Sermon for Sunday, May 19, 2013 ~ Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

“Imagining A Future: Speaking And Listening”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

When I first heard the term “noise pollution,” I smirked and said to myself, “Well there’s another manipulation of the English language for someone’s pet agenda!”  The term refers to sounds, mostly humanly-made, that add substantial amount of noise to either the urban, rural, or natural environments, so much so that problems occur.  These complications range from changing innate patterns of wildlife behavior, to hearing loss in humans and animals.  I quickly discounted it as one more thing I was supposed to be worried about in a laundry list of “pollutions.”

And yet, as with many things which I discount too quickly, I have come to realize I am actually quite affected by noise pollution.  From being frustrated in firetruckthe morning in the middle of my quiet reflective coffee time downstairs when my partner’s automatic clock radio comes blaring on upstairs, to my covering my ears any time an emergency vehicle speeds by, to becoming anxious in crowds where significant amount of talking by many people is going on, I struggle with noise pollution!

Reflecting on this I think that, in addition to having sensitive hearing, I also am “hard-wired” (as they say) to listen.  That is, when someone is talking, I really want to hear what he or she has to say, including what they mean.  But I need to be in a space and an emotional state where I can honestly and deeply hear what they are saying; catch the nuances in the tone of their voice and the subtle expressions on their face.  I genuinely want to hear what someone has to say.

Ear

It may sound odd for someone who has to engage in public speaking for a living, but I have long known that I like to listen more than I like to talk.  It has long been an, at first, unconscious and now conscious, standard of mine to quickly evaluate new people in my life less by their looks and more by whether or not they listen more than they speak.  If I determine that the person I meet talks more than they listen, or even listens only so that they can prepare to talk again, I quite often mentally tag them as someone not to be trusted…  at least not yet.

It has often been said that the miracle that happened that day on Pentecost in Jerusalem many centuries ago was a miracle of the tongue in which the disciples who were gathered there were empowered to speak in many different languages so that everyone who was there could hear the Good News of the Gospel of Christ in their own language.

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Eric Law teaching at the Leading Edge conference, May 2008 at Middle Church in New York City (Photo by Allen V. Harris)

Eric Law, director of the Kaleidoscope Institute and multi-cultural/multi-racial diversity trainer, has helped me to see the “other” miracle at Pentecost: a miracle of the ear.  Upon listening to a Bible study by the renown wife and husband teaching team June Keener-Wink and Walter Wink, Eric Law realized the profound truth that there was a miracle that happened in all those who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language.  Law takes this biblical truth and translates it into a way of communicating across racial and cultural differences and with an awareness of the power dynamics inherent in our society’s ways of communicating. (1)

He notes that at the time of the first Christian Pentecost, for it was a holy day in the Jewish tradition prior to the events of the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2, the disciples and their band of followers of Christ were not very powerful.  They were an insignificant sect of Jews who had followed the teachings of a wayward prophet named Jesus of Nazareth.  Having little power, they needed a miracle of the tongue.  This was set against the much larger throng of “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” who, at least in this particular context of a high holy day in the capital city of Jerusalem, held power.  Having more power, they needed a miracle of the ear.  Both got the miracle they needed.

For Eric Law this vivid biblical scene offers a model for how to communicate in other groups.  Those who have little or no power in a group need to be invited and emboldened to receive the miracle of the tongue and speak their truth and their wisdom.  For those who have some or much power in a group, they need to be invited and encouraged to receive the miracle of the ear and listen to the truths of others.

In any given group in each unique setting, these power dynamics need to be evaluated carefully and understood as they shift and change.  At a meeting at work the managers with power over others might listen more to the employees who are vulnerable.  In the Official Church Board meeting those who are white might listen more to those who are Hispanic or African American and those who are longtime or older might listen more to those who are newer and younger.  At the dinner table children might be encouraged to speak their truth and wisdom while parents listen more deeply.  In the block club meeting renters who have less stability might be given priority to share while long-established home owners listen more fully and completely.

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This understanding of power and communication will be absolutely critical to our New Visioning Process for the act of asking people to communicate their ideas and thoughts, hopes and dreams is central to our task.  Those of us recording this would do well to set our privileges and presumptions aside and listen with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Whether we are out in the community talking with social service providers or young “hipsters” who are helping to make Ohio City trendy and fun, or we are talking to each other and those who visit us for worship, or assistance, or weddings, or to use our building: we need to allow for both the miracle of the tongue AND the miracle of the ear to occur.  If we do that, we might just need to be prepared for a new Pentecost to take place, starting here at Franklin Circle Christian Church, and starting now, in 2013.

May it be so.  Amen.

LawTheWolfShallDwellWithTheLamb(1) Eric H. F. Law The Wolf Shall Dwell With The Lamb: A Spirituality For Leadership In A Multicultural Community (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1993), pp. 46ff

Order it from Chalice Press at: http://www.chalicepress.com/The-Wolf-Shall-Dwell-with-the-Lamb-P321.aspx

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