Gospel ears - Luke 10:38-42

This is a sermon by Richard Tearle from the Riverside Church service on 23rd February 2014.

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Gospel Ears (Luke 10:38-42) Riverside Sermon
Many of you won’t be aware but I’ve actually fought on the frontlines. I’ve come under heavy flack. I’ve been pinned down under heavy enemy fire. I’ve served my time. I’ve been trained in long range shooting but I am also highly experienced in close quarter battle. I’ve been sent in to rescue hostages and the further I got on I was increasingly sent in as part of a peace keeping force. All of this is true...when it comes to sibling wars!
I have a younger brother and a younger sister.
Both of them are now capable of wrestling me to the floor.
In today’s bible passage we come across 2 sisters. Martha and Mary. And they are coming into conflict because of the way they relate to Jesus.
It’s a short little picture into their lives and Jesus’ priorities. We are going to quickly survey the scene and then get on to work out the implications for us. 
The passage itself falls nicely into 2 sections:
1.    Martha and Mary clash (10:38-40)
2.    Jesus concludes (10:41-42)
Let’s look at the clash and then the conclusion.
Martha has done a great thing. She has given up her home for Jesus and his disciples. She has opened her home in hospitality. Jesus and his team were probably weary from public ministry. Hospitality and serving others is a good thing. It can show the hospitable, serving, outward, overflowing heart of our great God. It’s a good thing to do. The NT commands believers to do hospitality. Church leaders are to model what it means to be hospitable.
Martha is doing a good thing. And Mary is also doing an excellent thing; she is sitting and listening to Jesus. She is sat (culturally) in the place of a disciple, a student, a learner of Jesus.
But there is a problem here and a clash between the sisters is just around the corner.
Imagine Martha in the kitchen, banging noises as pans fall out the cupboard, chop chop chop at the chopping board (you know the kind of manic chopping we all do when were in a rush and someone’s really annoying us!) The kettle’s boiling in the background which adds to the sense of urgency and rising pressure. Chop, chop, chop go the carrots (but of course Martha’s a multitasking woman so she’s also checking the oven, stirring the pan, whisking something, running 3 different taps, consulting multiple recipe books) chop chop chop arrrghhhhh! “Mary what have you done with the Elastoplasts!!!” The kitchen’s steaming up; there are not enough plates because someone’s left a huge pile of washing up from the previous meal. The phone rings multiple times, the microwave’s not cutting the mustard and the Tesco’s internet delivery man is late again.
All of this boils over as Martha catapults out of the kitchen launches into the living room and let’s Jesus know exactly how she feels. “Don’t you care Jesus??” “Haven’t you noticed? Aren’t you aware?!” “Get Mary to help me!! For Martha it’s not rocket science. Culturally Mary shouldn’t have been sat at Jesus feet as a disciple because that was a male role. The blokes would sit and learn from the rabbi/teacher the ladies would get the kettle on. For Martha it’s not complicated. There’s work to be done, she needs help, and Mary (culturally) shouldn’t be in the living room but in the kitchen giving Martha a hand. Martha’s a friend of Jesus but right now she’s saying “what are you playing at Lord” I’m slaving away here and Mary should be helping me.
Let’s see how Jesus concludes.
Take a look at verse 41:
“Martha, Martha” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus conclusion is clear.
Mary has chosen rightly and Martha has chosen wrongly.
Mary has made the best choice. She has chosen to listen to Jesus.
Now it’s sometimes popular to talk about Martha and Mary as if Jesus is just encouraging us to value people of different personality types. You know, Martha is the active outgoing extrovert and Mary the reflective, quiet, thinking introvert type.
In that case I’m a Mary and Lee’s a Martha and we should all just get on nicely and be good little church boys. That’s not Jesus verdict at all! Jesus conclusion is clearly that Martha has chosen wrongly and Mary has made the best choice. That is the plain meaning of Jesus words here. Jesus does appreciate our different personalities but that’s not the point.
Now as we move to feel the weight of this challenge in our own lives we need to be clear about what listening to Jesus means. Back then of course listening to Jesus meant listening to his human audible voice in places like Martha’s house, or by the lake or along the road. But listening to Jesus today means getting into the bible. That’s where we meet him. The bible is God’s word. God has revealed himself to us (not mystically, or mysteriously) but clearly and in a format that we can engage with. He’s given us his written word, the bible.
So let’s consider this question:
Q. Why is listening to Jesus ‘better’?
No.1 Because of who Jesus is!
Luke who wrote this part of the bible refers us to the Lord’s feet in verse 39, Martha (even in her anger and frustration) calls Jesus ‘Lord’ in verse 40 and in verse 41 Luke again refers to Jesus as ‘the Lord’. The verdict you’ve just heard is from the Lord. The boss. The head teacher. The Lord.
