Sitting and Listening to Jesus

Text: Luke 10:38-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The story of Mary and Martha in our Gospel reading today sometimes gets a bad rap. This story about two sisters who act very differently when Jesus comes to visit and the family tension that arises because of those differences is often misunderstood. Leah was reminding me that my mother-in-law doesn’t really like this story because she insists that “The world needs Martha’s too.” She is a “Martha” (not literally, her name is not Martha). She is much more inclined to just do what needs to be done that to take a break from work just to sit and listen. Often times this text is taken to show that being a “Martha” who focuses on serving first is a bad thing and that being a “Mary” who sits and listens to Jesus is a good thing. This is very much an oversimplification of what Jesus is saying here. The world does need Martha’s, my mother-in-law is right. Jesus is not saying that one kind of person or personality is better than another. Jesus is not saying that Martha needs to stop worrying about supper or about cleaning the house. Jesus is saying that we need to think about how we worship Him and what the proper order for how we worship Him. This is a story about worshiping Jesus and what that looks like.

So, how do we worship Jesus? Maybe that seems like a silly question. We just turn to page 260 in the front of the hymnal or page 151 or 184 and follow the words that are there. We sing a few songs, maybe have communion, then we are done and on our way home. Nice and simple. That’s how we worship Jesus.

There is some truth to that, but what is really going on when we worship Jesus? This text presents us with two legitimate options for how to worship Jesus. Both of them are legitimate, God pleasing ways to worship Jesus. First we see Martha. Knowing that Jesus is coming, Martha makes a list of everything that needs to be done before Jesus arrives and starts powering through her “to do” list. Mary is right there helping Martha too, but then Jesus arrives. At that point Mary stops helping her sister, stops working on the list of chores and sits at Jesus feet. Martha chooses to keep working, she chooses to serve; Mary chooses to stop working, she chooses to listen.

It would be easy to get on Martha’s case about all this and say that she should know better. In the end Jesus makes it clear that Mary has chosen the better, more necessary thing in that moment. But we should not be too hard on Martha because the thing that she chose matters too. Martha chooses to serve Jesus. She focuses her attention one hospitality, how you welcome someone like Jesus into your home, how you serve Him. In our Old Testament reading when Abraham ran around from his tent to the field to prepare a feast when the Lord came to visit. Hospitality, how you welcome guest (especially divine guests) matter a lot. Earlier in Luke when Jesus went to a Pharisees house it is noted that the Pharisee did not show the proper level of hospitality to Jesus. He did not give Jesus a basin to wash His feet, he didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss, and he didn’t anoint Jesus’ head with oil. If someone like Jesus was coming you needed to show Him the right kind of hospitality and welcome Him to your home the proper way. That is all that Martha was trying to do.

But, as important as hospitality is, listening to Jesus is important too, really important, and that is what Martha seems to forget. She gets so caught up in serving, in doing things for Jesus and welcoming Him, that she forgets the one thing that is necessary and needful in that moment: to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him.

Jesus sees what is going on here and He kindly pleads with Martha to come and sit and listen. “Martha, Martha,” He says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Come, sit, and listen.” Jesus’ words here are not a sharp rebuke. They are not angry words. They are tender, loving, and inviting words. They are pleading words. Jesus begs Martha to remember what is most important, to leave the serving for another time, and to come and receive the Word of God.

Worshiping Jesus is first and foremost about receiving. It is not about what we do or what we bring to Jesus, what we can offer to Him. It is about receiving the gifts that He gives to us. Jesus does not need our service. He says, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus serves us by giving His life as a ransom for us. Today He serves us as we sit at His feet and listen. This happens here on Sunday mornings and it happens every time we read our Bibles at home. That is the one thing that really matters, everything else takes a back seat to our time spent listening to Jesus. It’s not that nothing else matters, but listening and receiving are the most important things that we as Christians do. Being a Christian and worshiping Jesus is about what He does for us, not what we do for Him.

This a simple enough truth, but it is easy to forget. We are always drawn to doing thing. We like doing things. Doing things makes us feel like we are accomplishing something. Our society does a terrible job teaching us just to sit and listen. We are raised to be active and do stuff, to make a positive contribution. Sitting and listening just seems like laziness. But sitting and listening is what Jesus wants us to do, that is the one thing that is necessary.

