SERMON ~ 10/31/2021 ~ “Listening”

10/31/2021 ~ Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ Known in Some Traditions as the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 26 ~ Ruth 1:1-18 or Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 146 or Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34 ~ All Hallows’ Eve ~ A.K.A. as Halloween or Hallowe’en on the Secular Calendar ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sugwWa9r9w.

Listening

“Hear, O Israel: / Yahweh, our God, Yahweh alone, is one. / You are to love Yahweh, your God / with all your heart, / and with all your soul, / and with all your strength.” — Deuteronomy 6:4-5 [ILV]

[The pastor moves to a pedestal on which there is a pitcher and several glasses, pours water into one glass until it is approximately half full, holds up the glass, then asks the following question.] So, is the glass half full or is it half empty? [The pastor moves back to the pulpit.]

A daughter of a friend of mine once lived for ten years in Turkey. A person of some where-with-all, my friend Bill, went to see his daughter each year and spent about a month. Early on he started a little habit.

Handy with a hammer, saw and screwdriver, while there he would build her a small piece of furniture, a cabinet, an end table. The first year this of this endeavor he went with his daughter to the Turkish equivalent of a lumber yard to get some wood and learned some interesting lessons about cultural differences.

First, lumber is stocked in a pretty raw form. Indeed, in the yard you could see whole sections of trees— bark still in place.

How do you buy lumber? You tell a worker what is needed. Then it’s cut to order. On their first trip to the yard Bill and his daughter arrived about 8:30 a.m. but waited some 45 minutes for anyone else to arrive. The owner was first.

That’s when clear cultural differences came into play. Bill’s daughter was fluent in Turkish but it was obvious the owner would be doing business only with Bill.

But first the owner offered cups of tea to the pair. Refusing was useless. If tea had been refused, then coffee would have been offered. If that had been refused, water with lime would have been next.

If everything had been refused, no business would have been done. Bill’s daughter nudged him to accept the tea.

Then negotiations started for real: the measurements of the wood required, choosing pieces from the raw wood, the milling, the cutting were all accomplished. Last a price was determined. It was a slow process.

It got to be about noon. Some wood still needed to be planed. But the worker who did the planning had gone to lunch.

“When will he be back?” asked Bill.

“Sometimes he comes back; sometimes he does not,” was the answer.

“Can any one else do that work?”

“Well, you can talk to my brother. He owns the other side of the yard and has someone who does that.”

Bill and his daughter walked about half a mile, moving the cut wood on a rickety cart. They then encountered the brother. (Slight pause.)

“Would you like some tea,” he asked? (Slight pause.) The transaction was totally completed about 4:30 in the afternoon. Through it all, no one in the yard seemed concerned this sale was progressing at a snail’s pace. (Slight pause.)

Shortly after arriving back in the States Bill stopped by a box store. There were fifteen cash registers. Two were open. He got on the end of a long line and heard people grousing.

“I’ll miss my game shows.”

“I need to pick up my kid.”

“I left my laundry in the dryer.”

Bill just smiled. He had internalized two things he suspected were true all along: nearly all perceptions are cultural. And stress is, often, a cultural attitude and is, often, a self imposed condition.

The second piece, that stress is often self imposed, was a reaffirmation of something he discovered when he visited Bosnia. In that country at that time people went about their business as if it was normal to have bombs crashing about them.

So, why was there any stress at all exhibited by those standing in this box store check out line? Perceptions, especially self imposed ones but certainly also cultural perceptions, are pivotal in one’s own sense of well being.

[The pastor moves to a pedestal on which there is a pitcher and several glasses and pours water into a second glass until it is approximately half full, then asks the following question.] And is that glass half full or is it half empty? [The pastor moves back to the pulpit.]

These words are from the work known as Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel: / Yahweh, our God, Yahweh alone, is one. / You are to love Yahweh, your God / with all your heart, / and with all your soul, / and with all your strength.” (Slight pause.)

So this says love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Jesus reiterates this ancient instruction in the Gospel we know as Mark and adds words found in Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Slight pause.)

It’s all so easy, is it not— love God, love neighbor? (Slight pause.) Then why don’t more of us love God and love neighbor more readily? After all, these words seems pretty clear. (Slight pause.) Is it possible we’re missing something? (Slight pause.)

This is a given: we all have cultural blinders. We Americans see some things Turks do not. Turks see some things we do not. But we are human. Blinders exist. But is it possible that, no matter what the cultural biases of a given group, the largest human cultural blinder is that we all often fail to recognize Who is the source of all love?

You see, given what the ‘great commandment’ says, there is something which needs to happen before love can be experienced and expressed to its fullest. (Quote:) “Hear, O Israel.” (Slight pause.) We need to hear the voice of God before we can listen for love. (Slight pause.)

