Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Dancers in the Waters of Chaos

The squirrels make it rain again 
The morning after the storm
Has abandoned pieces of itself 
On the crooked fingers of the forest. 
The squirrels sashay 

On the evidence of last night’s violence,
Tears falling to the decaying wood floor.  
The squirrels scamper and stumble in the quiet
Like tourists in cathedrals and children over gravestones.  
While I whisper my prayers for those drowning in the Flood, 
The squirrels make it rain again. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Not Doers, but Hearers

Our gospel passage from last Sunday, Luke 10:38ff, gives us a snapshot of two people: one who is working hard and one who is hardly working:  “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38–42)

Martha is busy serving and being a good host.  Mary is sitting.  

Here’s the question: When you look at these two people, the one who is working and the one who is sitting, who do you think is the better disciple?  

We tend to picture activity, busyness even, when we think of what a disciple of Jesus really looks like.  A Christian is someone who feeds the poor, who is involved in the community, who serves at church whenever the “doors are open.” But this story about Martha and Mary is meant to remind us that being a disciple is more than merely doing.   

Now, there is a very real danger in being the type of person who hears a lot of sermons, reads a lot of Bible, and yet… has not put anything of these things into action in their lives.  God tells us through St. James: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22) (See also James 2:14ff; Matt 7:21ff).  However, the story of March and Mary deals with another common problem: being a doer, but not a hearer.  Doing too much  and sitting with Jesus too little.

The story of Martha and Mary comes to us in the middle of Luke’s extended section of his gospel on discipleship.  In this section (roughly Luke 9-18) sometimes called the “travel narrative” of Luke, the gospel writer has compiled many varied stories and teachings of Jesus all focused on one issue: what does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus?   And in bringing Jesus’s interaction with Martha and Mary in this section, Luke is trying to show us (and God through Luke) one crucial aspect of being a disciple.  

Mary, as the one sitting at Jesus’s feet, is being lifted up to us as a model disciple (see also Luke 8:35; Acts 22:3), and it is Martha who receives the rebuke from Jesus.  Jesus’s loving rebuke to Martha has two-prongs: he reminds Martha that listening to Him is both necessary and best.  

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary.”  (v. 41-42a)   Jesus sets up a contrast between the many things that Martha is working on, and the one thing that is necessary.  Jesus is getting at Martha’s priorities:  There are many things in this life we can do, but one thing is NECESSARY.   We can’t live without necessities, right? Jesus is challenging Martha (and us) to the very way He lived when facing Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:2-4): “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   If that is true for Jesus, is it true for us, today?  If it was true for Martha, is it not true for us today?  Do we think of listening to Jesus through the Scriptures as a necessity or an add-on?  

The 2nd part of Jesus’s rebuke is to remind Martha of what is BEST.  Here, Jesus continues the theme of using food imagery.  Food is a necessity, but it can also be a delight.  (v. 42b) “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.””  A portion is a part of a meal. In a feast, there are many portions, courses we might say.  The good portion is the best part of the meal.  Mary, in choosing to listen to the Lord, has chosen the best part of things.  We are reminded of what Jesus said to the 72 when they returned from their mission: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name [And Jesus answered} “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”” (Luke 10:17, 20) Yes, it is good to do things in the Kingdom of God, but it is BEST just to know Him.  Mary, as she just listens to Jesus, just sits at His feet, is gaining what is BEST about being a Christian: knowing Jesus.  As Jesus said: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).  And this blessing of relationship, of intimacy, only comes to the one who stops…. and listens.  You can’t relate in a rush.  

So, how do we live this out?  How do we respond as Jesus would have us?  

Daily Bread: Like the Hebrews in the wilderness wanderings (Ex 16; Num 11), we must seek daily manna from God, daily seeking to stop and listen to God through Bible reading and prayer.  Since hearing from Jesus is a necessity, this is part of what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer when we pray for “daily bread” — that God would speak, that the Holy Spirit would give us ears to hear.  There are many ways to seek God daily, and if you’d like to know how, please contact me.  I’d be more than happy to get you in touch with someone who could meet with you and show you how that works.  We can sit daily at Jesus’s feet… if we choose to do so. 

Sabbath: Weekly Sabbath rest is something most American Christians are really bad at.  Some do not practice a weekly Sabbath because they say it is no longer binding for Christians today.  That may be true (though I do not think so), but I suspect the real reason most American Christians do not celebrate a weekly a Sabbath is not because they are free not to, but because they are enslaved.  Consider the rationale behind the 4th Commandment in Deuteronomy:  “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work… You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deut. 5:12–15).  The Sabbath in the OT was meant to be a celebration of freedom to worship (Ex 7:16; 8:1; Luke 1:74).  It is only those who are free who can rest.  If you cannot spend a day each week dedicated to worship and rest, you may want to ask: Am I a slave to my work?  Am I free to stop and enjoy Jesus?  Why or why not?  If you’ve never observed a weekly Sabbath, let me encourage you to take Sundays from Saturday night to Sunday night, as a time of worship, prayer, fellowship, and rest.  Make a commitment to sit weekly at Jesus’s feet: rain or shine, on vacation or at home, on business or at leisure… and you will be choosing the good portion of life. 

Last week’s sermon from Luke 10:38ff told us the story of Mary and Martha.  In that story, as in the whole section of Luke’s gospel form 9-18, Luke is bringing to the fore the question of “what it means