Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Text for Sunday, Sept. 2

The Gospel is Luke 14:1, 7-14
In it, Jesus has advice for hosts and guests at dinner parties. The guests are advised to sit in a less "prestigious" chair rather than grabbing a place of honor. Then the host can say to them, "Friend, come up higher!"
Interestingly enough, the week after our Rural Life Sunday celebration, I opened the evening paper to find that one of our members was honored at the Farm Progress Show, with the Abraham Lincoln National Agriculture Award.
Jim Evans was one of five people so honored - the others being Denny Hastart, former US Ag. Secretary John Block, etc. etc. Big name company.
So . . . in church on Sunday we celebrated Rural Life and farmers, without even knowing that in the third pew back on the north side of the sanctuary we had a person who was honored for his contributions to agriculture at a very high level. Amazing.
I don't know anyone else in all of creation who would have been able to keep quiet if they had been awarded a big prize like that. Jim is amazing.

p.s. If you scroll down to picture below, Jim is 2nd from the left, in the bucket hat. Do you suppose he got a new stovepipe hat, as an Abe Lincoln Award winner?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rural Life Sunday

Just a few pictures, for those of you who couldn't be at the Moore's farm for the afternoon events:

The weather was perfect for sitting in the shade and visiting. Jim Evans brought extra caps and issues of AG MAG (a newletter from the Farm Bureau) so we could all dress the part and learn something new about agriculture.
Frank explained his grain handling system to several interested listeners.

Horse back riding was a hit.

So were rides in a wagon, a tractor and the golf cart.

The kids also played basketball in the "shed" and explored other machinery.

All in all, a good time was had by all, many thanks to Janice and Frank Moore, Celeste Taylor, and Jim and Marlene Evans!!!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday devotions

"Good Soil" - by Handt Hanson

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow
and peace is understood.

When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Update on your prayers

Thanks for the prayers about the van money. Prompted by them, I got up this morning and called the PCUSA offices in Louisville just to check up on things. I talked to a very nice man named Mark McCabe, who told me that the check from the Presbytery hasn't arrived yet, but that he will watch for it, and exercise all due diligence to get it where it is supposed to go. I was able to give him some bank routing information from John which might make things easier. I'm so glad I called!

Also, I put him in touch (email) with John Setterlund, who is over there. And I'm a little more hopeful that this thing will happen.

So thank you and please keep praying!

The "Four Muskeeters" thank you! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Text for Sunday, Aug. 26

I'm preaching on Psalm 24 - "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."
We're taking a little break in the lectionary, because Sunday is "Rural Life Sunday" - which we have been celebrating here at Philo Pres. for a few years now. Once a year, we thank God for placing our congregation right smack in the middle of farm country. Then in the afternoon we visit one of our member's working farm. (We have three or four active farm families and several others with farm backgrounds and/or land in production.)
This year Frank and Janice Moore are hosting us, with a hand from neighbor Celeste Taylor. It's a chance for the children to see farm stuff up close and personal. And for all of us to experience what farm life is about.
Janice has been working for weeks. She's got tractor rides, golf cart rides, and maybe some horseback rides lined up. And she's making cookies . . . I hope we get a nice turn out!
Philo has another reason to celebrate God's blessings on this day: Part of the church's endowment is a farm, south of Philo. Dirk Rice and Frank Moore are our farm managers. The proceeds from the farm are part of our congregation's budget. That's an extra connection to the land that many congregations don't have, and we are thankful for it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Prayer Request

Will you pray that a gift arrives safely, please?
The Presbytery Treasurer let me know yesterday that our gift - money to buy a van - is being wired to the school in Palestine today. Getting money into this area of the world is very difficult. The Israeli government blocks many attempts by individuals AND CHURCHES to send aid into the West Bank.
The Presby. national mission office seems to think this will work, so we can hope that it will all go smoothly. But there is a possibility that it won't.
So please pray that, somehow, the check goes through and these kids can start school with a nice van to get them around. Thank you.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Seeing the face of Christ

Andrew (not his real name - not even the "real name" he gave me) showed up on Sunday morning as I was about to go over to church.
He needed some gas money, but assured me that he would come back Tuesday and work to earn it. I gave him some money, never in a million years expecting that I'd see him again, (at least until he needed more money).
But Tuesday he showed up, dressed in work clothes, and with chores in mind - trimming shrubs, cleaning up the vacant lot, washing windows and wood work. He started to work. But soon he needed a tool, a trash can, more directions . . . It started to rain and he went inside to work.
Did I have a squirt bottle?
Paper towels? Not those paper towels - the others are better for windows.

