A deeply loved and well respected member of our parish went home to be with God last week. At his funeral on Saturday our pastor spoke of the hour right before his death as a testimony to the faith of his life. It was a beautiful and wonderful story of the strength of his loves on earth and his solid love of God. On Sunday, as I made my rounds with Holy Communion to the homebound, two of my communicants retold the story—as they remembered it told to them by friends who attended the funeral. Both versions had significant details changed. In each version of the story someone mis-remembered or added assumptions.
These thoughts fit with our readings for today. The Gospel today begins,
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
How do we get to heaven? We do the will of our Father in heaven. Well, how do we know what to do?
Jesus goes on to tell us,
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
We listen. We act.
Jesus gives us an image to help us remember: that person who listens to his words and acts on them is like a man who built his house on a rock. He anchored his house into that rock. When floods and storms came, his house held.
We listen. But how do we listen? At other places in the Gospels Jesus says, “Let him who has ears to hear, let him hear” and “they have ears to hear, but they hear not.”
Do we have ears to hear?
As a family therapist who regularly has people talk to each other to find truth and resolve conflict, I can tell you, we often do not have ears to hear. We bring fears or assumptions to what is said that sometimes radically change its meaning. Or we don’t bother to hear what is said, because from the first words our thoughts focus on what we will say in rebuttal. Or experiences from the past cause us to filter the message of the moment through lenses that perceive the now in light of the once upon a time. We do not hear what is said.
To complicate matters further, so many of us walk around with our cell phones, attempting to hear and see some person or bit of information NOT directly in front of us at this moment WHILE AT THE SAME TIME attempting to see and hear the person with us. Our attention is divided.
That does not help us hear and see accurately.
I heard recently that now in the US there is a code for coroners to use for cause of death which is “death by cell phone.” People did not see or hear the danger of traffic on the highway or peril while they walked down the street because their attention was elsewhere. Attention to cell phone instead of car or feet was the cause of death.
Then, of course, there is the matter of “sound bites.” There is so much information around us and so many draws on our attention that we get news in 30 second “bites.” We believe what we hear in such morsels of information and draw conclusions. We do not read or hear critically. Does what I just heard make sense? Does it fit with what else I know? What questions does it raise? What thoughts does it lead to? In light of what else I know, does this make sense?
We don’t take time to reflect. So we take the voice of some news announcer—or friend who attended the funeral’s –word for what we hear. We assume that information given is Truth.
So we act on what we think we heard.
Or we do not act.
After seeing and hearing–the need for action.
Over Thanksgiving I thought of ways that I could bring Christmas to some elderly who are mostly left out of Christmas celebrations. They have to stay home. Family comes by, but not for long, and sometimes not in ways that they who have trouble seeing and hearing and doing can truly enjoy.
I thought about planning now how to include those Christmas visits in my Christmas plans.
I heard that in my conscience.
But so far, I have not done anything about what I heard. I have not planned to do.
My mother used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
In the quiet of writing this, what is Jesus saying to me that he wants for me, from me, as I consider his coming, his Kingdom?
How does this Scripture apply to sound bites about popes and cardinals?
Can it help me listen to what God is saying to me today?
What difference does this Scripture make in what I do today?
Advent: A Time to Wait and Reflect
All my life I’ve heard that Advent is to be a time of patient, quieted waiting. Perhaps the only time I ever really kept that message was the year I had a new, colicky baby who cried so much during Advent that I could do nothing else but hold him, comfort him, rock him, sing to him.
He’s 36 years old now. He did teach me to listen carefully. I learned to tell his cries well that Advent. Interestingly, because I had no time or energy to make or bake or visit that year, I wrote prayers in the night while I rocked him and put those prayers together in a tiny prolife prayer book. I gave it to my friends for Christmas, saying “This is all I have to give.” Interestingly, 38 years later, that book is still in print.
God took my limited seeing and hearing and made something out of it.
Oh Lord, it is interesting where You brought me today. As I wrote, You recalled in me that perhaps I listened best when it felt like I wasn’t listening at all, when the cries of my child drowned out all other sounds. That Advent I had no other visions or goals than essentials of family life and comforting my child. Yet from that, You did much.
Today, as You know, Lord, there are many sound bites going through my mind. There is a lot of noise. Church controversies, illness of friends, ministry needs, my own dreams for 2018, farm and therapy problems, rumors of war, and yes, my cell phone—all those things pull at me to listen to them in tiny sound bites. My mind and heart go here, there, and everywhere. Pull me back, Lord, to what is essential, to the rock of my relationship with You and the responsibilities You give me. Let me hear and see You first and foremost. Help me build my house on the rock of You.