BE QUICK TO HEAR, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO ANGER
Pray with me: May the words of my mouth; and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord; our strength and our redeemer. Amen
It seems a bit strange preaching a sermon on listening. But here we go trying to just do that.
I remember when I went to seminary to study becoming a pastor, I would think of very complex issues people might present me and ask for my assistance. How does a young man in his early twenties come up with mature answers to complex issues, both personal and otherwise?
But the Lord has shown me that it is far more important to be listening to another person with your soul before even thinking about what you might say.
This came home to me in spades with an angry widow who had unexpectedly lost her husband in an accident. She was shouting and hollering and pounding my chest when I approached her. I opened my arms and she fell into them crying her heart out. I spent some minutes just holding her until she was able to let out all the tears she had.
This was a time to listen, not speak.
Now how could any of us do that? James starts our listen by saying; “every perfect gift comes from God.” As baptized believers we have the Holy Spirit inside our soul giving us inspiration, hope, and direction. Relying on that gift when you are really trying to listen will make things happen you never dreamt possible.
Now back to listening. Let’s be honest as to how open we are to listening to another person. If it is a member of your family, one of your children, or perhaps your spouse, or even to your own parent, if you really love that person, you have an attitude of really wanting to hear what they are saying. On the other hand, if a person approaching you with an issue that you don’t particularly want to hear, you might find yourself turning them off and wondering how you might smoothly get out of their presence. That might be the time to offer a silent prayer to God, such as this. “Lord, you know I don’t like this person; but they are one of your children, made in your image. Help me put away my negative response and attempt to listen to their soul.
For me as a human being alone, this is impossible. But through God’s help we can do amazing things in his name and be able to turn to God for forgiveness and help to start anew if your initial response to what you heard was terrible.
Be quick to hear. The Lord has given our ears and brain the ability to really hear what another person is saying, but it takes the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But eventually we come to the next question. Be quick to hear, and slow to speak. When a person has poured out their soul to me, I need to check to hear if I accurately heard what they had to say. So, a good idea is to say. If I heard, you right… and then give them a digest of what you thought was the message under all those words.
I recognize that is a real challenge when I am preaching a sermon. How often have you wanted over the years or even today to raise your hand ask a question?
By the way, if there is a moment in a sermon that you are confused, or don’t understand what is being said, I would like you to raise your hand and I will stop and discover what is on your mind.
If that is too radical for you; write down the essence of what you thought you heard and ask me about it after worship or call me on the phone. I want us to be truly hearing each other’s every concern you had surface while I was preaching.
So, in response to a person saying, “What do you think?” do your best to discover if you heard what their soul was trying to say.
But after making certain you heard another person, they still want to know what you think, do not lie, or try to get out of answering. It is time to speak.
This first rule of speaking is to speak the truth of what you believe in love.
I will never forget a discussion I had with a visitor to worship in their home. They knew nothing of my family, but while trying to appear to not be racist the person said he believed a person, no matter what their ethnic background was a child of God; but as a white man he would not want his daughter to date a black person.
He then asked me what I thought. I calmly told him that my daughter’s husband was black, and I officiated at their wedding, and they now have been married over ten years and I have a wonderful grandson.
He did not know what to say, so he thanked me for coming. It was clear the visit was over, and I never saw him again.
Who a person chooses to love is something sacred, and mysterious. My task is to be supportive, and if they ask me to officiate at their wedding I need to do premarital counselling to help them prepare for the awesome commitment of marriage.
I see challenges of life as chances for us as God’s people to be as supportive as we can of all human beings. To even approach that requires prayer, and really listening to each other.
Now there is a time to get angry, but not to act violently. Dorothea Dix, a Sunday School teacher in Boston in the 1800’s decided she would like to visit patients in a nearby hospital. She got permission to visit. She was angered that the patients were being warehoused and not receiving care. Her anger led to sweeping changes in the treatment of the mentally ill that made it possible for many after appropriate treatment to re-enter society.
Yes, the Lord is calling us through the book of James to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Let us pray. Lord help us grow in listening, speaking, and when to get angry. Amen.