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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 11:1-10, I Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

Years ago, I participated in some “sensitivity” training, designed to make us more sensitive to those who might be experiencing life differently than we were. To gain some understanding of the experience of blindness, we had a meal together in a public restaurant blindfolded.

My enduring memory of that experience is not the difficulty of eating, but the difficulty of hearing. There were voices all around, but sorting them out was a challenge. Even when we can look around and see who’s talking, communication does not always go smoothly. When sound assails one’s ears from all sides with no visual cues, it becomes a jumble, unless one has learned to deal with that experience.

Sometimes, in these days of political debate and shrieking public “noise,” I feel like I’m walking around with a blindfold on. The noise is such that I can’t figure out what is worth listening to.

Lots of words go into the air in our verbal culture, but not all words have equal worth. I believe all of this week’s lectionary readings are relevant to that process. I’m not going to try to highlight the primary intent of each. I’m going to apply them to the process of speaking and hearing what is worth speaking and hearing.

First of all, it is important that the words one speaks are “grounded” or “centered.” Such words seem to have “authority,” gain one’s attention, are worth listening to.

The reading from Deuteronomy is troublesome in that one can die if one hears “the voice of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:16) and one can die if one presumes “to speak a word that” God has “not commanded.” (vs. 25) Almost makes one want to close both one’s mouth and one’s ears.

Without trying to interpret the seeming extreme consequences described, one can take from the passage the truth that words matter. Words can do great harm. Words can be untrue. They can mislead. I take it as a warning to be careful with our words, to be sure that they represent the “truth” as we best discern it. Voices that do that are worth listening to, as opposed to the sometimes flip and flip-flopping words we hear in so much public debate. May the Lord raise up voices which speak from deep places (See vs. 15)

As I read Psalm 111 I find reference to fearing the Lord. (vss. 5 & 10) I don’t see this as a call to cringe in a corner. The “fear” spoken of here is more like “awe,” so that one might translate verse ten, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.” Words worth speaking and hearing are often rooted in a sense of awe. We look around us and see things that stir our beings. We experience things and catch a glimpse of what life is all about. We are in awe. “All those who practice” awe “have a good understanding.” (vs. 10)

We have just returned from a week in Mexico City. My overwhelming response is one of awe. The creativity of the human spirit is evident in the architecture and art, in the presentation of history, in the continuing revolution and social experience going on in that emerging world economic power. To walk the streets of that city is to be alive. Every word I write or speak about it is undergirded by that sense of awe.

Would that our public discourse have more “awe” in it, people speaking who “see” something worth speaking about, people hearing who sense that there is a deeper reality behind the words spoken. Our world needs more words of worth!

There were deep divisions in the Corinthian church. Paul addressed a number of them, but he always tried to lift them to higher principles, calling the Corinthians to own up to an underlying attitude that fueled the divisions. The specific controversy in today’s reading is that of whether or not it is appropriate for believers to eat food which has been first offered to idols. (vss. 1 & 4) The “enlightened” know that nothing about the meat has been changed, that eating the meat doesn’t mean one believes in the power of the idol (vss. 7-9), but the “enlightened” sometimes seem to have an arrogant attitude, thinking their “knowledge” makes them better than others. That’s the real problem to be addressed, the use to which knowledge is put. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge.” (vss. 1-2) Love means treating the “weak” gently, building them up, not flaunting our knowledge and hitting them over the head with it. (vss. 7 & 9-10) I don’t particularly like the way “weak” is used to define those whose conscience puts them opposite me in this conversation, but I strongly approve of the admonition to consider the effect of our words and actions on others. We are to approach those with whom we differ in a spirit of love. We are to be sensitive to the hearer and those who are observing how love works itself out in the way we live.

Medical professionals, and some others, have a basic principle which says, “Do no harm.” Can we apply that to our use of knowledge and words?

So, who do we listen to? Not simply those who claim to have the “truth,” but those who temper their knowledge with love. We need more people who bring the wisdom of love to the conversation, and more people with ears listening for the sounds of love in public discourse (and more private conversation, for that matter).

For those who want to pursue another aspect of this passage from I Corinthians, I call your attention to the monotheism in which Paul grounds the entire argument: “ . . . even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (vss. 5-6) A lot of meat in those two verses to ponder and discuss. What are the implications of monotheism for everyday living?

Finally, the Gospel lesson from Mark brings us around to the authority behind the speaking and action. When considering who it is we’re going to listen to, our ears (even our inner being) strain for a sense of authenticity in the person who is trying to gain our attention. Does the person speak and act from a deep inner source of strength and truth—not the truth of one who can cite this law and that law, not truth that is trotted out to cow us into obedience, but truth which inspires the spirit.

It is sometimes called speaking with authority, as in this story about Jesus. “ . . . he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22. See also, vs. 27) It’s also a story about “unclean” spirits and how they respond to this kind of authority. Pastor Rick may be getting into that aspect of the story this Sunday. Whatever the point of the story, something about Jesus made people stand up and take notice. This guy is the real thing!

We’re still looking for people who come to us as the real thing, who embody the spirit of Jesus, the spirit to which Paul was calling the Corinthian Christians and us. Will our, do our, ears recognize them when they speak? Do we, in our own speaking and acting, come across as the real thing? People who are the real thing, starting with Jesus, are worth listening to!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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