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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sermon: How Do We Hear?

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 & Luke 4:14-21

My youngest son is hearing impaired. He has a severe to profound hearing loss in the high frequencies, which means he only hears about 60% of spoken language, however due to the miracle of hearing aids he can hear get up to 90% of spoken language. His hearing loss was found when he was three years old, so he has been wearing hearing aids for twelve years now. Quite a few years ago a father with four children asked me, “So what is it like to have a child with a built in excuse not to listen to you?” I thought it was a funny question. I laughed. Then I told him the following story: my son, with the hearing loss, attended a pre-school for children who were deaf and hard of hearing. He was in an “auditory class” which meant they were primarily communicating through speaking, there was another class for children who were deaf where they would communicate through American Sign Language. Periodically these classes would get together for events to which families were also invited. One such event was a trip to Como Zoo. Now some of the children who were deaf also had parents who were deaf. I remember a group of us were out by the giraffes when a mother who was deaf was trying to communicate with her son who was deaf. She started to sign in his face and then he would look away. She would stop signing grab his face and turn it toward her and start signing again and he would look away again. I watched this a few times and thought, even children who are deaf don’t listen to their parents.

How do we hear?

Scientifically this is how we hear: “Sound waves are collected by the outer ear and channeled along the ear canal to the eardrum. The impact of sound hitting the eardrum creates vibrations that cause three bones in the middle ear — the malleus, incus, and stapes (hammer, anvil and stirrup) — to move. The smallest, the stapes, fits into the oval window between the middle and inner ear. When the oval window vibrates, fluid in the inner ear transmits the vibrations into the hearing organ, called the cochlea.

“In the inner ear, thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wavelike action of fluid inside the cochlea. The bending of these hairs sets off nerve impulses that are then passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognize.”

That is how we hear through the physical mechanism of the ear. But hearing is much more than a physical mechanism, will and emotion also affect our hearing.

Have you ever tried talking to someone who refused to listen to you? Even if their ears a physically working they will not hear. Sometimes people do not hear because they are busy thinking about what they are going to say next, other times people do not hear because they only want to hear what they want to hear. In the Scriptures we have an example of this when God was speaking through Moses to release the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh willfully did not want to hear because he didn’t want to lose his slaves.

Have you ever tried talking to someone who was emotionally upset or overburdened and realized they never heard a word you said? Hearing is an emotional process. We can generally hear well when we are relaxed, but if we are experiencing some type of crisis or stress or strong emotion we may not hear so well. I have noticed this also when someone has experienced a lot of shame in their lives, their shame gets in the way of what they hear. There is an emotional aspect to hearing, remember Lazarus’ sister Martha talking to Jesus after her brother died?

21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:21-27). But later when Jesus is at the tomb and asks for the stone to be rolled away Martha says, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:40). She was grieving, her brother was dead and he was going to stay dead, she didn’t hear what Jesus was saying. But Jesus called to her brother, “Lazarus come out,” and he heard and came out, no longer dead.

With all the above ways which affect our hearing how in the world are we to hear what God has to say to us?

In the first reading from the often forgotten book of Nehemiah, Ezra is reading the law and the people weep. What did he read? What did they hear that made them weep? God’s people where in exile for many years and finally had returned to their city and their temple. They returned to a destroyed city and a destroyed temple. They hadn’t heard the word of God read in ages and now they are back home and God’s word is read and they weep. God has brought them back to give them another chance, even though they were unfaithful, God remains faithful. Their hearts were ready to receive God’s word after the tough times of the exile.

In the Gospel, Jesus reads the following from scripture:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)

Fulfilled in your hearing, what did he mean the physical? Did he just mean that moment? Probably, but what follows shows that they did not hear. They say to each other, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They can’t figure out why they should listen to him because they know him. Then Jesus starts talking about how a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown and by the end of his speech they haven’t heard a thing because they are so angry, or “filled with rage,” that they drove him out of town, up on a cliff to toss him off, but Jesus just goes on his way (Luke 4:28-30). Did they not hear him because they were not poor, or captive, or blind, or oppressed?

How do we hear? It is a complicated process which involves more than our ears, it takes our very being. How are we to hear what God is saying to us? Once again it is a complicated process but the Good News is that God keeps speaking, through the word, worship, and others to bring us to the point when we do hear.

We gather in worship each week because God’s word needs to be read to us over and over again. Sometimes there are things which get in the way of our hearing, but God keeps coming. Sometimes physically we do not hear, other times it is our willfulness which gets in the way, and still other times it is our emotions, but God keeps coming

Dear friends in Christ, God keeps coming to us. God comes in Jesus Christ to enter our world, forgive our sins and offer us grace. If we do not hear it God keeps coming and coming until we are able to hear. Thanks be to God for that gift. Amen.

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