The Communications Gap
Listening is not easy. To really listen to another person is a lot of hard work. Most of the time when we are in a conversation with a person we are not really listening. I’ll tell you what we are doing.
Most of the time when we are in a conversation with someone, we listen to a bit of the content, and while we are listening a little, our brain is racing around our hundred billion brain cells finding out stories and ideas and things to say about ourselves. That is what conversation is about. We listen, a little, to what the other says and spend most of the time thinking about what we are going to say next.
But if you are trained listener, or a professional listener, it is not about you, or your life, or what you want to say, it is using that time to really listen and understand.
A good listener listens to the content of what is said. A good listener listens to voice inflection. A good listener listens to the body language which is often more truthful than speech.
A good listener listens to the other’s feelings and emotions and might respond with “I get the impression that made you furious” to check out that emotion.
A good listener listens to free information. The person says. “There’s a few things that trouble me.” The listen responds: “What things trouble you?
A good listener listens to the deep metaphors of the story, as a clue to what is going on in a person’s life.
A good listener not only listens to what is said, but to what is not said. Someone talks about their family but leaves one of their family members out, for instance.
What is so significant about listening for the church is this: people who used to attend church faithfull and participate and drop out of church, usually do so for a reason. They often have several anxiety provoking events happening in their life, and they don’t feel listened to or understood at their church.
Listening is important and we believe that Jesus was a very good listener and understood the deepest needs of people.
Listening is important because we frequently misunderstand what someone is saying. We misunderstand not because we do not understand the words of the content but because we do not understand the intention.
That is called the communication gap.
Let me explain: When we convey a message to someone in words, there are various intentions that message could mean.
For instance, someone asks you: “Would you like to go for a drink?” What is that person really asking or intending?
The person who says that might like to get to know you better as a friend. Their intention is friendship
That person might be saying that because he or she is troubled and wants to unburden themselves. Their intention is help or advice, or a listening ear.
The person might be saying that because they have romantic intentions and would like to be a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.
The person might be saying that because he/she has sexual intentions and hope for some kind of sexual connection.
The person might be saying that because they are lonely and just want to talk.
The person might be saying that and not even know their intentions.
And you as the respondent might respond in various ways depending on how you interpret the request.
The thing is a communication gap exists when what you interpret is different than what the other intends.
If you think the other is making a pass at you, when they just want to be a friend, a communication gap occurs.
One way to try to alleviate the potential for a communication gap is to try and check it out. “Are you wanting this to be a date, or is this just about being friends?”
That is helpful, but to tell you the truth if you say that the person might actually hide their true feelings. They might say, “Of course it is only friends,” when they were secretly hoping it is more romantic.
Communication gaps happen all the time in real life. And when there is conflict, they are even worse. When you are in conflict with someone you nearly always interpret the other’s words and actions in the way you want, not in the way the other intends.
I am sure you have been in a situation where no matter what you do it is wrong.
As a minister have a been criticized for visiting too much, and for not visiting enough. I have been criticized for praying when the family didn’t want a prayer, and for not praying when the family wanted a prayer. The point is… that it didn’t matter what I did that person didn’t like me and was going to criticize me whatever I did.
And so, if you think communication gaps are difficult in real life and hard to avoid, just think how difficult it is for us to understand scripture and understand the intentions of people telling their story two thousand years ago, or four thousand years ago, people who lived in a different historical era, in a completely different culture, who spoke a different language, who actually wrote in different ways than people do today in our culture.
It is one of the things that makes the resurrection stories some of the hardest to understand.
As you may or may not know there is a lot of confusion about the resurrection stories and what they mean. The confusion is partly in the fact that the stories of the witnesses themselves don’t all seem to agree.
Each of the four gospels has a different account of who went to the tomb.
Sometimes Jesus, the resurrected Jesus has a very real physical body. You could touch the body. There were scars and wounds. Jesus ate. The body is really a human body.
But other accounts are mysterious. The disciples on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize Jesus and he vanishes from their sight at supper. Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus and he says “do not touch me”. Jesus seems to walk through walls to visit the disciples and is like a ghost to some.
