Active Listening 7/18/10

Amos 8: 1-12
Luke 10: 38-42

The prophet Amos is not known for mincing his words.  Here, he is likening the people of Israel to a bowl of rotting fruit.  “Through Amos, God is saying that the attitudes of the people have become so bad – so infected with selfishness – that their lives as a people will come to an end unless they really listen to how God is calling them to live.” (Moira Laidlaw, Liturgies Online)  This theme of listening is rampant in our two passages.

I.                   A Dinner Guest

We have been marching through Luke these last few weeks.  A few weeks ago, Jesus sent out the seventy and was turned away by a Samaritan village.  Last week, we heard about the Good Samaritan and the importance of living out our faith.  Just after that story, Luke continues on to our encounter today with the two sisters and their dinner guest.  *listening*

II.                Martha’s Hang-ups

Jesus, himself, is marching towards Jerusalem, and he seeks the hospitality of these two single women.  Martha sets to work straight away getting a meal on the table for the three of them.  She probably already had the meal plan set, but now she’s taking stock of what is available in her kitchen and how she might alter things for their guest …

I love having guests come for dinner.  I love getting my nice plates out and planning a large meal than we might not normally have.  I like putting the work into making that time special so that my guests know they are special to me and worth the extra effort.  The gift of hospitality is thinking about and anticipating another’s needs and offering what you can to make them comfortable.  But something goes wrong.  While she’s busy doing meal prep and going this way and that, she notices her sister just sitting there talking with Jesus, sitting at his feet as though she were a disciple!  I would like to say that if Joe did that, I would be alright and not react as Martha did, but I’m not sure that would be 100% true.

Jesus rebukes her – not because of what she is doing.  He knows that they need to eat and appreciates her practicality and thoughtfulness.  “Hospitality that is ‘anxious and troubled’ loses its focus … Martha’s problem is that her service strays from attending to its rightful object of devotion, the Lord Jesus.”[1]  Jesus does not tell her to stop what she is doing, but he seems to be telling her that there is an interior life and an exterior life … and both are important. 

I have seen hospitality done very well in this church.  <<Ladies’ Luncheon>>  The ladies who prepared the meal did so in a very relaxed way that allowed all of us there to enjoy the meal, but also to enjoy each other’s company.  Hospitality takes care of more than just the guest’s physical needs.

III.             Mary’s “Good” Choice

Mary, also, is being a good hostess as Jesus enters and settles into a comfy couch to talk with the two generous sisters.  We don’t know what they talked about, but I imagine it was an engaging conversation.  In a world and time where men were the ones worth talking to and teaching, Jesus takes the time to be apart with these two women.   I imagine they felt honored and excited that he would talk to them like they were worth talking to.  Mary, then, was actively listening to her teacher, her rabbi.

Although I enjoy having people over, I have discovered something since becoming a mother:   I no longer listen to people as well as I used to.  My attention is always divided in two: one ear for the conversation and one ear for the kids.  This is frustrating to me because I don’t like feeling divided like that.

“Linda Stone has written that the disease of the Internet age is ‘continuous partial attention.’  Perhaps it is not only the disease of the internet age; perhaps it has always been with us, and just the causes of our inattention have altered.”[2]

We live in a fast-paced culture where there are a million things seeking our attention.  We are experiencing an influx of attention deficit disorder and kids that do not have an environment that teaches them how to focus well. Mary gives her teacher her undivided attention and listens, actively. 

Surely, you know someone who has this gift.  I do.  Every time I talk with her, I end up telling her more than I was expecting to because she is 100% committed to the conversations. She asks good questions, she’s interested in what I have say. 

IV.              Actively listening to our faith

How do we actively listen for God?  Are we comfortable with some silences?  How often do we give God 100% of our attention without any agenda, without anything to say?

Our church’s General Assembly met two weeks ago for an entire week.  I would be happy to talk with you about any of the decisions that they made, but I would like to lift up one in particular for us: the question of same-sex marriage.

At the GA two years ago, there was a special committee commissioned to study same-sex marriages and civil unions and bring a report back to this general assembly.  Their report included all of the research that they did, and they concluded that they, as a committee, could not come to an agreement as to what course the church should take on this topic.  The GA (all 712 commissioners) voted to accept this report and not take any action on any of the items concerning marriage language and same sex couples.  Their hope is that all Presbyterians will take this time to study the report for themselves, and commit to listening for where God is in this situation.

This, I think, is called living “in the tension.”  Faithful disagreement:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. –Talmud

Actively listening to God requires at least three things:

  1. Listening to the Bible, asking questions of the texts, and asking questions about our interpretations of them.
  2. Listening to each other, asking each other where we are and why, and listening for people’s emotions and experiences as well as their thoughts and opinions.
  3. Finally, we must listen for God and leave space for God to be heard.

V.                 Not an “either/or” scenario

We must come to the realization that this is not a matter of picking Mary over Martha or vice versa.  It is about learning what we can from a situation where two women encountered Jesus and then apply what we learn there to our lives.  Providing for our guests, practicing hospitality, making meals, serving them – that is a ministry: Jesus rebukes Martha not for what she was doing on the outside but for what she was doing on the inside – worrying herself and getting distracted from .  Mary has chosen the good place not because of her action, but because of her attention to Jesus.

The story today is “calling for a recognition that God is both inside and outside, sustaining us while summoning us to work and, through our service, bring about a world of justice, mercy, and peace.  It is not an either/or message but a both/and message.”[3]

How will we be faithful?  We will listen. 

Let us pray, Faithful and loving God, guide our feet forward.  Open our ears and our hearts to what you would say to us …                                                                                … Amen.

[1] Matthew L. Skinner in Feasting on the Word, Luke 10:38-42.

[2] James A. Wallace, C. SS. R. in Feasting on the Word, Luke 10:38-42.

[3] James A. Wallace, C. SS. R. in Feasting on the Word, Luke 10:38-42.


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