When I worked as a preschool teacher, we were all required to do a certain amount of hours of continuing education every single year. One of the trainings we often had, focused on teaching us the importance and practice of good listening. Then we would split into groups and practice the art of listening. Most recently, I had another required training for the UCC where this was brought into practice again. The training was a required racial justice training and when we started the class we were split into pairs to introduce ourselves and speak about why we were there. During the introductions those of us who were listening were not allowed to talk but had to sit silently truly listen to what was being said.
You would think that this would be easy. But trust me it is harder and more uncomfortable than you might think. We tend not to listen as well as we often think that we do. We do not always listen with the intent on hearing the true meaning of what is being shared with us. But rather we listen with the intentions of continuing the conversation and seeking something to respond to. Once we have hit upon that topic, then we stop listening and start formulating our responses missing what is truly being communicated.
In our modern world, with all the technology and instant access to people, we have lost the art of listening and without it healthy communication with family, friends, community, and spirituality starts to fall apart. Steve Maraboli writes, “A beautiful thing happens when we start paying attention to each other. It is by participating more in your relationships that you breathe life into them”. If we want to improve our lives, our relationships, and our connection with the Holy, then we need to take a more active role, take more interest in those relationships. This does not mean we need to talk more. It may mean we need to work on our active listening skills which are essential to our communication skills. It is essential in understanding the needs and desires of others and understanding how to communicate the same for us.
My Great Uncle Arty used to tell newlyweds in our family that the best advice he could give to a couple is to stop talking and to listen. This does not mean the cold shoulder or the silent treatment when we get angry. This means to shut our mouths and to listen and to be observant of the other person, to care and take an interest in the relationship enough to be present in the moment and try to understand what is happening. We are called by God to enact a form of communication that will build up the faith, better the world around us, and create unity within our communities and our lives.
In our scriptures for this morning, Paul is responding to troubling reports he has received about the state of the church in Corinth, Greece. Reports that they were not communicating anymore amongst themselves in a way that was constructive and brought unity for the word of God, which is what holy communication is supposed to do. There were factions in the church around leaders or personalities each side yelled at the other, no one listened to the other side, people just angrily expressed their beliefs without making room for the Holy Spirit in the conversation. It’s amazing that the struggles of churches and communities in general have not really changed in thousands of years. Paul was reminding the congregants to be of one mind, their source of coming to faith mattered not, just that they all belonged to Christ.
We are encouraged to make room for the Holy Spirit. This means that we allow for respectful conversation, constructive words, and taking the time to truly listen to what is being said, listening for the words of the Holy in the words of one another. We do not spend enough time truly listening to one another. Listening in a way that is thoughtful and searching for what is being said. Instead, we often spend too much time just looking for ways to either continue the conversation or to end it as soon as possible.
If we want to experience the peace and integrity of God in our lives, in our communities, and in the world around us then this is the skill that we need to work on. A skill that is often spoken of in the Bible from the Hebrew Scriptures where we hear reference to the duties of the king to listen to the complaints of the people to the letters of Paul where he encourages people to find their unity through purposeful conversation. So as a new week begins, as we work our way towards thanksgiving when for many families, stresses mount and those sometimes challenging family members are seated around the table with us, we need to remember the charge of Paul which still applies to us today, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”. This doesn’t necessarily mean agreement as we think of it. But rather we are being called to spend time seeking the peace of God through our prayers, our words, our conversations, and purposeful listening. So use purposeful silence and listening to better your conversations and your relationships in your lives. It is all about being present in the conversation, being respectful of the people around you, and knowing the right time to talk and the right time to remain quiet.
 Steve Maraboli, author and decorated military veteran, 21st century.
 1 Corinthians 1: 10, NRSV.
(based on Psalm 101 and 1 Corinthians 1: 10-17)