By the Rev. Kirby Unti, NWWA Synod Bishop
What does it mean to hear?
During seminary, my New Testament Professor Harry Mumm tried to impress upon us the importance of being able to hear God's word. He shared a story about his grandson Ivan, who he and Mrs. Mumm were raising. When dinner time came around Mrs. Mumm would call out with a loud voice, "Ivan, it is dinner time!" Ivan would ignore her call.
A second time she would call out. "Ivan, come to the table - dinner is on." "Yes, grandma, I'm coming." But no Ivan. By the third or fourth time the appeal was more urgent, "Ivan, if you are going to get any dinner, you need to come to the table now."
Dr. Mumm went on to explain that Ivan had not heard his grandmother, until he appeared at the table. Luther had a similar understanding of God's word. For Luther, God's word was a dead word - until it addressed one's life in a way that demanded a response.
One of the precious gifts of serving the Office of Bishop is I frequently find myself in various houses of worship. Week in and week out, I watch people recite the liturgy, sing hymns, enter into prayer, and attend to the sermon. The words are powerful - proclaiming God's love, calling us to seek justice, encouraging us to be peacemakers, inviting us to be about forgiveness, and to become agents of reconciliation - there is even an invitation to come to the table.
The question I am pondering is, "Have we heard the word?"
Are these words just noise in the background that annoy us and otherwise interrupt our own personal desires? Like Ivan do we say yes and then carry on as if no word has been spoken? Like Ivan do we plan to eventually respond but not until we have to? Has the word in our time just become ritual? Has it become a word for Sunday only? Or does it still have the power to disturb us and inspire us.
The cornerstone of the Synod's Living Local movement is learning how to listen to God's word that we might hear it. Dwelling in the word is the discipline that teaches listening. We commit to reading the same text over a long time span always listening for what we haven't heard before. We become like little children who want to hear the same story read over and over again. In our household, it was Good Night, Moon. Kim and I knew it so well we would try on occasion to leave out a page. Believe me, we didn't get away with it.
The practice of learning to hear God's word is, in turn, applied to listening for God in the community by engaging our neighbors. This is so important because we never want to miss out on God's invitation to join in - in what God is already up to.
Grandma Mumm did not call Ivan to the table just to make his life miserable. Grandma Mumm called Ivan to the table that he might share in all that she had prepared for him. Not just the meat and potatoes, but the deep love of knowing that he was the apple of their eye.
Friends, join me in learning to hear the word of God. A word that continues to invite all of us to the table.