It is all mysterious and different and hard to understand.
Sometimes it leads to real differences in interpretation of the resurrection. For some the whole point is that there is a bodily resurrection and the bodily resurrection is literally true, and others understand the resurrection metaphorically, as victory over death, or the triumph of good over evil, of the ongoing metaphorical presence of Jesus.
I understand. Many people struggle with the resurrection and what it means. And I think I want to say that I cannot definitively answer what it means. I can answer what it means to me, how I interpret it, how I understand, how I encounter Jesus, how Jesus is alive to me, or in me.
I have my own witness,
And to a certain extent it grieves me to see us argue too much about it, to say that certain people are not Christians unless they understand it a certain way, or my way, or when we judge others for their different understandings of the resurrection.
I think we would be much better to get back to really listening to one another and their understanding of the resurrection, because it might say something very deep about their needs, their own story, their feelings, and their own spiritual stage in life.
Could we as a church really listen deeply to one another? That in itself could be a resurrection moment.
Could we really communicate with each other instead of a communication gap?
The communication gap is when someone says or does something and the other interprets it differently that what was intended.
When it comes to scriptural interpretation, we have to keep this in mind.
The goal of understanding scripture, of interpreting scripture of studying scripture is not primarily this: What does it mean for me, or us?
The goal in good bible study is what did the writers intend? When those first witnesses told their story what did it mean to them?
When Luke wrote his gospel, to a particular group of people in a different time, with a different language, in a different culture, what was Luke intending to convey?
Good Biblical Interpretation tries to overcome the Communication Gap by really digging into the question of what did the writer intend. Once we have that then we look at what it might mean for us.
And I see three things that stand out in our Lukan gospel lesson of what I think the writer was trying to convey or communicate or intend for us.
The first is the emphasis on Jesus’ body. Jesus comes among the disciples and says: “Look at me… Touch me…. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones.”
I don’t know who actually was brave enough to touch him, I suspect a couple of the disciples actually did.
And then Jesus says that he is hungry and they give him some fish to eat.
And what Luke is saying and intending, is that the resurrection is not some disembodied spirit, like a ghost. It is the very real same Jesus.
The Jesus that was born of his mother’s womb, and grew up as a little boy, and used to like to eat dinner and drink some wine….
The Jesus that was tempted in the wilderness and touched lepers and the blind and the lame and healed them…
The Jesus that touched a dead girl’s body and brought her back to life…
The Jesus that was beaten and scourged and tormented and killed…
The Jesus who said he was thirsty…
That same Jesus, in his entirety, is the one that is back.
Not a ghost or a spirit or a feeling.
It is all too easy to accept a Greek understanding of the resurrection…
that we have an eternal spirit and the body is not a big deal, and this world is not a big deal. This world and are bodies are just temporary and not important, and the real deal is the eternal spirit going to heaven after we die.
But for Luke and it seems for Jesus, this earthly place and this earthly body, was and is important…. because it says, real resurrection isn’t just what happens after you die. Real resurrection happens here and now.
And real resurrection is not just about heaven, but about the kingdom of God alive and present here and now.
We don’t have to wait until we die to be born again and to know Jesus. We are born again now and can know Jesus now.
Jesus is alive in us now and lives in our bodies. Jesus lives in frail, fragile, human bodies. Our bodies. Us. Jesus lives in us.
And it also says that the powers of evil, the powers who dominate, and those who oppress, whether it is a government, or a criminal element, or religious authorities gone wrong, of a prejudiced police force, or a trigger-happy military, an abusive teacher, parent or religious leader, or whomever.
They, who sometimes sacrifice the little person… they who sometimes kill, to keep the status quo, and to maintain power…
they who killed Jesus….they who think that dead bodies stay dead…
...are confounded by this…that though they think they are in control and can create dead bodies that will stay dead…
...there is another force at work in this world.
It is Jesus. It is life, and it is love, and it is forgiveness, and it is resurrection, and it is stronger than they think.
