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
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.