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The Inclining Ear of God

Psalm 116
David A. Davis
September 12, 2021
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“I love the Lord, who had heard my voice, and listened to my supplication, for the Lord has given ear to me whenever I called”.  The Lord has given ear to me. The Lord, the Lord who created the heavens and the earth. The One who called Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation. The Lord who spoke to Moses from a burning bush. The God who heard the people’s cry amid the bondage of Pharaoh. The Lord God Almighty has given ear to me. God hears…me?

“I’ll call out to God as long as I live because God listens closely to me.” The God who created me. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head. The God who in and through Jesus Christ promises never to leave or forsake me. The God who in the power of the Holy Spirit promises to intercede for me with sighs deeper than words. God listens closely to me. Listens closely. Like someone completely hanging on every word of the latest Ted Talk. Like a conductor who can hear when the second trombone in the orchestra is half a beat late on an entrance. Like the couple who have listened so closely to each other for so long the sentences don’t even have to be finished anymore. Like the new couple so in love they can hear each other like birds whispering at a crowded family dinner table. God listens closely…to me?

“Because God turned an ear to me, I will call on God as long as I live.” God turns an ear.  Like Jesus who would stop along the way when someone in need of healing would call his name. Or like when Jesus stopped to heal the woman with the hemorrhage because she touched his cloak. God turns an ear. Like someone turning an ear to hear better. Like someone turning an ear to hear a second time. Like someone turning an ear because their attention has been grabbed. God turns an ear….to me?

“I love the Lord who heard my cry.”  Not just songs of praises. Not just shouts of joy. Not just prayers of adoration. But a cry. Not just the intercessions for others, the list of names that can go on forever. Not just the constant and always needed prayer for peace, justice, and righteousness to fill the earth. But a cry. Like a parent who can pretty much hear the cry of an infant before any noise comes. Like a best friend who knows that hearing a cry is more important than having any words to say. A cry that is a shout, a teeth rattling wail. Or a cry that is silent with the tears speaking volumes. A cry that comes when words never will. A sudden cry. A one-time cry. A cry that lasts and lasts and lasts. “I love the Lord who heard my cry.” The Lord hears my tears. The Lord hears…my cry?

“I love the Lord because the Lord has heard my voice and my supplications. Because the Lord inclined an ear, therefore I will call on the Lord as long as I live.”  The Lord inclined an ear. Yes, like a bending over to listen to a small child who has the most important thing to say. Yes, like sitting down and drawing close to the one you love because the conversation is so important. And yes, like looking up and inclining an ear almost out of deference and out of respect because the one about to speak is important, really important, very important, special, precious, no matter what is about to be said. The Lord inclined an ear. The Lord inclines an ear…to me?

The inclining ear of God. Rather than an image that adds to an unhelpful  anthropomorphic stereotyping of God. It is an image that may transform the nature of hearing or listening to something far beyond an ability to perceive sound. An understanding of hearing that is not bound to a particular human sense; a sense not experienced by all. The inclining ear of God. The image that inspires the psalmist brings a promise to us.  The song of the psalmist bears witness to the listening presence of God in our lives. The prayer of the psalmist proclaims the faithfulness of our God who receives our cry in a manner that has nothing with sound. It is a promise of God to claim, to bear witness, and to cling to for God’s people.  But you and I know that holding on to that promise is not easy when it comes to life of faith in all of its fullness. The hills, the valleys, the turns, the bumps, and the bruises that come with the life of faith. Not an easy promise to hold on to and pretty much never was for the people of God; the inclining ear of God.

That God hears you. God listens closely to you. The Lord turns an ear to you. The Lord hears your cry. God inclines an ear to you. It is more than a primer on prayer. It is also far from an affirmation that answers all the theological questions that quickly follow regarding unanswered prayer. But the promise tells of the very nature of God. The promise not just of God’s presence but of God’s attentive presence. That God hears you is as foundational to our faith as God loves you. It is who God is. That by the grace and mercy of God and unbound from sound, God listens and hears even you, even me.

On September 16, 2001, there were so many people in this sanctuary that one might have thought it was Easter morning. But that morning a few days after September 11th could not have been anything farther from Easter. I preached on another psalm that morning. Psalm 137. “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion….How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  In that sermon I suggested that the landscape of our lives changed amid the violence and destruction and magnitude of suffering and death. It suddenly felt like we were living in a foreign land. I asked if there was still a Lord’s song to be sung?

Here’s the end of that sermon from twenty years ago: “Indeed the nation will sing; “God Bless America” and “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful.” The songs of pride and determination that tell important history and unite and motivate.

And for the people of God there is a prior song. Like those who were the first to sing Psalm 137, it starts somewhere in the deepest part of our memory. Something of a primordial cry. It starts with comfort, and it speaks of strength, and the notes tell of the presence of God in the rubble that is the shadow of death. The melody hauntingly tells of the tears of God. The song proclaims an unfathomable love, and Savior’s promise, “I will be you always.” The song bears witness to our belief that nothing shall separate us from that love of God. The song affirms that the most powerful forces of evil shall never, ever overcome the mercy of God. The Lord’s song affirms that the voice of death and despair shall one day be silenced for all eternity, because “he was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell, and on the third day he rose again from the dead.”

By the rivers of Babylon we will surely sing of that break of dawn that comes after the dark night of the soul, of how God will again turn our mourning into singing, and how weeping will someday turn to dance, or how the exile is followed by the welcoming home, a return of glory, a return to glory. As Mary heard the voice of the Risen Savior call her by name on the Resurrection Day, we too look to that victorious God of life, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” We are surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses, the church in every time and place, and we dare to affirm that we afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted , but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed….” We sit and weep now, but we shall again stand and sing, for the light has come into the world, and the darkness shall never overcome it.”

I know the prior song of the people of God is timeless but I am not sure I ever imagined those last paragraphs would be again as relevant to our pandemic lives in a divided nation today as they were then. It is so striking to proclaim the promise of a Lord’s song still to sing when we have not and really still can’t sing (at least like we sang in this overflowing sanctuary on September 16th, 2001. But then again, there is a prior promise that comes with the prior song of the people of God. That prior song of God just sort of presumes that God is listening. But it’s not a promise to just skip over; the promise of the inclining ear of God. And when you once again find yourself living in what seems like a foreign land now for all sorts of different reasons than twenty years ago, it’s not a promise to skip over, it’s a promise to cling to.

The attentive presence of God to and for you.