Tuesday, November 18, 2014

'Resilience' series conclusion - "Mary & Martha: there is need of only one thing" (Luke 10:38-11:4)

Resilience =
·        the capacity to withstand and bounce back
·        absorbing setbacks and continuing to function well
·        to readily recover
·        to keep moving through difficult circumstances
·        making a difference despite setbacks
·        taking on challenges
·        to remain connected and open-hearted
·        growing.

What might help the building of ‘resilience’ from this passage?

·        Jesus was welcomed into their home (by Martha!)
·        Mary being attentive to Jesus … “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying”
·        Mary choosing “the better part” which will not be taken away

What about a negative example?

·        Martha was worried and distracted “by many things”. This was understandable with all these disciples to feed; however if Martha was unwilling to sit at Jesus’ feet, then the result may well be a lack of ‘resilience’. Also, Martha thought nothing of seeking to interrupt Mary from sitting at Jesus’ feet … “Tell her then to help me” (v.40).

We might think on the surface that Jesus commended being passive over and above being active in this incident with Mary and Martha, but the context would suggest otherwise: at the beginning of chapter 10 there is the call to active mission (that Steve Stubbings talked about) … the sending out of the seventy (out of their comfort zones into ‘third places’); which is followed by the call toward active neighbourliness in the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’ … the challenge to be good neighbours (to people who may not even be our first choices). Steve Stubbings emphasised one very important word … a small word … perhaps what we might come to see as the end point and climax of our ‘resilience’ … “go”!

So the problem with Martha was NOT that she was active and motivated, rather it was that she was … “worried and distracted”. She had lost perspective, maybe she had even gone off track completely. Worries and distractions can be very pervasive and noisy, and block our minds from more productive endeavours. Jesus tried to return Martha back to basics by saying to her, “there is need of only one thing” (v.42a). That one thing was what Mary was displaying – the centrality of a devoted relationship with Jesus.

Our level of ‘resilience’ is ultimately connected to our response to one person – to the depth of our relationship with one person … Jesus!

When the seventy on mission came back and reported their incredible success to Jesus … “even the demons submit to us” (10:17), Jesus said back to them, “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20)! Thus everything that is good in our present and in our future, stems from our relationship with Jesus. So what counts most is the relationship that fuels the best outcomes. This is where ‘resilience’ springs from!

(2) Why is it that we get worried and distracted?

·        We take our eyes off Jesus
·        We let little things take too big a priority
·        We concentrate on the negative rather than the positive
·        We become too self-interested
·        We are too concerned how others might see us

·        Even maybe, a misguided sense of justice. You may think that Martha was just interested in a fair distribution of the work; or rather, had she allowed a chip to form on her shoulder about how hard she worked compared with everyone else?!? “Lord, do you not care … tell her to help me” (v.40)!!!

·        Sometimes our perspective is just a little off. Martha was acting purely out of the perspective that Jesus was her guest, thereby missing the point that in this scene of hospitality, she was really Jesus’ guest. Jesus was in her house not to be served, but rather to serve. Sometimes, as much as we are called to serve others in the name of Jesus, we need to receive from Jesus. The repeated “Martha, Martha” of verse 41 seems to have a very compassionate tone to it … for she was missing out.

So Martha was not wrong in being active, it’s just that she lacked grounding, and therefore became easily worried and distracted. To be ‘resilient’ is to have what we do firmly grounded in who we believe in.

(3) Mary, listening and learning

Mary at the feet of Jesus, listening attentively, was ready to hear what was needed to be heard. This is NOT a text about a choice being contemplative on the one hand or active on the other, or even about life balance; it is a text about what is primary and should come first. Martha needed to be where Mary was, so that when she returned to her various activities … it would be the right sort of activities carried out in the right sort of way.

Throughout the history of Judaism, one of the most honoured positions for a Jew was the privilege of becoming a follower of the local rabbi and to be able to sit at their feet while they taught. Such followers would also study the rabbi’s words, watch how he acted and reacted to life and others – being determined to become like him. Mary correctly identified Jesus as the one she should follow in such a way as this!

