Mark 10:3-16, Acts 16:6-15
Do you have a creepy Alexa story? You know Alexa, that virtual assistant technology that you can give commands to and viola! The work is done. Like Alexa, turn off the lights. The lights go off. Alexa play Beyonce. “Single Ladies” pipes up. Apparently, Alexa is now known for listening in to your conversations and trespassing certain boundaries.
Meatmacho, reporting on Reddit, says his creepy Alexa story happened when Alexa butted into an argument he was having with his wife. He says: "Wife and I were arguing about something. No clue what it was, but it was getting a little heated. I don't know what Alexa thought she heard, but she suddenly interjected with, "Why don't we change the subject?"
Nichola Kent shares: Alexa is so rude. I am sitting here watching TV and eating chips and she pipes up out of the blue saying, “Here’s a station you may like. Workout FM”
Tragic Ally reports: I asked Alexa “when will computers become self-aware?” Alexa responds, “When will you become self-aware?”
How well do we listen? We may think we are listening well, but psychologists tell us most of the time when we think we are listening we are actually preparing our responses to what we are hearing. Are we really listening as someone is talking to us? Listening is more than hearing words. Do we listen to the pauses and the silence? Do we capture emotional content unlaying a comment? Can we read between the lines? Can we put our biases aside, our presumptions, our own reactivity, to receive what is being said? Can we listen even like creepy Alexa, who seems to at times respond to the larger picture?
Listening is one of the fundamental pillars to being drawn into God’s dream for us. Listening is an active part of loving well. So, we journey through our “Drawn In” series, listening is the theme for this week, on World Communion Sunday, where we are called to listen and celebrate fully peoples of all nations, cultures and languages.
We learn to listen by mistakes made in listening. One of the more famous examples where a manufacturer did a great job dreaming and risking but utterly failed for lack of listening is the creation of the Edsel automobile in the late 1950s. Who here remembers the Edsel? Not many of us. What we might vaguely know is that the term Edsel in now synonymous with being a flop, a failure despite being touted the next best thing to sliced bread.
Henry Ford, the car manufacturer, dreamed big when it came to the Edsel. A lot of money went into market research to determine exactly what the American public wanted in a car. Ford built state-of-the-art production facilities lined up a cross-country network of dealers. However, the public never had a chance to see the Edsel. All told Ford took a risk of what would be about 4 billion dollars in today’s money. And he had no idea what a flop it would be.
The public found Edsel’s unique styling hideous. The most memorable design feature of the Edsel, its front grille, resembled a horse collar or worse a toilet seat in people’s eyes. The car’s fancy new technology was considered a nuisance as well. Unveiled in a time of recession, when people were looking for deals, the ugly Edsel was too high end. Ford could have avoided this if only they had listened, if only he had tested his porotype on actual potential customers than just marketing executives and salespeople.
All these concerns about listening well find concrete expressions in our scriptures. Look at the life of the apostle Paul. Paul knew that even when you’ve done your homework, said your prayers, and were committed to a course of action you cannot stop listening. In fact, you must listen more carefully than ever.
In our passage from Acts 16 today, we find Paul in the midst of a second missionary journey. Paul, Silas and Timothy and many believe Luke as well, head straight for Ephesus in Asia Minor. Little do they know but the relatively straightforward journey from Iconium to Ephesus will morph into a journey thousands of miles further and a couple of years longer than they had originally been led to believe.
Pauls’ course changed three times during this journey. They plan to go to Asia, but the spirit said no. They plan to go to Bithynia, but once again the spirit said no. After two false starts, Paul has a vision of a man of Macedonia, pleading with him to come and help. Paul ended up in Philippi, a leading city in Macedonia. Now the first Paul would normally do is go find a synagogue to worship in and share the good news. Paul is hoping to find a few good men to pass the message along. Paul can’t even find an established synagogue. Instead, the best he ends up with is the riverbank, the second-best place to find worshippers, but here it is just a group of women. If Paul hadn’t listened to the spirit intently, if he had interjected his own interpretations or biases in the message, he would have felt this whole enterprise was a failure. Every which way being blocked. So, obeying the spirit, Paul shares the word with the women, these second-class citizens. Not much of a prize for most missionaries. Now the text says something interesting. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening. This word for listening is used three times in the gospels. It is used in the context of hearing deeply the good news. It is the way Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listens. It is how the crowd, listens as Jesus teaches in the temple. It is even how a troubled King Herod listens to John the Baptist’s teachings. Lydia listens. As a result of her listening, Lydia become the first convert in Philippi. She becomes the first European disciple, and establishes, along with the efforts of Paul and his cohorts, the first Christian Church in Europe. And Lydia became one of the most renowned Christian leaders in the early church. All because Paul listened carefully to the moving of the Spirit.
Our lives are no different than Paul’s. The Spirit calls to us just as frequently and as softly as it did to Paul. We get great ideas like Henry Ford. We think our ideas are so great, that we stop listening. When we get an idea, a vision, the listening process is just beginning. There are always false starts. Mistakes. Misinterpretations. Wrong turns. If we don’t listen carefully, we think it’s all over or we got what we need, when everything in reality, is just beginning.
What do we hear if we listen carefully to our Gospel lesson? Jesus embraces and welcomes children, which of course we applaud. It seems natural to us. Something we welcome. Yet in Jesus’ day, children occupied the lowest status. They were most vulnerable. While children were loved, their lives were hard, they were expected to work, and they were hurt and died more commonly than their counterparts today. The disciples, listening to their own biases, try to keep the children away, from an overbooked Jesus. The disciples act the sales force of Henry Ford, pushing an idea that pleases them, not the consumer. Jesus, however, doesn’t listen to them. Jesus actually rebukes them and insists that the children come to him. Jesus listens to the parents, to the children and blesses them. As we listen to this story, what do we hear? If we want to be a church that is relevant to the 21st century, we can’t listen like ordinary disciples. We got to learn to listen again. We got to listen like Jesus. Listen like Paul. Listen like Lydia. Listen like creepy alexa.
What our scriptures today teach us on this World Communion Sunday is that if want to achieve spiritual abundance, we must listen with spirit and heart, not just our ears. God wants to listen and will take us out of our comfort zone, out of the box, to hear from the vulnerable, to hear from what we might call the second class, to hear from the voice of the common person. Because it is there that God has placed his wisdom, his love, his dream, his vision for us, of a new world. So today, listen to the dreams of a child. Listen to the cares of those whose path you cross today. Listen to the voice of those from around the world that differ so greatly from our own, Let us be drawn in to a holy conversion, an unusual vision of help. If we listen, if we follow in faith, there we will truly find Jesus, there we will find that sacred treasure that has been pulling at our hearts…all these months, all these years…hoping one day, we would just listen. Amen.