Let us rally around, stay after church and fully support our Christian Education Ministry. Amen.