Lunch time came.
Could I fix you a ham sandwich?
No. Not ham. Do you have any eggs?
You can fix me three eggs.
OK. I'll hard boil them.
Not too hard, OK? And don't put salt in the water. That makes them tough, you know that, right?

Get the idea? It was like that old story, "Stone Soup". Soon he had me bringing over a tray of eggs (cooked just right - no salt), a tomato, boiled potatoes (which he told me later were not quite boiled long enough), sauteed squash and hot tea.

He stayed the night in his old, beat up van, parked in the vacant lot. The next morning, for breakfast I offered oatmeal.
Do you have any raisins? Loose raisins? They're not in the oatmeal packet? And some cantaloupe?

As I made my fourth trip back and forth to church, bringing what he needed, Tim (who had bought him a wind up flashlight and offered him a shower at our house, the old softie) just smiled at me.

It's sort of ironic, isn't it? he said. You want to see Jesus in the face of the poor and the stranger. But what you don't realize at first is that Jesus is always a demanding guest.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Someone New I Met Today

You know I am trying to put together $20,000 to send to a school in Palestine, so they can buy a van. So far, we've got 17,600. And yesterday I "cold called" a man from the local mosque who is known to be very generous. He said he'd contribute something and I went by to get his check, little expecting to have my heart broken at 11 in the morning.
But that's what happened.
The man is from Iraq, and he told me the story of his brother's kidnapping and murder there.
His youngest brother was a physician, who stayed in Baghdad, even though practicing medicine there was a difficult and money losing proposition. He stayed, with his brother's financial support, and kept on treating patients. Then one night, as he returned home from the hospital, he was kidnapped. The kidnappers used his cell phone to call his family and demand money. They called the brother here, who said, "Pay whatever they ask." And they did. Three days passed. The brother was in touch with the family hourly. The kidnappers were demanding more money, which the family agreed to pay. But the doctor's son went to the morgue, and there he found his father, with a bullet in his head.
I know this happens every day over there. But, when you are sitting across the table from a family member who is mourning his baby brother's senseless death . . . it means something different than when you read it in the newspaper.
I am so sad for the family. And sad to be part of the government (in a democracy, we ARE part of the government, like it our not) that has visited this chaos upon a country where people cannot live and serve each other in safety anymore.
I wish I could believe that the American government and military can restore order and safety. But I don't believe that. I don't think anyone, even George Bush, believes that anymore.

Anyway. That was my morning. And if my heart is sore, think how God's heart must feel.

Monday, August 13, 2007

One of my favorite mission trip memories

On the way to our worksite everyday we passed a trailer converted into the "QuickBurger" diner. And on Wednesday, I convinced the guys that we needed to stop there to eat. Quickburgers are "sliders" - little White Castle like hamburgers: 69 cents apiece.

You ordered out front and the "dining room", with three little mismatched tables and chairs, was to the right. The plates (they were real plates!) didn't match either.

But the food was really tasty.

After we ate, I took the guys picture in front. The man on the left was a customer. And he was really "Tennessee" - so I asked him to be in the picture. And (this was the touching part, to me) he took off his glasses and put them in his pocket before he posed. I felt total kinship with him at that point. I do that silly sort of thing all the time.

What's that Robert Burns line? "O would the gift He gi'e us, to see ourselves as others see us."

I think that's all wrong. I think it should be
"O would the gift He gi'e us,
for others to see just as we see us."
Wouldn't that be nice? Then, truly, all the women would be strong, all the men handsome (like this guy!) and all the children above average. What a world that would be.

