Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NRSVUE)

A few weeks ago, I was at a graduation party, and there was a young mother there with a three-year-old child. The little boy had been swinging on the swings, but then when he saw the other children drawing on the driveway with chalk, he quickly decided to join them. At one point the mom walked over to him and quietly said, “Conner, where are mommy’s eyes?” I thought it was a strange statement, but as she said it, the little boy, stopped what he was doing, and looked straight into his mother’s eyes. At that point, his mom said, “It’s time for lunch. Would you like a hot dog or a hamburger?” He told her that he would like a hot dog with ketchup, and she thanked him for his answer. Then he went back to playing. Several times during the party, I heard her calmly say, “Conner, where are mommy’s eyes?” And each time, the little boy stopped what he was doing and looked her in the eye so that she could ask or tell him something. The comment “Where are mommy’s eyes,” was the way that the mom was teaching the little boy to pay attention and to listen.

So often in our busy lives, we try to listen while we are doing other things. But while we are doing other things, we are often listening to the voice inside our heads, and formulating what we are doing next, rather than truly paying attention and listening to the person in front of us. That’s kind of what happened in today’s scripture reading today from the gospel of Luke.

Martha worked very hard, trying to show hospitality and serve Jesus, didn’t she? She was doing what she thought Jesus wanted, but the problem was she never actually listened to him. Martha had a kind heart, and she wanted to please Jesus, so she was cooking and cleaning, and trying to be the “hostess with the most-est,” believing that she could make Jesus’ visit perfect by doing for him.

Now Mary, on the other hand, listened to Jesus first, then acted. While Martha ran around cleaning and fixing the meal, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and gave Jesus all of her attention. Not only was that a gift to Jesus, but it was a gift to Mary as well. Because as she listened to him, her heart and her mind were opened, and she understood more clearly who she was and what God was calling her to do. You see, in the gospel of John, it was Mary of Bethany, the same Mary who sat quietly and listened at Jesus’ feet, that later washed his feet with expensive perfume, preparing him for all that was coming during his last trip into Jerusalem.

My friends, Jesus always shows us the way and directs us down the right path if only we listen. And sometimes it’s hard to listen, because the world is too noisy or because we think we are too busy, or because we think we already know the way. But though we may think we already know the way, though we may think that we know what Jesus calls us to do, and we think we can skip over the listening part and just start doing, because that way we can get our work done faster, Jesus says no. Jesus tells us to slow down, take a deep breath, relax, and be in the moment. Like the young mom, Jesus says, “Where are my eyes? Listen to what I am telling you because that will help you figure out which path to follow.”

Friends, let’s imagine for a minute that we are out in the woods–as Robert Frost’s poem suggests–and we find ourselves at a fork in the road. One path looks more worn and traveled by others, while the other looks a little bit rougher. So, what do we do? Well, if we learned anything from our scripture reading today, instead of racing off following the crowd on the well-beaten path or blazing a new trail down the rough one. I imagine that Jesus would encourage us to sit down right at the fork, take a deep breath, and listen. Maybe it is a good time to say a prayer or have a conversation with God. But like with any other conversation, listening can be the most important part.

Okay, so we are sitting at this fork in the road, and we are listening for God. But if we have never heard God’s voice before, how do we know what we are listening for? Do we wait for lightning to strike one of the paths? And if it does, is that the right path or the wrong path? Do we wait for a butterfly to fly down one of the paths to lead the way for us? Or do we ask for some other kind of sign?

Well my friends, sometimes the answers aren’t that easy and God’s voice is hard to hear. But by taking the time to stop, to take a deep breath, and to listen, sometimes we see and hear and feel and experience things that we never expected. Because usually, we are too busy following our own path and doing our own thing and worrying not only about what we are doing but also about what everyone else is doing! And we get so busy worrying about all those things that we forget about what God is doing and what God is calling us to do.

I remember when I first went to seminary, I was scared to death. Because I didn’t think I was smart enough. I didn’t think that I knew enough about the Bible. I was painfully shy, and I was petrified to speak in front of groups of people. But as I have told you before, somewhere, I found enough courage to start taking classes because I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a chaplain. I wanted to sit with families in difficult times, offering them a safe place and a shoulder to lean on.

One of the greatest gifts that I gave myself when I started seminary was the time to listen. Yes, I was a mom with three young kids at home. And yes, I was overwhelmed with the readings and the assignments. But I promised myself that through it all, I would take time to continually listen for God’s call in my life.

Well, it came time to sign up for my first preaching class, so I made an appointment with my advisor, Matthew Myer Boulton, who happened to be one of the preaching professors. Because I wanted to ask what I could take instead of preaching since I didn’t plan on preaching and leading worship. I was going to be a chaplain. I will never forget the look on his face. He just smiled at me, with a little twinkle in his eye, and he told me that everyone needed to take at least one preaching course. He then reminded me, how important it is to never close a door but to listen for God’s voice and for God’s guidance in our lives even when we think we know the way.

Well, it was in Matt’s preaching class that I began to hear God’s voice loud and clear. And that flicker of light that burned within me to become a chaplain became a roaring fire once I began to preach. Looking back, that never would have happened if I had taken my own path and followed the road that I thought I was supposed to be on. It all started when I put aside my plans and the control I tried to have on my life. And instead took time to listen to God.

Friends, even though we may think we are on the right path and we may think that we are going the right way. We still need to listen every day! To listen to scripture. To listen for God’s still-speaking voice. To listen to our hearts. And then, to listen to each other.

Here in Oldtown, we are blessed with lots of hard-working people! People who work tirelessly and give generously of their time, talents, and treasure, because they love this church. But it is my hope and my prayer for all of us that we can learn from Martha and Mary today. And understand that though it is very important to serve others and to get work done, it is also easy, like Martha, to burn ourselves out and run ourselves ragged when we try to do everything the way we think it should be done. My hope is that we might learn from Mary and realize that it is even more important to take time to listen, so that we can center ourselves and quiet our souls. Listening to scripture and listening for God’s still-speaking voice because then not only will we better know which path to take, but we’ll start to understand what it is that God is calling us to do.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t forget to take a deep breath every once in a while. Let go of your need to control and just listen, not trying to figure it all out yourself, but allowing God to show you the way.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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