Even still, we want to do something. You know the Christmas song Little Drummer boy? It’s a great song. Lots of people really like that song, I like that song. But the song is all about us doing something for Jesus. The boy has no gift, he is poor, and he thinks he has nothing to offer the newborn baby Jesus, but rather than just come empty handed to Jesus he decides to play his drum for Him since that is all that he has. As nice and sweet as the song is, it points us to what we can do for Jesus. What do we think that we have to do for Jesus? If we compare the drummer boy to the actual shepherd that the Bible tells us about who came to see Jesus we see that they brought nothing. They just came to Jesus empty handed, straight from the fields, and received what He brought to this earth: peace and God’s goodwill towards men.

We always want to do something. It’s in our Christmas songs, our culture, and even in our way of thinking about church. What are we trying to bring to Jesus? Our good works? Our excellent morals? Our high level of commitment that causes us to never miss a Sunday? Our countless volunteer hours? We can get distracted by serving to the point that we miss the most important thing, the only needful thing: listening to Jesus.

Have you ever wondered why the services in our hymnal are called “Divine Service” instead of “Worship Service” or something like that? It is because we believe that what happens here on a Sunday morning is first and foremost about God coming to us and serving us. It is divine service, God serving us. We receive forgiveness from Him in absolution, we sit as His feet and listen to His word in Scripture readings and in the sermon where we hear about how He sent His Son to die and rise for us to forgive us, we receive Jesus body and blood in communion, and then, at the end, we receive His blessing as we go back home into the world. All of it is about what Jesus does for us.

All that being said, it’s not like there is never a time or a place for us to serve God. Actually, there is a lot of time for that. God does not need our good works, Jesus does not need our good works, but our neighbour sure does. All of our lives are lived out as we love God by loving our neighbour and all of the people around us. But our serving of God, what we do for Him, can only happen after and as a result of His service to us. There is a time and a place for the service that Martha offers to Jesus. The world does need Martha’s. There is work to be done in the Kingdom of God that we are sent out to do, there are neighbours who need our love, service, and hospitality out there.

The same is true in a church service on Sunday. There is a time and a place in the service for us to respond to God’s gifts to us by praying, praising, and giving thanks. That is a good, right, and salutary thing for us to do. But it can only happen after we receive God’s gifts to us. Before we can serve God, before we can serve anybody, we need to be filled up by Jesus with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Then we can serve.

So really, this story about Mary and Martha is about proper order to our Christian lives. What comes first and what comes second. First we receive, then we serve. It always has to be that way.

Jesus pleaded with Martha asking her to turn from her focus on serving and work to see what was really important and Jesus makes that plea to us too. He invites us simply to come and receive what He has to offer. There is plenty out there in the world for us to do, lots of serving that needs to done, but Jesus simply says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden (everyone who is tired and anxious about all the serving), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Put down whatever you are trying to bring to Jesus and just receive what He offers. He gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation for free. Just listen to His Words, that is the most necessary thing. Amen.

“How do you read it?”

Text: Luke 10:25-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Our Gospel reading today, the story of the Good Samaritan, is pretty well known. There are not a lot of surprises here. A man is traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho falls into the hands of robbers, is beaten half to death, and left for dead at the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (another kind of religious professional) pass by the man rather than helping him. Next a Samaritan comes along and he takes the time to stop and help. The moral of the story, or at least one of the morals of the story, is that we ought to love our neighbour as our self.

I bet you didn’t think as you heard this story of the Good Samaritan this morning that it is actually a story about how you read the Bible. Most people probably wouldn’t read this story this way, but that is really what it is about. The idea of loving your neighbour as yourself is really important too, but what Jesus is really doing here is teaching us how to read the Bible, how to engage with His Words as we read them or as we hear them preached to us. Jesus is teaching us to read the Bible with Him at the centre of everything that we read.

Let me explain. Before Jesus tells the story about the Good Samaritan a lawyer comes up to Jesus. This lawyer isn’t the kind of lawyer we have in our society. This kind of lawyer is an expert in God’s law, the Old Testament writings like the 10 Commandments and other laws that God gave to the people of Israel. He knows his Old Testament inside out and backwards, he knows his Bible. But as this lawyer talks with Jesus it becomes increasingly clear that despite how much of the Bible he knows, despite being an expert in the law, this man actually understands very little because he does not read the Bible with Jesus in the centre.

