Readings: Acts 4:31-37; John 3:7-17
In the time of Jesus people lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They were taxed by Rome, ruled by Rome, controlled by Rome and Roman soldiers.
It would be like having an army from another country taking over control of our lives. Imagine Australian soldiers taking over here – watching us all at every moment. Perish the thought. Especially if they could make you carry their packs for a mile at random. And if they were crucifying people outside New World Shop as a warning to us to behave.
You can imagine that someone would want to overthrow those Aussies and send them packing. And there would probably be some group who would train in the hills somewhere and plot to overthrow the oppressive occupying army. Singing “God defend New Zealand” would be banned by the oppressors, but people would sing it in secret, and honour the kiwi flag.
In Jesus’ time there were all kinds of people who took on the Romans. Lots of them were arrested and crucified. Look at Barabbas as an example.
Most of those young Jews who were regarded as Messiahs died by crucifixion. They were actually expected to wage war or terrorism against the Roman army. When they died, one of their followers would probably have taken their place, or found another messianic leader prepared for battle. Judas Iscariot was possibly a member of a group of these zealots who carried daggers. They were called dagger-men or sicarii. They carried sicae or small daggers under their cloaks and bumped people off.
Jesus is the only young Jew who was hailed as a Messiah – who was resurrected after crucifixion. The resurrection sets him apart.
If you look at the Acts reading today, the early church was a completely different community – even sharing their wealth so that everyone was looked after. They shared everything and really cared for each other.
What was their message though? Act 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
The resurrection of Jesus sets him apart from any other person claiming to be a Messiah.
And in addition, the reading from John shows us that Jesus is completely unique because of who he was:
Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus was the Son of God. There is no other who had that position. And, uniquely, he defeated the evil of the Roman tyranny with love and sacrifice. His Kingdom is completely different from the powers of this world – as they were then and as they are today. We see this especially in his conversation with Pilate when he was arrested:
Joh 18:33 Then Pilate entered again into the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Joh 18:34 Jesus replied, “Do you say this from yourself, or have others said this to you about me?”
Joh 18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me! What have you done?”
Joh 18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”
Joh 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So then you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Joh 18:38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.
Joh 18:39 But it is your custom that I release for you one prisoner at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”
Joh 18:40 Then they shouted again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
Jesus stands alone as one who was resurrected – and one who claimed to be the Son of God. He makes the most unique claims – like this spoken to doubting Thomas:
Joh 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Joh 14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
And to Martha when Lazarus died: Joh 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, Joh 11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die [forever]. Do you believe this?”
And only he speaks of eternal life. We have eternal life through him now: Joh 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
The most important thing I can tell you is this – you can know God through Jesus – you won’t perish – you will have this eternal life and relationship – you can have it!
Now. Because Jesus is raised – resurrected and lives forever. He is truth. As he says to Pilate: For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37)
Joh 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Joh 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We too can live forever. This is the truth. He is the truth.
He is alive and is here today. And if you allow him into your life – he will be with you always!
Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-52
Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
We’re back here in the home of Lazarus and his sisters – Mary and Martha. It wasn’t long ago when we looked at the need to sit at Jesus’ feet.
The Lectionary readings for today force us to sit there again.
Jesus had no overhead projector. No amplifier for his voice when speaking to the crowds. No data projector and fancy pictures.
But his words were electrifying.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. No one had ever taught like this before.
These were the words from the one who is in fact THE WORD OF GOD – his whole life was God speaking. These were the words of Jesus – who was before things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Paul in verse 19 of Colossians 1 reminds us that God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him (Jesus).
So what is significant. Well let’s tell the story again – so that we hear it anew.
Jesus had just finished telling that lawyer the story of the Samaritan whose faith led to action. The one who was a neighbour to a beaten up Jewish guy in the street. Remember?
So he and his disciples moved on to their next port of call – Bethany.
And Martha – ever hospitable – welcomed them in the proper way at her house.
Now Martha had a sister Mary – and she was, well – different. A bit of a dreamer perhaps. One of those meditative types with her head in the clouds.
She liked to listen to Jesus speak. And she would just sit at his feet and hang on his every word.
Martha was running around – in busy mode. Bizzy Bizzy busy lady.
And boy did she get worked up. She was so mad that eventually she burst out – to her guest Jesus – “doesn’t it bother you that this sister of mine is such a lazy lump. So impractical. Doesn’t lift a finger – just listens and dreams about what you say! If she takes you so seriously perhaps it would work if you told her to help me with these chores and the lunch! Just look at this mess in the kitchen.”
There was this interesting silence for a moment – and Jesus, with a smile, said “oh deary me Martha, Martha. This stuff you are doing is great – I love your hospitality. But you’re missing the really important things here. Don’t be distracted by the chores.
