Luke 10:38-11:13 (click to display NIV text)
June 30, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
There are two parts to discipleship. There is listening to Jesus, time spent in prayer and the study of the Word. And there is serving Jesus, actively taking part in witnessing, showing mercy and doing justice. To be a disciple of Jesus is to listen to Jesus and to serve Jesus.
Long ago, when I was in seminary, I had a class from James Dittes, dealing with the practical aspects of ministry. He said that the church is like a sailboat. The goal is to keep the boat balanced and going straight ahead. Sometimes you will notice that all the people on the boat have moved to one side, and so the boat begins to tip and veer in that direction. Then you need to move to the other side of the boat to balance it. Hopefully, some will join you there. But if too many cross over, then you need to go to the other side.
If your life is all serving and no praying, then you need to make an adjustment. If your life is all Bible study, but you never share your faith or help the poor, then you need to make an adjustment.
So, our high school group often will go on a missions trip, learning to serve Jesus in a place where there is need But, Brian also recognizes that our students lives are so full of activity, that they need to learn how to pray, how to be silent, how to let God speak to their hearts. So this upcoming trip will be about listening to God’s voice in prayer and silence and the study of the Word. This does not mean they will never go on a serving Mission trip again. They will. Disciples need to serve and to listen.
When I came to this church 11 years ago, it was with the anticipation that we would be building a major expansion to our facility. The other day I was out looking at the garden, and it hit me that we did not get the building built, but we did plant a garden. I could have felt a sense a failure in that, but instead I was feeling a great sense of peace. The garden and grounds are so beautiful. I was blessed by the roses and the peonies and the rhubarb and the tomatoes. We have a great place to pray, a great place to stand quietly and be reminded of God’s goodness. We have a wonderful spot to listen.
Today we encounter Mary and Martha, two real people who love Jesus and are his disciples. In the Gospel of John we meet them again, and there Martha is the one who gives the strongest profession of faith. She says, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Martha is affirmed as a disciple, certainly the equal of Peter in her confession of faith. But here in Luke, it is Mary who is affirmed, for she listens to Jesus, while Martha is distracted in her serving.
Mary does not just chit-chat with Jesus while Martha does all the work. The language is very clear; Mary sits at the Lord’s feet and listens to what Jesus says. This is a very specific way of describing a disciple. In that day it was very rare for a woman to be allowed to be taught, or to become a disciple of a rabbi. Joel Green writes that “Jewish women were normally cast in the role of supporting the instruction of men rather than as persons who were themselves engaged in study.” But Mary clearly is allowed to be a disciple of Jesus. She is being taught. She is listening; she is a disciple who hears the word of God.
We have both aspects of discipleship in us. We want to listen to Jesus. We want to serve Jesus. Sometimes those are in tension. Jesus says here that there is a priority given to listening. When service has no basis in prayer and the Word of God, it tends to crowd out listening. We tend towards serving, towards being busy; towards doing something that we feel benefits others. This preference for activity can crowd out prayer.
But when serving Jesus arises out of prayer and the study of the Word, it is more focused, more effective and more obviously a ministry of compassion rather than what we would call “community service.” So Jesus gives us an order in our lives. Prayer and study leading to obedience. Pray and respond. Listen and then do.
The other thing Jesus is saying here is that serving and listening should not be done with anxiety and distraction. Martha was upset in her serving, maybe overdoing what was really needed because of her stewing about being left alone to cook. She was not at peace in serving Jesus. She was resentful. And that never results in a kind of blessed service to the Lord.
It can work the other way too. It is very hard to pray if you are constantly checking your phone or worrying about how much you have to do later. When we serve Jesus, we do it willingly and freely. When we pray, we quiet our hearts and our phones.
The disciples must have seen this incident with Mary and Martha, because they then ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Of course they already knew how to pray. They had been schooled in prayer all their lives, and they had memorized many prayers. They were not asking for instruction on the “how-tos” of prayer. They were asking how to be like Mary. Jesus does not give a lot of advice here. He tells them that God is generous and faithful and good. That is what Jesus wanted people to know about God. Because when you experience the goodness of God, you will pray. So this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and the parable he tells, are both about the goodness of God. I think this is the heart of what Jesus had to teach people during his ministry. Most people do not think God is good, because life is hard, and circumstances are not always or even often pleasant, and we have experiences that give us grief. Most philosophies do not begin with the goodness of God. Many people either see God as a policeman watching for them to break a law, or as an absent father, and so they keep their distance.
Jesus seems to carry an excitement, a deep longing to tell people that God is good. He gives us a prayer that invites us to pray for daily bread, because God cares about our bread. He invites us to ask for forgiveness, and to extend it to others, because forgiveness is available from God. He invites us to pray earnestly for the Kingdom because it is near, and because the redemptive, healing power of God is coming to our earth. He invites us to pray into the goodness of God.
Then he tells a strange and funny story. A man is all wrapped up in bed with his family in his one room house. Joel Green says the story begins like this: “ ‘Can you imagine a friend who refuses to assist you in providing hospitality to an unexpected guest? No, of course not!’ The reply of inconvenience is laughable in its absurdity.”
The house owner will get up and get the bread. Proverbs 3:27-28 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you,’ when you already have it with you.”
The parable is not about the persistence of the man doing the knocking. It is about the goodness of the man who has bread to share. So Jesus says if you ask God for good things, he will not deceive you. He knows how to give good gifts. You can ask, seek and knock. Darrell Bock says, “God is approachable, gracious, generous and ready to hear our requests.”
When Elijah was discouraged and exhausted, God met him in the silence, and in the silence Elijah heard the Word of God and it saved his life. Elijah was fleeing from Jezebel, thinking he would be killed, and in his weariness he wanted to die. But God kept him alive, and then allowed Elijah to experience his presence. In the silence Elijah heard God. That stopped his running and his dying. He came alive again when he stopped and listened to God.
There are times when we need to stop and stand in the silence, and listen to God. There are times when we need to walk among the roses and the rhubarb, to see the beauty that is here, to pray for the Holy Spirit, to trust so that we might obey.
Because “when we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way.”
Then, “when we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.”