Listening is love

“Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” – James 1:19

Christians, and especially preachers, are known for speaking. We are called, after all, to proclaim God’s Word. Whether the preacher in the pulpit, the evangelist on the street corner, or the Facebooker with lots of faith to share, Christians are known for speaking.

Yet more often than we may care to admit, the best posture for a Christian is not that of speaking, but of listening.

Listening is an exercise in putting someone else’s words before your own; putting someone else’s needs before your own. It is prioritizing them over you. Their needs, their words, their pain, their joy, their desires, their ramblings take precedence over your own. Sit, listen, receive, and honor what your neighbor has to share.

“Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” – Philippians 2:4

Listening is humbling oneself in front of another and seeking their good. Listening is a posture that bears, honors, and holds in trust the very heart of another.

“Bear another’s burdens, for in so doing you fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

This posture of listening is the posture of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind … it doesn’t seek its own way.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love doesn’t seek its own way or it’s own interests. Love seeks the interests and care of our neighbor.

Listening is such a love. And love is the heartbeat of Christian faith.

Our temptation: to trust sin more than we trust God

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lent 1 – Year A 2011

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

On this first Sunday in Lent,
    we begin with sin.
And not only do we begin with sin, but we begin with the beginning of sin.
In our first reading, we are introduced to The Fall,
    the Biblical account of how sin entered into the world.
To hear the author of Genesis put it,
    our first sin was to disobey one of the laws that God gave to man.
Now, in this brand new creation, God had already given several laws,
    perhaps not formally formulated or laid down in written code,
    but God put man in the garden of Eden
    with the expressed responsibility to till the land and to keep it,
        a form of law, a command, to care for the earth that God has just made.
And, too, God laid down one prohibition:
    Man was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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Loving our enemies – and our youth – for the sake of the Gospel

Lectionary 7 (Seventh Sunday after Epiphany)
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48
Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lectionary 7 Year A 2011

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Last week’s Confirmation Class began with a thud.  I told the class,
“Alright, open up your Bibles to the book of Ruth. It might be hard to find –
    it’s a small book, buried in the Old Testament somewhere.
    Use the table of contents if you like.”
“Pastor Chris,” one of them said, “We know where it is. We read from Ruth last week.”
Oh, crud, I thought to myself.
I had prepared the wrong lesson, the one that Randy Correll,
    one of our wonderful Confirmation Ministry teachers, had taught the week before.
So, while my brain was spinning about what to do,
    I showed the class a video on YouTube of a Doritos commercial from the Super Bowl,
    something I had planned to do anyway. 
The commercial dealt with Doritos, yes, but also with resurrection,
    and I thought it would be a good way to start our class.

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Choosing Church … or Vacation, or Soccer, or Work, or Family Time, or …

One of the most subtle yet significant learnings I picked up at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Extravaganza was a simple little law filled with love: Don't complain about parents who take their kids to (insert activity) instead of church. They are doing so out of love.  Indeed, the importance of this little law didn't strike me at the time, and didn't appear in the three blogposts I wrote during the Extravaganza (here, here and here).  But of all that I heard and learned at the Extravaganza, I've been reflecting more on that insight than any other, perhaps because it is so counter-intuitive to our attendance and event-driven models of youth ministry.

This month's newsletter article is, in part, a product of those reflections (together with some reflections on the scheduling of public school Spring Break during Holy Week, about which I wrote here).  More reflections to come …

Holy Week, Vacation, and the Secularization of Sundays
March 2010

Families and teachers alike have March 26 circled on their calendars.  Barring any more days canceled due to snow, Arlington Public Schools will close on Friday afternoon, March 26, and not reopen again until Monday, April 5.  It is the school's annual week-long Spring Break, a time for teachers and learners alike to get some much deserved rest in the middle of the long winter/spring school term. 

Spring Break is the only scheduled week-long break from January through June, and many families understandably use this time to travel for late-season ski trips, visits to Grandma's house, a vacation in Florida, or a chance to make a few college visits.  As a youth I traveled many times with my family to ski resorts in New England and Colorado during Spring Break.  The snow was a bit slushy at the bottom of the mountains, but up top it was great!  As a teenager I found these vacations to be wonderful breaks in my increasingly busy school schedule, and to this day I value my memories of time spent with family on those trips.

Yet Spring Break is scheduled to coincide with Holy Week, meaning that many families find themselves traveling during the most sacred observances of our church year.  I emailed Arlington Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Patrick Murphy asking why APS chooses to schedule Spring Break during Holy Week.  His response – "APS schedules its break to coincide with that of neighboring jurisdictions."  I haven't contacted other area school systems, but I can only assume that the scheduling of Spring Break during Holy Week began some time ago out of deference to the churches, granting churches a week when students and families wouldn't be occupied with schoolwork, sporting events, or other school-related activities.

However, what may have originated out of deference to the churches has become a challenge for their ministry.  Families wishing to make use of their only week of vacation between January and June struggle with how to balance families needs and religious observances.  Churches predictably see a lower attendance at Holy Week observances and events due to the number of families who are traveling.

Of course, it is not only during Holy Week that people face decisions about how best to use their family's time.  Sunday morning has become a popular time for youth sports, and weekends are for some families the only opportunity to share quality, sustained time together.  And of course, a significant proportion of the population works on Sunday mornings (how else would you get your coffee or donuts on the way to church?).

It is too easy for the church to wag its finger and tell people they should "make the right choice," insisting that kids attend Sunday School rather than soccer.  When we make that simplistic claim we fail to recognize that when Christian families make the difficult choice to spend Sunday mornings somewhere other than church, they are often doing so out of love.  In a world where families have less time together, who can blame them for making the decision in love to spend time together on Sundays rather than run off to church?  In a world where kids are worried about college applications even in middle school, it is love that propels a mother to send her child to soccer, hoping that this athletic skill might help her son compete in the cut throat, competitive world of high school and college.  In a world where jobs are hard to come by, who can blame someone for taking a job on Sunday mornings so that he can provide for himself and the family he loves?

What the church is called to do in these situations is to respond in love, support families in their God-given vocation of caring for each other, and explore ways to extend its ministry to people whose lives are governed by hectic and oppressive schedules.  And yes, there is a time and a place for discussing the choices that we Christians are called to make … but that place is not from the blunt end of a wagging finger.  Instead, it might be at the sideline of a soccer game, on a church-sponsored family retreat, or at the end of an eight hour shift on Sunday afternoons.  The church and its members can only benefit by going into the world and meeting people where they're at, following the example of our Lord who loved the world so much that he entered into it, walked with his people in love, and shared in the joys and sorrows of their humanity.