So it’s worth listening to Jesus because he is the Lord. He has authority. Divine authority. And you see it, don’t you? In the gospels. The people were amazed because he spoke as someone with authority, that’s because he is the Son of God. He spoke in a way that their religious teachers couldn’t ever speak. Jesus has divine authority.
Last Sunday someone here was telling me about when they had heard a great preacher. The late John Stott. And they said he spoke with real authority. That’s right he did because he spoke the truth. He spoke the message about Jesus. And so in his own very human sense he spoke with authority. He spoke the truth.
But Jesus is the loving Lord. Again you see it in the gospels. Have you ever seen compassion and love and mercy and affectionate concern like Jesus’?
Consider what he said and did. He has great power and great compassion.
Jesus is our loving Lord. That’s why it’s better to listen to him.
No.2 Because listening to him can’t be ‘taken away’.
The second reason it’s better to listen to Jesus is because what we receive from listening to him can’t be taken away. It’s a secure investment. Jesus said: ‘Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.’ (v.42)
We invest our time and energies and resources into all sorts of things don’t we? We tend to invest into what we think is worth investing in. Family. Education. Work. Charity. Relationships. Leisure. Grandchildren. Church.
But so much that we do invest ourselves into is not actually secure. It’s not a secure investment. It’s sometimes not worth investing in. Like planting good seeds into terrible soil.
Now let me be honest the tricky thing is that listening to Jesus does affect you but you don’t always quite see how or in what area. It’s a long-term investment. You might not remember what you heard from a sermon a month ago but at the time it was God’s 3 course meal for you. Speaking personally, I know that on a day-to-day basis I can’t always see what I’ve learnt or what’s changed in me through daily bible reading. But looking back over the last 3, 4,5,6, years...it has been a long-term secure sensible investment and God has been good to me. He’s taught and changed me. He’s provided comfort in his word. In good times and in bad. And it cannot be taken away from me. Full stop. However the chocolate chip cookie left on the kitchen surface may well be! It might be taken away. The family savings pot might get wiped out. But listening to Jesus cannot be taken away from me. It’s a secure investment.
No. 3 Because it’s the ‘one thing’ which puts the ‘many things’ in their place.
Martha was all wrapped up in the ‘many things’ she was actually getting anxious and upset about them. She was fretting on a very broad range of things. The ‘many things’ of life where conspiring for her attention, like a mum whose surrounded by her 4 children who are all vying for her attention, her ear.
But Jesus prescribes the ‘one thing’ and that is listening to him. Now this doesn’t mean that the ‘many things’ of life are inherently evil! Far from it. But the reality is that the ‘one thing’ is better than them all. The ‘one thing’ (as we have seen) is the secure investment. The life Jesus would call us to, means we put the ‘one thing’ first. So listening to Jesus comes first. It doesn’t mean it’s the first thing you do in the day (though many Christian will find that a helpful discipline) but it does mean that listening to Jesus gets top priority. First place.
And often with the ‘one thing’ in place, the ‘many things’ actually become easier to face, they get put in their place. They get shoved into perspective by Jesus words. The ‘one thing’ puts the ‘many things’ in their place and makes them work better. Function better. Let me try and help us see this because it’s one of those real odd things of life.
Imagine you’re a courier for a moment. And you have a bike to enable you to deliver packages. That’s what you do, that’s you occupation. Well imagine that your bike over time get’s slower and slower. It’s not cutting the mustard and therefore the many things of the day are even harder to fit in and do well. Packages simply don’t get delivered. Because your slower. Well what’s the solution? You could just plod on. You will end doing work 24/7 and customers will get angry. The answer is clear. You have to actually take 2 steps backwards to take 10 steps forwards. You have to make time to take the bike for repairs, lose time while it’s getting fixed and then enjoy the use of the new improved bike. It’s the same with regular bible listening. If you do it you will have less T.V. time. Less facebook time. Less spouse time. But in the long run you actually work better in God’s world, your mind is being renewed, your more able to face the day trusting in God’s precious promises. And to follow the illustration you can deliver more packages, more effectively and be home for tea.
The one thing actually puts the many things in their place and allows them to run better. Like oil in an engine.
Let me be personal for a moment.
If I don’t prioritise my relationship with kp (one thing) then all the many things of life (my ministry, work, finances, friendships, household stuff, extended family) take a place which they shouldn’t have, and in the long-run the one thing (my marriage) and the many things actually all go off course. Because there’s no sense of priority or structure and my ability to do the many things well is severely hampered if me and kp aren’t on the same page, connected, communicating, close etc.
