Before we know how to speak, we must first know how to listen.


Sermon for September 9th, 2018


Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Before we know how to speak, we must first know how to listen.


There is a reason why the man that Jesus heals in the Gospel this morning is both deaf and mute: it is because our ability to speak and our sense of hearing are tied together. We learn how to speak by listening and by mimicking, repeating the things we hear. Children that are born deaf often have great difficulty learning how to speak. They can learn, but it isn’t easy because we learn how to speak by listening to others and repeating the sounds they make. That is why we have regional accents; we repeat sounds and we pronounce words the way that we hear others speaking. Before we know how to speak we must first know how to listen.


When Jesus heals the man in today’s gospel, first he touches his ears, then he touches his tongue. And Jesus says: “be opened,” and his ears are opened, and then his tongue is released.


Before the man is able to speak, he must first be able to listen.


That’s the way we are designed, but isn’t it interesting how often we try to make it work the other way? As babies we listen first and then we speak, but at some point along that journey to adulthood we decide that we no longer need to listen anymore. If we are polite we might wait for our turn to speak, but how often are we actually actively listening to what others say? How often are we just waiting for someone to finish talking so we can say what we want to say? Sometimes we do listen, in our finer moments, I will grant you that, but I think it’s a dying art. And if we can’t listen or don’t listen, or can’t hear, how can we expect to have our own words understood? How can we expect to know what to say? How can we expect to be heard even when we do speak? We need to learn how to listen first.


You may be wondering about the end of our gospel passage today: when Jesus tells the disciples that witnessed this miracle not to speak. That might seem odd to you, because didn’t this same Jesus send his disciples out into the world, commanding them to make disciples of all nations and to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Aren’t we supposed to be evangelists; sharing the news of Jesus with the world? Why would Jesus tell them to be silent?


Well it’s true, eventually Jesus does commission his disciples to be evangelists to the world, but early on in his ministry, time and time again he tells them not to start preaching yet; not to tell others what they have seen. Christians have scratched their heads at those comments for years, but I think Jesus recognizes something very important: that his disciples are human with very human flaws, one of which is that the moment we start talking we stop listening. Jesus has more to share with his disciples; he has more to teach them; there is so much more about God that they need to learn and understand. If they start running around telling the world about the one thing they saw Jesus do, they are likely to miss everything else that he is saying and doing. There will come a day when Jesus will send them out into the world to preach and proclaim, but first they must listen. When Jesus was teaching his disciples, he repeatedly says to them: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” and “pay attention to what you hear!”


Before we know how to speak, we must first know how to listen.


Of course, they don’t listen to him. They are so intent on sharing this great story, that they can’t even hear his command not to tell. And while what they say is true, he does make the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, that is not the beginning and end of his ministry. Jesus’s life was about so much more than just a few miracles and healings. But the disciples weren’t ready to listen, or they thought that they were done listening.


Part of being a person of faith, part of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, is sharing that faith with others. It is not just the clergy that are charged with sharing the Good News, all of us are, but that is incredibly intimidating for some people. Talking about God or talking about our faith can be a very scary thing, so we shy away from it. We find ways to avoid it. We don’t know what to say; but I think we learn to talk about our faith the same way we learn to talk period, by listening.


Yes, I may spend a few (and it really is only a few) minutes each week talking about God, but if I didn’t spend a considerable amount of time listening to God every day, I don’t think I would have much to say. I couldn’t do this. Before we know how to speak, we must first know how to listen.


And there are many ways in which we may listen to God; it can’t just be an hour on Sunday morning, it needs to be all the time. Most importantly we listen to God through daily prayer and scripture reading; but there are other important ways as well: through spending quiet time alone; through observing nature; through listening, actually listening to the stories of others; through reading the profound thoughts of the saints and sages through the ages that have spent their lives listening to God. We need to be willing to listen to God first, even if what he has to say to us is hard to hear.


And that means learning to hear, to listen to the tough words of God too. If we close our ears when we hear Jesus say something that makes us uncomfortable, like his initial refusal to the woman in today’s gospel, then we will also miss him saying “the demon has left your daughter.” If we close our bibles when we read something like the Epistle of James that convicts us all of sin, then we will also miss the message that our sins have been forgiven. If we stop praying when we encounter the words “we are not worthy” then we will also fail to proclaim that our Lord’s property is “always to have mercy.” When we learn to listen to all that God has to say to us, the good and the bad, what a story we will have to tell.


God will not tell you that you are always deserving; he will not tell you that you are always good; he will not tell you that you are always right.

But here’s what he will tell you: he’ll tell you that you are healed; he’ll tell you that you are forgiven; he’ll tell you that you are loved. But in order to hear that, we must be willing to listen to him, even when he challenges us.


There is a world out there that needs to hear about the faith we have, and we need to learn how to tell it, but before we know how to speak, we must first know how to listen.

Lord, lay your hands upon us and open our ears before you release our tongues, so that when we do speak, we actually have something to say.