WHAT LOVE HEARS
A Pastoral Message based on Philippians 2:1-4 & 1 Corinthians 13:1-6
St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on September 26, 2021
Living God, we have been regathering through prayer. We are now renewing our commitments to stay a part of St. John’s ministries by serving together. We thank you for including us in your compassionate and reconciling love. In this world of distancing and shouting, improve our ministry of listening until we hear what you hear. Amen.
Evidently, he did not see that moment coming. Forty years ago, when our first son, Nathan, was a one-year-old, we placed him in his crib for his usual nap. He was not ready to lie down. After several attempts to help him settle, we closed the door with fingers crossed and hopeful hearts. After a while, his shouting became more regular. Together, Paula and I opened the door to find him jumping in the baby bed with a cap on his head which he had taken off a stuffed duck. When he saw us walking to him and smiling, he yelled to the top of his lungs, “MADDDD!!!!” We are living in a time when many people are screaming, yelling, and shouting “MADDDD!”
You did not see this moment coming. You were bystanders. A global pandemic that has now claimed more than 700,000 American lives and approaching 5,000,000 deaths worldwide. You did not see this moment coming. A nation so divided that lies are embraced as truth with the folly of ignorance esteemed and the denial of scientific fact celebrated. You did not see this moment coming. The name of Jesus being used to support ungodliness, evil, hatred and oppression. You did not see this moment coming. Public education treated as a toxic waste dump for America’s poor children. You did not see this moment coming. Racism heralded as normal by some, and economic justice condemned as unfair to the rich. You did not see this moment coming. Anger rising to such a fevered pitch that emotion seems to ensnare cognition at every turn like kudzu choking vegetation. You did not see this moment coming. Yet, you are bystanders no more. As followers of Jesus, you are part of God’s people feeling the weight of burdens.
The question is – WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT ALL THESE BURDENS?
YOU ARE ALREADY RESPONDING. LET ME EXPLAIN.
One of the most under-appreciated characters in the stories about Jesus was a bystander. He did not see that moment coming. He did not choose to be caught up in that moment of violence, anger and ignorance. The Gospel writers present Simon as a passer-by who was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus. Simon was from Cyrene, an area in Libya along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Simon was not a person of Jesus’ culture or ethnic background. Yet, the chaos of that Friday in Jerusalem reached out and grabbed Simon like a ghoul in a haunted house and pulled him into the anger, violence, ignorance, evil, injustice, and rancor of that Friday in the Holy City.
As a pastor, one of my constant responsibilities – which I thoroughly enjoy by the way – is to anticipate moments and help us move in one direction as a church. This is a central role of pastoral leadership. This can be a bit challenging because it involves nurturing unity while affirming diversity? Diversity is always a given in every group; unity is an ongoing effort.
One of my favorite caps is the one that has two cap bills – one pointing right and one pointing left. The phrase printed on the cap reads: “I am their leader. Which way did they go?”
Pastors are often compared to shepherds. Most likely, you have seen pictures of shepherds watching sheep graze in different places on a hillside or in a valley near quiet waters.
And, you have seen shepherds leading a flock in one direction.
What you have not seen is a shepherd leading a flock in multiple directions simultaneously.
A few months ago, as I started planning our directions for this summer and autumn, it seemed right to follow a summer theme of Regathering through Prayer. During September, I am affirming you for Staying A-Part of Our Church’s Ministries by Serving Together. I have affirmed your Ministry of Touch in Today’s Touchless World by offering vitamin-T. I have affirmed your Ministry of Presence in Today’s Distancing World.
Through our unified gifts, we are Building a Better World through our Global Mission Offering.
Today, we consider Our Ministry of Listening in Today’s World of Shouting.
Researchers studying Scream Science suggest that people raise their voices when they are feeling pain or fear, and when they sense they are being manipulated, violated, ignored, or threatened. Today’s increased level of shouting is a natural expression of societal frustrations.
During these prolonged months, we are living through several pandemics at once: biological, psychological, political, socio-cultural, moral, generational, economical, etc.
You too may find that you are feeling mad, sad, glad, afraid, and confused all at once.
You could be singing the lyrics of ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ from Les Miserables:
“I dreamed a dream in times gone by – When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die – I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid – And dreams were made and used and wasted…
I had a dream my life would be – So different from this hell I’m living”
Beloved, all around you, you hear shouting.
People are feeling manipulated, afraid, violated, ignored, and threatened.
And, as you well know, many are in legitimate pain and carrying heavy burdens.
You are no longer bystanders. You have been compelled to carry the burdens of others.
You are aware of the burdens people are carrying.
You have been pulled into the chaos by the shouts of the people.
You can try to tune it out – but because you follow Jesus, you cannot do so.
You can just shout back – but all that does is add to the cacophony of chaos.
Or you can listen to what love hears.
Since God is love and you are followers of Jesus, you are learning how to hear what love hears; you are growing in our spiritual character so you can hear what God hears.
During my youth years, we sang a song in our youth group which has been woven into the fabric of today’s worship. The song is entitled, ‘Do You Really Care?’
It was inspired by a phrase from Psalm 142 – words attributed to King David:
‘…there is NO one who takes notice of me; NO refuge remains to me; NO one cares for me.’
You are learning the Way of Jesus. Learning requires humility which begets sensitivity; sensitivity begets empathy; and empathy begets compassion.
Because you hear what God hears, you hear what love hears. You do not merely echo back to the world with more shouting because of your frustration and anger. Although your words may be impressive, if you lack love, your words merely increase the noise and dissonance about us – like gongs clanging and cymbals clashing.
Gradually you learn how to relate better and better with the burdens of the world. As you read in 1 Corinthians 13, you hear what love hears and approach the anguish of others, the shouts of the crowd and the evil that motivates violence with more than additional anger and shouts. You are patient, kind, humble, selfless, nice, and pleasant as we celebrate the truth.
Most of the churches in the early Christian scriptures had significant problems. However, the only problem in the Church at Philippi was the threat of a lack of unity; a rebellion against going together in one direction. Paul affirmed their commitment to Jesus Christ and the influence of God’s love at work in them. Then, he encouraged them to focus on unity by hearing what God hears.
Beloved, I affirm you for the many ways you carry the burdens of one another.
I also affirm you for the ways you respond to people nearby and far away who carry burdens.
When you hear what love hears, you do what love does.
Like Simon from Cyrene, you have been pulled into the story of Jesus.
You are helping other people carry their burdens.
You are Staying a Part of the Ministries of this Church Building a Better World.
Have you ever wondered why Simon from Cyrene is named in this story?
Plenty of people in stories about Jesus are not named.
The woman at the well; the man at the pool in Bethesda; the blind man; the woman who touched Jesus’ garment; the centurion; etc.
But the Gospel writers named persons who became inspiring and influential followers of Jesus in the early Church.
Simon from Cyrene may not have seen that moment coming; but he was moved from being a bystander to being named as an influential follower of Jesus because he heard what love hears.
And, so it goes with you.
Every time you hear what love hears and respond to the heavy burden of someone else in the ways of God’s love, you are no longer merely a bystander; you become known as a follower of Jesus because you allow God’s love to flow through you into the life of the world.
Your name is remembered.
Forty years ago, Paula and I walked into Nathan’s room and got him out of his baby bed. He laid his head on my shoulder, looked over at Paula, kicked his feet and laughed with joy. We listened beyond his shouting and heard what he really needed.
Beloved, let us continue to listen beyond all the shouting to hear what love hears.
By doing so, we are Building a Better World.
Amen & AMEN!