A widespread feature in all of Scripture, but especially here in the Shema, is it points out the necessity for nurturing an appropriate attitude toward and about God. We cannot have that attitude unless we develop our hearing skills, our skills of hearing the Word of God, hearing the will of God, listening for the voice of God.

Further, it is only when we hear God that it is possible to move onto the resulting attitudes: loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves. I maintain the loving relationships of covenant happen when we hear God. And it is the very hearing of God which empowers listening to the fullness of the message God offers. (Slight pause.)

So, what happens when hearing transitions to listening. I think the cultural blinders we all develop, binders which attempt to block out God start to fall away.

When we hear God— God Who is still speaking— the love of God starts to become more real to us and more sacred for us than that love has ever been before. And yes, we begin to deeply understand God invites us to be in relationship with all people.

But still, we need to work at being attuned to the fact that God speaks— God still speaks. Otherwise, the noise of our culture, the noise created in the context of any culture, will lead us to believe God is… silent.

[The pastor walks back to the pedestal with the glasses and pitcher and fills yet another glass about half way and holds it up.] So is the glass half full or is it half empty?

[The pastor picks up the two half glasses and pours them back in the pitcher. There is another glass filled with colored “Kool Aid” from the Time for All Ages. The pastor pours that back into the pitcher which changes the water in the pitcher into colored water and holds the pitcher aloft.] When we hear the voice of God, the world can become more wonderful than it has ever been before. Hear, O Israel. Hear, O South Freeport Congregational Church. God is with us. Let us listen for God. Amen.

10/31/2021
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “We Congregationalists have long believed that God still speaks to us. English Puritan minister John Robinson, said this to the Pilgrims as they left for these shores: “I am verily persuaded God hath more truth yet to break forth out of the Holy Word.” Well, let us continue to listen.

BENEDICTION: Go now— go in safety, for you cannot go where God is not. Go now— go with the purpose of fulfilling the will of God and God will honor your dedication. God now— go in freedom as we know God is the One Who sets us free from all that destroys. Go now— go in hope, for hope sees clearly the promise of God to walk with us. Go now— Go in love, for the love of God endures. Go now— go in peace for it is a gift of God to all people whose hearts and minds honor, respect and love. Amen.

[1]
INTRODUCTION TO SCRIPTURE: When people talk about the ten commandments as if they were, pardon the pun, set in stone, my reaction tends to be which set are you talking about? There are at least three sets of the so called Ten Commandments to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures and they are all somewhat different. Additionally, some Christian traditions actually count eleven. And, in the strict sense, there are 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. Then, of course, many who adhere to both the Christian tradition and the Jewish tradition would claim there are but two: love God and love neighbor. Last, most scholars say there is but one commandment and it is the starting point of all Scripture— the so called great commandment— the Shema. We find that commandment in this passage in verses 4 and 5 of this reading, a reading from Tanakh, in the section called the Torah, in the work known as Deuteronomy.

A READING FROM TANAKH, IN THE SECTION CALLED THE TORAH, IN THE WORK KNOWN AS DEUTERONOMY — Deuteronomy 6:1-7 [ILV]

[1] Here, then, are the statutes, the ordinances, the commandments, the decrees— that Yahweh, our God, charged me to teach you.  Observe them so that you may enter into the land Yahweh, the God of your ancestors gives to you and that you are about to cross into and occupy.  [2] If you and your children and the children of your children revere Yahweh, your God, all the days of your life and if you keep the statutes, the ordinances, the commandments, the decrees I lay before you, your days may be long.  [3] Hear, listen therefore, O Israel, and observe carefully, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may increase your numbers greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
[4] Hear, O Israel:
    Yahweh, our God, Yahweh alone,
                is one.
[5] You are to love Yahweh,
                    our God
                            with all your heart,
        and with all your soul,
                and with all your strength.
[6] Let these words
                that I command today
                        be written in your heart.
[7] Recite them, teach them diligently
                    to your children
repeat them constantly
    when you are at home
        and when you are walking down
                a road,
when you lie down at night
    and when you get up
            in the morning.

Here ends this reading from Scripture.

[2] At A Time for All Ages the pastor filled a glass with water and suggested water in a glass is hard to see. And some people say God is hard to see. However, perhaps you can see God in the smile of a friend or when a parent says, “Job well done.” But is that seeing God or is that feeling God. The pastor then picked up a second glass. At the bottom of this glass there was Kool Aid powder. But, of course, that powder could not be seen. So then the pastor poured water into that glass and the water immediately changed color. The pastor then said perhaps it was not that you saw God. Perhaps it was that you felt God and God really is there just like you can see the colored water.

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