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Jul 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 13, 2014 – Luke 10:38-42

Learning to Listen

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42

Intro: Over the last four months we have spent time with people who met Jesus

We have observed both the kind of persons they were and the kind of problems they brought to him
– in this way, we have been able to see Jesus through their eyes
• discovering how he treated them informs us as to what we can expect when we bring our issues to him
– but our primary intention from the start has been to know Jesus
• St. Paul met Jesus in a blinding vision and continued to encounter him throughout his life (Acts 9:3-7; 22:17-22; 23:11)
○ nevertheless, his enduring passion was, in his own words,  “that I may know Him” (Php. 3:10)
• this was the goal for which he was willing to sacrifice everything (Php 3:7-9)
○ this is the passion that drives our spiritual lives, the heart of Christianity: to know God in Jesus Christ
○ there is always more

The insight contained in today’s story may be the most import we’ve discovered so far
– this has been recognized from the earliest centuries of church history

John Cassian (360-436) interviewed monks who lived alone in the Egyptian desert. One interview was with an old hermit, Abba Moses who explained to him the difference between the contemplative Christian life and the active Christian life in this way:
“Martha was performing a service that was certainly a sacred one, since she was ministering to the Lord and His disciples . . . You see then that the Lord makes the chief good consist in meditation, i.e., in divine contemplation: whence we see that all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing.”

• it was typical of monks and devout scholars to rate the contemplative life over the active life
– we hear the same thing from St. Augustine and, nine centuries later, Thomas Aquinas

The character traits of these two sisters are instantly highlighted

They practically personify frenetic activity, on the one hand, and leisurely contemplation, on the other
– later on, we again find “Martha was serving,” true to form (Jn. 12:3)
• Martha could be direct with Jesus — her directness came out of who she was as a person
○ the Lord could be just as direct with Martha (cf. Jn. 11:21-26)
○ I would imagine that they appreciated this freedom they enjoyed in their interactions
– Mary is less vocal and less direct — and this is consistent with who she was as a person
• the three times we see her in scripture, she is at Jesus’ feet (here and Jn. 11:32 & 12:3)
• sitting and listening with the men was unconventional behavior for a woman of that time and culture
○ and I imagine that both Jesus and Mary appreciated this unconventional freedom in their relationship

Of the two sisters, Martha had a voice

Mary listened silently, but Martha spoke up

I wonder how long Martha stewed over this before she finally said something
– we’re told she was “distracted,” which in English has two meanings:
• the more familiar meaning: to have your attention diverted
• the other meaning: a state of extreme mental or emotional agitation
○ “He was driven to distraction”
– what had her in a tizzy? “lots of serving”

Martha may have been doing good things; even many
– but she wasn’t in a good place
• so she went to Jesus with her complaint
• and isn’t the complaint a form of prayer?
○ one that we’re familiar with
○ and a type of prayer we find in many of the psalms
– she directed her complaint at Jesus – she held him responsible
• “do You not care . . .?” then, without waiting for him to say anything, she went on
○ because knew he did care — she did not need to hear him say it
• “Then tell her to help me”
○ she had is all figured out – she knew exactly what he should do
• Martha was exploiting Jesus’ love and care for her, using it to control him
○ how many times have Christians been manipulated into doing something they did not want to do or feel called to do by a Christian leader who said something to the effect, “If you really loved God, you would . . .”
○ our love for God, like Jesus’ love for Martha, can be a vulnerability if we are not wise and discerning

What is the significance that Jesus answered her?

I am not asking what was the significance of his words, but the fact that he even responded
– he could have ignored her
• let someone else “handle” her
– Jesus responded to her prayer of complaint (and manipulation) because he cared
• and for that same reason, he did not give he what she demanded
• we do not need God to fulfill our requests as much as we need to hear him speak to us
○ if he speaks, we know he hasn’t forgotten us, we are assured that he still cares

“Martha, Martha,” what do you hear in the repetition of her name?
– I hear affection – I hear his care and concern
• if she’s ready for it, he’ll show her herself — he will reveal what is in her heart and mind
– “you are worried and bothered about many things”
• the problem wasn’t that she was doing “many things”
○ but that the many things churned up worry and agitation
• anxiety drove her and colored her world

Anxiety is always rooted in fear and exaggeration

  • Did I prepare enough food to satisfy everyone?
  • Does everyone have silverware and a napkin?
  • Is the Lord going to like what I’ve prepared?
  • What if he has a food allergy I don’t know about? (Should I have made gluten-free bagels?)

