This Is What I Heard When I REALLY Listened

I recently visited a Bible study with people I only just met and do not know.  I was the visiting stranger, but the group was a bunch of kids – teens, actually.  A small group of 9 souls, counting myself, all younger than me, and almost all by more than 33 years.

I did not lead the study, and I did not want to hijack it either.  No doubt I could take the inch given me to speak and respond and run a mile with it, yet being the visiting stranger, I tried to be polite and listen more than speak.  I did not want to dominate the discussion, but hopefully my brief remarks might instigate engagement by the young people.

Our text was Psalm 118.  And just the mere reading of it was teaching me.  I was hearing new depths in God’s Word as we simply read it aloud – depths that challenge me.  Then there were the observations offered by the teacher, also which helped shape my thoughts.

This is a LOVE song, he said.  It is emphasized repeatedly at the start of the poem that God’s LOVE is everlasting.

I began thinking of some of the richer love songs I know from the radio which impact my imagination, and there are some alright.  But perhaps the one that I find most impactful, most rich in love, is The Righteous Brothers song Unchained Melody.  It’s not actually my favorite kind of music, but it is such a rich experience to listen to even if it’s not the genre I typically favor.  I mean between the tempo, the melody, the sweeping epic of emotion, and the lost-in-love lyrics take a listener on a rare journey into the heart.

But then there is Psalm 118, a song God himself inspired!  If only I could listen with heaven’s ears the words in the original language and played with the original instrumentation and arrangement; how might it affect me?

Being so far removed in culture, language, time, and understanding, I must overcome a LOT of limitations and lean in close to listen as carefully as I can.  Just casually hearing it as background noise might be nice, but the more context I can find for it, the more meaningful it is.  Because I must say that as the psalm suddenly moves to cries of distress and warnings about princes and shadowy alliances, it suddenly seems to lose the simple richness of Unchained Melody which does not require any effort to be swept away listening to it.

Hmmm…

What is this interruption in the happy vibe?

And then before it’s done we are talking about the “stone the builders reject”, which does not sound like the subject mater of a love song.  Rejection sounds more like the Blues.  Good music, maybe, but not an epic love song.

I spoke up at a couple of key points.

I noted that the writer of this psalm likely writes from a context of Exile.  As soon as I pointed this out, the teacher saw it too and began to explain Israel’s Exile to the teens.  He was right to see it as a love song.  The poetic device of opening with these words of Everlasting Love and repeating them all drive home the point that this is in fact a LOVE SONG alright.  God LOVES Israel deeply, even after Israel sinned and went into Exile.  And this writer is making a truly remarkable claim.  He has lost friends and family, in fact his home and homeland in the devastation of Judgment, and yet somehow this writer finds the LOVE of God to be everlasting.

And thus the warnings about the princes and alliances!  If we were talking about a jilted love, it’s God who was jilted when Israel gave her affections to others and sought peace and love in false alliance with people who were not her first LOVE.

The builders, the architects of Israel’s history, tried to build their nation with other stones and rejected the chief cornerstone chosen by God.  They were unfaithful to their LOVER who somehow still LOVES Israel despite all this.  And it is remarkable that amid so much suffering in Exile, all the bewildering chaos of so much suffering and loss, this writer finds God’s LOVE even there – and finds it amid the rejected stones.

I began hearing all this as I listened to this group soak in the meaning of this song as best they could.  But then I spoke up once more and offered one more instigating thought in an attempt to get the young people to engage at that next level.  And something truly remarkable was said in response.

When the question was posed, “Where do we find this love?”, I answered, “We must look among those people and things we reject in our pride and in our arrogance.”  And it was just then that one of the young ladies said, “…like among the homeless.”

A connection was made.  The juice – the electricity – flowed through the circuit.  The power went through the whole group.  I could see it and feel it as well as hear it.  Suddenly the conversation was animated at a new level.  This was getting interesting.  We were on the cusp of finding a new, modern-day application for this Word from God.  I noted that we see this all through the Bible actually.  Jesus is the rejected stone of Psalm 118 in Mark 12.  He is the “least of these brothers” rejected by the goats in Matthew 25.  He is knocking on the door in Revelation 3, and if you do not answer, he is rejected again.  This is a recurring theme that comes in many forms all throught the Bible, and this LOVE SONG is making this connection for us yet again.  We must take care not to reject Jesus, and he is there amid our rejections!

