Readings: Psalm 52, Luke 10:38-42
Let us pray: Holy God, may your word for us be truly heard and may we hear challenge, new beginnings and assurance of your love and grace. In Jesus name Amen.
Are we a listening people?
At a meeting last week we were asked to carry out this exercise – get into pairs and one of you speak for seven minutes (some of us have less trouble with that than others) and the other was to listen – not to respond in any way, no nodding, no encouraging smile, no facial response and certainly no verbal interruptions. It was a challenge and virtually impossible to not respond even in the most positive way. But the point was to get us to think about listening well so that we may hear God’s voice both in our hearts and in the encounters with those around us.
In the words of Tom Gordon:
To listen and not to speak.
To hear, and not to interrupt.
To pay attention, and need to respond.
To take note, and not write anything down.
To concentrate, and not miss what is important.
To be silent, and not cut a story short.
To accept, and not try to clarify.
To wait, and not be tired of waiting.
To be still, and not expect anything else to matter.
O God, how hard it is,
And yet, how important……
How important indeed – the silence that is needed for the words to have meaning and the meaning to enter our heart.
In the Gospel story today Jesus said: ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
This story of the two sisters is, we could say, about the different approaches to how we honour God and serve Jesus best. For this was the dilemma at the heart of the tale of Mary and Martha and it will, I expect, speak to us in different ways. There will be those who completely get where Martha is coming from, frustrated at all the work still to do, wanting to sit down and listen but wanting to be the best of hosts. And how it rankles when someone else doesn’t have the same priorities, leaves the dishes on the bench for later and chooses to be part of the company instead. Out comes the words, somewhat pointed, sharp, a wee bit whiney. “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work – tell her to come and help!’
For Martha was the host, the doer, the person of action – a very important role and not taken lightly in those times: there was a hankering to be still and listen but not until the work was done.
And then there was Mary – according to Martha the taker, the selfish one – Mary was a listener, a student, one who saw the importance of hearing the teachings of Jesus and was willing to forgo what was expected of her – because she had decided where she needed to be – and it wasn’t helping her sister. That will be just so right for some of us, the ones who don’t want to get waylaid by the metaphorical housekeeping when there is something so much better to do.
For Mary has chosen the better part says Jesus. Important though the doing is, we all need to take time to be the Mary of the story, putting the teachings of Jesus before the carrying out of the tasks that honour him; knowing why it is that we do and for what purpose has the edge on the doing.
You see I think that David was on to this – that he knew that it was only by anchoring himself in God, listening to the voice of God, being guided by God in his life choices that he would avoid the self serving piety and deceitful living of Doeg. We know David didn’t get it right all the time but he had some kind of moral compass (unlike Doeg) – whom he freely acknowledged was God. He likens that sense of being able to anchor in God as being like an olive tree - not easily displaced when we are rooted in God, with God’s light nourishing us and God’s water sustaining us. David safely puts his trust in God, turns his ear to God and so can walk in God’s way.
Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her.
Let us dig down a bit deeper into this.
First of all let us not forget Martha. Jesus was not responding with his comments to the busy Martha but rather to the worried and distracted Martha. He speaks as to a dear friend (Martha, Martha) who is fussing over bits that don’t need worrying about and missing out on something important. Jesus did not say that this stopping and listening was all that we should do – but rather that this is essential to our doing. And for sure there would have been other times when Mary’s lack of action would have been inappropriate and criticism of her sitting around justified, and Martha would have been the lynch pin and seen as such. It is safe to say that there will forever be a struggle between word and deed, the speaker and the doer, the contemplative and the activist for that is the nature of who we are as human beings. The important thing is that we need to be alert to the situation that we are in and respond accordingly, and to never assume either posture to the point of preoccupation or ideology. Activism without contemplation ends in aimless doing and sometimes dangerous conclusions. Thought alone, however, can also be dangerous – for where we theologically debate and discuss and study without life experience and the learning that comes from serving, then we are equally able to delude ourselves as to the purpose of God for us.
In fact this Gospel reading is about knowing when we need to be Martha and when Mary. Discerning when we are being too much of one and not enough of the other. But remembering that we first need to listen before we do.
Another thought here. We are to listen so that we not just comprehend the teachings of Jesus and live them out but also so that we can find the words to communicate God’s word to others – how sad that we have come to think that only those with ‘qualifications’ should interpret and share the word. How sad that we think that theology is something written in books and debated at the highest academic level. Certainly it is that, but is also you and me continually sitting at the feet of Jesus seeking to know his way.
Here is a thought too. Does Jesus remind us of the meaning of the word hospitality in this passage? That we can sometimes as a church get distracted by the many projects and programmes and activities that we feel are needed and forget to recognise that the source of all hospitality is Jesus and that deeds without the word are meaningless. Whereas if we stop to listen to the words of Jesus, the promptings of the Spirit then those deed will flow out of a conviction and a hope rather than a timetable.
I also wonder how much the cultural expectation of the role of the women of the time informs this story. Not only was Mary disrupting Martha’s expectations, there would have been some raised eyebrows that a woman would choose to a) avoid her role and b) sit down with the men. There is a sense in which Mary was doing her bit for the right of women to be part of the listening and learning and discerning. So you go Mary! Right behind you there.
And finally, back to what we were talking about at the beginning: it is not just about engaging in conversation with God and each other as we seek to know Jesus Christ – it is about listening to what is being said. And that takes some trust and some effort on our part. It is easy just to let the words flow over us as a well known and beloved scripture, it is also easy to get overwhelmed with words, to find it easy to distrust the use of words, but if we are able to listen closely, with discernment, we will hear what is actually being said sometimes despite the words.
So let us make sure that we stop and listen to God, let us hear the teachings of Jesus, and wait on the guidance of the Spirit in a ways that allows us to be the best, most deeply rooted, well nourished and fruitful olive trees in all the world here in Opoho Amen.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession 17 July 2016
Let us Pray
We thank you Lord for plenty and sometimes even luxury
We thank you Lord for warmth and shelter and home
We thank you Lord for health and wellbeing
We thank you Lord for happiness, for joy, for content
We thank you Lord for security, for courage, and for belonging
We thank you Lord for freedom and a place in our community
We are blessed to be here, in this time, in this place, among these people
We pray for men, women and children who are hungry and poor
We pray for people who are cold and exposed
We pray for those who are sick, exhausted, mentally ill, disabled
We pray for men, women and children who are sad, depressed, or grieving
We pray for those who are at a loss, afraid, or anchorless
We pray for people who are imprisoned, alone, hopeless
With our prayers, we place them in the palm of your hand
It is time to stop telling hungry people that they should work harder, instead let us bake bread
It is time to stop telling cold people to find somewhere else, instead let us knit blankets
It is time to stop telling sick people to get better, instead let us bring medicine
It is time to stop telling sad people to cheer up, instead let us sing to them
It is time to stop telling scared people to be brave, instead let us wrap our arms around them
It is time to stop telling captive people to have hope, instead let us release them
We have been granted so much, Lord, let us stop judging and start giving of your plenty, in sympathetic generosity and knowing in our hearts that all people are your people
And we sing…The Lord’s Prayer