Sermon for November 3, 2002
II: Where Your Heart Is: Hearing
Judy and I live with two golden retrievers: wonderful dogs, Reka who is older and faces each day with arthritis, and Crysta, who is just two years old and faces each day with too much enthusiasm. Both of them are named after their grandmothers. Like all dogs they have excellent hearing. They hear things that I cannot. I am not often aware of what they are hearing unless the sound grows louder, the car comes closer, or we round a bend on our walk and I am able to see the rabbit they already knew was there. Not only can they hear things that I cannot, they can make sense of sounds. They know that a particular sound of a car coming from blocks away is the sound of Judy's car coming home and they become excited. Dogs can hear, making meaning from the sounds that make sense.
And people can hear as well. Today in our stewardship program we are focused on hearing, the meaning we make of the sounds that make the most sense of all: the sounds we hear in this room.
Last week's theme was gathering. We gather here at times of sorrow, joy, family events, holidays and worship week after week. The continuous stream of gatherings mark the passing of our lives and our most important moments. Sometimes the significance of a gathering overwhelms us. At other times the accumulation of gatherings gives meaning as we hem each week of our lives with worship. Here is where we gather.
When we gather, one of the things we do is listen or hear. We hear many things in this room. But perhaps the most important thing we hear is the Word of the Lord from the Bible. Christians have gathered for centuries, since the beginning of the faith, for hearing or listening to the word of God. Hear what was written about Christian gatherings 1,800 years ago by Justin Martyr in his first apology:
"On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Then when the lector has finished, the presider instructs and exhorts to imitate these good things."
Since the beginning Christians have been gathering week after
week after week to listen to and reflect upon the word of God.
And we still do so today. Each Sunday we use the appointed lessons: a piece from the prophets in the Hebrew Scripture, and then a reading from the letters of the apostles for the second lesson. At the time Justin Martyr writes, the gospels have not yet come fully into use, but soon they too are used and then take a place of prominence in the lessons. We use a common lectionary now, built on a three year cycle, one year devoted to the gospel of Matthew, one year to gospel lessons from Mark, one year devoted to lessons from Luke, and then the cycle is repeated. So we hear the word of the Lord.
There are days, of course, when the lessons are difficult, or the sermon seems to go on about something that does not seem to matter all that much. Still, we are committed to the hearing of the word and spending some time finding its meaning. We gather to hear.
Some of us have become acute in our hearing. We have managed through years of practice to search the scripture, each week finding a phrase or idea upon which we can pin our hopes and efforts for the coming week.
Often we struggle with a passage in the Bible. At first a passage something seems strange. There are many strange things in the Bible. We make an initial sense of it. But then, as we think and talk with others, we become suspicious of that sense we make of it. Eventually we work through our suspicions, until we come to the significance of a particular passage for our lives.
This movement from strangeness, through sense, through suspicion into significance marks the journey one makes with the word. Through this journey, the word finds traction in our lives. The Bible becomes a driving force more than a collection of inerrant facts or inspired dogmas. It becomes a driving force behind lives of charity, struggle, and affection. We make sense of the sounds we hear as we construct meaningful lives.
Not all of the texts we hear are those in the Bible. Sometimes it is music we hear that lifts our souls or expresses our fears and sorrows. Sometimes a phrase or word from the liturgy gives us new vision. For example, we never say My father, who art in heaven. We say Our father, who art in heaven.
Sometimes significant people are the texts that shape us. We hear acutely those voices from our past that guide us (and sometimes plague us) as we struggle in our present. All Saints Day is a recognition that those who have gone before us have left us with voices for the good, if we but have ears to hear. Take some time to listen this day to your own special saints. Hear their voices echo in the lessons for
today: Tears are shed no more. Love is the foundation of our community. Peace and gentleness of spirit are stronger than violence and hatred.
Sometimes what we hear at church is an important word from a friend, a living saint. In this place we hear words of encouragement, support, and helpfulness from friends in mutual consolation as we struggle with life together.
Here is where we gather. When we gather, there is hearing. We gather to hear the word, we gather to hear the music that expresses life, we gather to listen to the voices of all the saints, and we gather to hear the words of our friends, through whom we glimpse God's eternal love for us.
Dogs can hear. So can Christians. All creatures great and small make sense of sounds to make meaning. We find our meaning when we are gathered together, in friendship, in song, in prayer, kindling memories of our beloved ones, gathered to hear the Word of the Lord.