This is like a cake or a plate of food. Mary has her eye on the best portion! She is so going to enjoy this! This is the main course!
Come sit here for a while and let me tell you a story….
Well that’s my version of it.
So we can be kind to Martha today.
Some important points to remember:
1. God was in her house. One should really make every effort to be hospitable and welcoming. In fact this is a key thing in our mission in the community – having people around at tables – especially at homes. We’re not that good at this actually, although we are going better!
We do it at our Tuesday church. We sit around tables and eat and talk. And listen to peoples’ stories.
Our Family Ministry minister’s coffee machine is a key ministry tool with the families that meet here. And of course her amazing muffins. Like Friday at mainly music!
Our young adults have great conversations over food. The pizza people do well on Tuesdays.
Hospitality is a real sign of the love of God working in our lives. It shows that we value people and are interested in them. So too generosity of spirit and money – they are a sign of God working in our lives. We give because the Holy Spirit moves us. We care because we have that compassion that Jesus had for the crowds. And for the rich young ruler who walked away.
And last week we heard that SERVICE of our neighbour (and there’s more than one neighbour on the street) is what God wants us to do! But… (here comes point 2)
2. God was in her house.
“Martha – won’t you stop and be still. Listen to these words that give life! Learn something from your irritating sibling!”
I quoted David Lose last week – the Lutheran professor of preaching (homiletics).
He tells the story of his childhood – how his dad who was a pastor – did not have a great singing voice. And when those new-fangled microphones came in his dad used to forget to switch the thing off during the hymns. So everyone got to hear his less that brilliant voice. His singing was less than helpful.
David as a child used to get embarrassed by this. Listen to his story:
But on one of those Sundays when we were still relatively new to that church and town, when my dad had again forgotten to turn off the mic so that you could hear his off key-singing just above everyone else, and when I was again cringing in embarrassment, my mom noticed what was happening. I’m pretty sure she didn’t approve of my reaction, but she didn’t frown, or roll her eyes, or do any of the things parents are prone to do when they see their children overreacting to something. Instead, she leaned over to me, smiled understandingly, and then whispered, “You know, when your dad is gone, I’ll miss his singing.”
My mom understood, you see, something that I had totally missed: that sometimes you get so caught up in the act of singing that you forget all about yourself — you forget your insecurities and embarrassments, your limitations and your failings — you forget all the stuff you usually worry about and you just sing.
I think this story speaks of how often we miss the point entirely – like Martha. For David’s dad worship was not about perfection – it was about the moment.
Those of you who tap your watches on Sunday – probably miss the point too. There are those who tap their watches when we finish early as well. Something to do with not getting your money’s worth?
If you’re can’t sit still without worrying about the volume of the microphones or the heating or lighting – you may be missing the point as well.
If you are so busy caught up in the business and busyness of life – you may also miss the point. Martha was anxious and troubled about stuff that was in fact meant to be wonderful and really fun.
And sitting at the feet of Jesus listening was part of the delight. It was a source of life for the soul – just as the food gave nourishment for the body. Jesus is the bread of life! His word feeds us today too. And he guides us and speaks to us and into our hearts when we take the time to sit at His feet.
It’s not about two different things really. It’s about being attentive to God in the midst of the ordinary things of life.
We have so divorced our spiritual lives from the ordinary – especially when we see our services and prayer meetings as the “spiritual” things – sectors – part of our week.
Jesus would do the so-called “spiritual” things – have those really life-changing conversations – over food anyway. The conversation at Zaccheus’ table for example. Those discussions each day with his disciples. Those special meals towards the end of his life.
So much so that we now have a meal as the focal point of our service today. Many churches have the Lord’s supper every week – more than once a week. (Here comes point 3 – or is this a 1 point sermon?)
3. God is in our house too.
We need to be attentive and let him speak. Through prayer. Through our bible reading. Through the words of others around us and especially in this community. Through the songs and through the sermon.
It’s the best portion – that won’t be taken away from us. Nothing will separate us from this intimacy with Jesus – our worship, devotion and gratitude to Him. Not even death. As Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message: One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it–it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
There needs to be a balance – a rhythm in our lives – a dynamic tension between form and content, service and devotion, doing it right and being attentive to Jesus speaking even when the dinner get’s burned or the recipe fails.
Martha did the food stuff. Mary chose the best part. The best portion.
He is our portion.
In the Psalms at Psalm 73 the writer says this: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
These bodies will fail. Our hearts will stop in time.
The solid joys and lasting treasure Zion’s children will know.
Amen, and may God bless you through these truths today.