In fact, it is stronger than they, and long after whatever despot, dictator or political power broker is dead… love will still be here… and Jesus will still be alive, living wherever there is love.
Let me quote from a sermon by Ms Lee Cheek an Episcopal Lay preacher:
A resurrected body claims that the last word is not left to death, nor to the powers that use the threat of death for their purposes.
I believe, all that is contained in the intent of the gospel writers who want to say that Jesus’ body was very real and resurrection is real.
But another thing I think Luke intends in his gospel is how the resurrection is not only Jesus rising from the dead, it is the interpretive principle by which we should understand scripture.
When Jesus appears to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, he goes through all the scriptures and teaches them about the messiah.
And in today’s gospel lesson we read:
Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them: Thus, it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.
You cannot understand the scriptures without understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the interpreting principle, because it is the clearest evidence of what God is all about.
And what is God all about. Love for you. Jesus will die on the cross to prove how much he loves you…
you can kill Jesus,
we humans can kill Jesus,
we God’s children can kill Jesus…
and yet Jesus forgives us and loves us and doesn’t give up on us.
Jesus is very much the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, because, no matter who much we hurt Jesus, sin against Jesus, even kill Jesus, Jesus absorbs our sin and never hurts us back.
So, when I read about wars and violence in the Old Testament or phrases that talk about someone going to hell, or the Lake of Fire in the Book of Revelation, I don’t read it literally or plainly and take it at face value.
I read if through the interpretative principle of the cross and resurrection, and the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus as demonstrated by the cross, and proved by the resurrection.
If Jesus had not been resurrected, maybe you could say that his sacrifice was a noble effort…
…but the resurrection makes it all true, that he really does love us unconditionally and for ever. That he really does forgive us, that he will never leave us or forsake us. That he really is the Lord we should obey and follow, for his way is the way to be in this world.
The sad thing is that there has been an incredible communication gap between what God intends in the scriptures and what people have interpreted.
The late Robert Hamerton-Kelly in a sermon entitled “All the scriptures” was pretty blunt with his assessment of the great communication gap. He talked about the task of getting rid of bad interpretation. Specifically, he talked that the three major Abrahamic religions in which messianic, utopian visions, are misinterpreted as: the believers are rewarded and the non-believers horribly punished.
To Hamerton-Kelly, getting rid of this bad theology is akin to Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables.
God doesn’t like evil. God is against evil. God wants you to repent of doing evil, but God is not going to do evil to get you to love. God is going to love and show you another way to be. God opposes evil but not with evil, but with love that overcomes death.
And the third thing that Luke intends, is that we be witnesses to the risen Lord.
Today, I believe in the resurrection not because it is intellectually credible…
Not because I have to…
Not because I am scared of hell…
Not because I need or want a miracle or some other wonderful thing to happen and I think God might just be able to pull it off…
Not because it is my job to preach resurrection as a minister...
I believe in the resurrection because I encountered Jesus, I feel Jesus, I see Jesus, I even embody Jesus.
This frail, sinful human, who has a body that should have been 7 inches taller and a few pounds lighter… is a place, believe it or not, where Christ dwells.
Listen, sometime some people tell me all kinds of incredible things, that I find it hard to believe. But it is their truth. And I know I need to listen deeply to people even when I find it hard to believe their truth…because there is probably a deeper truth, beneath their superficial truth, a story they need to tell, and they need someone to listen.
My truth is that Jesus is alive, and is lives in nature, in art, in music, in literature, in animals, in acts of loving kindness, in babies, in good stories and good movies, in you and in me…. in places of human need… and in loving friends and family…
And a myriad of places I don’t even know yet.
In fact, I cannot begin to tell you of all the places the people have experienced Christ.
But I have experienced Jesus, and his every intention, his every message that I can glean…
is that Jesus loves you, Jesus cares for you, Jesus wants to heal you, help you, live in you… Jesus wants to transform you…
…so that you are a place of grace and love, a home for Jesus, and a welcome and safe healing place for all whom you meet.