Summary: A sermon on James 1:19-20.
Sermon for 12 Pent Yr B, 24/08/2003
Based on James 1: 19-20
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Some of you may remember the group exercise of whispering a piece of information in one person’s ear and then having that person whisper the same information to the next person beside them, and continuing in this way until the last person receives the information. Most often the information the first person shared is much different than the information the last person received. Sometimes it is downright scary and sobering—since the content of the original message can become changed and distorted beyond recognition! What is true originally might turn out to be entirely false once the message is spread to the last person who receives the message. This exercise is A WAKE UP CALL FOR US TO BECOME BETTER LISTENERS.
In our second lesson today, James offers practical wisdom concerning listening, he says: “You must understand this, my beloved: LET EVERYONE be QUICK TO LISTEN, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” Notice that James is speaking to us all here, he says, “LET EVERYONE be quick to listen.” James knew that all of us need room to improve our ability to listen. For example, most, if not all of us can likely remember someone speaking at length to us, only to have our ears and minds sidetracked off into “another world” while the person continued to speak. We all daydream from time to time and we all miss important messages by the way that we listen or fail to listen.
An Indian was in downtown New York, walking along with his friend, who lived in New York City. Suddenly he said, “I hear a cricket.”
“Oh you’re crazy,” his friend replied.
“No, I hear a cricket. I do! I’m sure of it!”
“It’s the noon hour. You know there are people bustling around, cars honking, taxis squealing, noises from the city. I’m sure you can’t hear it.”
“I’m sure I do.” He listened attentively and then walked to the corner, across the street, and looked all around. Then on the corner he found a cement planter with a bush in it. He looked beneath a leaf and found the cricket.
His friend was duly astounded. But the Indian said, “No, my ears are no different than yours. It simply depends upon what you are listening to. Here let me show you.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change. And dropped them on the concrete. Every head within the block turned.
“You see what I mean?” the Indian said as he began picking up his change. “It all depends what you are listening for.” 1
It all depends what you are listening for….How do we listen? What do we listen for? Everyone has a right to be heard, and we can pay each person our highest respect by listening with care, attention and compassion. By listening with care, attention and compassion, we become wiser and discerning in how we respond to the person and message we are listening to.
That is why James goes on to instruct us to be “SLOW TO SPEAK.” How many times have we put our foot in our mouth because we were not QUICK TO LISTEN, but FAR TOO QUICK TO SPEAK!? It happens too often, doesn’t it? If we could take back all the things we said that we later have come to deeply regret saying, and if we could have a penny for each one of them, we’d all likely be millionaires! Furthermore, if we could be given the opportunity to see the consequences of what we say to others; of how our quick tongues cause untold pain and suffering to others—maybe, JUST MAYBE WE WOULD LEARN TO HOLD OUR TONGUES, TO SLOW THEM DOWN, AS JAMES SO WISELY INSTRUCTS US.
In our fast-paced, media overloaded world, there is a lot of talk, very fast talk. However, this talk may not always have the story straight. In fact, the truth is often distorted and the public is misled because of it. Few take the time and effort to understand THE WHOLE STORY and its context before they speak. One wonders how history may have been written had those who wrote it been slower to speak. One also wonders how many tragedies in our world today have their roots in peoples’ failure to pay heed to James’ advise to be slow to speak.
It is, more often than not, OUR QUICK SPEECH that fuels the fires of our anger, and that is why James instructs us to be “SLOW TO ANGER; FOR YOUR ANGER DOES NOT PRODUCE GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Notice that James does not say we should never be angry. He realises that “anger happens.” However, he instructs us to be slow to anger. It helps to be discerning here in the kinds of anger that we have—there is good anger and bad anger, righteous anger and destructive anger. Listen to the wisdom of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said: “Anyone can become angry; that is easy. But to be angry with the RIGHT person, to the RIGHT degree, at the RIGHT time, for the RIGHT purpose, in the RIGHT WAY, this is not easy.”