This lawyer reads the Bible as an instruction manual; as a list of the demands that God has placed on the human beings He created. This lawyer knows the law, he knows what God wants people to do, how He wants them to live, and he does his best to follow all of those laws perfectly. So he comes to Jesus with a question. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wants to know the key to the instruction manual. What needs to be done? What must I do?

This is the wrong way to read the Bible. This is the wrong way to approach the Word of God. But it is our favourite way to read the Bible. We love instruction manuals. If you’ve ever built a piece of furniture that you needed to assemble from IKEA or something you might think that you hate instruction manuals, but deep down we really like them. We like things that tell us what to do, how to live, how to make our lives better. That’s why “self-help” books are some of the most popular books in the world today. They are instruction manuals in disguise. We often bring our love for instruction manuals to the Bible too, just like the lawyer in our text did. We look to the Bible to find out how to live, to learn the rules, or to get some good advice. In the sermons at church on Sunday we like these kinds of things too; instructions. But the Bible is not an instruction manual. You can read it like one, but that is not its purpose. If we read it that way we are missing the point entirely.

The problem is that if we read the Bible as an instruction manual it sets up impossible expectations for us. The instructions in there, the laws, we can’t do what they say. The Bible says love your neighbour as yourself. That sounds like a great idea, great instructions, but how is it going in practice? How are you doing at loving your neighbour? How’s it going loving the neighbour who cuts you off on the highway or who cuts in line at the grocery store? It’s tough. It’s so tough that we end up trying to make it a bit easier. The lawyer who came to Jesus asks, “Who is my neighbour?” He wants to narrow things down so he knows who he has to love in order to be following the instructions. Who is his neighbour? Everyone around him! We try to do stuff like this too, we pick and choose which neighbours we will love, we make loving our neighbour a thing that we do sometimes, when the conditions are right. The Bible doesn’t say try sometimes to love your neighbour, it says love your neighbour. No ifs, ands, or buts. If the Bible is an instruction manual we are in a big mess.

But this is where the story of the Good Samaritan comes in. Jesus tells this story after the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbour?” so that he knows who he needs to go and love. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he is looking for. At the end of the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus asks, “Which one of these three men proved to be a neighbour to the man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead?” Jesus doesn’t use the story to tell us who our neighbour is that needs our help, instead he turns our attention to our neighbour how helps us. Have you ever asked someone a question only to have them answer a completely different question than the one you asked? That is what Jesus does here. He doesn’t tell the lawyer who to go help in order to keep the commandment, he directs us all to look at our neighbour who helps us.

So that raise the question: who are we in this Good Samaritan story, where do we fit? Are we the helpful and caring Samaritan, or are we the half dead guy in the ditch. If we read the Bible like an instruction manual we are supposed to be like the Good Samaritan, but if we read the Bible with Jesus in the middle of everything then we are like the dead guy at the side of the road.

Sin has left us beaten up, bleeding, and half dead at the side of the road. Our own sin that leads us into all kinds of self-destructive behaviours, the sin of other people that leads them to hurt and abuse us through words and actions, and sin in the world that leads to death. The pain and suffering we experience in this world at the hands of other people and even ourselves leave us jaded and cautious. We a reluctant to help the strangers around us because we can’t be sure that it is safe to do so.  The devil is behind all of this, hurting us, harassing us, and leading us to destruction. He uses this world and the sin that is in it to leave us half dead at the side of the road, unable to do anything to help ourselves let alone help and love other people. We are so broken by sin that loving our neighbour has become impossible.

But then the Good Samaritan comes along, that is Jesus. He comes to us in our brokenness, He sees how beaten up and messed up we really are, and He comes right down into the ditch with us to rescue us. We are such a mess, so destroyed by sin in us and the handiwork of the devil that nobody would blame him for just passing on by on the other side. It’s a mess down here where we are and nobody in their right mind wants to deal with that, but Jesus comes down from heaven, takes on human flesh, and joins us in the ditch so that through His death on the cross we would be saved from death and so that through His resurrection from the dead we would be restored to health. He picks us up and carries us to safety, finds a place where we can rest and heal, pays for everything that we need and more, and then He saves us from death.

