Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Loving God and Neighbor: Loving by Listening," Sermon July 17, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy, CA
“Loving God and Neighbor: Loving by Listening”
Pastor Andrew Davis
July 17, 2016
Luke 10: 38-42

        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. 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.”

How many of you are familiar with the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie franchise featuring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold?  --- If you have, or haven’t seen any of these movies, family patriarch, Clark Griswold is always seen trying to plan the perfect family vacation, - such as to the fictitious theme park Walley World in California, a vacation toEurope, or Las Vegas.  Or, in the case of the Christmas movie, Clark attempts to plan the perfect family Christmas.  Clark is always running around and worrying about all these little details and plans, with a sense of determination to get to each destination and give his family a good time, well a perfect time in Clark’s eyes.  -- Not so much in the rest of his family’s eyes. 
Oftentimes, Clark thinks that he knows everything, all the ins and outs, as well as shortcuts, which is not always a good thing either because it gets often him into trouble.  Most of Clark’s good intentions usually backfire on him and wind up in disaster, whether it’s nearly destroying the family car while trying to find the perfect Christmas tree in the mountains, trying to connect with relatives in Europe and getting the wrong family, encountering relatives that won't go away such as Cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid, his aunt dying in the car on the way West from Chicago, gambling away all his money in Las Vegas, or traveling a long way only to have his favorite amusement park, “Walley World” closed.  Any time that Ellen, or Clark's children, Rusty and Audrey try to offer Clark practical advice, Clark begins getting highly agitated until at some point, he has a major meltdown and goes off on a tirade.  And it happens in each film too.  Clark’s worry and distraction about these little things often gets the best of him, distracting him away from fully listening and being present to his family. 
        As we have been thinking about what it means to love God and neighbor this past week, we want to look how listening to each other is important this week. But in many instances and in life itself, listening can sometimes be a challenge.  Like Clark Griswold, we sometimes get preoccupied in making plans for our life, or making other plans in which we sometimes lose sight of listening to what God is trying to show us.  - Likewise, we sometimes spend too much time worrying about other things around the church, our homes, or in our own lives that we sometimes miss what our neighbors, each other, and even what God has to say.  And you know what? -- I’m just as guilty as anyone else.  But, loving by listening is certainly a challenge that I embrace and will take head-on.  And I hope we can too! ---
        As we just heard in our Gospel lesson, a short one at that, we come across the sisters Mary and Martha, as Jesus has stopped at their place as he continues making his way to Jerusalem.  In our first encounter with the text, we see Martha running around frantically, or as I like to put it, a headless chicken. -- Martha is too busy preparing food for the meal that she and Mary are about to enjoy with Jesus.  Except unlike Martha, who runs around frantically and in an uproar, Mary sits and listens to Jesus’s teaching and every word that he has to say.  Mary is captivated by his teaching, all while Martha is too busy to even pay attention or listen.  Martha is way too distracted and way too worried, then doesn’t help matters when she becomes furious and tries to get Jesus to intervene, kind of like in elementary school when we’d try to tell the teacher what someone was or wasn’t doing. -- When Martha gets mad at Mary for her lack of help, Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to get up and help her sister, but instead tells Martha that she is WAY too worried and too busy, as Mary gets the best part, the word of God (Lk. 10: 42).       
        How often do we find ourselves in this boat? --- Like Clark Griswold constantly trying to plan the perfect vacation or Christmas gathering, or Martha trying to do all this prep-work for dinner with Jesus, how often do we find ourselves distracted from really listening to what our neighbor and even what God has to say? --- Now being a new pastor, I probably should not be saying this to you, but I also believe firmly in the transparency of leadership.  This passage is one that really speaks to me because I humbly admit to you that listening and paying attention is not exactly my best quality, even though it is a growing edge I am trying to work on. -- I tend to relate more with Martha and Clark Griswold, wanting everything to be perfect and worrying over the tiniest detail when in reality, I really need to be paying attention to what the people most important to me are saying, and to God as well.  Loving by listening goes hand in hand with loving God and neighbor. 
        It’s hard to say why it’s specifically hard to listen, - although we live in a place where there is constant noise among us.  Pundits on TV, the 24/7 television and radio programing, YouTube (aka a vortex to get sucked into late at night), but also worrying about finances, deadlines, job situations. --- The list is long, but is also a reality that we presently live in. - One commentary from Discipleship Ministries of the UMC explains that “Western, and increasingly, Eastern capitalist-driven cultures are all about Martha, to be sure. Productivity, getting things done, being on the move and available 24/7, the 'never sleeps' economy— this is how you ‘get ahead in the world,’ right?”[i]
