Luke 10v38-42: Stop and Listen to Jesus - 23rd February 2014 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Luke 10:38-42

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Two people: let’s call them Jenny and Jonny. Not their real names, in case you haven’t guessed. Jenny is busy. She’s got a lot of responsibilities. She’s trying to juggle her family and her job, and at times it gets too much. All her friends seem to be able to do it without raising a sweat, but Jenny struggles. She longs to be like them; she worries that she’s not a good enough mum or a good enough worker, like they seem to be. She became a Christian a few years ago, and she was really excited about that at the time, but now, if she’s honest, Jesus just seems to be getting squeezed out of her life. She never feels like she’s got five minutes to herself in a day as it is, so any idea of sitting down to read the Bible and pray just seems far off. On the few occasions that she does manage to sit down and pray, all the jobs that she still has to do flash across her mind, so she can’t concentrate. She’s finding it harder to get to church too. The kids have weekend clubs, and weekends are the only times when she can catch up. Midweek evenings are either full already or else she’s just so tired, so there’s no chance of joining a housegroup. She wants to be useful to God, really she does, so she’s thinking of signing up to help lead Sunday school, but she’s not sure she can be here enough Sundays to make it work. That’s Jenny.

With Jonny, it’s his motivation that wavers. He too is a Christian, and sometimes he seems to be really growing. He went on a Christian conference a little while back, and it was great; for a week or two afterwards all he wanted to do was read his Bible and get to know God better. Prayer times were easy. Heck, he even looked forward to coming to church. But then it started cooling off again. It happened slowly, it was difficult to pin down. Other things just started taking up more of his thoughts and time. The football has been really getting interesting, and so more of his brain seems to be taken up with that. When his mind is idle it’s football rather than Jesus which pops into his mind. And sometimes other things pop into his mind too, which he feels pretty guilty about. He still thinks that spending time listening to Jesus is a good thing. He feels better when it happens. He feels better when he’s been to church. It’s just become so hard to make it happen. In the normal routine it seems to have gone missing. Maybe the Christian conference will pick him up again. He’ll have to see. That’s Jonny.

Recognise anything there? Any of those descriptions fit you at all? Some of them fit me. What would Jesus say to Jenny and Jonny? What has he said to them? To us? The amazing thing which we’ve heard from our reading in Luke’s gospel is this:

Jesus says only one thing matters

Did you notice that in verse 41? Jesus says to Martha “you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.” One thing. Just one. What is it? Look at verse 39, see what Mary did. What did she do? Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. That’s it, says Jesus. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

This is the one thing that matters. Listening to Jesus’ words. Now just in case you think that sounds a bit simplistic, a bit exaggerated, it’s worth saying that Jesus has made this claim all through Luke’s gospel. It’s not just this little bit here. His consistent message has been that the only thing that matters as far as God’s kingdom is concerned is how you hear Jesus’ word and respond to it. Do you remember the parable of the sower? Do you know that one? The sower scatters the seed, the seed which is the word of God – in three sorts of soils it dies and in the other soil, the good soil, it grows. The difference between growing and dying is how you hear and respond to the word of God. It’s all about how people hear and respond to the word of Jesus. To his message. Those who hear the word and hold on to it are fruitful. Those who don’t are not.

So it is with Mary. She hears the word of Jesus. The exact same phrase as in that parable. She’s being good soil. Now just in case you’re listening to this thinking “that’s ok, I’m pretty good at the listening, I like reading and thinking, as long as it doesn’t make too much difference to what I actually do” then don’t fall into that trap – Jesus safeguards us from that mistake too. Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish builders? The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rain came tumbling down. It’s very now isn’t it? The difference there between wise and foolish is that wise person hears Jesus’ words and does them. The fools just hears. Hearing Jesus’ words is profoundly practical. Just think about the parable of the Good Samaritan that’s immediately before this bit of Luke and that we were thinking about last week, if you’re in any doubt about how practical and challenging listening to Jesus is. But here’s the rub, here’s the challenge of Mary and Martha: if you’re not listening to Jesus’, if you’re not making that the foundation, then whatever else you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong. The one thing that matters is listening to Jesus’ words. The words he’s spoken in the Bible. If we do that, all sorts will follow. If we haven’t got that, we’ve got nothing.

