Sunday, June 5, 2016

Listening our way forwards on the Cross Road (luke 10:38-42)...Walking the Cross Road: Jesus journey to Jerusalem (Luke ch 10-19) and what it has to say to us as his followers (Part 3)

Viv Coleman came and spoke at the beginning of the year here at St Peter’s, she talked about one word. One word for the year, …one word instead of making new year resolutions… one word instead of writing and setting lofty and worthy goals… one God given word that would be the focus for the year. When I came back from holiday I was sure that that word for us as a church was ‘evangelism’, or  maybe ‘outreach’ or ‘ mission’… But I was wrong… as I prepared my first message for the year the word listen kept coming up. Jesus says ‘listen’, listen to my words… listen and put them into action. Listen very carefully. Listen. More than ever in the midst of the churn and blur of our everyday twenty first century urban suburban lifestyle with its multitasking demanding congested schedules, and multi-lane depressingly congested motorways we need to make time to stop… be still and sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has to say.

The passage we are looking at today starts with the phrase ‘as Jesus and his disciples were on their way’ and we are looking at the journey they were on. In Luke 9:51 it says that Jesus knew his time was short so he resolutely set out for Jerusalem, the central third of Luke’s gospel covers that Journey (ch 10-19) and the focus of that journey narrative is Jesus teaching on what it means to be a disciple, to follow Jesus walking the Cross road. It would be easy to think of that in terms of doing, because we’ve started out that way by looking at it as a missional road, paved with acts of kindness and loving your neighbour, but now in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary we find ‘go and do likewise in juxtaposition with ‘sit and listen’. In fact on the Cross road to stop and listen to Jesus is the way forwards. 

I want to acknowledge that the passage we are reading today is not primarily about the clash between our business and a more contemplative approach to life.  NT Wright says the passage we are looking at is about the boundary breaking call of Jesus. Martha and Mary invite Jesus to their home for a meal. In ancient near eastern homes as in many homes today around the world, the space was divided between men’s space, public space and women’s space. Mary crosses into that public space that male dominated space to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. This would have been scandalous in the day. She should have been made to go back to the women’s quarters where she belonged. Sitting at the feet was the place of honour for a disciple, a men’s only position. But in affirming Mary’s choosing the better way, Jesus shows that in his Kingdom no such divide should exist… men and women are equally called to be disciples. Equally called to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he has to say. Now feminist theologians have found this passage a real challenge because they are concerned that what Martha is doing is the work of a deacon, she is waiting tables, a technical term for someone in church leadership. They are concerned that the story has been used to remove women from leadership and simply place them in the position of being subservient and silent at the feet of Jesus. Historically, against Jesus teaching and example, you can understand that because a woman finding their place in leadership in the church has been a struggle and is an ongoing struggle. NT Wright however rightly points out that ‘to sit at the feet’ is also a technical term in itself, Saul of Tarsus was said to have ‘sat at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel’ (Acts 22:3) and one sat at the feet of a rabbi and listened because it was the way in Jewish society that one became a rabbi a teacher and earned the right to speak  and teach… You listened your way forward.  That was what Mary was doing… That is the boundary breaking call of Jesus. The call we only hear when we sit as Jesus feet and listen to what he has to say.

Others have seen this passage about hospitality. And in seeing it that way it’s helpful for us. When Jesus sent out the seventy two he had talked about going and leaving their peace in the places they received welcome and hospitality. Here Jesus is welcomed in to the home of Martha and Mary. In fact from john’s gospel you get the idea that Martha and Mary and Lazarus’ place was the sort of place Jesus was welcome to just go and hang out on a night off. Jesus wants to leave them a great gift of his peace, the words he has to share… But Martha is concerned with providing the very best for her guests. She wants to be the hostess with the most-est. To bless Jesus with the best, I wonder if the house got one of those impromptu spring cleans like happens at our house when someone is coming to dinner, and we try and put on good food a well-dressed table. We can be all about doing things to please Jesus and lose sight of the fact that Jesus has so much more for us if we will but sit and listen. We welcome Jesus into our lives and our Christian faith can become about doing stuff for Jesus and not spending time with Jesus. It can be about putting on a show for Jesus not simply enjoying his presence and his peace. Martha did a good thing in welcoming Jesus and providing for him, but Mary shows us that the centre of welcoming Jesus into our homes and lives is sitting and listening to what he has to say.

When it comes to food Jesus seems quite content to settle for simple fare. Because of the way things are at home in the mornings we all have our own routine and I have the luxury to sit alone at the kitchen table and have my breakfast and devotional time. On Thursday I was up to the end of John’s gospel in my Bible In One year reading guide, where Jesus meets his disciples on the shore of Galilee and invites them for breakfast with him. Nicky Gumble’s comment started ‘Jesus appears in the ordinariness of simple daily life. You do not necessarily need to do extraordinary things. Jesus meets you wherever you are.” And I thought yes even as I’m sitting here having peanut butter on toast and coffee with the hum of the washing machine in the background. It was like I was having breakfast with Jesus not on the shores of Lake Galilee but definitely in that little patch of sun that makes it past the house out the back and through the ranch sliders into our dining room.  That sets me up for the day…

