What a wonderful morning of worship with two lovely churches! Attendance at both were up from last week and that is exciting for me! Someone asked if I would share some of my sermons here so I thought I'd share today's. Let me say that I use the manuscript as a guide, so this is not exactly how it was presented but it's close.
Are you listening?
Last week we talked about being a good and compassionate neighbor. I wondered if we all worked towards that how our lives, community and world might change. Being a good and compassionate neighbor can help us to be better disciples. This week, I’d like to share some thoughts on something we can do help us be just that, good, compassionate neighbors and better disciples. But first would you please pray with me? “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.” Amen.
In our gospel reading this morning, we find ourselves in the home of Martha and Mary. Now, I want to point out that this is kind of a big deal. It says, that a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. It didn’t say she welcomed him into her brother’s home. It didn’t even identify her as being a man’s sister, wife, daughter or anything. It named her as her own person and that’s a pretty big thing for back then. Women only had property under rare circumstances and this scripture identifies this house, this property as Martha’s!
Now traditionally when we talk about this story, we think of Martha as being busy with chores, household chores, things like preparing the meal for Jesus and his companions, doing dishes afterwards, and so on but I read some commentary this week that looked at this a little differently. They pointed out that Luke chose a very technical term to describe Martha’s work in verse 40. The word was “diakonian” which as you heard from the reading from the English Standard Version I just read means “much serving.” This word was used in Luke-Acts to denote participation with others in leadership and ministry on behalf of the community. Six of the eight uses in Acts point to leadership in the church and proclamation of the Gospel. So this kind of makes us think well, maybe Martha is distracted by ‘much ministry’ rather than domestic activity. Which would also make us wonder if maybe then she was upset about Mary not being more active in the hands on ministry they shared. If maybe Martha thought Mary was spending too much time in the study part and not enough time on the doing. I think this an interesting way to think about this.
Something else I thought was interesting was in another commentary I read. It talked about Martha being overwhelmed. So much so that she is lashing out not only at her sister but also her guest. She put Jesus on the spot to take sides and wanted him to put Mary in her place. Instead he calmly says to Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Or another translation says, “You are distracted by many things.”
Martha was busy in the details of ministry or in her housework, she was busy, too busy to see what was in front her. Too busy to see and listen to what was important. She was too busy being busy. Busy in ministry. Too busy to listen.
How often are we too busy. How often do we find ourselves busy just to be busy? Our society rushes from here to there, to that activity or that. Churches are busy in ministry with this program and that program. But I wonder are we being too much like Martha and not enough like Mary? Are we so busy that we aren’t listening where we should?
This commentary really got me thinking a lot about what all is going on in our world lately. We often don’t listen to each other we talk over each other. We don’t listen first we just react to what we think is being said. We don’t listen to what people need we assume we already know.
What would happen if we listened, truly listened to what each other was saying? What would happen if we listen, really listen to what is going on around us?
This made me think of the greeting “How are you?” You know when see someone at the store or even here in church. We greet one another with “Hi! How are you?” Have you ever said that someone only to have them say hello and then walk on? They never answered the question? Have you ever done that in response? How often do we just say, “Fine. How are you?” How often is that question asked without really wanting or hearing the response?
I remember during one of my husband, Shannon’s, deployments. I was tired. He was gone 15 months and this was about 10 months into it. Every Sunday, people asked how I was or how Shannon was. Usually I would offer the standard reply, good, or fine. But one day I was tired of that same ol’ same ol’ and I replied with the truth. I told them we were tired. I told them that Shannon just wanted to come home. I told them the truth. Some people were so shocked they didn’t know what to say and others didn’t even notice! They weren’t really listening. I even had someone ask if I needed anything or any help. I told them that my lawn mower wasn’t working and the guy I hired to mow hadn’t come in a month and I didn’t know what to do and they didn’t hear me. They weren’t listening. If this happened to me, I wonder how many times it’s happened to other people. I wonder how many times in my rushing about I didn’t hear the needs of someone else.
In all the things going on in our world, I wonder how many times things could have been prevented, or changed if we’d just listened. If we listened to what people, communities were saying. If we just noticed other people more and paid attention.
They say that around 22 veterans commit suicide every day. 22! I wonder, are we listening to them? Do we hear what they are needing? Are we there for them? Or what about the teens who are bullied for this or that that commit suicide? Did they tell us before hand that this was coming? Did they try to let us know and we just weren’t listening? Or what about the people who commit these mass shootings? Did they warn us? Were we so busy talking that we didn’t hear what we were saying? Were we so busy and distracted that we missed an opportunity?
What about the people who join cults? Cults lure people in by listening to them, by hearing what they need and giving it to them. Many cults hear that people want acceptance and love and so they offer that to them draw them into their circle. Others, perhaps, Isis hear people saying they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something that gives them a sense of purpose and so that’s what offer them.
How are we missing these people? Are we not listening to them? Do we really not hear them and their needs?
I think about our politics right now. Are we really listening to one another? Are we really hearing each other? Or are we too caught up in the us vs. them in the “my way is the only way”. I’ve heard republicans say “those pro-abortion democrats” or democrats say those “anti-women republicans”. Are they really listening? Most democrats I know are not pro-abortion, they are pro-choice. They don’t want women to get abortions but they don’t feel they have the right to make that choice for everyone. Most republicans I know, aren’t against women. They just want to give unborn babies a chance to live. But we get so caught up in the ‘my way’ that we’ve stopped listening and made up what we think the other stands for and in most cases are wrong and it leads to more divisiveness. More anger, more hate, more name calling and we never get anywhere.
Ok, Shannon said I went too big here but I just wanted to show the need for more listening, more hearing because as a society, we have stopped listening to one another.
I realize that we can’t stop all the bad things in the world just by listening but if we are going to be in ministry in the world we have to first listen to see what the world is needing from us. We have to listen in our communities, we have to be present and truly want to hear what people are saying, what people are needing so that we can be there for them, so that we can see where they are, who they are, so that we can see a way forward.
We have to be in prayer with and for the world, our communities, our church and our families. Prayer is active. In prayer we ask for guidance, for comfort, for help, but in prayer we also supposed to be actively listening for those very things for which we are asking. We are to listen to see where God is guiding us, where he is calling us to be in ministry. We are to listen to see what God is saying to us, teaching us so that we can use that in our ministry.
I sometimes think Martha gets a bit of a bum wrap here. She is busy doing the things, whether it’s housework or ministry that needs to be done. She is doing nothing wrong but she was so busy that she didn’t see what was right in front of her. She was so busy she forgot to listen. To listen to her Lord, so that she could better serve, so that she could be refreshed and filled to go back to work less overwhelmed, less stressed, more aware of what she needed to be doing, and just full of what she needs to better serve her household, her church, her community, and her world. And don’t we all need that?
We do all need to listen, both to God and the people around us. We need to truly listen. We need to open our hearts and our minds to hear, to really hear what, who and where we need to be. We need to stop talking so much and listen. We need to stop judging, stop assuming and listen so that we can better be in ministry of Christ.