When You Listen

In Sermons Kyndall by Covenant Baptist


(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here. Note: Sermon introduction for this sermon available by audio only. Rest of text below.)

“When You Listen”

The Good Lord bestowed upon humanity five senses
—one of which is hearing, but there are others—

Taste, by which we enjoy our food
Sight, by which we view the earth’s colors
Touch, by which we experience our bodies in relation to other things
Smell, by which we sniff the air for invisible signs of what exists around us

At Ezra’s Great Reading
Of the Book of the Law
Before the Public Square
In Front the Water Gate:

The senses
of the people
were awakened.
All the people woke up
to see, touch, smell, taste, hear.

The soles of their feet
against the ground,
aching inside sweat-soaked sandals
(we’ll talk about smell later)
aching feet from patient standing,
faces hit with hot sun
or was it cold wind
in the early hours,
heat by late morning?

Leg cramp here, stiff joint there,
they merely shifted their weight
every now and again
but kept standing:
standing, standing, standing
like trees,
like pillars,
like walls,
steady stance disguising
that they were coming
that day as the Holy Words
pricked like sparks of fire,
singed their skin
with tattoos of a new identity,
marking them with belonging—
it felt like they were bleeding—
and they wiped hot tears
from swollen cheeks
with trembling fingers
‘til the prophet said, “Stop!
Do not grieve.
God is joy.”


When the prophet said, “Stop!”
they were licking salty tears
which had dripped,
dripped all the way down
to their somber lips from expressive eyes.
It had been a morning fast
which turned to afternoon feast
and if God’s people know
they know how to eat,
so that’s what they did.

Rich food for everyone.
Not one hungry mouth left among them,
Rich drink to wash it down.
It is hard to switch swiftly
from sorrow to sanguine,
but food speeds it up,
I’m sure you’ve found,
which might be why their leader
said to those wet-eyed repenters,
“Go! Enjoy choice food,
sweet drink!”

Nothing like your favorite food
sliding across your tongue
to start the party
with a little wine to heighten the mood.

The Bible says they ate
and drank with joy
because they understood.
A mental cognitive knowledge?
A heart-felt conviction, perhaps?
A knowing  down in the soul, beyond description?
We do not know except that
they marked their numinous understanding
with One Huge Potluck Meal,
which seems about right.


Oh how the smell of good food
must have filled their nostrils
and yet . . .
there also mingled the sweat of a cramped crowd,
that fragrance of companionship,
and the breeze blowing from the North,
cooling their faces,
and wafting the smells of nearby fields ‘neath their noses,
an olfactory reminder of life
awaiting them outside this moment,
the world they would soon re-enter,
forever after reeking
of the life-altering truth
they had encountered.
It would follow them home,
that truth,
clinging to their clothes,
lingering on their breath,
leaking out their sweat glands,
seeping into their ordinary lives
in the imperceptible way
a wearer of a scent can never notice
but everyone he passes
turns their head to sniff.

Have you noticed
people smell like their work?
A baker like her bread,
a trucker like his truck,
an office-worker like his cubicle?
Which could be why the Apostle Paul
said that thing that one time
about us,
that we are the aroma of Christ
to those who are being saved
and even to those who are perishing.
I digress?


They could actually see him
open the book that day—
big crowd and all
they still saw
because Ezra stood up high,
high above the crowd,
and they watched him.
He looked back
and they raised their arms,
then they bowed their bodies,
‘til their faces were flat against the dirt.
It must have been a sight—
all God’s people gathered,
worshipping and responding to Sacred Text.

I wonder if birds circled lazily
overheard those long hours
while Ezra and the Levites read on.
I wonder if the readers had to squint
in the dim to see the words
in the early dawn
when the day was just breaking
and if by noon, they were squinting again
to block bright rays from blinding.
Did their eyes get tired
and what about their voices?
It was a long time to read.
Did anyone hand them water
as they cleared their throats?
Did they pass the scroll,
then rub their eyes and blink?

Did all the people keep their eyes fixed
on Ezra, enthralled,
or did some gaze into the distance
as if caught in a holy trance
or did they bow their repentant hearts
and stare at their shoes?
Could they see through tear-blurred eyes
or did they lower their eyelids in prayer?
What did they see when they shut their eyes?
A clearer perspective on themselves
or a magnified view of God
or the weary faces of their wandering ancestors
whose story was being shared?

The dominant sense of the day,
this rapt listening.

What is it is to listen,
truly listen?
I sadly wonder
if the art of listening
is waning
I wonder
not as a preacher
but as a person
when I notice
impoverished conversation,
how we cannot hear one another
with opinions so loud
we cannot hear ourselves think—
when did we begin fearing our thoughts?
or when I see ipods
everywhere blocking the
sounds of living
or when I realize the songbird’s
song didn’t reach my ears at all.

I wonder about Ezra’s crowd:
How did they get
their ears to cooperate?
I cannot listen my way
through one brief Psalm
on a Sunday morning
so scattered are my thoughts.
How did they steady themselves so
that they might take in
soundwaves like water
for the thirsty,
eating the words like bread,
feeling the heartbeat of Scripture,
inhaling its essence and
allowing Holy Words to crack them open,
give them new eyes to see all things,
fill them with memory and hope.
Gasping, gulping, grasping
at the words of life—
oh when did we lose such awe
and stop up our ears?

Was it when holy writ
was twisted and co-opted
by the violent
or when the rules
were crammed down our throats
like cough medicine
or when Scriptures became
common place and comfortable?
Somewhere along the way
the Holy Words lost our absorbed attention,
our spellbound listening,
our engrossed auscultation.
What if we picked this book
back up
out of the dust
opened it anew,
Let her speak
Listened, listened, listened
like children before a story
full of wonder
not a bit shy with our questions
not a bit reserved with our tears
ready to feast in understanding.