The great news from this story of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus is your neighbour. Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which one of these three proved to be a neighbour to the man who had been beaten by robbers.” Answering Jesus, the lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus is the one who showed us mercy. The one who loved us in spite of our sin, felt compassion for us and the mess we made for ourselves, and came to us to rescue us. Who proved to be a neighbour to us? Jesus did.

And our Good Neighbour, Jesus, who had mercy on us and saved us invites us to “Go and do likewise. Love your neighbour as I have loved you.” Without Jesus and His life giving death on the cross for us the prospect of loving our neighbours is impossible. We were too busy trying in vain to keep ourselves alive in the ditch. But now that Jesus has healed us, given us life, fed us with His body and blood at this altar, we can go out into the world and love our neighbour.

But here’s the great thing, when Jesus is at the middle of the story we are set free. We don’t love our neighbour because we have to or because we feel constrained to do so by God’s commands, but we are free. Free to love our neighbour because Jesus loved us first.

The Bible is not an instruction manual. When we make it one it becomes a burden that we can never carry. Its commandments are too heavy for us. But when we read the Bible with Jesus at the middle and stop looking for “how to” instructions to fix our lives ourselves, we find freedom. Because Jesus has taken care of our salvation. Questions like “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” become irrelevant. Jesus is the only thing that matters. He gives eternal life freely through His death and resurrection. And now we are free, free to love. Amen.

A Real Reason to Rejoice

Luke 10:1-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was in high school I played on the football team. I didn’t have the most successful career, but there were a few highlights. I joined the team in grade 10, but didn’t get to play much until grade 12. That year I got to be a starter on defence. This was huge, the two previous years of hard work in practice was finally paying off. Our first game of the year rolled around and I was out there, on the field, playing defence. I remember that game well. As the game went on the score remained close. We were winning, but not by much. Then the biggest play of my football career happened. I was out there playing defence and the quarterback tried to throw the ball to the player I was defending. I saw it coming, though. I stepped in front of that pass and intercepted it. I ran a few yards with the ball, but then got tackled. That didn’t matter though, my team had the ball now and we were in scoring range. A few plays later our kicker came out and kicked a field goal. In the end we won the game by three points. I had made my contribution and I was proud of it.

All of us players always ended up having a party after the games. Other kids from school would come and congratulate us if we won. Lots of people came and congratulated me that day and I loved it. I had my moment in the spotlight, I made the big play, and we won the game. For a few days I didn’t hesitate to remind everyone what had happened in the game.

It seems like the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out in our Gospel reading today came back feeling kind of the same way. They came rushing back to Jesus and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” They had been sent out by Jesus into the towns and villages that lay along His route to Jerusalem. They went to these places and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus who had come into the world to bring peace to people struggling and afflicted with sin. They had heard and believed this good news and now they went out to spread the news far and wide. Jesus gave them power, power to heal and to cast out demons apparently, and the results of that power were impressive. They were successful, they did it, and the results showed.

They come back to Jesus brimming with confidence, proud of everything that they had accomplished in Jesus name. They are excited, thrilled by how things have gone. They just can’t wait to tell Jesus all about it. But Jesus is going to burst their bubble a little bit.

When they get back to Jesus, He has some interesting things to say to them. His first words seem to be even more encouraging for them. Jesus says, “I saw Satan falling from like lightening from heaven.” Jesus has seen their success too, Satan fell like lightening from heaven as they went out and preached the good news. They proclaimed the forgiveness of sins and the reign of God in Jesus name and nothing sends the devil packing quite like that. They must have been even more proud that this point, look what they had done! It was even more than they had imagined! But then Jesus’ tone starts to change, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall hurt you.” He hasn’t burst their bubble yet, but He is getting there. Here he reminds them where their power to do these things comes from. They know this already, but they need a reminder. Their authority comes from Jesus, it is not their own. And then Jesus says this, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Pop! There goes the bubble. All this stuff you are so excited about, don’t rejoice over that. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven instead.

These disciples are riding high, they are full of zeal for Jesus, full of energy for the work of the Lord, pumped up with joy at seeing what Jesus is doing in the world around them, and Jesus turns around and bursts their bubble just like that. Don’t rejoice over these things, Jesus says, rejoice about what God has done for you instead. That’s what really matters.