Martha is simply doing what her duty calls for when it comes to offering hospitality; preparation and “fulfillment of her role in society.”[ii] Hospitality to strangers is highly important at the time that this passage takes place in, which Martha is doing her best to fulfill and thus, distracted and worried about getting it right while Jesus shares God's word with Mary. Mary is more concerned about actually hearing what Jesus has to say, listening intently to his words and his teachings.  From last week's lesson, the “Good Samaritan loves his neighbor” by showing compassion and mercy to a total stranger whom he would not ordinarily associate with, while this week, “Mary loves her Lord” by listening; the two stories complement each other nicely considering that this passage happens right after “The Good Samaritan.”[iii] In other words, “Mary exemplifies what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”[iv] --- In Brian Blount’s commentary, True to our Native Land, “the greatest act of hospitality a person can afford a disciple of Jesus, what Jesus calls ‘the better part,’ is not the provision for physical sustenance but the attention to the Word of God that the disciple conveys,” which Mary demonstrates.[v] Mary shows how she loves God and neighbor by listening to the Word of God when she sits and listens intently.  ---
        On the other hand, we could see all of this as an indictment against Martha, which is not necessarily the case either.  For Martha, there is a difference of values, of customs, and what’s really important compared to Mary.  But in order to even absorb the word of God, we have no other choice but to listen and listen intently, whether it’s to each other, our neighbors, our teachers, our community leaders, and so on and so forth.  Sometimes, we may even hear God’s voice through the voices of our neighbors.  ---
So often, we hear multiple voices surrounding us, all rising up loudly at times.  We hear it in the news, we hear it at the restaurant, we even hear it in the church.  This past week, the jurisdictional conferences of The United Methodist Church have been meeting, including our own Western Jurisdiction in Scottsdale, AZ.  The primary purpose of the Jurisdictional Conference is to elect a bishop, in which here in the West, our own bishop in California-Nevada , Warner H. Brown Jr. is retiring and creating a vacancy, in which Bishop Minerva Carcano will be succeeding him in September.  Just watching the entire episcopal election process and the voices of what people want in an episcopal leader have been enough to make our heads spin at times.  Yet amidst the many voices raised, we may find ourselves in a situation like Martha, worried and distracted.  That is when we sometimes have to be like Mary and just stop; quiet our voices, and listen…listen for that still small voice.  But, we also must listen to what our neighbor has to say, even in times of controversy or times of uncertainty. --- 
But this word also goes for us in the church too. -- Do we sit and listen to each other intently, just as Mary does at Jesus’s feet, or are we like Martha, too preoccupied and distracted to pay attention and listen? -- And do we listen for God’s voice intently? --- Listening to our neighbor is just as important as listening to God’s voice on this journey of faith.  We show our neighbor love when we are willing to stop, pay attention, and be a listening ear. -- Sometimes we hear good things, but sometimes we also hear things that we don’t always want to hear.  There are also times that we have to hear truths from each other, which to be frank, can sometimes hurt. -- Yet listening carefully is necessary, because you never know that it may be God’s voice speaking through someone else. -- Amidst hearing tough things at times, they are opportunities to grow. -- Now I admit that I also often get told how much I worry, and sometimes I resent that.  But hearing those words are necessary for growth. ---
From experience, one of the four legs of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” if you hear someone tell you that you worry too much or nip something you know is a growing edge in the bud, it’s best to listen up and pay attention.  Guess I’m admitting another fault, but then again, it’s another way that I too relate to Martha.  But amidst the fact that Martha is running around, worrying and distracted by everything but sitting and listening at Jesus’s feet, she’s not a bad person, as she is doing what she thinks is the most important and what Clark Griswold is always trying to do; making sure that everything is in order and perfect. 
Sometimes we just need to stop and listen.  And regardless of who it is. Whether it is a stranger on the street, the clerk at the grocery store, a small child, a teenager, someone in middle age, our senior adults, and anyone we encounter for that matter who wants to talk.  We show love to our neighbor and each other when we listen to them, when we listen to each other, and listen to God.  Martha and Clark Griswold may be in a constant uproar trying to get things right, but the good news is that Jesus assures each of us that it is okay to stop and that it’s okay to sit down and simply listen.  Furthermore,
if you want to serve your guest, or anyone else, you need to listen first. Really listen. Do nothing else. Let go of all other distractions. Turn off the livestream in your head that diagnoses what others need. Just listen.  To love your neighbor as yourself, and to love God—both require this, first of all. Turn off the uproar. Stop. Listen.[vi]
        As we prepare to go out and enjoy some ice cream shortly, we know things have been well prepared by several people, similar to what Martha was doing.  As we may encounter various people from our community during this time and as we see each other during the week, what do we need to hear from each other? --- And as we go into a new week, what are ways that you love your neighbor by listening? --- At the same time, what do you listen to from God?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 1997. Accessed July 15, 2016.
[ii] New Interpreter’s Commentary, 232. 
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Brian K. Blount, Gen. Editor, True to Our Native Land (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 170. 
[vi] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 1997. Accessed July 15, 2016.

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