And as I sat and listened, really, REALLY listened to this group of young people discuss this point, I could see that they came alive with it.  The mood of the room turned to excitement!  We had opened a Bible and read what looked, felt, and sounded out of touch at first, but then we listened, really listened, and we heard the Word of God.  And the rush of oxygen and blood, the temperature of excitement, the movement of the Spirit of God overwhelmed us for just a moment as we considered how Jesus is among those people we so easily and regularly reject.

And then, just then, as I was listening closely, as I was leaning in to hear more, as I was filled with excitement about the connection this group was making between Jesus and the rejected stone, I heard the subtle shift of gears grind back into the old, familiar, safe world of “us and them”, of acceptables and rejects.

Yes, what I heard was all this excitement about finding Jesus right there where you least expect him one minute turn ever so slightly, ever so subtly, into a discussion of how we need to help these people.  Some of them really mean well.  Some of them really can fix their lives if we carefully help them, if we give them a chance.

did you catch it?

A well-meaning sentiment, perhaps, but one missing the point.

If you didn’t catch it, go read what I wrote again.  Listen carefully.  Lean in and cup your ear to the computer screen if you need to.

I have had a hard time putting my finger on it for years, but as I listened, really listened, trying hard not to dominate the discussion with these young people, but instead trying to instigate connections for them.  I heard it.  They aren’t quite as smooth at covering their tracks as us adults, but they are close.  And they reached in the same tool box, but instead of using the screwdriver, they used the hammer, and I heard it.

I suddenly recognized that for just a moment there, I had introduced the idea that the bum in the street IS Jesus, and you can FIND HIM THERE, and it really jazzed this group of young people.  But the moment they got their hands on it, they managed to revert the idea back into one of helping the people that need fixing.

And no doubt they need fixing, alright.  But that is for Jesus to do.

We also need fixing.  We need to listen again to this LOVE SONG from God and run back to those stones we rejected and find the rejected stone IS JESUS.  A different Judgment awaits those who receive these rejects!  That’s in the SONG!!!  And it might be that in receiving that which we have rejected we will MEET Jesus!  And that is not a matter of us fixing him.  It is a matter of humbling ourselves before him, of not knowing everything.

And the moment our discussion reverted to fixing the bums, we lost that.

And I heard it, when it happened.

 

 

2 comments

  1. Anonymous · July 18, 2019

    The real idea here is that there is no such thing as a homeless person. There are no rich people. No, we have people who are homeless and people who are rich and so forth but none with the worldly titles per se in the eyes of God. In other words all we have are people and that is it. In fact, this was one of the messages of Jesus: He stated how precious people were and how he was inside of them (us) and that helping them was the same as helping him. The same is true where: there are no fat guys, or slim guys, or bums or felons or druggies, etc. All that is left are people who were created in the very image of God Himself. As image bearers we are to cast the image of our Father as he made us unto perfection. This means we engage each other as people one to another and nothing more and while doing so we’ll discover Christ in the middle of us. I see this as easy and all in terms of black and white. It would take an intellectual to complicate it and mess it up. The whole idea of living is not a complicated on: it is an easy one and even easier when looking at it from the eyes of our Lord, Jesus: with Him He has set us Free. In terms of Agent X and His point is that we must be free from each other and then we are free to love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · July 18, 2019

      Thanx for this reply.

      Image bearing theology, as I call it, is right at the nub of all things Christian. We were created to bear God’s image. It is our purpose. Wanna be purpose driven? Bear God’s image. This is what Jesus does and calls us to do too.

      Humans, all of us, were meant for this. However most of us have no idea about it. We aim for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” or making a lot of money, or bearing the image of the Marlboro Man or whatever else, but not bearing God’s image.

      It is a humble image. A footwasher image. The image of “the least of these”, of one dying on a cross in a crown of thorns.

      The biggest problem with homeless people is that they don’t appreciate the image they bear. They have no idea the value the image they bear. But then neither do the rest of us. By far, most of us just want to fix them, and make them into the image of proud Americans, white, middle-class, young and healthy, hard working, conservative (or liberal) or whatever we value. Rugged individualists.

      God would have us bear his image and value his image born in one another, not in pride or arrogance, but in sacrificial love and harmony and interdependence.

      This kind of stuff is the cornerstone of practically everything I believe and espouse. One way or another, this is the root of almost every post I write. Yet I can’t think of a time I got a comment on this blog that acknowledged this stuff.

      So, thank you. You win my comment of the month award. I have never given it before, but I will now!

      Thanx.

      X

      Like

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