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Listening to Mercy

Sermon, Sunday July 21, 2019, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:38–4238 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!’41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

We are still on the road with Jesus and his friends toward Jerusalem. We come across Martha and Mary today. We are prompted to listen to something very important.

Much has happened since Jesus ‘set his face’ toward the looming darkness and triumph of Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

The Twelve have been sent out ahead in pairs once. The Seventy Two have been sent out the same. They returned with big joy.

We heard of this crucial ‘person of peace’.

5 ‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you….. Do not move around from house to house. (Luke 10:5)

And here she is:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

Martha is this person open to Jesus’ presence and teaching. Jesus practices what he preaches. He “stays there” with this person of peace who has appeared. Jesus enters her world, her house and her hospitality.

But something happens to Martha. She is not so peaceful! Martha gets “distracted”. The word means “weighed down and anxious about a thing”. Martha gets troubled, overwhelmed with her many tasks.

You can see why. Thirteen men have turned up and the local custom is that they need to be fed well and housed. There does not seem to be a father or a husband in the house. So, it is all on Martha and her sister, Mary.

We find out that the one supposed to be helping get everything ready is not lifting a finger to help. Mary is “sitting at Jesus’ feet”.

Martha blows a gasket: “Teacher. Can’t you see my good work? Don’t you notice me? Can’t you get this lazy sister of mine to help me?!”

This feeling of being overwhelmed by her own expectations and others’ expectations is what Jesus sees in Martha. It is what, I believe Luke wants us to ponder in ourselves.

For Martha, the weight of her own expectations of herself and others is crushing her and making her deaf to the good news of joy and fulfilment in Jesus’ word. It seems that this moment reveals that Martha may be basing her worth and that of others on doing; on achieving; on contributing; of meeting expectations of self and others.

We see here that basing your worth on what you do or don’t do or can’t do is lethal for joy, peace, listening and for relationships. Self-worth built on achieving will always crush you in the end. Why?  Because none of us are that good!

I think we are meant to ask: Is this me?  Are my expectations of myself and those of others crushing me to the point that I cannot sit as Jesus’ feet, I can’t listen, I can’t hear?

How do you tell if you are basing your worth and identity on achieving and doing and being seen to do? Some questions:

Do you always have to be the one who is doing the most, achieving the most, being the best? If so, why?

Do you hate ‘lazy people’, or judge a person who seems to be so at ease and at peace in life as being lazy because they don’t do as much or as well as you? Do you get mad at people when they say no to you or to doing a task you want them to do? If so, why?

Why do you want to be the best, the busiest, the most active all the time? Why do you find yourself being critical of others for their ‘lack of progress’ or achievement of work? What drives these things within Martha and within you?

Martha is not a bad person, she is just a ‘distracted’ person. She is performing her way away from the real centre, the real joy, the real purpose of life. He is right there speaking but she can’t hear him.

Of course, if we are overly critical of Martha, we may end up with an image of faith that never actually does anything for anyone else. Someone has to cook, clean, welcome, organise, plan, think ahead, have a clear vision for where we need to go and etc…..

The tasks are not the issue here. The identity built on the tasks is the issue. An identity built on doing, achieving, being seen, being noticed, ability to serve others will make you deaf to the One who is your identity and gives you a new identity every day; a baptised identity, an adopted son and daughter of the Father identity; and identity that just is no matter what is done or not done.

So, what is the centre? What is the goal? What is most important to live a full life free from constant performance to please self or others or God? What moves us to the place where we truly rest, truly know peace; truly know joy and can drop all the busyness and comparison and drivenness? What enables us to serve with an open heartedness, a listening ear, a joyful spirit – without this massive weight?

For the lawyer who asked Jesus about what is the centre of it all, Jesus said – the Samaritan and his compassion in that famous parable we heard last week.

It is the mercy of the unexpected and impossible Samaritan that is to be received for we are all incapable, lying in the ditch of idolatry and self-importance and deafness. It is the mercy of Jesus that makes us, us; gives us the peace for which we long and the place for which we give thanks.

And now, to a weighed down busy, overwhelmed Martha, he points her to one place; listening to that mercy in a man. Taking up the one posture of a learner in the one presence of the One who is master of life and Saviour of distracted performers.

“Sit at my feet, Martha. Listen to me”. That’s the place to be to enjoy a robust, solid, immovable identity in Jesus with your kind and loving heavenly Father no matter your wins or losses, your tragedies or triumphs.

Your achievements don’t make you. His mercy and kindness does.

Seems easy for us to hear today, but I am not so sure. It was not easy to hear for the lawyer or for Martha.

Jewish women are not supposed to take the posture of a disciple by sitting at the Rabbi’s feet (as Mary does) and Samaritans are not supposed to be the model of God’s grace over Jewish people (as in the parable). Very tough to hear if you are performing your way into heaven but amazing grace if you know you can’t do that.

Pause now. Hear him.

You don’t need your achievements to be at peace and to know true joy in life. You need Jesus’ achievements for you; his Jerusalem pain for you; his Jerusalem resurrection for you.

The lawyer and the busy lady were given a challenge by the King of Love because of love. We know Martha received that challenging love and trusted Jesus. Not sure about the lawyer. What about you?

You don’t need to compare, judge, win, stay on top of things, be positive lest that house of cards falls.

You have already fallen, and completely, in the font: just as completely you have been raised to new heights of his mercy. For love, the Samaritan and Mary have shown you up.

The Teacher has named your distraction today and the journey to the new Jerusalem continues for you.

Live in this house of mercy with big ears and plenty of time. It is what makes you, you and makes you a person of peace and of good news about what Jesus is doing.

Sit at the teacher’s feet – Samaritans, women, men, Christians, old, young, lazy, busy, joyless and joyful. His mercy is the place to be so we can then go and do.

That is the kind of activity that won’t crush you or kill your relationships. There will be joy in your house and in your soul. You will be a person who brings peace and its joy to those around you.

Listening to Mercy. That’s your centre. That’s his gentle prod in your spirit today – and it all for mercy’s sake.

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