Proper 18, Pentecost 14; Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20; 9/6/20
In the spoof, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of my favorite scenes is when one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Robin, nicknamed, Brave Sir Robin, comes face to face with the Three Headed Giant. Brave Sir Robin gives the command to his men: Run away!
It not only takes faith to follow Christ, but it takes courage to live out what Paul says of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Life presents us with many challenges, some of which we prefer not to face. Conflict is often difficult for many of us and learning how to handle it without our anxiety hitting the roof can be a real challenge.
Jesus’ directive to address conflict also takes courage. It can take real courage to listen to another—especially when they are at cross ways with us. A new way of life creates a new way of being in the world. Instead of using force or deception to manipulate our opponents into submission, Jesus offers us something strangely simple and unique: being compassionate towards yourself and others having received the compassion of God. Jesus teaches us that listening is a way of compassion.
Listening seems simple at first. But listening is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. Loving by listening isn’t easy because it means that we have to get out of the way.
First, we have to exhibit a willingness to listen. Willingness is not always a state of being in which we find ourselves. Our minds are often preoccupied with tasks and concernsIt’s hard to stop and empty our minds when they’re on cruise control so that we can actually stop what we’re doing and listen to another.
Another difficulty in listening is understanding the differences in language, gender, culture and so on that uses words in different ways. Each family system has its own unique culture, created out of two or more cultures of the parents. Added to this are the various cultures of coming from different geographical areas. Each varies between the polarities of thought and feeling.
Gender is often a source of polarities between thoughts and feelings where one person operates from a thinking mode and another from a feeling mode, and most of us are not bilingual in both. There’s a funny video on You Tube you may have seen that I will list in the bulletin for you to watch to illustrate this. It’s oversimplified but it does make a point and it will give you a good laugh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O11_Ma20Rk
Probably the most difficult issue about listening is not wanting to hear what another is saying. There’s a chance we might be wrong. Who likes being wrong?
Not only may we not agree with the content of the other’s statements, but there’s a dynamic called the “story-counter story”where when one tells their story, their story triggers memories of our own stories. Not only do we recall our own memories that take us out of the listening mode, but if what another tells us triggers a painful memory, we may not be willing to continue listening in order to avoid the pain we continue to carry in our own lives.
It is easy to project our desires of what we want the other to be and not be, instead of seeing and hearing the other as they are. We can only listen as deeply to another as we can listen to ourselves.
Listening demands of us that we be on an intentional path of spiritual growth.
A respectful way to deal with this without changing the subject or disengaging, leaving the storyteller with a sense of being abandoned, is to simply tell the storyteller that his or her story is calling up memories from our own life and we either need a moment to recover or need to stop listening to this part of the story at least for now.
Listening is a spiritual gift—not only for the story teller but also for the listener. In order to listen to another we have to be able to face our own wounds that are also in need of healing and allow God to heal us. Rare is it that human interaction only benefits one of the two parties.
It’s probably no surprise to you that listening to a family member is often more difficult than listening to another outside the family. Family relationships can become very sensitive because our family members see through us as we really are. They experience all of us, the light and the darkness, not just the good parts as others outside our family see. Our persona covers the things we do not wish for others to see. But the family sees it all.
Jesus suggests we attempt to work our problems out privately instead of bringing others into them. Sometimes friends and family become involved and the chaos becomes more elevated and expansive fomenting into the resemblance of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Jesus said if the two cannot be reconciled, take it to the community so the elders can decide, as well as judges that might be appointed in some communities. In my mediator training we learned to suggest to the parties involved that mediation is a far better method because you still have some say in the matter. If two people go to a judge, they lose control of the outcome by a judges’ our council’s decision.
Finally, I want to reference verse 19: “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” The English word, “agree“ is not accurate. The Aramaic word, nistwon means worthy of or deserving, not agreeing. It means the prayer of a group of people or a congregation will be granted if two among them can be responsible for the things they are requesting.
If our prayers are congruent with the will of God, then they are granted. The idea of prayer is not to pray for what we want as much as to want our prayer to reflect the principles of the Kingdom of God. Therefore when two or more are gathered in his name—for his purpose, which is for our best interests, then God moves through us who are open to His will.
Listening to others requires that we are first able to listen to God and ourselves. God relieves us from our internal interruptions so that we become able to discover the sacred Trinity of the other, God and ourselves.
Listening to others opens us to the Mystery of God. Try it this week.