Lent Wednesday 3, March 2nd, 2016
Isaiah 50:4-5, Psalm 40:1-8, Matthew 13:10-17
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes people have selective hearing? When you’re calling for them to come and do something they don’t want to do, gee, they just didn’t hear you calling them! It isn’t their fault, you were just too quiet. But when you’re telling them what they want to hear, oh, boy, howdy, their ears work just fine. Any parent who’s ever had to tell a child to go brush their teeth and get ready for bed has experienced this, as has anyone who’s ever tried to give their spouse a list of chores. Sometimes, it’s a relatively small thing they don’t want to hear, and results in nothing worse than a child being a few minutes late getting into bed. Sometimes, it’s a bit bigger, like when a friend doesn’t want to admit they said something really hurtful, and so they laugh it off as if it were a joke, and ignore the pain they caused someone that they claim to care about. And sometimes selective hearing is a big enough deal that people die because they weren’t willing to hear the truth. For example: Some parenting gurus claim that vaccines cause autism. That is not true, and extensive research has disproven it, and many scientists and public health advocates have said so loudly and publicly. When people choose to listen to bad advice instead of good science, they don’t vaccinate their kids—and so people in America died this year from diseases like diphtheria, rubella, and whooping cough which had been virtually eliminated.
There are a lot of voices out there. Some of them are good, some are bad, some aren’t really either. Some are healthy, and some are not. We have to choose what to listen to, what’s right and true and what’s not. And which voices we listen to shapes our perspective on the world. What we hear—what we choose to listen to—affects our minds, our hearts, our hands, and our eyes. And it affects our relationships, too. Hearing is the basis of most communication. If you’re not willing to listen to what someone else is saying, no communication is possible. And it’s not just a matter of acknowledging the words, either. You have to acknowledge what they mean by those words, and that can be the hardest thing of all.
There are a lot of things out there we don’t want to hear, and so we choose not to listen. How many times have you seen someone behaving self-destructively, doing things that will only result in pain and misery for themselves and other people? Maybe it’s relying on drugs and alcohol. Maybe it’s the way they’re treating themselves and others around them. Maybe it’s something else. You can tell them why they should change their behavior until they’re blue in the face, but until they’re willing to open their ears and listen it doesn’t matter what you say. Or maybe you’ve been the one in that position, destroying your life for what you think are the best of reasons, setting yourself up for a fall, closing your ears to all the people who want to help and convincing yourself that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
But that’s not all. Sociologists have found that in the vast majority of cases, people only see or hear what they expect to see or hear. That’s one of the reasons why prejudice is so damaging. Because we only pay attention to the things that match our understandings of the way the world works. If you think scientists are untrustworthy and doctors are in the pay of Big Pharma, you may discount their words when they explain that vaccines are safe and necessary to prevent disease. And then you won’t vaccinate your kids, and disease will spread more easily. If you think Mexicans are lazy bums, you’ll notice every time a Latino takes a break … but you won’t notice how hard he works between them. If you think a woman is promiscuous, and she gets raped, you’ll be more inclined to listen to and sympathize with the rapists side of the story than the victim’s side. And in all these cases, you will think you have seen and heard everything, but in reality you will only be seeing and hearing the things that agree with your opinions.
And much as we all might like to think otherwise, our own opinions don’t always agree with God’s opinions. And when that happens, well, we choose not to hear God’s voice at all. Or we may only hear the parts of it that we can twist into agreeing with us. And I bet you that you are thinking right now of people you know who do this, because it’s really easy to see where someone you don’t agree with is doing it. Liberals spot it right off when conservatives do it, for example, and conservatives notice when liberals do it, but we almost never see when we ourselves are doing it. We shut our eyes and our ears, and don’t understand because we don’t want to understand anything that doesn’t agree with us.
If we depended only on our own ability to hear the truth, we would be trapped in a world of lies. But we are not dependent on our own abilities, because God can and does work in us to open our ears to the truth. Thank God for the power of God’s Word, that can break in even when we don’t want it to, and open our eyes and our ears. May we learn to listen as God would have us do.