Monday, July 19, 2010


Worship Leader's Message for Sunday, July 18
When I was teaching my daughter to drive, in addition to talking about and teaching her how to navigate the road, when to turn on signals and lights, and how to park, we spent time talking about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, listening to music while driving, and talking to her sister while driving. In other words, we talked a lot about all the activities that can distract us from driving safely. Of course, being a teenager, she knew everything there was to know about the dangers of driving while distracted by the panoply of stuff that can distract a teenager these days. I knew how much she knew by how much more drawn out the “Oh, mom” got every time we talked about it.

Nonetheless, just a few days after getting her license, she decided, while alone, that she was experienced enough to navigate through the thousands of songs on her iPod and drive at the same time, or at least wait for the traffic signal to turn green. Imagine her embarrassment when she was honked at because she had become so absorbed in picking the right song she didn’t realize the light had turned green. Fortunately, the only damage done was the annoyance of the driver behind her and the wound to her pride at being a safe driver. But the fact is we all have done to one degree or another what my daughter did, whether it’s fiddling with the radio, taking just a quick call on the cell phone, or zoning out while driving long distances. However, distractions don’t just happen when we’re driving. In fact, in this day and age we are surrounded by distractions of every kind. Many of you likely remember a time when, if your phone rang while you were out of the house, you were blissfully unaware that anyone was trying to reach you. Or a time when, after midnight or so, the TV only showed a screen of snow static.

We have to admit that the distractions of this world leave us unable, or unwilling, to find time for what’s truly important. How often have we scolded ourselves for not spending more time in Bible study, more time playing with our children, more time walking and talking with our spouse, more time having lunch with friends?

So, at first, we may understand Jesus’ rebuke of Martha, to not busy herself with preparing a meal but to spend her time as Mary did at the feet of Jesus. But wait a minute, just what exactly is Jesus advocating here? Yes, we admit that there are unnecessary distractions that take us away from what’s truly important. But fixing a meal for a guest in our home? Doing work that benefits our community and contributes to others’ well-being? Cleaning up after a potluck or attending a knitting group that makes prayer shawls? Are these symptoms of a Martha attitude rather than a Mary-like devotedness? It is more than curious that this story of Jesus seeming to chide Martha for her hospitality appears where it does in the gospel of Luke, because the last two Sundays we have heard, at least in the background of the gospel stories, the importance hospitality plays in the reign of God’s kingdom. Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus sending out 70 disciples telling them, in addition to not worrying about the distractions of clothing or money, to rely on the kindness of strangers. If you enter a house and are welcomed, stay there until you leave. If you are not welcomed, shake the dust of that town off your feet and go on to the next place. In other words, the message of God’s coming kingdom will only be heard by those who first respond with hospitality. Then, last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan who not only showed the grievously injured robbery victim mercy, he also showed him hospitality by opening his purse to pay for the man’s continued care. In fact, the often-overlooked innkeeper also showed hospitality by accepting this injured stranger and providing for his care on the word and promise of a Samaritan, who, remember, was not exactly welcome in that part of Judea.

So, does Jesus, when he comes to the home of his friends, simply abandon his emphasis on the need for hospitality as a foundation for proclaiming the word of God? That certainly seems to be the case on the face of it, doesn’t it? But let’s look a little deeper at this story. What, first of all, is the better part that Mary has chosen?

In his book, The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges defines godliness as a desire for God. He sees having a desire for God as the pinnacle of human experience for a desire for God will diminish or eliminate all those desires that lead us away from God and will enhance the relationships and heighten the experiences that God has chosen for us to enjoy and grow from. But desire for God is not something that just happens. The author of The Practice of Godliness says that desire for God is arrived at through acknowledging the fear of God and the love of God, which lead to a devotion to God and ultimately results in a desire for God.

Now “fear of God” is a tricky term. Does it mean we should be afraid of God, of His judgment, of His disciplining us? While that certainly occurs throughout the Old Testament, through the new covenant made by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the judgment of God has been covered by the blood of the Christ. We have been brought into a new, intimate relationship with God as His children and have nothing to be afraid of. However, and this is a big however, we cannot let this new relationship diminish in any way how we view God. For He still is almighty, immortal, transcendent God. It is His glory alone that illuminates heaven. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, fully comprehend God. In the end, we have to come to terms with the reality that God is God and we are not. And in that reality we can acknowledge God as Who He is and give him the appropriate reverence and awe — the fear — that is His alone.

The other foundation that leads to a desire for God is love of God. Now, that may seem obvious. Of course, we love God. That’s why we’re in church on Sunday morning rather than out doing something else. God has created us, redeemed us through His Son and sanctified us through His Spirit. Yes, loving God is the right and good response to all He has done for us. But this is not all that Jerry Bridges means when he talks about love of God. No, he’s describing a top-down relationship. God loved us first. God will always love us better than we can ever love Him. No matter how far we try to run from Him, despite our sinful behavior and our failings, God loves us. Now, we may have to pay a price for our misbehavior, but that does not diminish or end God’s love for us.

It is these two building blocks — our reverence and awe of God, and knowing deep in our hearts that God loves us and always will love us — that allows us to build a life of devotion to God, a life that puts the troubles of this world in perspective and lets us focus solely on the lives God would have us lead. And by coming closer to that ideal, though because of our sinful nature we will never fully reach it this side of heaven, we gain a desire to truly live for God and God alone, a desire for God.

There is much more to discover along the way to a godly life, but I won’t spend more time on that now. If you are interested in pursuing these ideas, I commend to you The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges for your personal study.

But let’s return to Mary and Martha with Jesus visiting their home. The better part that Mary had chosen, we perhaps now can understand, is a devotion to Jesus. Though she may not have yet understood that Jesus was the Christ, she knew that he was a man of God and so she had reverence for him. She also knew that he loved her. And so, she was devoted enough to sit at his feet and listen to what he had to share.

Jesus’ chides Martha not so much because she is showing hospitality but because she is distracted and troubled. She is not enjoying the opportunity to serve Jesus. She is worried about doing the right thing at the right time. She is concerned that her efforts will not be enough. She is angry, and her anger has caused her to lash out at both her sister and their guest. Sound familiar?

Service in the name of God and for love of our neighbor is not a bad thing. But when we get troubled or worried or angry over how that service is being done, or not done, then our relationship with Jesus and with others starts to fray and can, in fact, be ripped apart if we let our emphasis on service rather than our emphasis on devotion guide us.

There will be times when we wish that more people would just see this service project or that endeavor that we have a passion for with the same perspective. They won’t.

There will be moments when we wish just one person would see how hard we’re working and offer to help. She won’t.

What should our response be, that of Martha or Mary? Should we become troubled and distracted and lash out at those whom we love? Or should we stop for a moment and remember the relationship with Jesus that gives birth to all our impulses to do good in this world?

We all will be Martha at some point. We hope that we also will find the courage to be Mary, too. The fact is there’s a lot that can and does distract us in this world. Some of those distractions can trouble us, worry us, and cause us to wander away from what God really has called us to do and be. But God loves us, always has, always will. And he will always call us back to sit again in His presence, to feel that love, to rest in that peace, and to know we are His for eternity.

To Him be all glory, honor and power now and forever. Amen.

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