Don’t just hear, listen!

Homily 576 – 31 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 7, 2023
Epistle – (224-ctr) – Ephesians 4:7-13 and( 42) – Acts 19:1-8
Gospel – (8) – Matthew 4:12-17 and (3) – John 1:29-34

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

In listening to the Old Testament readings for the Vespers liturgy of Theophany I had my own epiphany of sorts – weak pun intended.

The Third reading, from Exodus, has this passage:

There God laid down for him statutes and judgments and he tested him there and said, “If you listen to the voice of the Lord, your God, and do what is well-pleasing before him, heed his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring on you any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you”.

If you listen – listen – to the voice of the Lord.  Not just hear, but listen.  Hearing can go in one ear and out the other, but listening is putting what is heard into action – taking it to heart.

This is what Jesus may mean when He said, “He who has ears to hear, should hear.”  Maybe that would be appropriately translated, “He who has ears to hear, should listen.”

We all hear so much in our day.  Many of us keep a lot of noise going on the background of our lives.  A radio station or streaming service, perhaps, maybe we listen to podcasts, or we just have the hearing of conversations going on around us.

I have a particularly difficult time in noisy environments.  I have difficulty in focusing on one conversation when other conversations are going on around me.

So, what we end up doing is hearing a lot, but not listening to any of it.  It becomes to us as noise.  It doesn’t communicate anything.

I doubt seriously Christ or the people of that day struggled with that scenario.  They didn’t have the noisemakers which are so ubiquitous in our world today.  Yet, they could still hear, without listening.  And that is what Christ warned us against.

Don’t just hear – listen.  The first tasks of Christians, especially in the evangelical traditions I grew up in, was always thought to be telling – speaking – to others about Christ and about our faith.  Witnessing to what Christ has done for us.

There is a role for that, certainly, but not before listening.  We have to listen, spend time listening, and trying to understand, before beginning to proclaim to the world the thoughts and interpretations we have developed.

We have to listen, and compare with the interpretations of others throughout history and indeed throughout the world.  This is the sacred role that Holy Tradition plays in our Christian life.  It is said that Holy Tradition is listening to the voices of Christians throughout time.

Listening is our first job as Christians.  Learning, not teaching.  Most of you know my son just graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Education, and also English.  That means he first spends the time learning both subject matter and teaching skills before presuming to teach others.

Christianity is the same way, although in many cases today we ignore that.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen and heard on podcasts, videos, in print, and on streaming services that have begun teaching, when the chrism is not yet dry.  They haven’t listened yet.  They have heard – they have responded – but they haven’t really listened.

When St. Paul was converted, it appears from the scripture that he immediately went out and started preaching.  But that isn’t the case at all.  Paul was converted, and certainly preached his experience.

But he preached doctrine only after a three-year stint in Arabia and in Damascus, according to his Epistle to the Galatians.  And only then, he went to the Apostles themselves to complete his learning.

After that, he began his missionary journey.

Of the people Christ instructed to “Go and tell” they were the people He had healed of a physical malformation or a case of casting out a demon.  What those people were telling were their own experience, not instructing others in doctrine or dogma or ascetical practices.

The risks of teaching before listening are immense.  The risk of coming to a conclusion before listening are immense.  Another of the Old Testament readings for Theophany tells the account of the Governor of the King of the Assyrians, who visited the prophet Elisha.  This governor had leprosy, and Elisha told him to go was in the Jordan River seven times.

The governor, in his pride and arrogance, got angry – that wasn’t the answer he wanted.  He wanted Elisha to come out and lay hands on him and heal him.  That was how it – quote – “should be done”.  In his mind they had better rivers in Assyria, anyway.

Then his servants went to him and spoke some sensible words.  Instead of being angry, why not listen?  Why not try what the prophet says?  And the king listened.  And the king was cleansed.

How many of us approach the message of Christ, the message of the Church, with preconceived notions about what is right and wrong and expected?  Where did that preconceived notion originate?

Most of the time, it originates either with the world, or a false prophet.  We can see it all around us today even, with all the so-called prophet interpreting the prophecies, saying this has to happen before Christ can return or that must take place to allow Christ to return.  None of it is worthy even of hearing.

The Church offers us the Truth.  Be it through Scripture, or through the words of those considered elders and holy persons of the Church, or through the services and readings, the Church communicates to us Truth.

It is then up to us to not just hear – but to listen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.