Text for Sunday, Aug. 19

The lectionary passages are all good:
Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 80: 1-2, 8-19.
But I'm sticking with the challenging Dr. Luke. This week is 12:49-56.
Jesus says he has come to kindle a fire.
I wonder how "Burn, Baby, Burn!" would look on the sign in front of Philo Pres?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Aug. 12 Text

You already know that the Sr.Hi. group is leading worship. But do you know the "text" for their message? It's Nehemiah 2:18-20. I don't preach too often on Nehemiah, so you are in for a treat.
(The story of Nehemiah was the basis for the TeamEffort devotions/chapel. The theme: Don't Get Distracted.)

An article from my web-friend Peacebang

If I could link this, I would. But I'm not sure how to do that. And, anyway, it would link you to a (HORRORS!) Unitarian web-site. Which I'm sure YOU wouldn't want to show up on your "history" page if the NSA or the PTP (Presbyterian Thought Police - what ever happened to those guys?) happened to be looking. So I copied and pasted. Victoria Weinstein has two blogs: and She's one smart cookie, too.

Come To Church Anyway!
by Victoria Weinstein, First Parish Unitarian in Norwell, MA

Last Sunday morning I picked up the phone in the office at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After I said, "Good morning, Unitarian Church," a woman's voice said, "Good morning! Can you tell me what the topic is this morning?"
I thought real fast and said, "The topic is, "COME TO CHURCH ANYWAY!" Come no matter what the topic is, because your church needs you and you need your church, and it doesn't matter what the preacher's going to say!
I was the preacher that morning, and I knew it was true.
The woman patiently waited while I finished my enthusiastic pitch, winding down by lamely adding, "Um, the topic is actually 'On Resilience.' "
"Thank you," she said, and hung up. I'm glad she had a good sense of humor and was nice enough to greet me enthusiastically at the coffee hour after the second service. I had told the story to the congregation as an introduction to the Offering and she was a big enough sport to get a kick out of it, and to thank me for urging her to "Come Anyway!"
Sometimes I wish we could do away with advertising sermon topics in advance altogether and just say for every week, "Today's sermon is called COME ANYWAY." Sermons are living things. They are a response to our life together and may wind up taking a very different direction than what the preacher originally advertised.You never know.
Come anyway. The church needs you. You are, in fact, the church. Worship services are very consistent around here:The Music Director and choir prepare beautiful music, the lay readers are terrific, the Children's Message is adorable and meaningful, the ushers and the flowers gracious and lovely, the coffee hour sumptuous, and your minister does her utmost best to craft a relevant, thought-provoking sermon. But for my money, the most powerful moment that we share comes in the silence right before our meditation. How does that happen? It happens simply by virtue of all those people in all those pews, breathing and being together as one in the spirit of hope and healing, gathered not by common belief (amazingly enough) but by common values and common need. Come be a part of that. Come "Anyway!"
Source: Original, published October 13, 2005.
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mission Trip Worship Service "rehearsal"

Oh Boy! The senior highs all met in the sanctuary to work through the service for Sunday. They are the greatest! Such high spirits, and bright quick minds, and irreverent (in a good way) humor and friendship/good feelings for each other.
Where does that ability to laugh and shout and challenge and move and celebrate go?
It is such a contrast to the more typical churchy type meeting, which is a low motion affair in which I often get the sense that everyone seated so quietly around the table is calculating how much or how little to say to just get the job done and go home.
Joy. That's the word I was looking for. I love the joy. I want the joy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mission Trip Worship Service

Sunday the 12th our Senior Highs are going to lead worship and share their experiences on the Mission Trip we took to Appalachia.
When we first met to plan the service, they had lots of stories they wanted to tell, and pictures to show; but very little idea what would make this worship. I reminded them that we weren't giving a report at school. And they know that they need to do something different than just "show and tell". But it's hard for them to know what that is.
It was a reminder to me that worship doesn't come naturally, and that, as a church, we need to help each other learn what's expected. Expected by God. In my opinion, our expectations are way too low to be a good guide.