Where do we need to be?
Why at Jesus’ feet?
This is the place of love, grace and … learning!
What might we need to learn?

We have been blessed and challenged by messages in our ‘resilience’ series, that have dealt with this concept in a number of ways. I believe, in a strong sense, that we have been sitting at Jesus’ feet as we have been listening to these profound messages about where we find and see ‘resilience’.

Glenn Arnott challenged us to strengthen our faith so that we would be in an increasingly better position to cope with the adverse winds and unsettled seas (Mark 6:45-52). Jesus will always be there for us … for when it came to the crunch he got into the boat; but Jesus does want us to be able to build our own resolve without resorting to worry and fear – so scared were the disciples on that occasion that they did not even recognise Jesus when he came past them walking on the water. That’s why he sent them out in the boat in the first place, and why he was going to originally just pass them by! Jesus tests our metal … this is part of us becoming who we are meant to be.

Andy Sparkes told us many stories about refugees who had built ‘resilience’ through all the difficult circumstances they had encountered. Some did this through faith in a God who would travel with them and carry them through no matter how bad things got. But this didn’t happen as their difficulties reduced, quite the opposite. Resilience built as they did everything they could to give their families a better life in a better place.

We all have to face up to changed environmental situations – longer hotter summers. But as John Atkins said to us, we also have to respond to the attitudes and decisions that got us here. God has given us plentiful resources. If we have neglected our stewardship of creation, and, if, because of greed, we have short-changed any other people or whole countries into poverty, then we need to respond to opportunities of practically helping. This is simply the beginning point of communal repentance. Jesus has taught us to help those who have been neglected and left behind.

When it comes to ‘resilience’ in our family life, Brett Ryan last week gave us very practical advice about spending time eating together around the table, undistracted by anything that would reduce the possibility of growing relationships. And then we have the opportunity of acknowledging Jesus as the extra person at our table at each and every meal. Would that change how we behaved?

When I spoke about ‘church resilience’, we saw that we will be able to take on what might seem the most incredible challenges because Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit through which to be effective in his name. Against all odds we can be a devoted, vital, generous and worshipping people that results in a growing Kingdom of God.

What else might we learn at Jesus’ feet?
The answers to all sorts of questions:
Big questions –
·        What do we see ourselves doing with our life?
Daily questions –
·        Who can we bless today?
·        What person or cause can we serve today?
Where might his take us?
Where we become such good listeners that we can naturally respond to God’s gentle directions.

Jesus concludes his commendation of Mary (in verse 42) with the words, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her”. What does this mean? Mary’s learnings at the feet of Jesus are treasures in heaven of eternal value. The resources gained will surely stand Mary in very good stead.

Now Mary might just get a bit active and serve some pavlova for dessert; and Martha … she may just leave the dishes until after Jesus leaves.

(4) A Prayer that is a Lifestyle

If we come to sit at Jesus’ feet, then we enter a relationship built on the simple basic trust of the next verses. This is not only a model prayer, but also a statement of ‘resilience’. If we adopt Jesus’ model prayer as a lifestyle, this will certainly bring ‘resilience’. This prayer can define the nature of our relationship with both God and the World.

In this way we have a unique contribution to make to the whole area of ‘resilience’ in our community.

We have a heavenly father who generously loves us, One that we can love in return, worship, and bear witness to. We have God-given purpose and vision revolving around God’s Kingdom being revealed on earth. We trust God for our daily needs without worrying. We maintain all of our relationships through the practice of forgiveness, and in so doing receive forgiveness ourselves. We are honest about our own transgressions. We trust that God always has our best interests at heart.

(5) Jesus brings ‘resilience’ – the ultimate capacity to bounce back.

Jesus himself rose from death to life. When we were dead in our sins … Jesus took our burden upon himself and died that we might live. When we were lost seemingly without hope … Jesus invited us into a relationship of love and freedom. When we were lonely and friendless … Jesus declared that he would be our friend. When we were scared and had nowhere else to turn … Jesus offered us his company, walking with us day by day. When we were busy but not actually achieving anything … Jesus invited us to sit at his feet and rest for a while. When we were wondering what life means for us … Jesus gently teaches us what we need to know.

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