– when we think others expect too much of us, it is usually our anxiety inventing demands
– we think others have left us with too many chores, it is usually our anxiety that has created extra chores

We can’t say that Martha’s activity was unimportant
– in the previous episode, the Question and Answer session led to the conclusion that the doer was the hero
• the one who responded with actions and service was the neighbor who loved others as himself
– but anxiety is like a mental and emotional contagion
• it infects everything with which it comes in contact
• so it can turn good activities and kind deeds into bothersome burdens

Mary did not have a voice, but Jesus spoke up for her
(and this is not the only time he defended her)

He contrasted the “many things” that had Martha worried with the “one thing” Mary chose
– this is what we do in meditation – shift from thinking about many things to focusing our attention on one thing
• in Christian spirituality, this form of prayer is referred to as “recollection”
○ we gather all our thoughts to a single point
○ we bring all our awareness to the presence of God in the here and now
– many times I heard my dad stress the importance of shifting our point of view
• he would say, “We must return to the perspective of the eternal” 
• the hour of crisis or despair is swallowed up in the calm of God’s eternal kingdom, power and glory

Of course, this is the challenge
– as soon as we attempt to join Mary at the feet of Jesus and just listen, we are distracted by many things
• listening seems like the most simple thing, until we try to do it for five minutes
• but if we do not learn to listen, we will never be able to discern the voice that comes in “a sound of a gentle blowing” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
○ we won’t develop sensitivity to the subtle impulses of the Spirit
○ in reality, learning to sit quietly and listen only requires practice — lots and lots of practice

“Mary has chosen” – we cannot emphasize this strongly enough
– we get to choose the thoughts our mind dwells on
• we get to choose what aspect of our present moment experience will be the focus of our attention

Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast observed “Leisure is not the privilege of those who have time but the virtue of those who take time.”

The tension depicted between these sisters is our own inner tension
– the struggle of knowing the importance of both doing and being
• and the importance of discerning which one is to be chosen in this present moment
– ultimately, the ideal is a life of being that we are able to maintain even when doing many things
• to hold the one thing in the busyness and clamor of the many things

St. Augustine described three kinds of life:

  1. Leisure (the contemplative life)
  2. The busy life (or active life)
  3. A life that includes both

Thomas Aquinas, “. . . just as in every mixture one of the simple elements predominates, so in this mixed kind of life no the contemplative, now the active.”

– that is how we move forward in Christian spirituality–now Mary, now Martha

We need to learn how to reset our nervous system

The practice of present moment awareness several times a day when we calm ourselves in God’s peace
– we pause to inhale slowly, savoring each breath as if our souls were drinking the cool water of the Spirit
• feeling him, as it were, descending into our depths and permeating our organs and bones
○ soothing our nervous system, from our brains to every extremity
• we get to choose to return our nervous system to its restful and restorative parasympathetic setting

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
(Psalm 116:7)

Conc: God’s contract with Israel (e.g., Deuteronomy chapters 7-9)

We could imagine God saying, “I get your obedience and worship and you get the land with its abundance”
– but that is not the true center of Israel’s connection with God
• they were not held to God by a contract, but a Covenant
• and the true center of the covenant was relational: “I will be your God and you will be My people”
– many of us have discovered how wonderful it is to serve Jesus and others
• but service is not the true center of our connection with him
• rather, it is the “good part” that is its true center — the relational and contemplative part
○ in romantic language, it is expressed in this way: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine

To know Jesus, and to grow in our knowledge of him, meditation and contemplation are the most useful exercises
– we sit quietly in his presence (at his feet) to:
• meditate on his word
• contemplate his person
– and God, for his part, draws near to us as we draw neat to him

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