Preacher's Contest

My Monday morning lectionary group is great!
I don't usually like hanging out with ministers, but the people in this group take preaching VERY seriously, and themselves, not at all seriously. It's really fun to hear (and be able to admit) when the sermon has gone really well, and really badly. And to say outloud what we don't say from the pulpit.
For instance, last week, the text was "The Rich Fool" story from Luke, which is a pointed condemnation of selfish materialism. And one of us said, "I'd like to preach on this text every Sunday." It got a big laugh, because . . . sometimes that's how it feels.
Anyway - this week Bob brought a printout of some really silly and juvenile puns. Things like:
A vulture got on an airplane carrying two dead raccoons. And the stewardess said, "Sorry, sir, but you'll have to check one of those. Each passenger is only allowed one carrion."
So we decided to have a contest, to see which of us could be the first to work one of the puns into a sermon. Now I'm really sorry I'm not preaching this week!

How to Tell if You are Rich

This is the sermon for Aug. 5.
The text is Luke 12:13-21

Let me ask you a personal question:
Are you rich? Or are you poor?
What about this church? Are we rich? Or are we poor?
Or aren’t you sure?

Because Jesus told this very interesting story about the rich man, a rich agribusiness man, actually. The land which the man owned brought forth an abundant crop. There was so much grain that it didn’t fit in the grain bins and barns.
Now the farmer could have given his workers a bonus. That’s how most farmers in Jesus’ time handled crop surpluses. They shared them with their harvesters and workers. But the rich man didn’t do that. I can imagine that he’d reached a very fair deal with his workers. And they’d agreed to work so long and so hard for so much money. Just because they produced more than expected, well . . . that wasn’t the agribusinessman’s problem.
The problem of the surplus grain wouldn’t be solved that way! Now, another solution would have been to sell the grain at market. Because of the law of supply and demand, the price for grain would not have been as high as usual if the farmer did that. People in the village would likely stock up a little on the cheaper grain – kinda like I try to fill up when gas at the country store is 2.63 instead of 2.89. The farmer would have probably made about as much money, selling more grain at lower prices, and his customers, residents of his village and surrounding countryside, would have had slightly fuller larders that year, an extra loaf of bread on the table, perhaps, or a slightly fatter fatted calf to share at feast time. But selling the grain at lower prices wouldn’t have maximized the farmer’s income. So he didn’t do that.
The problem of the surplus grain was a tricky one! It would be best to hold it off the market until prices went up, He could have left the grain on the ground. But some of it would certainly rot and be stolen by birds and by rodents. He’d lose money on that one. To keep his record breaking harvest until more favorable prices came along, the man could have built more barns. But . . . if he built more barns, that would mean paving over perfectly good farmland that might be planted the next year. And the rich agribusinessman didn’t want to do anything that would reduce his crop in years to come. Accept less in the future? Not our smart guy!
So the smart agribusiness man lay awake, wondering and worrying about what to do with his excess crops. How could he solve the tricky problem of storing his abundant crop until prices went up and he could maximize his profit?

Does worrying and wondering about possessions ever keep you up at night? Then maybe you are rich!

A Lutheran pastor said that a friend of his bought a boat and he said he’d purchased it with a Lay Awake Plan – first you buy the boat, then you lay awake at night wondering how you’re going to pay for it.

This last week, when the stock market plunged by 2 or 5% in value, a financial commentator said that there were likely to be lots of sleepless investors, trying to figure out what to do with their portfolios.

Money isn’t the only thing an abundance of which will cause sleepless nights. There’s also the abundance of just plain stuff. No other country in the world spends as much on consumer goods. As Morgan Stanley notes, in just one telling index, "Over the 1996 to 2004 period, annual growth in US personal consumption expenditures averaged 3.9% — nearly double the 2.2% pace recorded elsewhere in the so-called advanced world." The real prices of many consumer goods are as much as 50 percent less than they were a century ago. It's never been so easy for so many to amass so many consumer products.
And if you are at all like me, sometimes you lie awake at night wondering . . . where in heaven’s name you have put something.

