July 21, 2019

Pentecost 6   July 21, 2019 Psalm 15, (Colossians 1:3-6,9-10,15-20) 

Luke 10:38-42   Listening to Jesus

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Mary has chosen the better part– sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him –  which will not be taken away from her.

Not by Jesus, anyway.  But when you and I try to do like Mary – best be prepared for resistance. It’s like a law of human nature – when we try for more time with Jesus – we inevitably encounter obstacles…. When we try to carve out more time with Jesus, sitting and listening for his word – it’s almost funny – how life and busy schedules conspire to make this more difficult than we imagined…

When we try to cut back on part of our routine to make more time for Jesus… any activity we try to cut back on pleads – protests – and argues against giving up even fifteen minutes of our customary routines.

It’s like second nature for us to believe what we’re doing is more important – than just sitting and listening. Even listening to Jesus. Who, after all, tells us elsewhere – not to be just listeners to the word of God – but be doers of God’s will.

And yes – We know we’re saved by grace, not by works – but we also know the scriptures say good works are the fruit of faith – and we sure don’t want to be found fruitless…

So we agree with Jesus in principle… But – I’ve been remembering…

A pastor friend sharing a story – of a church she served that took in a big portion of it’s annual budget from one large fund-raising event that raised a quarter of the annual budget. Everyone appreciated the funds that came from the event. But producing it took an enormous amount of time and energy over many months of the year – and the health of the church was suffering. So…

My friend, the pastor, developed a bible study based on the story of Martha and Mary… And led her bible study in a church meeting – saying “Jesus said – ‘Martha, Martha – distracted by many things, and missing what’s most important! Mary’s chosen the better part – Jesus says…”

And the more pastor Marietta (we’ll call her) got into the story-telling, the more visibly anxious the head of the Fund-raising Team (Marcelle, we’ll call her) was becoming. But – pastor Marietta kept pushing the envelope, saying – “Martha, Martha – you’re worried and distracted by many things. Your sister Mary chose the better part…’ Heading for  her intended conclusion – “Get with Mary – do the one thing necessary – take more time to be with Jesus….”

But just as the pastor is reaching the conclusion of her bible study – the project leader exclaims – “I’m sorry! But – this time Jesus is just wrong!”

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Most of us are probably too polite to say Jesus is wrong. But it does seem like most people’s lives – mine included – most of the time – look more like Martha – than like Mary, chilling-with-Jesus.

And no wonder – I mean, really – isn’t Martha’s also doing what Jesus says to do? Welcoming visitors – practicing hospitality – making sure Jesus and his disciples are welcomed and well-fed? What’s wrong with that?

And yes, it’s nice Mary can sit and listen to Jesus – but what about her sister doing all the work of making supper? How fair is that?

Yet – here’s Jesus saying, ‘Martha, Martha – you’re worried and distracted by many things. Only one thing’s necessary. Mary has picked the better part, which won’t be taken from her.’

Again – not by Jesus… But that won’t stop nearly everyone else from trying to take the Mary part away from us…When we decide to do like her…

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(And of course…) There’s more to every bible story than we can explore in one session. Today we’ll only mention in passing – how radical this passage must have sounded in the first century – and – the 19th and – most of the 20th  century – and even many places today – wherever women have been told – stay in the kitchen – let men do all the preaching and teaching…

Yet here’s Mary – claiming the role of disciple, on an equal basis with men. With full support from Jesus. Something a lot of the church has ignored. (Even Methodists, who have been above average on ordaining women – didn’t give full clergy rights to women till 1956 – and our Parish only received our first woman pastor, our beloved Rev. Sandra Smith, in 1999.) The story still speaks to us…

And – at the risk of domesticating the story – this story is for men too. Mary and Martha are types that transcend gender. Most of us have a Martha side and a Mary side – a busy-doer-side – and a quieter-more- contemplative side. But unless we’re a monk, a nun, or someone who’s work demands quiet listening…Our Martha side usually gets fed a lot more than our Mary side… Even if we live in a monastery…

Thomas Merton, best-known monastic of the last century, whose life was dedicated to contemplative prayer – wrote in his journals that even monastic prayer can sometimes feel like factory work… Cranking out prayers mechanically. And if even prayer can become busy work…  So too, any good work we do… So it’s good to notice –

Jesus probably isn’t finding fault with Martha’s choice to stay in the kitchen. If that’s what she wants to do – ok. What Jesus is gently critiquing – is her critiquing of her sister’s choice to be a disciple – and do what disciples do – sit at the feet of her teacher, learning to be his follower.

Jesus isn’t telling Martha – stop cooking. He’s just saying Mary has picked the one thing most essential – which won’t be taken from her….

(He isn’t saying – so we don’t really know this – but – I wouldn’t be surprised – if Martha were to leave the cooking, and come join her sister, listening to Jesus… I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus would then bring Mary and other disciples with him into the kitchen when he’s done teaching – and together finish the cooking, do the dishes – it would all get done quickly. Just saying – I wouldn’t be surprised… But…)

What Jesus is for sure saying to us today in this story – is bigger than cooking or offering hospitality. Jesus can be talking to me in my Martha-mode – about some of the ways I prepare for preaching – or to any of us – about any of the good things we do – if anything we’re doing becomes more important to us than the one-thing-most-needful… and…

What Jesus is saying to Martha today is about the listening side of the life of faith. Teresa of Avila, one of the great teachers on prayer, said “…prayer…is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

Intimate friendship requires good listening on the part of everyone in the friendship. Jesus is always a very good listener. I’m not always.

I spend a fair amount of time praying… Talking with Jesus… Which is good – except… Too often I’m doing more than my share of the talking…

As with reading the bible – where the challenge again is to be listening – and pausing long enough, often enough… for Jesus… to get a word in edgewise…

I expect I’ll always be learning…. to recognize the voice of Jesus…

Speaking through holy scripture…

Speaking through the life of believers…

Speaking in the breath of God’s Spirit…

I’m a slow learner… But I know – I need to go slow… and listen more… to know when I’m hearing… the voice of Jesus…

But the more I practice… the more I find…

Whether I’m sitting vicariously at his feet, listening…

Or washing dishes in the kitchen, listening…

The more I listen for Jesus – the better the good news becomes…

As I realize – more and more – how –

Even when I’m most distracted and anxious about many things –

Good news! I’m still invited to leave all the worry and anxiety behind….

Even leave the dishes till morning…

There will always be more work to do…

But – the more we listen to Jesus – the more we know –

everything Jesus says is good news.

Any word of encouragement from Jesus is good news.

Any word of instruction is good news.

Any word of reminding for sure is good news.

Any word of correction from Jesus is good news that can save us from disaster.

Every word from Jesus – no matter how challenging at first hearing –

Is good news – when we take time to talk it over with him… So –

Good news again – all the work that ever needs to be done… will get done…

And – however challenging it may be…

Listening to Jesus – is still the one thing most needful.

That won’t be taken from us….

As we live large, in holy conversation with Jesus, our Savior and Friend…

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.