Every Monday after Loaves & Fishes lunch, four of us would hang out a little bit afterwards to play a round of euchre.
But last Monday, I witnessed something around our euchre table that really made me pause.
One of the lunch guests joined us, but not to play; but instead, to watch us play, to listen and learn.
Not only did she NOT know how to play euchre, but she wasn’t a card player at all!
But – and this was impressive – she was intent on wanting to learn!
With coffee in hand, and settling in comfortably beside us at the table, she quietly observed, and asked questions now and then while the rest of us played.
And I thought: that takes guts. It takes guts and courage to be vulnerable and honest about not knowing about something – whether it’s playing cards, standing up to speak in public, or understanding the physics behind sub-atomic particle theory.
And then, it takes more courage to put oneself in a position of “student”, of assuming the posture of listening to, and learning from others, asking questions, with a genuine attitude of openness and receptivity to learning something new.
I raise this little incident in the course of my last week, because I think it’s a small example, a glimpse of the Reign of God, of what it looks like.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer back in the 1930s said that the first and most important ministry of service we can offer to others, the most basic and important activity we can engage in: is listening.
Of all the programs and preoccupations and busy-ness we can get into in the church, none is more important.
…approaching new and different people or circumstances in a posture of open receptivity…a willingness to learn something new…
…approaching new and different people or circumstances, really, from a position of weakness, of vulnerable not-knowing…
…of imaginatively putting ourselves in the shoes of the other, to see things from their perspective, to see the world and even ourselves, through their eyes.
Doing this deep listening, can change us. It can be life-transforming. Life-giving.
It’s really the approach of the “disciple”.
The word “disciple” from the Greek means “learner, student, apprentice.”
As “disciples” of Jesus, we are called to life-long listening to, and learning, from others, and from God.
But, let’s face it. Listening isn’t easy. Not many of us very good at it.
I like the joke about a young man, one evening, returning home from a long and tiring day at work, gets a call on his Bluetooth from his concerned wife.
“Be careful on the way home,” she says. “I just heard on the radio that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the expressway.”
“Sorry love,” he shouts back frantically, “can’t talk right now. There isn’t just one crazy guy, there are thousands of them!”
I love it.
We can get so wrapped up in ourselves, full of ourselves, our self-importance, our own agendas, our own sense of always `being right’, of being better than everyone else, that we completely close ourselves off to others, and the possibility that `we might actually be wrong’ – imagine that! – or `that there actually may be something for us to learn’.
The story of Jesus is the story of One who more profoundly than anyone else, listened to us, to humankind.
He fully entered the experience of human life – from birth in a humble cave in the outskirts of Bethlehem, to dying a criminal’s death on a cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem.
Jesus allowed himself to know fully the human experience, including the worst possible, of utter abandonment, rejection, cruelty and violent death.
Even on the cross, as Luke 23 passage today shows, in the midst of his own physical agony, feelings of abandonment, and abusive mockery from the soldiers, Jesus, even then, still pays attention and listens to the criminal beside him, to his regrets, and his yearnings.
Jesus listens, and then offers him hope and assurance.
We don’t have some God who’s far away and distant and dispassionate toward us, ignoring us uncaringly.
That’s not our God. Not the God of the Scriptures.
Our God listens deeply to our cries, our laughter, our yearnings and our weeping – and receives us as we are.
The question is: Are we listening? Are we listening and paying attention to the signs and signals and glimpses of God’s presence around us, and in the world? It’s already there. But are we paying attention and listening?
I just want to end by pointing out for you one example of a glimpse of God’s reign I caught in my reading.
There’s a company, a very successful, profitable business based in Newark, Delaware: “Gore & Associates.”
They’ve been making that water-resistant “Gore-Tex” fabric for outdoor coats, as well as a host of other specialty products.
Year after year, since 1984, Gore & Associates have earned the enviable position on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the U.S. “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
So, it’s a good company to work in, and a very profitable, successful business.
But what makes Gore stand out in my mind, is the unique culture and ethos within the company.
They organize themselves in a very organic, natural, relational model.
It’s so unlike the stereo-typical “business model” with hierarchy, CEO top-down chain of command, and elaborate strategic planning.
Instead, everyone’s on the same “level.”
For example, there are no titles, no hierarchical designations.
Everyone is titled “Associate.” Regardless of how much money they make, or how much responsibility they may have, or how long they’ve been at the company – everyone is an “Associate.”
Salaries are determined collectively.
There are no “bosses” or “managers” or “supervisors.”
Instead, they have “sponsors” or “mentors” – more experienced “Associates” who mentor the younger “Associates.”
No top-down or power-over. Instead, a “working alongside”, a “power-with.”
It’s been noted that much of the success of this company is directly related to this organizational model within the company.
So important here: the quality of relationships and communication among workers, the mutual respect, care, and ability of each worker to listen deeply to, and learn from, the others.
A real community!
A glimpse of the reign of God.
Isn’t this what can also happen in the church? Anywhere where two or there are gathered in the name of Jesus, in relationships of mutual care and deep listening, there is the life-giving, life-transforming reign of God!
Behold our King! Who has come down, to our level, to listen to us, receive us as we are, and change us from the inside out.