Success and accomplishments are addictive things. Success isn’t bad and accomplishments aren’t bad, but our sinful nature becomes so obsessed with chasing these things that we lose sight of what really matters, we lose sight of Jesus, the cross, and His salvation for us that came through suffering. The concept of success and failure is so pervasive in our culture that it has invaded the church and the lives of Christians. In everything we do we want to be successful. As a church we want to be a “vibrant, growing, welcoming community of people,” or, in other words, a successful church. After a successful event at the church everyone is riding high like the disciples when they came back to Jesus, look what we did, look what we accomplished! We value these things and we assume that Jesus will value them too. But Jesus says the same thing that He said to those disciples, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Our bubble needs to be popped sometimes too.

The flip side of the success coin applies here too. Sometimes in our desire for success we come up noticeably short. Our church might be shrinking or our event didn’t go very well, not many people came, or something like that. And, focusing on our lack of success we get down about it and are discouraged. Again our focus is in the wrong spot, being a Christian and a church is not about what we do or don’t do, it is about what Jesus has done. “Do not be discouraged over these things,” Jesus would say, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Our sinful human nature always tries to turn the focus back onto ourselves, onto our success and our accomplishments. Those 72 disciples knew that everything that they had accomplished on their journeys was the result of the power and authority of Jesus, they knew that, but the idea of success has still gone to their heads. We know the same thing, we know that everything good that happens in our church is the result of what Jesus is doing, not what we are doing, but we still like to take some credit for it. We want to be proud of it. We want to boast about it for a while. This is our sinful nature turning attention away from Jesus and putting it on ourselves. It’s not about what we can do, have done, or will do, it is all about Jesus and we need that reminder every moment of every day as we live our lives as Christians in this world. It’s all about Jesus.

It is because of Jesus that our names are written in the book of heaven. This is a real reason for rejoicing. Whatever successes we have in this life as individuals, as a church, as Christians, or any other kind of success, it is all fleeting. It does not last. Success is replaced with failure, highs with lows, and we are back where we started. But Jesus gives us a reason to rejoice outside of the ups and the downs of our human lives and what we can accomplish. He has given us a salvation that defies our expectations of success and failure. He has opened up heaven to us through His death on a cross and His rising from the dead.

Imagine what those disciples must have been thinking as they watched Jesus die. Surely this seemed like the ultimate failure. They had thrown everything that they had, their whole lives into following this Messiah but here He was dying. The worst possible failure. But that failure was actual the ultimate success. Victory was won once for all on the cross. Sin was paid for, the Devil was defeated, the gates of heaven were swung open. Just like the thief who was crucified there beside Jesus to whom Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus has a place in paradise for you too, your name is written in heaven. It was written there when you were baptised into Jesus’s death and resurrection and it is still there. Your name is recorded in heaven. That is a real reason for rejoicing. Even in the face of death that is a reason to rejoice.

The thing is that as Christians and as a church we are not called by Jesus to be successful. We are called to be the people of God in this fallen world. In a text like the one we have today it is impossible to get away from the fact that we have been sent out into this world too. You haven’t been called to be pastors like I have and you aren’t the same in every way as those 72 disciples that Jesus sent out (no one has given you power to tread on snakes and scorpions- don’t try it), but you have been sent out into this world as the people of God. You hear His Word here and then go out into the world carrying that with you wherever you go. Through living in your life- at home and at work- as a Christian you proclaim to the world that that Kingdom of God has come near in Christ Jesus our Lord. But in this calling that we share as a church, as we are sent out by Jesus into the world, we are not called to be successful. The church will not always be successful, at least not by the world’s standards. The church lives under the cross of Jesus Christ.

            Life under the cross means a life where suffering and failure and defeat are inevitable; they will happen. There will be pain, anxiety, sadness, and all the others things that we are all too familiar with in this life. But life under the cross also means that we look up at that cross at our Lord and Saviour who hangs there dying and have a reason to rejoice. Our names are written in heaven because of that cross.

We don’t need success, as desirable as it might be; we need Jesus.  Our names our written in heaven because Jesus’ blood was shed for us. Whether we succeed or fail according to worldly definitions we will always have this assurance: our names are written in heaven. So now, as the people of God, we have the privilege of rejoicing in what our God has done for us. We take that rejoicing out into the world around us and as we do, God’s Kingdom spreads, by the power of Jesus Words. So let us rejoice each and every day. Amen.