Yet equally I find myself rushing and miss out on the blessing of sitting at Jesus feet and listening to
what he has to say. On Tuesday I wanted an image for the service today. So I grabbed my tablet jumped in the van and headed up MT wellington, sprinted, well walked, up to the seat on the track to the summit and took some images. And as I turned to sprint, ok walk, down the hill again that voice at the back of head I equate with God said “"Hey! If you are talking about taking time in the hustle and bustle of life to sit and listen why not stop and sit for a while... why not take some time to spend with me..." I did stop for a few minutes and just was still… but I didn’t spend too much time up there which was good because I just got back to the office and this happened…

So what I want to finish with is just some thoughts on how we can build that stopping to listen to Jesus into our lives. We can be like Martha and find ourselves focused on so many things that we forget the only thing that brings life. I actually think we need to embrace a simpler lifestyle to realise that all this activity all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve said it before but Paul Borthwich says something very relevant for our society today “if the devil can’t make you evil he’ll make you busy”. The two greatest barriers to spiritual growth are tiredness; a lack of sleep and being worn out and business, a filling our time up with stuff, which means we simply end up feeling stuffed.

The first thing I want to say is that we need to programme in stops and chances to listen. Routine and ritual help us to make time in the hustle and bustle of life to stop and to listen. Be it a daily devotional time.  Time for personal bible reading, a quiet time at the end of the day to review what has gone on and where you have encountered Christ’s presence in your life. I recently listened to a public lecture by the Bishop of wellington Justin Duckworth who talked about a young Pentecostal church who have become affiliated with the Anglicans because they were looking for the discipline in their lives that the Anglicans had in the form of the Divine offices: short readings prayer and worship at various times in the day. He said being young adults they added a wired component and sent out the devotions over the Internet and ended up with 10 000 hits. Also we need to make our weeks and years full of sacred time as well. Holidays are not just the chance to relax or fill up off time by going off and doing other stuff it means holy days where we take time to put God first. Have you ever considered programming in a retreat as part of your holiday plans?

It’s hard however just simply to go from being full on to coming to a deep stop and a place where we can be still and open to what God has to say. The illustration that comes to mind for me is trying to get somewhere in the traffic. There are plenty of opportunities to stop. The light turns red and you have to right… A stop sign and you stop most of the time!... then it just get congested and you stop when you should be going...but I’m not sure my mind comes to a place of rest… I’m aware that time is ticking past… I’m going to be late… it’s taking longer than I want it to. When I stop to have devotion I am aware that my mind just keeps on going with all the things of the day and week.  In our reformed tradition what happens in a service before the bible reading and sermon is supposed to allow us to get ready to listen to the word of God read and preached. We do it by gathering, using scripture to focus on God, through worship and prayer of thanks and confession. For me sung worship is important because I use my whole body to focus on God… I seek to encounter God’s presence so I can be open to what God has to say through his word by his spirit. We need to do that in our own devotional life as well… maybe by singing or praising God…maybe to start by encountering God’s breath and voice print in the beauty of creation before we look at the written word. Just being still… and saying a centering prayer, or a mantra …  It may be as simple as ‘thank you Lord’ ‘Hallelujah’, ‘bless you Lord’  not to empty ourselves like in eastern religions or new age spirituality,  but to focus us on God’s very presence with us. I often will simply pray in tongues under my breath. 

also think we have trained ourselves to hear things but have lost the art of listening. We hear so many messages every day… adverts, phone messages, social media, our news has been reduced to click bait and sound bites, to capture our attention, our lives can imitate art and we are used to doing things with an incessant sound track  or the TV on in the background just to avoid the incursion of silence. Phones and tablet and laptops have given new meaning to being left to our own devises. Right? We hear things but to listen is the process of processing what we hear. In the news sheets today I’ve put a little flier with a process for listening to Jesus in God’s word. It’s a three step process for doing inductive bible study. Inductive means drawing truth from what we observe. It’s a process of praying: we start by praying and ask God to speak to you by the word you are reading; as it says on the flier to help you to see the passage, understand the passage and live the passage out. Then we Read the passage… sometimes it’s best to read it out loud so it doubles the number of ways that you are taking the passage in… And it slows us down to hear it. I’m an audio learner I hear words when I read or write them, so I can’t speed read, but I find myself falling into the dangerous habit of skim reading the bible like it is just another novel or book … So reading aloud or whispering it helps. Then we work through our observation, understanding the passage. Then interpreting the passage coming to terms with what it means and finally applying the passage, how does it impact on my life… often that will mean we need help because the scriptures were written in genres, and situations we are not used to.. so a bible dictionary in a book or online is good value to help us understand what we read. I recommend the book ‘reading the bible for all its worth by Gordon fee and Douglas Stuart as a helpful guide to understanding different types of literature in the scripture… it’s a good investment. We come to see what the original writer was saying to his readers and we then apply it to our lives. Historically also it has been seen as a group or community process that is why as a church we want to encourage people to be in small groups its why we gather for the reading and preaching of the word.  Finally we pray and ask God to help us to live out what we have encountered in the word of God.

Judging by the response I’ve had online to this image there is a great desire from people to have time and space to sit and be still and listen to Jesus… Stopping and listening to God’s word to Jesus Christ is at the heart of giving Jesus hospitality in our lives. It is the way we make steps down the Cross road following Jesus. We sit at his feet we listen to what he has to say and then we go and do likewise.

Lets Pray... We Stop and we listen

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