This is true because Christianity is about relationship. Because God is about relationship. The heart of the Christian Gospel is that through Jesus Christ God the Holy Trinity opens his arms to us and welcomes us into this everlasting loving relationship of God, Father Son and Spirit. It’s deeply relational. And yes, like any relationship, it’s profoundly practical. It makes a difference to what you do in all sorts of ways. But the relationship has to come first. Like in a marriage. So, you know, I’m married and one of the differences that makes to me is that I put out the bins on a Thursday morning. Yes I know that lots of people do that, but in our marriage it’s me that does the bins. But just putting the bins out on a Thursday morning doesn’t constitute a marriage does it? I put out the bins because I love my wife. The love has to fuel the actions. The actions alone won’t do. If I’m not actually spending the time talking with Sarah, listening to her, well there’s a problem. She’s going to say things like “don’t you love me anymore?” What am I going to say then? “The bins are out, what’s the problem?” Real love needs to drive the actions. Without the love, the actions will be empty or misplaced.

And communication is at the heart of any relationship, isn’t it? Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him. She is loving him like she should. This is a wonderful thing about Christianity – we have a God who has spoken, who speaks, through his words that he’s given us in the Bible. If you want to relate to God, well then listen to those words. Listen carefully. He has spoken. It that’s not going on, well then how do you expect the relationship to grow? Whatever other little jobs you’ve done for him?

But notice the enemy of this, the enemy of listening to Jesus. It’s there in what Martha says in verse 40:

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"” Do you see that? “I’m doing all the work! Tell her to get off her behind and do something useful!”

Who here has no sympathy for Martha? Put your hand up if you have no sympathy for where Martha is coming from. Of course we do. We all do. Because actually we are all like Martha. I am. So much of the time. Jenny and Jonny are, aren’t they? Both distracted, busy, not able to fit Jesus in among all the other things. I’d hazard a guess that you are too.

There’s always something else to do. Lots of things to do in fact. And listening to Jesus, reflecting on his words, praying it through with him and with others, that doesn’t look like we’re doing anything, does it? It looks like we’re sitting on our behinds while all the busyness goes on. So it gets squeezed out.

Martha has massive expectations upon her. It’s not just her own blinkeredness on display here, she’s trying to cope under the weight of expectations made of her. Back then there were huge cultural expectations placed on the host, when someone came to visit – you had to do everything for them, lovely food, make them comfortable, really make a big fuss of them. Any of you who’ve experienced wonderful Middle Eastern hospitality today will recognise something of that. Martha is just doing what is expected of her. Mary is failing, isn’t she?

When you’re listening to Jesus it doesn’t feel like you have much to show for it. Do you know what I mean? When people ask us how we are, it’s very often terms of achievement, isn’t it? What have you been up to lately? What are you doing with your time at the moment? I’ve been listening to Jesus. I’ve been reading the Bible. I’ve been going to church. I’ve been at my housegroup. It doesn’t feel like much to show. North London is full of high achievers. How easy it is to feel that pressure to measure our lives by how much we do.

But do you see what the result of this is for Martha? Jesus puts his finger on it, right where it hurts. Look at verse 41:

“Martha, Martha” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things.”

And she is. The great hostess. Doing her duty. Where has it got her? Worried and upset about many things. That strikes a chord, doesn’t it? Here in our generation, in many ways healthier and wealthier than any previous generation. But stressed out of our minds. Busy to the point of breaking.

