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“It Takes Two to Gospel: One to Speak and One to Listen”

“It Takes Two to Gospel: One to Speak and One to Listen”
Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
November 6, 2016 (25th Sunday after Pentecost)
Luke 20: 27-39

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Listen carefully, please.  It takes two to gospel: one to speak and one to listen.

You have given me fourteen minutes this morning to say anything I want.  If I do not practice gospelling, you may end up sitting here, miserable and comatose, never having the opportunity to respond.

What if I say: “I am the expert—just ask me.  If only you listen carefully, all will be well.  I have, after all, been educated in religious matters and I know what is best for you.”

That, dear friends, is not gospelling…that is a snooty monologue!

The finest preachers listen to their flocks: they know their names, their deepest hungers, their most profound hurts.  When they stand up in pulpits like this, they do not presume to have all the answers in advance: they have listened carefully to others and to God before ever uttering a word.

In this morning’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees, gospelling is undetectable.  The Sadducees, the educated and religious elite, pretended to be eager to hear Jesus’ beliefs about the resurrection and who would be married to whom in heaven.  It quickly became evident that they had no interest in listening to Jesus.  Their conversation was shameless intellectual gamesmanship masquerading as religious inquiry.

This so-called conversation occurred the final week of Jesus’ life.  He had already entered Jerusalem on a donkey and would die in a matter of days.  Much of what occurred during Jesus’ final days was not gospelling.  By the time the Sadducees asked Jesus about heavenly matters, the chief priests and scribes had already cross-examined him as to by what authority he did the things he did, and, soon after that, they asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not.  These questions were all traps like asking someone: “Have you quit beating your spouse?”  There were no correct answers—at least in their minds—though Jesus surprised his interrogators every time.  These religious leaders had no interest in what Jesus had to say.  They had one intention: to entrap Jesus and to kill him.

I imagine most of us have grown weary of the current political climate.  Don’t you sense that about all that is occurring these days is one person seeking to entrap another?   If we were seeking the common good for this nation—Republican and Democrat, Trump and Clinton supporters alike—wouldn’t we listen more carefully to one another rather than call each other names?  What might this nation turn out to be if we pondered together how we might best uphold our highest ideals that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  What if our greatest yearning was for this vision to flourish from sea to shining sea?

What if we who are white listened carefully to those of us who are black when explaining why “Black Lives Matter”?   I recently was in a conversation with a number of revered African American pastors well into their 80s; they talked of routinely being picked up by police officers.  I had never heard such a thing and I needed to listen to these esteemed clergymen before pontificating on “Black Lives Matter.”

What if we listened to West Virginia coal miners down on their luck, those who have worked hard in incredibly dangerous conditions and now are as angry as hornets as environmental concerns take away their jobs?  How might we care for them and find them dignified work?

And what about police officers, the good ones, like those watching over the marathoners and their families this morning, those who, if we only listen, will tell how their spouses and children breathe a sigh of relief every time they return home safely from a perilous job.  Have we taken the time to listen?

A few years ago, “Christian Century” (considered the flagship magazine among mainline Protestantism) published a series of articles entitled, “How My Mind Has Changed.”  These essays were written by distinguished theologians and pastors.  I sadly remember one influential Lutheran theologian writing that his mind had not changed…I found that very sad.  Wasn’t the Spirit moving in his life or was he perfect just as he was?

Effective gospelling occurs only when we listen with an intent to understand God’s will and are willing to change our uncompromising positions for the good of all humankind.

I recently heard of such gospelling. The Rev. Dr. Frank Senn is a respected Lutheran liturgical scholar and pastor.  He recently presided at his son’s wedding to another man.  This may not surprise you but it did me.  Pastor Senn, after all, is the leader of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a group of Lutheran pastors that has tended to have negative views about our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 2009 decisions to be more affirming of LBGTQ people.  Here is a bit of what I wrote Pastor Senn on Friday: “Dear Frank, Your willingness to preside at your son’s wedding is a moving testimony, at least to me, of someone who is willing to listen and even change as well as to speak.”  I wonder how closely Pastor Senn listened to his son’s hopes and dreams.  This was gospelling!

In writing to Pastor Senn, I was, of course, thinking about this morning’s gospel reading: what might have happened differently on that Good Friday if the Sadducees had listened to Jesus’ hopes and dreams for his brothers and sisters before they had pontificated on their certainties and tried to entrap Jesus?

In these contentious days leading to Tuesday’s election and following the outcome, one of the precious gifts of the Spirit is and certainly will be to listen to one another, to believe that God is alive in our lives, and that, yes, our minds can be changed for the better.

And that brings me to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity.  I pray that we may model gospelling among ourselves; rather than having all the answers in advance, may we may listen to one another.  Even if the stakes seem minimal like what color to paint the parish hall or where to position the baptismal font, may we listen carefully to one another as we seek how best to proclaim God’s good news here at 65th and Central Park West.

May God bless our congregation and nation with the gifts of listening as well as speaking.  May we gospel together.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.