a sermon preached by the Rev. Sue Judson Hamly on March 7, 2018 at the Ecumenical Lenten service at Zion Lutheran Church, International Falls, MN
scripture readings: James 1:19-24 and Mark 4:9
An old man was just fitted with hearing aids and he could hear better than he had in a decade. He came back into the clinic a week after being fit, and the audiologist asked him, “How are your hearing aids working?”
The old man replied, “Good, I’ve changed my will three times already!”
Another man was bragging about his new hearing aid and how good it was and how well he could hear with it. His friend asked, “What kind is it?” and he replied, “12:30.” 
Hearing—having ears that work the way they’re supposed to—is very important. I would give up my vision before I would willingly give up my hearing. Having deficiencies in both, I know whereof I speak. People are often not all that nice to people with hearing loss. It’s frustrating to them, even with people they love.
How many of you wear hearing aids?
I’ve worn one since the age of 7 and two since about age 31 or so. The first one I had was nasty! There was this metal box about 2” by 3” and 1/2” thick. It went under my clothes and there was this little square piece with 2 prongs that went on the outside of my clothes and pinned into the other part in order to keep in on me. There was a wire that went up to the ear mold in my ear. I hated it because kids would come up to me on the playground and poke it and ask, “What’s THAT?”
My grandfather had a hearing aid that hung over his ear and I desperately wanted one. My mom said I could have one when I went to junior high. But my grandfather died the day before I stared 6th grade and I got ahold of his hearing aid and I refused to wear anything else. Of course his wasn’t right for my hearing loss, so my parents had to get me a new one sooner than planned.
I refused to get a second hearing aid when I was a teenager. I was lucky it was the ‘60s and we wore our hair long and when we put it in a ponytail, we wore it low, so the hair covered our ears. Only my best friend ever saw it.
In my early 30s pride wasn’t such a big deal any more and I got a second one and suddenly I could hear the leaves crunching when I walked, and the birds singing and some insect sounds I’d never heard before. But none of the ones I had for the next 30+ years were any good in restaurants, at coffee hour and other places were lots of people are talking at once. Every 10 years or so I’d get new ones and technology improved by leaps and bounds in the past 15 years. Three months ago I got Bluetooth hearing aids and I was ecstatic! I can hear so much better everywhere but most notably at coffee hour and in restaurants! And I can talk on the phone without having to take a hearing aid out and then not remembering where I set it down. It’s amazing!
For several years in elementary school, I was taught lip-reading —with sound…because most people make sounds when they talk. That helped tremendously in many situations and I could impress my friends by telling them what people actually said when they were bleeped out on TV.
When I went to seminary, I commuted 70 miles each way with a Methodist woman and we became good friends on all those car trips. Lip-reading helped immensely with hearing over the car engine. But one day we had a late class and then drove home at night. I was having trouble and asking Sandra to repeat more than usual and suddenly she said, “Oh! I forgot you can’t hear in the dark!”
How important it is to hear! Our eyes tell us many things, but our ears may tell us even more. How we use them is important too.
I love The Message translation of the bible by Eugene Peterson because the language is contemporary and to the point. You really get the “message” when you read this translation. Sometimes it’s even humorous.
The book of James is what some people say you should read first, before any other book of the bible. It’s only 5 chapters long and it has a lot to say. The author has been described as “one of the church’s early pastors skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. … Because when Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does.” 
James says you can’t separate Faith and Works, just as you can’t separate body and soul. He also says “you can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God…; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women [God] made in [God’s] image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!”
So, what about our ears? How do we act on what we hear?
How often do we hear—or mis-hear—things and pass them on without checking to see if they’re true or accurate? I discovered a few years ago that even the most trustworthy person can spread rumors if they don’t hear the whole story in the first place.
On Facebook, I frequently check snopes.com when someone posts a questionable item or news story. In real life, if we don’t know the facts, we should try to check them out before passing on what could turn out to be a rumor. Or else, attempt to tame the untamable tongue!
If we pray to have our ears opened, we might become better listeners. But isn’t being a good listener really paying attention to what someone else is saying instead of spending our time thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop talking and how we’re going to say it?
Good listeners really listen to the other person. They keep confidences and act appropriately on what they hear. If they hear about needs other people have, they do their best to help or to find solutions, or to engage others in assisting with what needs to be done. They don’t brag about what and how much they know, they just act on what they hear.
Jesus thought hearing and listening was really important too. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the bible tells us that at the end of many of his parables he said, “…Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” To me, that has always sounded like just a little add-on, not a big deal. But when I read The Message translation, it comes through loud and clear! “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”  Jesus cares whether people are hearing—and understanding—what he’s teaching. It’s important.
That’s one reason it’s important to read different translations of the bible. Otherwise we get so used to hearing it that we don’t really listen. Reading different translations is one way to have our ears opened.
So, according to James, we are called to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers. Hearing and listening call us to action. They call us to pay attention so that we’re not in the dark, or looking in a mirror and immediately forgetting what we look like. (James 1:23-24)
April 28th will be my 27th anniversary of ordination. In the UCC, we have a little fun after all the seriousness and formality of ordination. At the end of the service a couple of close friends give charges to the newly-ordained minister. My friend and commuting partner was one of the people who gave the charges at my ordination service. Last week I was cleaning out a cupboard in my office and I came across bulletins and other keepsakes from April 28, 1991. This was also in the box. I wondered what was in it, so I opened it and then it all came rushing back—as memories do when something triggers them. Sandra had presented me with these candles and a book of matches from a restaurant near the seminary. And she charged me to “keep these always with you, so that never again will you be able to say that you can’t hear in the dark.”
Let us pray… Open our ears, O God, and shine the light of your love upon us, so that it may never be said of us that we can’t hear in the dark. AMEN.
 Clean Jokes About Hearing
 The Message Bible, introduction to James.
 Mark 4:9.