Sunday, July 13, 2014

“Can You Hear Me Now” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

Before everyone had them and cell phone companies were just getting started . . . there was sort of competition between the companies to see who could provide the best cell reception across the country.  Cell reception was not always that great and those who owned cell phones were always trying to find ways to get better reception.  To test that reception they were always asking those they were calling, “Can you hear me now?”  Well, we live in Joliet . . . it is still a favorite statement as our cell reception hasn’t improved a whole bunch over the years.

Verizon jumped all over that little catch-phrase and created a whole line of commercials with a guy traveling around the country . . . to busy places, to remote places . . . and asking the question, “Can you hear me now?”  It created a lot of business for the company as people wanted to be able to hear.  In fact that is usually the number one thing people want when they purchase a cell phone . . . they want to be able to hear. 

The problem is that most people don’t hear that well.

Dana, my wife, tells me that I don’t hear well.  She keeps telling me that I need to go and get my hearing checked.  Well, I hear just fine . . . my problem is that I have selective hearing loss . . . I select what I want to hear.  I do not always want to hear what my wife is telling . . . just as she does not always want to hear what I am telling her.  It is selective hearing loss and I am sure all of us have this problem from time to time.  We hear what we want to hear . . . especially if it is something we like or agree with.  If not, well it goes in one ear and out the other.
Sometimes it is not that we do not hear what is being conveyed, it is that we don’t understand what is being conveyed.  We hear it, but we don’t understand it.  I remember the time I went to my first college class and sat there listening to the professor go on and on about the subject of physics.  It was like a Charlie Brown scene . . . all I hear was, “Blah, blah, blah.”  I walked out of that first class thinking that I was never going to make it . . . everything sounded like a foreign language . . . I didn’t understand anything.  So, like a good student I sat there and shook my head up and down like a bobble head doll.  If you don’t understand, fool them.

Hearing is pretty important.  Someone once pointed out to me that she thought that God thought hearing was important because God gave us two ears and only one mouth.  In her mind she thought that hearing—or listening—was twice as important as speaking.  I agree . . . I think that God wants us to hear . . . wants us to listen first before we act or speak.  Besides, I think we would look pretty ridiculous with two mouths.

So, hearing is pretty important.  Three times in our scripture reading this morning we hear Jesus emphasis the importance of hearing.  After he tells the parable about the sower he tells the crowd: “He who has ears, let him hear.”  When he goes to explain the parable about the sower he prefaces his explanation with these words: “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means . . .”  And, then, in the explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus points out that it is the person who “hears”  that is the successful sower: “. . . the man who hears the word and understands it.” 

I think that Jesus thought that hearing was pretty important.  In fact, our reading this morning is not the only example of Jesus emphasizing the importance of hearing . . . many times when telling a parable he would admonish the people to listen . . . to hear.  He would say, “If you have ears—listen!”

Now I do not think that there is a whole lot that I need to say about the parable of the sower . . . no great need to pick it apart and explain every little part of it . . . Jesus does that for us.  Jesus spells it out for us.  The explanation is coming straight from the source.  What is to argue or debate, Jesus says what he means.  We get that . . . but are we really getting what he wants us to get?  Are we really hearing what he wants us to hear?  It is almost as if Jesus is holding up a cell phone and asking, “Can you hear me now?”

One would think that the process of hearing is pretty simple.  A sound is made, the ear hears it, and we acknowledge that sound.  That is hearing . . . or is it?  Hearing is more than acknowledging a sound . . . hearing is also being able to identify that sound . . . being able to know what it means . . . to understand it.

Early in our marriage Dana and I went to visit some classmates from seminary who graduated a year before.  They had their first child a few months earlier and wanted us to come to see them and their new child in their new home.  It was a nice home . . . a parsonage . . . that the congregation has done a lot of renovation on before they arrived.  One of the things that the congregation had done was to replace the carper and curtains in the dining room.  Replaced it with a nice tan carpet and white curtains.  It looked wonderful.

That evening as we sat down for supper the wife placed the child in one of those swings that you crank up and it swings the child back and forth.  It was an easy way to entertain the child . . . possibly put the child to sleep . . . and, for us adults to have a nice meal without the interruption of a child.  It seemed to work wonderfully.  We had great conversation, laughter, and food.  In the meantime we kept hearing giggles and laughter from the child as the swing swung back and forth . . . but soon it turned into all out laughter.  We all thought to ourselves, great, Junior is having a good old time and everything is okay.

Well, we all probably needed to have our hearing checked.  True, the kid was fine and having a good time . . . but not everything was okay.  It seems that the kid had diarrhea and had blown out his diaper.  As the swing swung back and forth it left a trail across the carpet and up the curtains . . . over and over again.

Hearing is more than acknowledging a sound . . . it is understanding and acting upon the sound that is heard.

Thus it is that Jesus emphasized hearing . . . emphasized listening . . . over and over again.  He wanted people to really understand what he was trying to teach them.  He wanted them to understand what it meant to be in an intimate relationship with God . . . he wanted them to understand that love and grace . . . and, then he wanted them to act on that understanding by loving others in the same way that they love themselves and God.  Jesus did not want to see a bunch of bobbing heads agreeing to his every word even though they did not get what he was saying.  No, he wanted them to understand and then put that understanding into action.  If you understand, thought Jesus, you would do it.

So, Jesus said, “Can you hear me now?”

I am not sure.  As I look around the world today, I don’t think too many people are hearing Jesus.  As I look at the current movement in the church—both mainline and conservative, I am not too sure that even the church is hearing Jesus too well.  It does not take much to see how things are going in the world around us . . . and, it does not look good.  Wars, poverty, famine, hunger, sex-trafficking . . . just plain nastiness all around.  I think that there is a hearing problem.  And, as long as there is a hearing problem demonstrated by the way God’s children treat one another, I think that Jesus is going to keep holding up the cross and asking, “Do you hear me now?”

In the blue hymnal we have a song that is a favorite among many of the faith called They Will Know We are Christians.  In the chorus we are told how the rest of the world will know that people are Christians: “They’ll know that we are Christians by our love, by our love . . . They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  Jesus told those who were listening that it was the man who hear and understood that was the successful sower because he acted in kind.  May God bless us with hearing . . . real hearing.  Amen.

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