First read:  Acts 2:14-41

Simon Sez… lessons from the life of Peter.  #7 “Listen Carefully to What I Say”

We come this morning to the final installment in this series of messages on Simon Sez:  Lessons from the Life of Simon Peter.  Although this passage focuses on the events of Pentecost, which we celebrate in May rather than December, it seems to me that the heart of Simon Peter’s comments is quite appropriate shortly before Christmas.

Peter’s speech to the Jews in Jerusalem is one of the more lengthy speeches recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.  But to be honest – it isn’t so much the content of Simon’s speech that caught my attention, as it is the way he began what he had to say.  He began with these words – “Listen carefully to what I say…”  (in the NIV translation).

These are words that most mothers and fathers have found themselves saying at some point in their lives – probably on more than one occasion:  “Listen carefully to what I say…”  The parents of young children who are becoming more and more excited as Christmas morning approaches may well have to sit their little ones down and get their attention with words much like Peter used that day so long ago.

Actually I think most people do “listen carefully” to what we say – but – they also listen to a variety of things before they listen to the content of our words.  You might remember how to play the children’s game Simon Sez.  Often the “leader” of the game will give directions to do one thing while they physically are doing something else.  For example the leader might say, “Put your left arm in the air” while he or she is putting their right arm in the air.  The “players” get caught because rather than listening to the instructions they are watching what the “leader” of the game is doing instead.  Many times people “listen” first to your actions – and if your actions contrast with your words – they will probably pay more attention to your actions.

We see this in children all the time – particularly children we tend to call “disruptive” children.  Here I’m talking about the ones who don’t listen to their parents – and of course this is no surprise – because the parents’ actions usually have no consistency with what they are saying.  Their words say one thing – but their actions indicate something else.

Why do we listen to what Jesus said?  It’s not his words that captivate us first – it is His actions.  The symbol of our faith is what?  It is a cross – a sign of action – particularly of love in action – an action that calls us – compels us to act in response – and it is then that His words become important.

You can always tell which people listen to Jesus’ words before they focus on his actions.  They want to argue about his words – they think of him as a teacher or philosopher.  But before we can take Jesus’ words with appropriate seriousness, we need to see that they come to us along with his actions – his love in action.

I don’t remember the first time I ever heard this saying – but it really struck me – Theodore Hesburgh:  “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Usually our actions reveal our attitude – and all wrapped up in our attitude are our priorities and goals.  It has been said – I think correctly – that if you want to examine your real priorities in life – you should take a close look at two things: your check book and your calendar.  How you spend your time and how you spend your money reveals quite clearly what your priorities are – your goals – and thus also your attitude.  We often don’t realize how much we communicate by our attitude – by our priorities.

At dinner one evening little Jonathan had been misbehaving.  His father, always a strict disciplinarian, reprimanded him saying, “Jonathan, if you do not behave you will be sent to your room!”  Jonathan did not listen.  Ordered from the table, he heard his father’s last words:  “And there will be no more food for you tonight!” 

Later, in bed, Jonathan’s thoughts of his behavior began to bother him.  He was hungry.  He couldn’t remember ever having felt more alone or alienated.  He began to cry.  Then he heard a noise on the stairs.  Footsteps came closer to his room.  His door opened and his father came in.  Closing the door he came over to Jonathan’s bed and said, “I love you, Son, and I’ve come to spend the night with you.”

I am amazed at the way so many people today question whether or not children should be included in the time of worship – after all they say, “Children, especially the younger ones, cannot possibly understand the words – and therefore the significance of what we do.”  Perhaps – but they can understand our attitude – that we find our God to be a compassionate – caring – loving God – that knowing and following Jesus Christ is not only the “right” thing to do – but that it is a meaningful and even at times a “fun” thing to do.  Is it an important thing to do??

We show an attitude to children – our own – our grandchildren – the children of others – by how we approach our worship.   Is God a priority to us as indicated in our calendar and our checkbook – or is He just something we might choose on the Ala Carte line of life.

Simon Sez:  Listen carefully to what I say – and to your attitude as well for your priorities say an awful lot.

Finally once we get past the actions and the attitudes – then what we have to say will be heard.  We need to remember that our words are important – a word said hastily – just in passing – or in anger – can change the direction of life.

On a cold winter evening a man suffered a heart attach and after being admitted to the hospital, asked the nurse to call his daughter.  He explained, “You see, I live alone and she is the only family I have.”  The nurse went to phone the daughter.  The daughter was quite upset and shouted into the phone, “You must not let him die!  You see, Dad and I had a terrible argument almost a year ago.  I haven’t seen him since.  All these month I’ve wanted to go to him for forgiveness.  The last thing I said to him was ‘I hate you.’”  The daughter was crying and then said, “I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”

The patient went into cardiac arrest, and the nurse prayed, “O God, his daughter is coming.  Don’t let it end this way.”  The efforts of the medical team to revive the patient were fruitless.  The nurse observed one of the doctors talking to the daughter outside the room – she could see the hurt on her face.  The nurse took the daughter aside and said, “I’m sorry.”  The daughter responded, “I never hated him, you know, I loved him, and now I want to go see him.”  The nurse took her to the room – the daughter went to the bed and buried her face in the sheets as she said good-bye.  The nurse noticed a little scrap of paper on the table next to the bed.  She picked it up and read, “My dearest Janie, I forgive you.  I pray you will also forgive me.  I know that you love me.  I love you too.  Dad”

Watch your words – pass on the important things – say what you really mean – because people really do listen.

It needs to be said that as we speak we especially need to communicate more about the things of faith.  Too many of our lives are devoid of conversation about spiritual things – about what it means to be Christian.  We talk and talk and talk – about what in the long term is going to be simply meaningless trivia.  Talk – and listen – about important things.

Peter’s speech in Acts 2 is filled with the marvelous wonders of the good news of the Gospel – things he learned not simply out of his experience  — but also in school – in that school that convened at the foot of Jesus – or beside him while walking along the shore – or while Peter was passing out baskets of bread and fish to the 5000 sitting on a hillside.

We should want , like Simon Peter, to say to others – “Listen carefully to what I say…”  We need to also have something worth saying – have something to say worth listening to.

One of my favorite hymns has gone through some editing in our day and age.  When the Presbyterian pastor William P. Merrill wrote it in 1911 he gave it the title: “Rise Up O Men of God.”  In our day it is often changed to “Rise Up O Church of God.”  But it is the next line that is particularly germane to our focus today.

Rise up O Church of God – have done with lesser things.   Give heart and mind and soul and strength – to serve the King of Kings.

Put your heart and soul – your mind and strength into that which truly matters.