May 7, 2017 – Listen to Surrender

Text: Acts 2:42 – 47

I don’t know about other preachers, but I speak what I need to hear most. Just because I preach, doesn’t mean that I know more or do better than anybody else here. In fact, I have so much to learn from each of you. The Spirit in each of us continues to shape who we are and what we do. That requires our active listening. We are called to listen to the Spirit, who is still speaking to our hearts. There is a huge difference between hearing and listening. We don’t pay attention when we hear all kinds of sounds – the traffic, people talking or squirrels screaming. We pass them by. The sound comes in one ear and out the other. Listening, however, involves our whole being – body, mind and spirit. It takes practice and intention. We have to stop what we were doing, and set aside what was on our mind in order to listen. Listening is not easy because being present in the here and now is not easy. We think we are listening, while in reality we are focused on what we are going to say next, eagerly waiting for our turn to speak. We think we understand somebody taking only what we like to hear, while in reality she means something else. True listening leads us not only to discover the truth within us, but also to surrender to the mystery, the unknown or the unknowable. Listening and surrendering go hand in hand.

Let me give you an example. Recently I have been practicing what I call the mindful driving. I do my best to slow down, to give extra attention to any signs and what’s around me, and to happily yield to other vehicles that are trying to get into my lane. I used to drive fast. Sometimes I drove like I was in a race, trying to get into the fastest line especially when I had to pick up my boys at the daycare at the last minute. I developed a habit of driving fast even though I didn’t have to. One day Jah-bi spoke from the back seat after considerable time of observation. “Dad, why is your car faster than any other cars?” His words have been stuck in my head. I always knew I wanted to change my driving habit. How many times have I heard my inner voice saying ‘slow down’? It was only after I listened to the Spirit who was speaking through the six year old boy that I was able to change my habit. It was only after I surrendered myself to a power greater than myself that I was finally able to enjoy driving in a way that I had never experienced before – not as a means to get to somewhere but as something to be savored.

One of the myths about life is that it is something we can control. There are things we must learn how to embrace: the place we were born, the way we were raised, the family we were born into, and the family we live with or live by. We can’t control any of those. In fact, we can’t change others. Can any of you change your children in terms of what they eat, what they wear or what friends they make? Everybody resists our best efforts to control them. There is only one thing we can control in life – our own self. We can control our responses. The truth is that when we learn to change ourselves, the entire world around us changes. And I believe we can only change
ourselves when we surrender to what AA calls a higher power. This is a powerful phrase because it acknowledges that life is uncontrollable or unmanageable. The twelve steps, programs of recovery for various addictions and compulsive behaviors begin with our confession that we have become powerless over our addiction, and with our trust that only a power greater than ourselves can restore us to wholeness. Here I use the word, addiction in a broader perspective. My definition of addiction is anything we do which hinders us from receiving grace right where we are. It speaks about the inner conflict we all wrestle with, like Paul says in Romans chapter 7, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Paul continues, similar to what the twelve steps suggest, that the grace of Christ saves us, and the Spirit sets us free.

That’s the secret ingredient for the life of the early Christian community as described in Acts 2. Listen to the passage again as if it is a recovery story – the story of how a fearful community which lost their leader becomes a thriving community. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

What stood out for me is their daily practice of listening. They listen to what the Spirit is saying to them, and surrender to the power of grace. It’s clear that they are not in charge. This is proved by how they say what’s happening. They say, “The Lord added to their number” instead of saying we’ve become attractive to newcomers. There is nothing to fear and nothing to brag when we surrender to God.

Denise Levertov, a British poet provides us with an image so vivid that we can almost feel what it is like to surrender to God in our bodies.

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.