July 27, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 13: 1-9
“Have You Been Listening?”
Years ago when I was starting out in the computer industry I went to a Dale Carnegie sales training class. Throughout the course it was stressed – over and over again – that the essential thing a good sales person must do is listen, listen to one’s clients! It was pointed out that the average salesperson is usually so concerned about what they are going to say, that is ‘how’ they were going to sell their product to the prospective client, that they forget or neglect to be good listeners. The same lesson can be applied to many other facets of life and can be attributed to many varying life situations and interactions between people.
Every one of us here today can, more than likely, learn to listen and listen just a bit better and listen more than we currently do. And as we learn how to be better listeners we will ultimate find ourselves working harder to listen to learn.
Oftentimes, parents learn this the hard way. Children frequently do not grasp this until they have reached adulthood; and many of us adults never fully grasp the art of or the importance of good listening skills. I must confess Pastors, Doctors, and Lawyers and most certainly Politicians suffer from this ailment called “poor listening skills” as well. Listening is something we all need to do and we need to develop skills so that we are good listeners’ not just occasional listeners.
Some folks develop what is called selective listening skills. I recall a gentleman I use to visit up in New York. He wore a hearing aid yet; his wife was always talking very, very loudly to him as it seemed he was unable to hear her. (She also talked constantly, which I must say I was extremely aware of.) On one such occasion Frank had just gotten home from the hospital. After much loud talk, which Frank did not seem to hear, Mildred threw up her arms and stormed off to the kitchen. I used the moment to quietly inquire from Frank how he was doing. He instantly answered me with a concise and clear voice about how things were since he had come home from the hospital. We talked quietly for several minutes before Mildred came back into the room. Frank clearly had selective listening skills. Yes, he was listening, but he was choosing what he would hear and whom he was willing to listen to!
How many of you, how many of us, have selective listening skills? I know I do. When I am watching my favorite television show and then the commercial comes on – I stop listening. Or during election season a paid political announcement comes on, and at my choosing I can completely shut myself off from listening. The important thing to remember about acquiring the ability to listen or not to listen at will is to be sure you are listening to things you need to hear rather than only the things you want to hear. Thus if someone is giving you constructive feedback about one thing or another it may do you good to actually listen and hear what is being said. It could make a real difference in some aspect of your life and most certainly it will make a difference in the life of the person who is offering this feedback to you.
Listening skills are important all the time, not just when someone is telling you something you need to hear; sometimes the other person simply needs to be heard. I have made it a habit, when I visit with someone to be sure that I stop talking long enough to give them a chance to share with me what is in their hearts and what is on their minds. By listening carefully, I am able to speak to this point when I offer a prayer to God on their behalf. It is very apparent to me that people like us like to be heard, that is, you and I, we want to have someone listen to us. And just to be clear, everyone is equal in this regard: we all want to be heard. People hear what you are saying if they know you have first listened to them.
As it tells us in the Bible, Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, verse 7, there is a time for listening and there is a time for speaking. When it is time to speak it is important you clarify that the intended audience is listening. During my first public speaking class in college the instructor told us how important it was to get folks attention before getting into the lesson or the speech or sermon you have come to present to them. Same goes for a salesperson who is trying to sell a client something. First you must get their attention. If you cannot do this said our instructor, you might as well close your notes and not bother to give your speech, because if no one is listening no one will hear you.
In our scripture lesson this morning we see that Jesus clearly understood this lesson. As the crowds gathered around him he first made himself visible. He got into a boat. Then, before he began to teach them in parables, as was his custom and style he spoke to them strongly and simply. “Listen!” shouted Jesus in a loud clear voice. “Listen!” Yes, Jesus knew that he needed to instruct them clearly on the first step in hearing a lesson. He wanted to be sure he had their attention and they were ready to hear his voice. Therefore, he instructed them by telling them it was their responsibility to listen. Then Jesus went on with his lesson and began to teach them by telling them a parable.
His parable was a simple one. A farmer went out to spread seeds in hopes of reaping a good harvest. A few years back when I was at the United Church of Sebastian our moderator gave a sermon while I was on vacation and she spoke about planting seeds. I did not hear her sermon but I know what was in her heart. She and I had spoken of how important it is to plant seeds in young people and then as long as possible to help them nurture those seeds so that they will grow and bear fruit. She has worked hard to plant those seeds in the young people that were part of that community during that time period. She stressed that as time moved forward it would continue to be vital to ensure that those seeds were being nourished; she pointed out that the journeys of the youth could take them away from the one whom planted the seeds. Jesus’ parable helps us to understand the obstacles that stand between the seed and the desired blossoms that lead to a fruitful life.
Not all seeds are planted in fertile soil Jesus tells us. Some, as in his story fall in unfertile ground. When we look to the hearts of others, that is we in our acceptance and in our desire to love others, we strive to believe that they are receiving what it is we have to offer. Thus they are actually listening to the lessons we have offered. Or, they have accepted the truths we have shared with them. But, Jesus is cautioning us or perhaps warning us that seeds all by themselves or lessons all by themselves are not always enough. And yet, at the same time, Jesus is pointing out that without the seed, without the lesson, nothing would ever have a chance to grow. It is at this point that we must remind ourselves: we need to keep scattering the seed praying that what has been offered will be accepted and nourished.
At our recent Vacation Bible School, all of the children in attendance received seeds, and they left on Friday excited and filled with enthusiasm. They had been nourished during that sacred week by volunteer ‘gardeners’ who lovingly cared for them. Seeds were planted into their young hearts and minds. Now, as the days go by and even as the weeks go by… some will continue to get proper nourishment, for they have landed in fertile soil. For others their seeds may lay dormant as they have landed in soil that is not prepared or able to nourish and water their new seeds. Perhaps their caregivers are tangled in the pressures of their own lives and simply not able to be the nourishing ‘gardeners’ their child needs. They simply are not hearing, not listening to their needs for nourishment.
Of course the overall message from Jesus is meant to impress upon us the wonderful things that can be done, if we allow ourselves to be nurtured, and to not be distracted from our central purpose… as we grow to fullness ‘in the light’ and ‘in the glory’ of God’s ever present love. Jesus wants us to be fully aware that a single seed that matures and bears fruit – can bring forth an abundance of fruit. If just one of our young adults receives all of the nurture that is being offered to them; if that one grows in the fullness of God’s will, becoming all that our God has envisioned that they might become, what wondrous deeds they may perform. Think of the many lives that just one saved soul, one properly nourished heart, will have the opportunity to touch in a lifetime. Imagine how many more could be helped, how many more lives could be influenced with just a little effort from each one of us here gathered this morning. What an abundant crop we might gather in the name of our God through Christ.
Let me challenge you, as well as myself and all of my peers, that we work and strive to be good listeners. Good listeners hear what others are longing to share. Good listeners are received with open arms. Good listeners learn what it is that others are trying to tell them. From these we shall learn how to better nourish those around us. Be of good cheer my friends. God is near; God is close at hand. Our God is listening to us and God is trying to get our attention so that we will stop what we are doing – and Listen, Listen to the still speaking voice of God. “Let anyone with ears listen!”
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.