Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
Jesus said, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"
This seems to be just where we find ourselves as a nation: unable to interpret the present time. Largely, I suspect, because we do not listen to one another, and we rarely tell our own stories. We simply do not take the time to stop and listen, really listen, to one another.
Then we look at what is happening in the world around us and simply react. Perhaps because on social media that’s what we have been trained to do. React. We see a post that moves us positively or negatively, and then we react – often without even thinking to check on whether or not the post we are reacting to is real or falsified. We share things without checking our sources. We simply react because it is as easy as pressing “Enter” and moving on.
Jesus was acutely aware that both the religious and political leadership of his time had no idea what people were experiencing – working class people we would call them today: farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and the like. An elite class in Jerusalem lived in isolation from the am ha’aretz, the people of the land. The people whose tithes offered at the Temple sustained the elite class in Jerusalem.
Jesus, like the historic prophets before him, repeatedly called upon people to stop and look, rather than simply react to events. He calls the people among whom he lived to interpret the times in which they lived under the military yoke of Rome and the isolated leadership in Jerusalem.
It feels a lot like a day reading the paper, watching or listening to the news, scrolling through Facebook or a Google, Yahoo or AOL newsfeed. A glance at the comments below any given article reveals often angry if misinformed responses: conspiracy theories, racial epithets, bigoted world views and the ugly underbelly of life in these United States.
It takes true control not to wade into the digital cesspool as it widens and spreads hateful and often desperate feelings of hopeless apocalyptic visions of a world in decay.
So this week I have arranged with the congregation I am visiting this week, St. Philip’s, Annapolis, MD not to preach but rather to listen to what the people can tell me about their stories and what the events that pre-occupy us day-to-day feel like and mean to them. St. Philip’s is an historic African American congregation in The Episcopal Church. After spending last Sunday among them I knew I wanted to gain some insight into what they feel about events like Ferguson, Freddie Gray, the political campaigns, terrorism, community policing, even the Olympics.
Yes, even the Olympics. The significance of Simone Manuel being the first African American woman to win a Gold Medal in Swimming is, I imagine, obscure to most of us. Yet, the history of public swimming pools in America offers many lessons that can inform all of us as to what the signal accomplishment of this strong young woman means for interpreting our time. Or, the emergence in the twitter universe of complaints, believe it or not, about Gabby Douglas’ and Simone Biles’ hair for goodness sake! These are the world’s best gymnasts representing our nation honorably, proud to be American athletes, getting grief about their hair.
Seriously, now is a time for listening. Long, patient listening without reacting. Listening without ceasing. We need to unplug from the digital universe and sit down with one another and listen to one another’s stories. The time for countering opinions and arguments is over. We need to hear how people come to these opinions and feelings about others.
This cuts across all manner and category of “others.” Christians need to listen to Muslims need to listen to Jews need to listen to Atheists. Straight people need to listen to gay people need to listen to transgender people. Whites need to listen to Blacks need to listen to Latinos need to listen to Arabs need to listen to Asians. Management needs to listen to labor. Elites need to listen to those without resources. The lists go on and on. There is much work to be done.
We need to listen if there is a ghost of a chance of getting past seeing one another as “others.” Listening without reaction. Listening with empathy. Listening in Love and Care for one another. Listening without ceasing. We cannot possibly interpret the present time which is a crucial time for us all without stopping our digital reactions to just listen and get to know one another. I look forward to listening tomorrow morning at St. Philip’s grateful at their willingness to set aside the time to do this. Pray for us. Then pray for us all to find ways to do this wherever we are.
The world needs us to do this. Our communities need us to do this. Our nation needs us to do this. God needs us to do this.