Lying awake, we can worry about our houses. Will the roof need replacing this year? Is that sound the refridgerator makes a sign that it’s on it’s last leg? Can I get it clean enough to entertain by next weekend? Houses are a bigger worry than they used to be, because houses are bigger than they used to be. The National Association of Homebuilders reports that the average American house went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004.
But they still aren’t big enough for all our stuff. According to the Self Storage Association, a trade group charged with monitoring such things, the country now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. That’s four square feet person living in the US of A. All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, an industry that now exceeds the revenues of Hollywood (and doesn't have to deal with Tom Cruise).
So, to make this perfectly clear —houses got bigger, average family sizes got smaller, and yet we still need to tack on a billion-plus square feet to store our stuff? Things we can’t live with and can’t live without? Hmmmm.
Maybe we are rich.

The rich man in Jesus story thought and thought to himself about how he could maximize his yield, maximize his profit, maximize his wealth and his goods. And he came up with a great idea: He’d tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones, right on the old barn’s footprint. So he wouldn’t lose any cropland, he wouldn’t lose his grain to weather or vermin, and he wouldn’t lose his potential profit in a less than optimal market. Brilliant!

Now, notice, the man consults no one. He doesn’t pray about it, seek advice from his stewards, or even bounce the idea off his wife. He’s a decider – like George W. Bush likes to say. He’s the one who makes the decision and his interest is the only one that really matters.

AAAHHH. The relief of having a problem solved! Of course, there’s no one he can tell, but the man talks to himself in a self-satisfied sort of soliloquy: “All, Self, you are set for life! You’ll have enough for many, many years! What is it the Epicureans say? “Eat, drink and be merry!”

Have you ever known such total, complete security? Are you set for life? Then maybe you aren’t rich. Maybe you are poor.

I have another story to tell you. About a man who didn’t have the rich man’s problems, or the rich man’s sense of security.

This story was first told by Florence Ferrier, a social worker in poverty-striken Appalachia.
The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity and without complaint.
One fall day I visited the Sheldons in a ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.
Mr. Sheldon offered ma jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. “Now, you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!”
I couldn’t resist asking, “What’s the difference?” His answer proved unforgettable.
“When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.”
So let me ask you again: Are you poor? Or are you rich?
Jesus had lots to say about poverty and riches. And there is no doubt that Jesus wanted us all to live rich, full lives. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” But he also said, “Don’t be fooled: Life isn’t defined by an abundance of possessions.”
What about your life? What about this church’s life?
Are we rich? Or are we poor?
If we aren’t sure, then this week will certainly provide us with several opportunities to find out.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Aug. 5 Sermon

This week's Gospel text is Luke 12:13-21. The one commonly called "The Rich Fool" - also called "The Rich Farmer".
Someone in my lectionary group said, "I want to preach on this text EVERY SUNDAY."


After a GREAT summer - including a Sr.Hi Mission Trip, a continuing education event at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and a little solo camping trip . . . I'm home and unpacked and ready to BLOG again!

I'll post pictures later.

But someone REQUESTED the sermon I preached when I got back. So here it is:

July 22, 2007
Luke 10:38-42
“Listening Light”

The cartoon in your bulletin is one of my favorites: The business man on the left has clearly just finished a thorough presentation of some strategy to address a challenge faced by the company. And the manager dismisses his idea out of hand: “I’m not sure that’s the best solution. But then, I wasn’t listening.”
Boy do we know that feeling: The frustration of not being heard.
I overheard an exchange between the Mom and two daughters who were camped next to me in Michigan. The girls wanted to know why they had to wear their shoes to go swimming. The mom carefully explained that You couldn’t see the bottom because of the cloudy water and people might have carelessly thrown away bottles or other sharp objects that now might lie on the floor of the lake. The risk of cutting your foot was too great. And it just wasn’t a good idea.
The girls were quiet through all this. Then one of the asked, “We’ll just take them off for five minutes, OK?”

It seemed pretty funny to me. It was just as if their ears hadn’t been turned on. And I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to tell if the person we’re talking to is listening? What if we had a great big light mounted on our foreheads and it would turn on when our ears, and minds and hearts were “on air”.

