The Trouble with Listening
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

October 21, 2012

Mark 10:35-45

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

How many times does Jesus have to tell the disciples what he is going to face? How often must he tell them that God will do it in a different way from the way they have always done it?

Recently, I have read and heard about people who thought they knew what was going on, but didn’t listen to what was really happening. In his book, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo tells the story of being in a foreign country. He was guided by an ex-pat who spoke the language and understood the culture thoroughly. On their way to the market, his friend and guide warned him that their markets are not like American markets.

“Do not touch anything. Touching it means you are going to buy it.”

When they got to the market, DiSalvo saw a nice, warm fur hat. Ignoring everything he was told, he picked it up and looked at it. By then, two shopkeepers were circling around the stall. He tried the hat on, but it was a little small so he put it back. At this point, one merchant started yelling in a language he did not understand and holding his hand out for payment while the other one took the hat and jammed it back on his head.

His friend showed up, and after some heated arguing, the two of them made it out of the market without buying the hat.

His friend had been absolutely right. In that setting, touching an item meant you were buying it. But DiSlavo thought he knew better because all his life in the US, he had tried stuff on. The problem was he was not in the US. How he had always done it overrode the best advice of someone who knew what was going on.

The other story comes from a recent speaker at Rotary. He talked about the year his daughter signed up for swimming at school. He loved her dearly, but was not the happiest father when he figured out how many meets he had to drive to. When she came home elated that she made the JV team, he didn’t have the heart to tell her that was where everyone who didn’t make the varsity team wound up.

Near the end of the season, she came home cheering, “Suzy is sick! Suzy is sick!” He wasn’t sure happiness was the right response, but she said, “Dad, you don’t understand. Suzy was on the varsity team and she’s sick! Coach wants me to swim!”

Oh joy, he thought. One more meet.

She swam the individual medley. You may know that they put the fastest swimmers in the middle lanes. There was his daughter, in the furthest outside lane. But as the race started, she had the lead at the end of the first leg! He was on his feet. In the outside lane, she had the lead at the end of the second leg! He was jumping up and down.

But then she ran out of gas. By the third leg she was in third place. On the last leg, the freestyle, she was fourth, then fifth, then sixth, then seventh. She finished eighth out of eight. His dreams of the cover of Sports Illustrated were gone. The parent next to him was one of those hardcore swimming parents, with multiple stopwatches around his neck. He asked, “Don’t you want to know her splits?”

“No. No thanks.”

“Well at least look down there.”

He looked down to the pool and his daughter is jumping up and down holding up four fingers. Could it be? Did four girls get disqualified and his daughter came in fourth? He got down there and his daughter ran up to him and hugged him. “I knocked four seconds off my personal best!”

He had seen it all, but was looking and listening for the wrong stuff. His daughter had done better than winning, but he had only seen the loss.

One trouble with listening is that we have so many voices around us, each one shouting their bad advice, as Mary Oliver says. Another is that we are so used to the way we have always done it, we forget to listen to the one who knows what is really going on. Another is that we get so focused on other definitions of success that we fail to see what is important.

If you want to be great, Jesus says, you must be a diakonos, one who serves and carries out the work of their boss. The word is often translated as “minister,” and the Greek word is the basis of our word “Deacon.” If you want to be great, serve the Lord by serving others, ministering to those in need.

If you want to be first, Jesus says, you have to become a doulos, translated as servant, better translated as slave. The word itself comes down to us today in the feminine form, “doula,” a woman who assists the birthing of a baby.

Greatness will be found in how we serve one another, our community, our world of neighbors.

God is bringing about something new, even in our very midst. To be first in the realm of God is to assist it to come to be. Like the man and his daughter, it isn’t about being the fastest or strongest or winning the race. For God, being first means doing our best to help to what God is bringing about.

If we serve God by loving our neighbor, and if we listen for how we can help one another, God will take care of the rest. In fact, God already has.

But it shall not be so among you;
but whoever would be great among you must be your servant (diakonos),
and whoever would be first among you must be slave (doulos) of all.
For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In this we find our calling; and in this we find our reason to give thanks.

Thanks be to God.