“To Listen Is One Thing, to Hear, Another”

Psalm 15 and Luke 10:38-42

Our focus this morning is on “hearing”, but not the kind of hearing that begins with, “what did you say Dear?”

Which makes me think of the story of the gentleman who was concerned about his wife’s hearing. He called the doctor about it and the doctor said he could do a little experiment to determine the severity, “Ask her a question from the next room in a normal tone of voice and keep asking while coming closer until she can hear you. That way you know the range of her hearing.”

That night, he’s sitting on his easy chair in the living room while his wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner. He estimates he’s about 30 feet away. In a normal tone of voice, he says, “What’s for dinner?”

She doesn’t respond, so he gets up and walks to the kitchen doorway, about 20 feet away, and asks, “What’s for dinner?”

She still doesn’t respond so he walks 10 feet closer and asks, “What’s for dinner?”

She still doesn’t say anything, so he gets right up beside her and asks, “What’s for dinner?”

She says, “For the fourth, time we’re having chicken!”

Our focus is on listening in such a manner that we can actually hear when we seek direction for our lives through our faith.

Today’s Luke-story is about Jesus among some of his closest friends. The story of the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus is well-known.

In this morning’s story Jesus is, as usual, talking to some gathered friends. We are not told how many, but one could imagine that some of the disciples where there, some of Mary and Martha’s friends, and, a few family members perhaps. It appears to be an intimate group.

We are told that as the evening went on people were listening intently to what Jesus was talking about.

That is, all but one person. Martha.

Martha was busy preparing the meal for the evening. Her sister Mary, however, was sitting at the feet of Jesus, very close to Jesus, enraptured by his talk.

Eventually Martha could take it no longer and she interrupted Jesus and yelled at Mary for not helping her with the kitchen chores.

Jesus surprises us when he scolds Martha.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This seems rather cruel and unfair.

But Jesus is making a point—perhaps at Martha’s cost. He seemed to say that we should not confuse the temporal with the eternal. We must not confuse the stuff that matters most with the stuff that matters less. We must understand our priorities. Mary was tending to her priority.

Last week we heard the story of Jesus and the lawyer—the expert on the Law of Moses—when he asked Jesus what the path to eternal life was. Jesus responded by asking him what the law of Moses said about that.

The lawyer gave the correct answer; “To love God and neighbor”.

“Then go do it” Jesus said to him.

It is no use listening to weight loss experts if you do not actually intend to actually do what they say.

Mary and Martha were both hospitable hosts. They opened their home to Jesus and the others that night. Martha wanted to be sure everyone was taken care of. But perhaps she overlooked the possibility that Mary needed the night off.

Mary was soaking up the life-giving words of Jesus. This was her priority. But let’s not knock Martha, for without her there would have been a very hungry group of people.

Sometimes we can become rather disturbed in church when members seem to work endlessly to get things done. They want to make sure the church is as good as it can be. Without them there will be no church organization, no building to worship in, no worship services to attend. They are the Martha’s who create the space where the sacred gathering of the community takes place.

Others are focused on reaching out to those who hurt—those who need to experience God’s love in action when they are served food, visited in hospital, written and sent cards of encouragement of encouragement or a well-deserved thank you.

We all have a specific role we can fulfill in our church. Every volunteer is appreciated. What we must guard against is perpetual busyness that comes at the cost of “listening” the way Mary was listening. We must be both Martha and Mary, doers and listeners.

Jesus was trying to tell Martha that this was not the time to call Mary out. She was doing what she had to do at that moment. M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled wrote, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”

When last have you been able to create opportunity to just listen with your spiritual senses. To listen in such a way is to allow the Sacred to breathe new life into us. We need those Mary-moments when we make the time and opportunity for listening.

  1. K. Chesterton, said; “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”

So, if listening is the first step, the second step is to listen in such a way that we can hear. And to truly hear moves us into a place of new possibility.

On Pinterest I saw a post that read: “I have put myself in timeout until I can play nice with others. This may take a while.” What a great way of creating time for listening and hearing.

You may be a Mary. You may be a Martha, or a little of both. Take heart, both were beloved friends of Jesus. But both needed to listen—to hear—and to act. May we do the same. Amen.