A light like that would save some much time, trouble and misunderstanding. It would be especially good in meetings where people are discussing visions for the future, or priorities and plans.
But it would be even more useful in families, I think. Can you parents imagine? You could save those crucial safety lectures until your children’s listening lights were on. Children could pick a time when your parents’ are “lit up” to ask the really important questions about life and stuff.
There might be isolated instances in which we hope people aren’t paying attention. But the vast majority of the time, we’d want the people we were having a conversation with to have their listening lights on.
We want to be heard. Sometimes, just being heard is the most healing, comforting experience in the world. I’m sure you’ve all had a friend come to you with a exciting dream, or a heavy heart, and just need to pour it out. And even if you don’t know what to say to them, they thank you – how? “Thanks so much for listening.” Listening is not just listening. Listening is an act of love. We want and need listening lights ON in our lives.

And today’s scripture points to an awesome truth: Just like us, God longs for us to listen to Him. It is a matter of love. It is a matter of life. In fact, Jesus says, it is a matter of eternal life.
Remember how, in the prelude to the story of the Good Samaritan the lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And the answer is, “Love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus says, “That’s right! Those two commands are the key to the eternal life God desires for you.”
Then he goes on to illustrate what love of neighbor looks like: And it’s sort of surprising! The neighbor turns out to be, not a friend, not a member of the congregation, not a member of the same socio-economic-religious class – but a Samaritan. Loving neighbor, in God’s eyes, means overcoming suspicion and caring for the one who needs help, regardless. That’s what love of neighbor looks like.
Then Jesus shows, in a very concrete, down to earth way, what it means to love God wholly. And this is sort of surprising, too. It turns out to mean sitting at Jesus’ feet, with our listening light turned on “high” and listening.
This is not a suggestion, or a self-actualizing technique, or an optional extra credit assignment for Christians who want to get an “A+” in prayer. This is the “loving God” command, spelled out for us.
This is what Obedience to God’s first command looks like. In fact, Obedience comes from the Latin “Ob-Audire” – to listen to.
“This is the first and greatest command”.
And Mary is the one who is obedient in this story. Sitting at the feet of the teacher is the typical posture of disciples – of followers of a religious teacher in Jesus’ day. The surprise element here is that disciples were always men. Women learned some Torah, and the rules that would help them keep a religious home and raise religious children. But they learned these things from their mothers. They didn’t have rabbis. They didn’t sit at the feet of a teacher. But Mary does.
Just as Jesus “opens up” the concept of neighbor with his story of the Good Samaritan, so he “opens up” a full and complete relationship with God to everyone by pointing to a woman – Mary – as a person whose love is perfect – whose listening light is shining brightly as she turns to Jesus. This is how Jesus longs to be loved – how he desires to be welcomed – what he yearns for in those of us who want to follow him. He wants us, first and foremost, to listen to him.
This flies in the face of everything we have been taught about religious duty and service to God. I hear you saying, Wait a minute! It looks to me like Martha is the one serving the Lord! She’s the one who has opened her home, who is busy putting a meal together, changing the sheets on the guest bed, setting the table, rummaging in the linen closet for the good towels and extra shampoo, and running down to the wine cellar to get the right white for fish.
Isn’t this how we love? By performing our best? By doing what needs to be done, preferably at break neck speed?
We have all sorts of lovely, saintly sounding titles we bestow upon ourselves when we charge around taking care of things as Martha does in this story:
We are busy.
We are hardworking.
We are diligent.
Now answer this question: “Does the Word of God call Martha any of those things?” No. It says she is
Distracted. Anxious. Troubled.
Distracted. She can’t keep her attention on Jesus. She’s too busy focusing on a thousand other things. Many things. I know how easy it is to load a lot of things on our platters. Work. Projects. Community involvement. Sports for kids. Fitness for adults. Meal preparation. Home maintenance. Keeping up on current events. And then there is TV. Hundreds of channels of distracting programming. We have so many things to do.
Do you make “to-do lists”? How many items on this list are of eternal significance? How many of them will make a difference to God in one hundred years? And I’ll bet you that the answer is “not many”. There’s a bumper sticker: Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff. In fact – it’s not all small stuff. Jesus says, “One thing is needful. Necessary. Important enough to make sure we do: In fact, the only one we’re sure makes a difference is the one that should be at the top of the list: listening to God.
Martha was too distracted to listen to Jesus. We get distracted, too.
Martha was anxious. Anxiety can keep us from listening to God – and keep us from listening to anybody else, either. Anxiety is that voice you hear when someone is talking that says, “What am I going to say to that?” “What do you suppose this person thinks of me?” “What’s the correct response here?” Did you ever have to go around a circle and introduce yourself – the farther around the circle you are, the fewer names you remember. Because the whole time the other people are talking, you’re thinking what you’re gonna say when it’s your turn.
Listening to God is no different. People who hear God’s voice have to get over thinking about themselves. You can tell that, for Martha, it’s all about her. My sister. Left ME to serve alone. Tell her to Help ME.
But Martha’s not alone. Moses, when God spoke from the burning bush, couldn’t get over thinking about his speech impediment. Jeremiah, when God spoke to him, said, I’m too young. In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus calls Peter from his fishing boat into a life of discipleship, Peter first answered, “Get away from me, Jesus! I am a sinful man.” Anxiety about our own inadequacies can cut the circuit and keep our listening lights turned off. Martha was too anxious to listen to Jesus. We get anxious, too.
And Martha was troubled. The world in which Jesus and Martha lived was deeply troubled. Palestine was occupied. Political factions were stirring up trouble. There were wars and rumors of wars. Things were bad. In many, many ways, the world is still a very troubled and troubling place. The troubles of the world can drown out God’s voice, if we let them. Martha was too troubled to listen to Jesus. We are troubled, too.