It may be that as you hear this you’re thinking “oh here’s another thing to add to the pile of things to be done. Now you’re telling me I’ve got to read the Bible more and get to church more, another thing to add to the list.” Jenny would be thinking that, wouldn’t she? Listening to Jesus becomes another thing we feel guilty about. Can I say, if you’re thinking that, you’re still Martha. You’re still coming at this in exactly the same way that she did. ‘Jesus, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll come and listen – just as soon as I’ve got the potatoes in the oven.’

Jesus doesn’t add something to the list to make us feel bad. He’s much more radical than that. He tells us what’s actually important. Only one thing is needed. Jesus isn’t complicating Mary and Martha’s lives, is he? He’s simplifying them! It’s not just another thing that has got to get done, adding to the mounting stress. It’s a total upheaval of priorities. Because it’s relationship. Nobody thinks “Oh I’ve got to love my wife and kids today, I can fit that in for 10 minutes in the evening if it’s not too busy.” Do you? If you do then perhaps come and talk to me afterwards. The relationship is just more important than that. You don’t fit the relationship into the other stuff; the other stuff has to fall into place around the relationship. It’s that way round. Jesus is not piling on tasks. He’s inviting us to love. Isn’t that better?

But notice one more ever so important thing he says in that sentence. Look at verse 41 again: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things but only one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary has chosen what is better.

You need to deliberately decide to listen to Jesus. This won’t happen by accident. Or by default. This is where Jonny gets it wrong, isn’t it? He’s happy when the relationship with God stuff just washes over him; then he’ll go with the tide. He’ll listen to Jesus when he feels like listening to him. But he needs to know that he has to choose. To decide. Like Mary did. There are no default Christians. Not ones that last.

That’s why confirmation is such a great picture of this, isn’t it? If you’re being confirmed it’s because you’ve already been baptised, but you want to affirm that his life of following Jesus is for you. You are making that deliberate decision. When people ask you why you are a Christian, some of you may answer “because I grew up as one / my mum and dad are Christians” or something like that. That’s great, that’s a gift of God to you, it’s something to be thankful for and it’s doubtless an important factor in how you became a Christian. But it’s not enough. Christians who are only Christians because their family is Christian wither and die as soon as you take them out of that safe family context. You need to choose. Day on day.

That means there’s a cost to it. If you have to decide, there’s a cost. If everything fits in, you don’t have to make a decision, do you? Just saying yes to everything is not a decision. Decisions are hard because whenever we decide we have to say ‘no’ to something. I know you’re busy. That’s the point. Martha was busy. Jesus didn’t just say – “oh Martha, next time you’re at a loose end, here’s a nice thing you can do”. He said “this is the one thing that matters.” However busy you are. Often people treat Christianity as another hobby. If it’s a hobby, then it’s one of many things competing for your spare time. If it’s a hobby then it gets squeezed out when something more important comes along. Because that’s what happens with hobbies.

This is so much more radical, isn’t it? Jesus isn’t just tinkering round the edges. He wants to rip out the heart of your life, and replace it with a very different heart.

So there is a personal cost to this, there has to be.  It will mean cutting down stuff that you want to do, or that you feel you need to do. Bad things, harmful things, irrelevant things, of course. They will have to give way to make way for Jesus. But also good things, and important things. You have to decide. There will be a personal cost. There will also be a social cost. Other people won’t get it. Martha didn’t get it, did she? For Mary, listening to Jesus meant facing the anger of her sister. Committing to Jesus, taking the time to listen to him will mean that some people won’t get it, and they will think you are strange. It will mean being prepared to be considered strange. There will be times when you have to miss out on social things, friends or family things or work things, so that you read Jesus words in the Bible, so that you can be here on a Sunday or at your housegroup. Work will have to make room. Hobbies will have to make room. So that the only thing that matters can happen.

There are two coffee questions on your service sheet.

  • What do you think of the claim that the only thing that matters is listening to Jesus?
  • What are you going to do with this?       Let’s pray.