Sermon: August 19, 2018 – “Listening Well”

Listening Well

Text: Luke 8: 16-18

16 “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

This is an interesting text in that it seems to parallel a number of other texts scattered throughout the New Testament and even some overlap with the Old Testament as well. The closest text we have appears in Mark 4: 21-25 and it is very similar to this text. As I have said before, most Bible scholars agree that the authors of Matthew and Luke both had copies of Mark that they used as a source for their respective Gospels. When we compare the two, there really isn’t any significant difference between the two, with one exception.

If we look at the text in Mark, we will find that the rule stated about what happens to those who have and those who don’t have relates specifically to giving. Let’s read what it says:

21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

You can see in verse 24, Mark specifically says that the measure with which you give will be the measure with which you receive. Luke leaves that specific example out of his text, and makes it more generic. I am particularly interested in this more generic approach, because I wanted to think about this text in a new way-and I think it is possible that Luke intended for us to expand our thinking around this text as well.

So with that as some background information, I would like for you to forget everything that you think you understand about this text and open your minds for an entirely new perspective as to a possible interpretation of what is actually being communicated by Luke is this passage.

If we begin with verse 16 the function of the lamp is identified to bring light, and therefore it is put on the lamp stand and not hidden away somewhere. There are any number of things we can interpret as light from the lamp, but the metaphor I want to attach to the light today is probably a new idea for you. I want us to think about the function of the light as an attitude or a mindset. So in our minds, when we receive information, do we receive that information in light or do we receive it in darkness? Another way of saying this would be to question whether or not we tend to label certain information as good or bad, positive or negative, or the classic “good news” versus “bad news” scenario. We have all heard the saying that I have good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?

My thinking around this text, is that all information should be received as good news. We have multiple examples in other texts that tell us to give thanks in all circumstances, to rejoice in the Lord always and that everything works together for our good. In spite of all these other scriptures, we still persist in identifying some news as good, and other news as bad.

One more metaphor before we leave verse 16; in my mind the placing of a lamp on the lamp stand is a form of celebration. We place it front and center for everyone to see and everyone to benefit from; we celebrate the arrival of the lamp by placing it on the lamp stand. I think that is how we should receive all information that comes to us. We should celebrate the information and place it in the center of our minds.

As we move on into the text, in verse 17, it becomes clear that we cannot hide from what comes to us. Everything will eventually be dealt with, everything will eventually come to light. In other words, have you ever found yourself saying something like “well, I just don’t want to think about that right now..” in response to something that we might consider bad news. Have you learned from past experience that ignoring a problem generally doesn’t help? Have you learned from past experience that problems left alone tend to become bigger problems than they would have been if dealt with sooner rather than later?

All of this is to say that we should receive all information with the light of a positive attitude and we should not try to ignore it or hide it away. We should bring it front and center, whatever it is, and deal with what our perceived problem is in the light rather than allowing it to grow larger and more severe in the dark.

If we now look at verse 18, you might begin to see why I keep talking about how we receive information. The text clearly says for us to pay attention to how we listen. What does that mean? How exactly, do we pay attention to how we listen? I think one interpretation of this idea is to pay attention to that voice in our heads that wants to identify and categorize every piece of information we receive as either good news or bad, positive news or negative. We need to pay attention to how we listen and how we receive information. When we immediately label information as bad news or as negative, then everything changes for us and we limit any possibility of a positive outcome for us. Also we may have a tendency to want to put that information in the dark, or hide it away somewhere, but as we were reminded in verse 17, nothing can be hidden that will not eventually be revealed.

Now we can look at verse 18, which I think begins to tie all of this together for us. Taken at face value, or taken as Mark interpreted the text, the idea presented is that when you give, you will receive. This concept is echoed in other passages as well. But Luke changes the wording significantly, Luke eliminates the connection to giving and I think opens the door for us to apply this thought metaphorically to other situations.

For example, when we receive what we call bad news, for some of us we experience fear. If we look at verse 18 in the context of fear, it might read something like this:

Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have fear, even more fear will be given; and to those who do not have fear, even what fear they have will be taken away.

Or another example is just negativity in general. If we include a reference to negative attitudes or negative thinking or negativity as a general disposition, our text might sound something like this:

Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who react negatively, even more negativity will be given; and to those who do not react in a negative way, even what negativity they have will be taken away.

I feel like these could be accurate interpretations of this text because Luke uses the verb “how” and not what. If we look at the text one more time, we can see that the text says for us to pay attention to “how” we listen – not necessarily what we listen to. Many times we don’t have an option about what we hear or if we will receive bad news or not. We will hear what we hear and often don’t have a choice about that. But we do have a choice about “how” we hear. There is a distinct difference between “what” we hear and “how” we hear. Luke uses the word how, and for me, that indicates we have a choice about how we receive the information.

So we have a choice about how we receive information, or how we listen. If we listen with negativity or fear, that negativity or fear increases. If we listen with a positive spin, and listen with thanksgiving in all situations, then even what fear or negativity we have will be taken from us.

By receiving all information with thanksgiving, we not only eliminate our fear, but we also bring everything into the light. So it is a complete package. Be careful how you listen; if you listen with fear you will remain in the dark and your fear will increase. If you listen with thanksgiving, you will be brought into the light and even what fear you might have had will be taken from you.

And that of course, is food for thought.

Go in peace, Amen.


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