“I heard you! I heard you!” – Any teenage child in the history of the world.
Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing. At least that’s what we say these days. With a cacophony of sound flying past our faces every minute: TVs in waiting rooms; elevator music; phones chiming at every email, text, tweet, or poke; the soft whir of your laptop fan; the clicking of a keyboard; dozens of conversations happening live and virtually all around – its no wonder we’ve gotten pretty good at hearing lots and listening to nothing. The underlying assumption is that hearing is a physiological process. Sound waves enter the ear canal, vibrate the ear drum, and things get heard. It is totally a passive process. Listening, on the other hand, requires attention, brain power, action. In the high powered, quick moving 21st century, we do an awful lot of hearing and very little listening.
In the earliest hours of Church History, the cacophony was very different: donkeys bleating, flies buzzing, merchants selling their wares. Idiomatically, however, it seems as though there was very little difference between hearing and listening. At least for Luke in his two-part series, Luke-Acts, hearing and listening are the same Greek word, akouo. In the Acts lesson for Pentecost Day, the crowds are astonished to hear (akouo) the Gospel, each in their own tongue. Just past our pericope, Peter explains to the crowd the Good News and begins by admonishing them to listen (akouo).
While it seems as though we make a lot of hearing versus listening in these modern times, it seems to me that the Spirit’s task is to take hearing and turn it into listening, our task is just to speak – to be a voice for the Kingdom: for love and justice through Jesus Christ. It may be just another sound in the mess, or, perhaps, it is the message of hope that a person needs in the midst of their mess.