Christianity: It's Not Primarily About 'Being Hands & Feet' But 'Listening'

Text: Mark 7:31-37

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church gathered together for what is called the Second Vatican Council.  At the council, the Catholic Church addressed the relations of the church with the modern world. 

For the sake of simplicity, one of the major things that came out of the Second Vatican Council was the central idea that the laity ought to participate in the liturgy of the church.  In other words, there was a desire that the laity ought to be more heavily involved on Sunday mornings in the ministry of the church.  Now, the unspoken reason for this was that an involved laity in the church would be more inspired to transform the world outside the walls of the church.  The thought was quite simple.  If the laity were excited about reading scripture and being involved in leading a church service, then they would be excited about doing ‘ministry’ to the world the other six days of the week. 

And so, since the 1960s, we have seen more and more laity being involved in Sunday morning church services.  In fact, it is not uncommon in many non-Catholic Churches to have the majority of the church services led by the laity doing announcements, reading scripture, and leading music.  In fact, it is not uncommon to see in American Christianity whole church services led by youth – even youth taking a shot at preaching the Word.   

Now, we need to be perfectly clear.  It is good to see the laity expressing interest in their local churches. It is good to see the laity wanting to be involved in the local church.  However, there is a fundamental flaw in this kind of thinking.  That flaw is that it is better to speak and do than it is to listen. 

Dear friends, whether intended or not, since Vatican II, what is often communicated in the modern church is that leading a church service is somehow better than following in a church service.  It is often believed that sitting in a pew is secondary to standing in a pulpit. That is to say, sitting in the pew is often considered like being a Junior High Varsity football player sitting on the bench during a game while being upfront in a church service is where the real action is (i.e., Put me in coach!  I want to play!)  In fact, it is often communicated that those who are upfront are somehow better and more spiritual than those sitting in the pew. 

And so, sitting in the pew is often viewed as being secondary, lazy, inactive, or boring.  Again, listening with ears in the pew is supposedly not important, whereas speaking and doing things upfront is so much better. 

But if this is the case, though, why did Jesus heal the deaf man in our reading from the Gospel of Mark?  He certainly did not need to, for the man could already see, walk, and most likely work with his hands.  If hearing is not important, why did the old Lutheran Pastors from five hundred years ago lick their fingers and shove spit into the ears of babies before baptizing them, saying, “Ephphatha, be opened”?[1] If listening is subpar, secondary, and unimportant, why did Jesus tell his followers to listen over 120 times in the Gospels?

Perhaps this might all seem a bit confusing, though.  After all, so many churches in American are frustrated and dissatisfied with people not wanting to get upfront to lead a church service.  I kid you not. Pastors and church leaders will grumble behind the scenes that many laity just sit in the pews and are reluctant to get upfront to read scripture, lead music, or publicly perform some other spiritual activity.  They will have staff meetings with the question, “How can we get them out of the pew to be active in our church services,” as if sitting in the pew is a bad thing. 

So, what is going on here?  Our reading from the Epistle of Romans clues us in a bit.  We hear from the Apostle Paul that the church can neither call on Jesus nor trust in Jesus unless they have first heard.  And so what this means is that a strong church is not characterized by all that it is doing but by how intently the church is listening to Jesus’ Word. 

You and I cannot have strong faith unless we first listen.  We cannot even begin to consider how to love our neighbor until we have first heard how the Lord loves us.  Christian maturity is not found in how fast your lips and feet are moving for the Lord but whether you are listening to God’s Word.

And so, to be very honest with you, I do not trust individuals who are bored with sitting in the pew and want to be a pastor upfront.  Sure, being a pastor is a noble thing.  It is good to desire to be a pastor for the sake of blessing the flock.  However, wanting to be a pastor because you are tired of listening in the pew; wanting to be upfront in a church service because sitting in a pew listening to God’s Word is somehow beneath you; seeing the pew as Junior Varsity and the pulpit as Varsity High?  Aw, that is not a sign of spiritual maturity but a sign of a spiritual fool – a fraud.  A pastor should always covet his parishioners’ pews, knowing that His parishioners have the best seats in the house.  And the parishioner?  They should look at the pastor and know that the most coveted places in the church are not the lectern or pulpit but the pew.

Baptized Saints, the fundamental flaw in our day and age is that we have reversed the order of so many things with respect to Christianity. We would rather be the shepherd than the sheep.  We would rather be the potter than the clay.  We would rather be the master than the servant.  We would rather be the vine than the branches.  We would rather be a teacher than a disciple. We would rather lead than follow.  We would rather do than listen.  And we would rather be upfront than in the pew. 

Hear this loud and clear! Christianity is not primarily about being the hands and feet of Jesus but about listening to Jesus.

But does this mean that the church should not be concerned about its mouth, hands, and feet?  Should we not confess, serve, and go? 

By no means; that is not the point. 

The point is that faith comes from hearing.  And without faith, we cannot confess, and we certainly do not do good works.  Never forget, good works flow from faith.  And so, a church that does not listen cannot confess and does not do true good works.  In other words, a busy church with busy hands and loudmouths that does not listen, is nothing more than an empty bottle. A church may be active, vibrant, loud, busy, and full of people, but if there are no ears to hear God’s Word, they are nothing more than an old crusty donut with no cream filling.

This is why it is so important for God to put ears on sinners.  God puts ears on sinners so that they would listen to His Word.  This means that Christianity is best represented by the human ear, not the human hand or mouth.  And so, as an ear, you are not meant to primarily give and do things for Christ but primarily to receive all good things from Christ.  Ears are meant to receive! Yes, you are given ears to hear the most powerful Words in the world – and to hear them often!  “Ephphatha, be opened!  In Christ, you are forgiven!”

And there is more.  With ears to hear, you are not meant to hear this Word of forgiveness one time and then to venture off into this world with your hands and feet.  Heaven’s no!  In the Christian faith, you don’t use your ears one time and then they fall off your head!  Ears are not meant for a one-time event.  They are meant to hear and hear often from Christ’s Word in His blessed church. 

And so, the point being, you can never hear about forgiveness too much.  You can never hear too much of God’s Word.  As a Christian, your ears are meant to hear, “I forgive you” every single day. This is why Christ opened them in the first place. He wants you not to hear and believe the blabbering devil, the jabbering world, or the prattling sinful old nature.  But instead, He wants you to hear through His Word how He has done all things well – for you.  He wants you to hear truth, life, and salvation, as you muddle through this vale of tears.  He wants you to hear from His church that as good or bad as it gets that He is with you, that He has redeemed you, that you are His, and that He will resurrect you on the last day. 

The greatest participation in the Divine Service is not in the giving end of the gifts but on the receiving end of Christ’s gifts! 

You, who have ears, gladly hear and receive this day!  

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

[1] If hearing is less important than doing, why did Jesus say to busy Martha, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much [with your busy doing] and getting yourself worked up over nothing.  One thing only is essential, and Mary [who is sitting at my feet listening] has chosen it – it is the main thing….”? 

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