Real Mission: Learning to Listen
My parents like to joke that I came out of the womb speaking in full sentences. From early on in my life, I have been a woman of not so few words. I believe some of you can testify to that. Learning to speak came quickly and naturally for me, and eventually led me to a vocation that requires a good bit of public speaking.
But I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about the more important task of listening. I am so used to speaking and being heard, and I know that is not a privilege that everyone has. So often, when we are speaking – especially when our comfort and status quo are put under threat – we are speaking to justify ourselves, or defend our way of being, or tell others why they’re wrong. While the gift of speech matters greatly to each of us, the gift of listening. I believe, is of greater significance right now. The prayer attributed to St. Francis on pg. 833 of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) asks that God “grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love."
Jesus was a great listener, and he listened most attentively to those oppressed by systems of inequality. When Jesus spoke, he spoke on behalf of those to whom the world would not listen, people living on the margins of society: immigrants, those experiencing poverty, the hungry, the naked, the un-sheltered, widows, orphans, and those in prison. This too is our charge. Knowing when to speak, and when to listen is a holy endeavor that I commend to each of you today. I am with you in the difficult work of discerning God’s voice in what we hear. We begin by laying aside our need to be heard.
In the past several weeks, I have witnessed many people wanting to justify themselves in their speaking, rather than listening with the intention of loving their neighbor. There were many people in the Gospels who tried to use their power of speech in this way; to justify themselves. One in particular, whom we can easily recall, is the intelligent and inquisitive lawyer who asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?"
Today, Jesus asks us to listen. Listen to the story that he told to the lawyer in Luke, chapter 10. Your neighbor is anyone in need, anyone who is hurting, anyone who has been treated unjustly, anyone who has been denied love, dignity, and peace. The story reminds us that people of God leave their comfort zones to comfort their neighbor. They care for their neighbors’ immediate needs and establish long-term care for the sake of their healing. The story that Jesus shared with that lawyer, he shares with us today.
"Let those who have ears to hear, listen."
We all have been given ears to hear, and a heart, I pray, that is ready to listen. Not many of you can look around the world today and say, “Nothing to see here. Everything is fine.” No, we all have a sense that things are not fine. People are crying out for mercy, love, justice, freedom, and peace; and we need to open our ears and listen.
Speaking has never been an issue for me but learning to listen is a daily challenge in my personal and professional life. Even after years of intentional focus and sustained practice, I continue to fail at the sacred act of listening. I regularly have to recommit myself to listening with only the intention of love and remind myself of why it is so important. This is hard work, but Jesus never said that being his disciple would be easy. What he said was that if we were willing to learn from him and work for the extension of his kingdom, that we would find rest for our souls. We would find that choosing to serve God is actually perfect freedom.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'
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