Jesus doesn’t cut Martha much slack. He doesn’t give her much sympathy for being distracted, anxious and troubled. Instead, he points to Mary, who has found a way to listen in spite of distractions, anxieties and troubles. This is someone who has chosen well. What she’s chosen will not be taken away.
So, that’s the thrilling and chilling truth of the matter: Loving God
Listening to God
Obedience to God is a choice.
It’s not something that just happens.
It’s not an accident of birth or a lucky consequence of living in a nice community.
It’s a choice. And we can make the choice that pleases God and leads to eternal life, like Mary did. Or we can not.

Suppose we want to make Mary’s choice? How can we love and listen to God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our minds?
Just look at Mary and do what she did.
#1 Be still. In this story, Mary is the only one that doesn’t have any lines. God knows you have things that you want to say to him, and of course, he wants to hear you, too. But for heaven sake – let some of your prayer time be silence and meditation. The words of the Psalmist apply here: Be still and know that I am God. Spiritually, as well as physically, you can’t use your mouth and your ears at the same time. So choose to love God by being still.
#2 Listen to Jesus’ teaching. Mary was blessed to hear the wisdom and love of Jesus communicated audibly. But we are almost as blessed, because we have a wonderful record of what Jesus said and taught in the Bible. How many of us have a Bible in our homes? Of course. And how many of us open it as many as five times a week? Fewer hands would go up. But, unless you have it memorized, that’s how you hear Jesus.
Open those Bibles this week!
Open them to the Sermon on the Plain, in chapter 6 of Luke’s Gospel, and imagine you are sitting at His feet, hearing him say, “Love your enemies, and do good. And lend, expecting no return, and your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High God. For God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” This book is full of gracious words, and no matter how often you read it, the Holy Spirit will still surprise you, if you’re listening. Did you ever hear that business about God being kind to the ungrateful and the selfish? Oh! That’s some Good News! Let that whole chapter sink into your mind and your heart slowly, like a deep soaking rain on a parched field. Choose to listen.
#3 Don’t be shamed into hopping up and doing the bidding of your busy body brothers and sisters. If you sense that you are under attack, remember that Jesus himself will defend and protect your choice to listen. Let him take care of those who want you up and moving to the frenetic beat of their inner drummer.
Be still. Read the Bible. Stick with it.
If you all had lights on your heads, and I could tell which ones were really listening to this sermon – never mind. Even without lights – it shows. It shows in your life, it shows in your walk, in shows on your face when you are listening. And remember this: There will soon come a day when,
not just God,
not just you,
Not just me,
but everyone will know who has really been listening to Jesus our Lord.