I’ve said it before, and we know it from our own lives – the urgent always crowds out the important.
It’s the same with Jesus.
Your relationship with him is heavily reliant on listening to him in the bible. And when that goes out the window, everything else goes to pot as well. Perspective is lost. Your thinking becomes worldly. It might not present itself as a crisis initially, but over time things get rusty and blunt and ineffective and messy. Listen to him. Prevention is always better than cure.
No. 4 Because listening leads to serving.
We can sometimes feel for Martha in all of this. After all she was serving Jesus, right?
She was a worker, a grafter? Wasn’t she? Last week’s bible passage – the Good Samaritan -  he get his hands dirty didn’t he? He rolled up his sleeves? He was an activist. He wasn’t ivory tower. He wasn’t afraid of wading into the mess of life.
But listening and serving can go together. It’s just we need to serve from a Mary heart not a Martha heart. And there is “Martha” in us all. We need to spot it and remove it.
Listening to Jesus leads on to effective serving. Mary would have been much better equipped to go and get her hands dirty in gospel work, because she had listened to Jesus. She’d received her commander in chief’s marching orders. She got her relationship with Jesus fed and watered. She got truth that would lead to godly living. She got her beliefs right in order to get her behaviour right.
And that is the consistent pattern of the bible. Think of all the key OT characters, prophets etc. They heard from God and then they acted. Paul did nothing for God (he was an enemy) until Jesus spoke to him. Apollos was serving the Lord but Priscilla and Aquila took him to one side taught him more effectively and then he was used even more mightily for God’s church. Listening leads to serving. And it leads to better, more effective and more refreshed serving.
Q. So how can we do it? How can we get down to listening to Jesus?
Let me give you 3 biblical ‘D’ words.
The Psalms are full of the call to DELIGHT in God’s word. You can have all the structures in place. But if you don’t delight in God’s word then the “delights” of other things will take you away. The weapons of mass distraction will win. We need to delight in God’s word. And when we do, we read it and chew on it. And when we do that the Psalms say we are like a tree planted with streams of water, we are fruitful and effective. Let’s encourage one another today to delight in God’s word. And let’s be honest with each other after the sermon “how’s it going?”And pray for each other that we would delight in God’s word.
The 2nd ‘D’ word is DISCIPLINE. Now we see this word or idea throughout the bible but Paul in his 1st letter to Timothy tells us about training ourselves to be godly. If you want to lose weight you have to have a discipline. If you want to prioritise reading the bible you have to have a discipline, because otherwise the many things will crowd out the one thing. That’s been my battle for years.
Hudson Taylor the great missionary to China always said that the discipline worked to channel the devotion and delight. Discipline harnesses and enhances delight.
And If I may speak personally again. When my delight in God’s word is weak. When the candle wick is looking fizzled out. The discipline holds me up long enough (like a life jacket) for me to say sorry Lord that I’m not delighting in your word, please help this discipline to not be a dead one. Please forgive me and help me. And then God willing the delight and the discipline actually feed each other. And protect one another.
But let’s add a final ‘D’ word and this one is for us as a family to take on together.
It’s DEVOTION. In Acts 2 we read that the believers DEVOTED themselves to the apostles teaching. Notice it’s ‘they’ not ‘she’ or ‘he’. Getting into God’s word is a corporate as well as an individual thing. It’s a team game. We need to grasp this. Christian families are crucial in this. And our Sunday gatherings and other opportunities like home-groups are essential.
Let me draw all this together.
If I said I was delighted by food and disciplined and devoted to eating it, you would say I was mad. [Actual you would probably just say ‘yer that’s Rich, he likes his food!’] But we do this. How do you feel about food? (you like it, you enjoy it, it can be tasty and nourishing, it’s what you need when you come in from work) How do you make time to prepare and eat and enjoy food? (Discipline and commitment, you need to plan what you going to buy and what needs to come out the freezer and work it out so everyone gets something reasonably healthy and balanced). God’s word is food. In the OT it’s described as sweeter than honey. In the NT it’s pure spiritual milk. Jesus says ‘man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Listening to Jesus is the best spiritual meal. As Lee said at our family parade service its spiritual food for spiritual tummies.
So think of all the time and effort that goes into cooking, food prep, baking, defrosting, peeling veg and potatoes and then eating and so on. Getting God’s word into your spiritual stomach is going to involve preparation, planning, discipline, delight, work, sweat.
BUT when it’s in there it’s the most nourishing, refreshing soul food on the planet. It’s the best choice. It’s the a la carte. It’s the finest cuisine. And it’s good for us. Choose the ‘one thing’ the best thing, the secure investment. Get ready to tuck in. Listen to Jesus.


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