Sunday’s sermon: A God-Listening Heart

Listen Heart

Texts used: 1 Kings 3:3-14 and Psalm 111

  • I want to start this morning by taking a brief moment just to listen.
    • What’s going on around you
    • What’s going on inside you
  • Have you ever thought about how many sounds we hear in a day?
    • Loud sounds … quiet sounds
    • Pleasant sounds … harsh sounds
    • Sounds we notice … sounds we don’t
    • Now let me ask you this: When was the last time you deliberately sat in silence? … And how long did that silence last?
      • A minute
      • 2 minutes
      • 5 minutes
      • Way we usually begin the service: “Letting God In” time – time of silence → Even as I sit there centering myself in God’s presence, I have to force myself not jump up and end that time. I have to force myself to wait – to take another breath … and another … and another … to stretch out that silence.
        • Silence = our time to push away/block out/ stifle all the distractions that fill up our days and just listen
          • Listen to the world around us
          • Listen to our own bodies
          • Listen to God
        • But what might happen when we actually stop to listen?
  • Our first Scripture reading this morning is about King Solomon.
    • Man deeply familiar with distractions
      • King = distractions of royal duties (commanding armies, settling disputes, entertaining other royal dignitaries, etc.)
      • Also had hundreds of wives and thousands of concubines → Distractions galore!
      • And Solomon was also known for dabbling in many different religions. – text: Solomon loved God and continued to live in the God-honoring ways of David his father … except that he also worshiped at the local shrines, offering sacrifices and burning incense.[1] → So Solomon’s mind was distracted. His heart was distracted. And his faith was distracted.
        • Plenty of things that cause distractions for us nowadays – add noise to our lives and our souls
          • Media distractions – TV, internet, smartphones/tablets
          • Political distractions – increasingly polarizing rhetorical being hurled from both sides of the aisle
          • Social distractions – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. → these social media “tools” meant to help us connect that are actually causing us to be more and more disconnected
          • And the list could go on and on and on.
            • Orfield Laboratories in south Mpls – “the anechoic chamber” → room that is 99.9% soundproof
              • Walls: insulated steel and concrete lined with 3’ thick fiberglass acoustic wedges
              • Observation from founder: The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.[2] → Even in a chamber meticulously designed to block out noise, we cannot escape it. The noises come from within our own selves.
      • Sit and think for a minute about all those things – intentional and unintentional, noticeable and discreet – that pull your attention away from your life. [PAUSE]
    • We, like Solomon, can find ourselves mightily distracted. And yet, even in the midst of that distraction, Solomon encounters God.
      • Text: God appeared to Solomon in a dream: God said, “What can I give you? Ask.”[3] → What a question! As if simply encountering God wasn’t overwhelming enough, God asks Solomon the most simple and yet most complex question ever: “What can I give you?”
        • Solomon’s first response = one of insecurity: I’m too young for this, a mere child! I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this job. And here I am, set down in the middle of the people you’ve chosen, a great people – far too many to even count.[4] → There is it. Solomon is faced with this colossal task of ruling this great nation – great in numbers, great in history, great in faith – and he doesn’t feel up to the task.
          • Question: How often do we fill the silence with noise/distractions just so we won’t have to think about our worries/fears/insecurities?
    • Solomon’s ultimate request: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well[5] → “Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well.” Solomon knew the places in which he struggled. He knew his own weaknesses as well as his strengths. And he knew that there was no way he could tackle the immense task of ruling the nation of Israel on his own. So he asked for God’s help. “Help me to listen, God. Help me to hear and obey. Give me a God-listening heart.”
      • Asks for understanding, compassion, discernment, wisdom – Heb. “give your servant a heart to hear”
        • Hear love as God hears it
        • Hear need as God hears it
        • Hear justice as God hears it
        • Scholar: Wisdom has to do with who we entrust ourselves to; who we know can fill our empty buckets; whom we most believe, trust, and confide in.[6] → Solomon makes his choice passionately and definitively: Give me a God-listening heart.
  • In our psalm this morning, we hear an outpouring of just such a “God-listening heart.”
    • Begins with wide-open praise: Hallelujah! I give thanks to God with everything I’ve got![7] → This is a no-holds-barred sort of exclamation.
      • “give thanks” can also mean “give voice” and “confess” = deliberately and graciously laying everything out before God
        • The happy things
        • The not happy things
        • Everything in between
      • Follows with praise for who God is and what God does
        • God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study[8]
        • [God’s] miracles are his memorial – this God of Grace, this God of Love.[9]
      • Closes with reverence: [God is] so personal and holy, worthy of our respect. The good life begins in the fear of God – do that and you’ll know the blessing of God. [God’s] Hallelujah lasts forever![10]
        • “Fear of God” sounds medieval BUT Heb. “fear” = respect, honor, revere
          • Requires humility
          • Requires attentiveness
          • Requires a God-listening heart
          • Scholar: The psalmist’s closing affirmation is a radical challenge to our ways of knowing and our definitions of knowledge. … True knowledge – wisdom – is hot grounded in ourselves but in God, and it involves the embrace of God’s commitments and values.[11]
    • By exercising his/her God-listening heart, the psalmist is able to experience God in the world around him/her – in all things, in all people, in all circumstances.
  • More modern-day e.g. of a God-listening heart – passage from The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
    • Listening to books on disc when I’m in the car (how I fill my silence) – passage that struck me as I was driving home on Thurs.: That day the silence felt unusually dull and heavy, like the weight of water. It clogged my ears and throbbed against my drums. Fidgety thoughts darted through my mind, reminding me of squirrels loose in trees. … Just a few more minutes, I told myself, and when my lids sank closed again, I had no expectations, no hope, no endeavoring – I’d given up on the Voice – and it was then my mind stopped racing and I began to float on some quiet stream. … The voice broke into my small oblivion, dropping like a dark, beautiful stone. I caught my breath. It was not like a common thought – it was distinctive, shimmering, and dense with God. [12] → When we are able to quiet ourselves … when we are able to come to God like Solomon did – in full awareness of our strengths as well as our limitations and in full awareness of our need … when we approach God with all the joy and all the reverence of the psalmist and ask for God to speak – speak to our lives, speak to the places of need in the world around us … when we practice that God-listening heart, we can find our lives distinctive, shimmering, and dense with God. Amen.

[1] 1 Kgs 3:3 (emphasis added).

[2] Liz Kilmas. “How Long Could You Last in the World’s Quietest Room? The Record Is Only 45 Minutes” in The Blaze, posted 5 April 2012, http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/04/05/how-long-could-you-last-in-the-worlds-quietest-room-the-record-is-only-45-minutes/. Accessed 16 August 2015.

[3] 1 Kgs 3:5.

[4] 1 Kgs 3:7b-8.

[5] 1 Kgs 3:9.

[6] Thomas W. Blair. “Proper 12 (Sunday between July 24 and July 30 inclusive) – 1 Kings 3:5-12, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 270.

[7] Ps 111:1.

[8] Ps 111:2.

[9] Ps 111:4.

[10] Ps 111:9b-10.

[11] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1134.

[12] Sue Monk Kidd. The Invention of Wings. (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2014), 209-210.

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