James 1: 19-27
We are called to listen and do. What does it look like for us to be quick to listen and slow to anger and speaking? Can we even imagine that? What would that look like in our world? What would that look like in our country? What would that look like in our state or our community? What would that look like in our homes? These words of James are not pie in the sky visions of how it could be. The writer of James is asking us to live out our faith by putting our faith into action. To listen and to do as a response to God’s love for us. Isn’t that our motivation for all we do? God loved us and everything we do is our response to that love. We listen and we do God’s work in the world.
This last week my husband and I were taking one of our nightly walks and talking about this Scripture and sermon. As I told him my plan, he responded you are going stand up there and talk to everyone about listening. How can you talk at people and tell them to talk less and listen more? He asks an important question for me and for all of us in our daily lives. So I have sprinkled questions throughout this sermon as an attempt to make this sermon more of a dialogue than a monologue. My hope is that we can learn from each other and listen to each other.
Have you ever been listening to the radio and heard a conversation between two people that was so intriguing that you felt no desire to change the station? This happens to me every time I hear a Story Corps interview. “StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, two people-friends, relatives, colleagues, go into a listening booth for an hour of honest conversation. Grandchildren ask grandparents what life was like when they were young. Family members share never revealed secrets. Colleagues share what they admire and can’t stand about their coworkers. It is honest and beautiful conversation. What I love about these conversations is the way the interviewer asks the question and then stops talking and listens. There is quiet time and space for the person to answer. Their website includes questions you can ask one another and directions on how to conduct your own interview. If you are inspired to conduct your own interview, StoryCorps is hosting The Great Thanksgiving Listen where people are invited to record a conversation with a family member or friend when you are gathered around the table later this month. Who would you interview? If you could sit down and listen to someone’s story, whose story would you like to hear?
Being quick to listen is hard work. It requires we relax ourselves and put the eight million other things on our mind on hold. When your task is to be quick to listen, you humble yourself, so the speaker is more important than you at this time. Your job is to listen-not listen so you might respond or solve the problem. Simply listen!
When we are slow to speak, we pause before speaking. Stop and think, why am I about to speak? Pause and decide if sharing the information is helpful and kind or do I just want to talk? Will I build up another person or tear someone down with what I am about to say? Being slow to speak requires us to bite our tongues, count to 10, or just take a deep breath before we talk. Think- WAIT-Why am I talking? Find an image of slow to speak that helps you pause. I use the picture that hung in every Sunday School I attend of Jesus with the children. Jesus held children on his lap and had them encircling him as he listened to them. He isn’t talking. And I imagine that what they would remember and what I remember from seeing this picture as a child is Jesus has time for me, Jesus welcomes me, and Jesus listens to me. We want to be heard in the same way and we need to listen to others and leave them with this same feeling.
Being “slow to anger” encourages us to remember we who are; created in God’s own image, we would do well to remember Psalm 103:8. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And we who are created in God’s own image are called to be slow to anger because God is slow to anger. Hopefully, reminding ourselves to be slow to anger will allow us more opportunity to be merciful and gracious and to try to abound in God’s steadfast love. I say try because while writing this sermon this week I sent this email to my sister when I was getting angry. “Dear Guy Waiting for His Car to Be Fixed at Sears, Your ringtones and YouTube videos are very loud. Mute your phone before I lose it. Sincerely, Peron Trying to Write a Sermon on Being Slow to Anger. Just one example of how the real life application of living as people who let God’s Word live inside us is difficult. And yet, we are called to listen and do.
The first part of this Scripture reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”. Think for a minute about these three things. Which one is the easiest for you and which one is the hardest? How might you encourage yourself to do the hardest one? “How can we learn to be “quick to listen but slow to speak”? What helps me to deal with anger?”
On the Working Preaching blog, David Lose shared his thoughts on these verses. He talked about how this Scripture is meant to be lived out in our ordinary lives. We take what we hear in this place on Sunday morning and we put it into action in this place and beyond these walls.
“Which helps orient us to the possibility…that Sunday is not the pinnacle of the Christian week but actually was intended to serve and support our Christian lives the rest of the week. Sunday, that is, is the day we are immersed again in the word, have our sins forgiven, receive guidance and encouragement in our Christian lives, hear again the good news of God’s goodness and mercy, and are called, commissioned, and sent once more into the world to work with God for the health of the people God has put all around us. All of this puts tremendous importance on our daily lives and activities and actually hallows the everyday routines and responsibilities we often take for granted. So perhaps on this day, Working Preacher, we could invite people to write down one place they will be in the coming week where God could use them to listen, to be patient, or to care for those in need.” Think on that point for a minute. What is one place you know you will be this week where you could live our your faith by enacting these words of James?
Being doers of the word is how we put our faith into action. It is how we live out the Word implanted within us. Otherwise, as the writer of James tells us, we are like someone who looks in the mirror and as soon as we look away we forget what we saw. Who hasn’t done this or something very similar? The solution is to simply “be where your butt is” as Anne Lamott says. This is another way of saying be where you are and be fully present where you are. When you are looking in the mirror, really look at yourself and remember you are God’s beloved and created in God’s own image. When you are listening to someone, really listen. Whatever you are doing, do it with your whole self-mind, body, and spirit. When you are listening with your whole self, it becomes easier to be “slow to speak, slow to anger”.
Our friends at the Taize Community in France share this reflection and questions on this Scripture. “Translated into concrete acts of love, the language of faith can rediscover its power and meaning. Then the words of the Gospel can touch people’s hearts beyond our Churches and can change their lives.” Today’s Scripture ends by saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Who are the “orphans and widows” among us today and how do we care for them?
The writer of James urges us to live as those who are loved by God and whose actions reflect that love. We will “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We will listen and do! We will care for those in need because each person is God’s beloved and when we share what we have there is enough for all. We will nurture the Word implanted in us. We will do all of this with the help and by the grace of God. We will listen and do! Amen.