the fourth sunday in lent

John 3. 14-21
Our life isn’t in our own two hands … It’s in god’s!

According to the website, there are five key techniques to becoming more effective listeners … 1) Pay attention, 2) Show you’re listening, 3) Provide feedback, 4) Defer judgment, and 5) Respond appropriately. Now, don’t worry. That’s all the farther I’ll go with that, this morning. The point I make is that communication, nowadays, is work. It’s a two-way street. And it takes intention, effort. The listener is just as important as the speaker. Each possessing their own obligations, requiring their own particular skill set. And if either – speaker or listener – falls short or misses the mark, then, communication doesn’t, communication can’t happen.

Problems at home? It’s communication. Problems at work? At school? It’s communication. Problems in church? That, more often than not, is communication, as well. Today, there’s a difference between listening and hearing. Between watching and seeing. Doing either right means you concentrate, you focus. You lean in. And you use more than just your two eyes and two ears. It isn’t merely a matter of talking longer and louder. It’s listening just as long and just loud.

And I’m the first to admit that here in the church, it isn’t an easy thing to do. Listening actively, that is. Growing up, I’d stretch out on the pew with my head on my mom’s lap. As I got older, I’d draw pictures in pencil in the margins of the bulletin. I’d counting the courses of brick in the front wall. The panes of glass along the sides. Eventually, my parents’ advice? “You only get out what you put in!” It was their call for activeListening! But my mind would, still, wonder. I’d daydreame. Stared off into space. And as “a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ,” with forty years’ experience as a preacher, I want to let you in on a little secret … That’s not the way it works! That’s not the way any of this works!

First, there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming! Especially here in worship! This is, probably, the one place any of us can! Daydream, that is! It’s healthy to gather wool! To watch clouds drift by! Most of the time, when your mind’s in neutral, that’s when we think our deepest thoughts! When we’re most inspired! But second, I’ve learned that believing happens whether you’re listening or not. Happens without help! Without permission! We don’t have to focus! We don’t have to concentrate! We don’t, even, have to pay attention! Because the power isn’t in the hearing! The power’s not in the listening! The power’s in the saying! In the speaking! The power’s in the words! In the message! It’s the message that catches our attention! It’s the message that piques our interest! That sparks our imagination! It’s the message … the gospel … Jesus … that goes out and doesn’t come back until it’s done what it was supposed to! It’s the message … the gospel … Jesus … as the prophet says, that accomplishes its purpose! That succeeds in the thing for which it – for which he – was sent! It’s not activeListening that gets it done! It’s activeSpeaking! ActiveProclaiming!

It isn’t the hearing; it’s the speaking that’s active! It’s not the receiving; it’s the giving that’s effective! Just like in the beginning! When god created the heavens and the earth! God said … and there was! Light! Land! The stars and the sun and the moon! They are, because of one thing … the word was proclaimed! And the same’s true for us! It’s not because the darkness was such a good listener. Or that the water really heard what god was saying. Or that sun and moon and stars used their ears. It happened because god spoke!

But, of course, we’re human. And we like to think it’s all us. Our wishes and our whims. Our choices and our decisions. But who we are and what we become isn’t because we, somehow, “allow” god to do with us what god will! We don’t “let” god do anything! In our arrogance and conceit, we convince ourselves that have always been and we’ll always will be masters of our fate and captains of our souls. But we aren’t here because we willed to be here. And “they” aren’t because they didn’t. It doesn’t work that way. And our hearing and our seeing and our receiving have nothing – nothing, at all – to do with it!

This is all the result of the speaking! The activeSpeaking and the activeShowing! That’s what changes us! That’s what makes us different! Makes us new! It’s like we’ve been remembering at the midweeks, each Wednesday evening … “By our own understanding or strength, we cannot … But instead, the holySpirit – THROUGH THE GOSPEL – does!” The holySpirit through the gospel … through the message .. through the story … does everything we can’t! Just like that serpent lifted up in the wilderness! Just like Jesus lifted up on the cross! That’s what changes the world! That’s who transforms lives! It’s not a special skill some of us have learned better than others. It’s not a special talent some have and others don’t. We’re not here because we are such effectiveListeners!

Simple and pure, as the church, we’re here to tell the story! The old, old story! Of Jesus and Jesus’ love! Not just once. Or twice. But again and again! Over and over! Each time! Every time! We’re together! And the story? The story does the rest! Calling! Bringing together! Keeping together! Making us special, unique! The serpent being lifted up in the wilderness! That was the active part! The dynamic part! It’s when god leaned in – when god leans in – and focuses, concentrates god’s attention on us! Totally! Completely! That’s what heals! That’s what saves! That’s what gives life! And Israel just looks on! The people just see! They did nothing; god did everything. And it’s the same with Christ. The same with the cross. We just listen and we hear. We look and we see. But god is the actor! God’s the actor and we’re, merely, spectators. Spectators who are changed, transformed, reborn by what god’s said, by what god’s shown.

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. And just as Israel was healed because of it, in the same way we, too, are healed! Not in the hearing. Not in the seeing. But in the speaking and in the showing. My friends, our life isn’t in our own two hands. Our life is in god’s!

amworship 3.14.21

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Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, March 14, 2021