Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Love God

Colossians 1:15-28 and Luke 10:38-42

 While there is certainly a main point to this story, I think it’s important to point out that it also has something to say about gender and equality as well.  The first century Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and ministered was a highly patriarchal one, meaning men dominated almost every aspect of life.  Women’s lives were basically confined to the home, raising children, and domestic tasks.  They were not given equal opportunities.  Jesus never stood on a soapbox and decried that situation.  But he did undermine in more subtle ways, and this story is an example of that.  

 Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  We might not think much of that, but in Jesus’ culture, sitting at the feet of a rabbi was the posture of disciples.  They would sit at his feet, day after day, year after year, absorbing his knowledge and wisdom, so that one day they could be rabbis and pass it on.  Mary is sitting at his feet, and Mary can’t be a rabbi.  She can’t teach others because she is a woman.  

 She was supposed to be in the kitchen with Martha, making food, tending to the needs of their guests.  Jesus should have shooed her away, just as Martha asked him to do.  The Mishnah, which was a collection of rabbinic teachings compiled in the centuries before Jesus said this:  “Let your home be a meeting place for sages and sit at their feet… but do not talk much with women.”  Women were considered to be incapable of learning serious theology, so don’t even try, the wisdom of the day said.  

 But not only did Jesus permit Mary to sit at his feet, he welcomed her, and praised her for her choice.  Jesus gave a woman an equal place with his male disciples, welcoming her to hear his words as well.  That was unheard of in his culture.  More than that, the trend took hold.  In the early Church, women continued to have a much higher degree of equality than in the surrounding culture.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say they had full equality, but certainly more than outside the Church.  

 In the book of Acts, we see Priscilla teaching the way of Christ to Apollos.  When Paul wrote to the Roman church, at the end of his letter, in chapter 16, he sends his personal greetings.  The very first person he mentions is Phoebe, who was a deacon in the church, meaning she was ordained to ministry.  Paul commends her to the Roman church and instructs them to help her in any way she needed.  This means that it was Phoebe who carried the letter from Paul to the Roman church, and he goes on to praise her for all the help that she had been to him.  Paul mentions a number of other women

in the chapter, including one named Junias.  There is some debate about this, but many people think that Paul names her as an apostle, meaning that she would have been one of Jesus’ followers at the time of the resurrection and an eyewitness to it.  

 Paul said that “In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,” meaning that the distinctions of gender, race, and class no longer have any meaning in the Body of Christ.  We are defined by our relationship to Christ, not race, sex, class, and so on.  The Church is still not a place of full equality, but Jesus did not leave that unchallenged, and neither should we.  

 As I said at the beginning, I don’t think that is the main point of the story, though it is certainly an important point.  I think the main point of the story is to teach what it means to love God.  

 In order for us to see that, I think we have to look at the context.  In verses 25 to 27 of this chapter, a scribe comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus turns the question back to him by asking, “How do you read God’s word?”  And the man answers, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.  And you must love your neighbor as yourself.”  The whole Law of God is summed up in those two commands: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor.  

 Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate love of neighbor.  What does it mean to love your neighbor?  It means you must see their need, feel compassion for them, and be motivated to action by your compassion.  The priest and the Levite saw the man’s need, but for whatever reason, they were not moved to compassion and action.  Only the Samaritan, the despised foreigner, acted.  

 This story tells us what it means to love God.  To love God is to hear his word.  In the Hebrew mind, to hear God’s word also means to be obedient to it.  That’s how we love God; by hearing and obeying his word.  

 Martha, for her part, was trying her best to serve Jesus, to love Jesus.  It’s not that she didn’t mean well, but she was missing the mark.  She was worried about many things:  “What am I going to feed all these people?  Will the bread be done in time?  Where is everyone going to sleep?  Is anyone else going to show up?”  But in the process of worrying about many things, she was missing the one most important thing: Listening to Jesus.  

 At another time, Jesus told the Parable of the Sower.  A farmer went out to scatter seed.  He cast it all over.  Some of it found good soil and grew.  But some of it did not find good soil, and for a variety of reasons, it did not grow.  Some of it fell among the thorns and weeds.  And the thorns and weeds grew up and choked it out.  When Jesus was asked to explain the story, he said that the seed that fell among the weeds represents those who hear the word of God but the worries and cares of this life and the lure of wealth choke out the word of God.  I think that this is the danger Martha was in.  She loved Jesus, but she was too preoccupied by “other worries,” and so she was in danger of not hearing his word.  

 Years later, in the book of Acts chapter 6, the Church was growing.  The twelve disciples were busy tending to the needs of the poor and the widows in the Church.  Instead of preaching the word of God, they were spending all their time feeding people.  Is there anything wrong with feeding people?  Nothing at all.  But that was not what Jesus told them to do.  They were eyewitnesses of the resurrection.  They were the ones who had been with Jesus all through his ministry.  They were appointed to spend their time sharing the gospel and teaching others about Jesus.  They were to feed people with Jesus’ word, not food.  So they called a meeting and said, “We need to find someone else to do this work so we can do the work we were told to do.”  And that’s what they did, choosing the first deacons of the church and ordaining them to ministry.  They weren’t going to let many things keep them from the one thing they needed to do:  Obey the word Jesus gave them.

 There is a saying that fits here:  “Good is the enemy of best.”  We often miss out on the best things for the sake of good things.  

Jesus said to Martha, “Only one thing is necessary.”  Wait a minute!  Aren’t many things necessary?  Don’t we have to go to work, earn a living?  Hard to get along without money!  Don’t we have to take care of our bodies?  Eating, sleeping, exercising?  And maybe we should put a little effort into raising children, too.  And the list just goes on.  Are not many things in life necessary?  

I think a better way to understand that is to say, “Only one thing is truly ultimate.”  Only God is ultimate.  Only God is supreme.  Only God is the one truly necessary “thing.”  Only God deserves to have absolute priority.  Only God deserves to be our first thought in every situation, every time.  

It is never easy to live into that.  There are so many things calling for our attention and devotion.  It is never easy to put God first.  But that is our calling.  That is what we should do.  And trust me:  I don’t find it any easier than you do!  I still want to put a hundred other things in front of God.  

We heard earlier from Colossians chapter 1, which answers the question, “Who is Christ?  He is the visible image of the invisible God.  He is the creator of all things, and he sustains all things, holding all of creation together.  He is the one for whom all things were created.  Everything finds its purpose and its place in its relationship to Christ.  He is the firstborn from the dead, the first of the resurrection.  The fullness of God is in him.  He is the reconciler, the peacemaker, the redeemer.”

If all of that is true of Jesus, then he should have priority in our lives.  His word should be heard and obeyed.

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