Voice In A Busy World
Sunday, 17 July 2016
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. (Luke 10:39)
There’s a thing a friend of mine calls the “just and simply mountain”. At work, for a while, whenever there was a new task that management wanted us to do, it would be communicated to us in those terms. “You just have to do this” or “You simply do that” to make it seem like such a tiny thing they were wanting us to do. They were, however, not mentioning the hundred other things we “just had” to do and the hundred things beyond that we “simply” had to do and it all added up to the “just and simply mountain”. Teaching is a busy job. I have a t-shirt somewhere with a list of the roles that teacher has to carry out. It’s large size.
Sometimes we all lead busy lives. We all, sometimes, have a hundred and one things to do - especially those times when, perhaps, we’ve got visitors coming and we want to make sure the house is clean and tidy for their arrival - not that our house is ever anything less, of course. That’s the state Martha’s in when Jesus comes to visit. She’s clattering the pots and pans, trying to get dinner ready. She’s making sure there’s a bed made up for him in the upper room. She’s getting the place clean and tidy. She’s so busy. And all the while her sister is just sitting at the feet of their guest instead of helping her. When she asks Jesus to get Mary to help her, Jesus replies that Mary has made the right choice.
This is something we need to remember in church sometimes - especially those of us who hold offices of one kind or another. Jesus didn’t come to add to our just and simply mountain. He didn’t come to keep us busy doing this or that. He came, primarily, to redeem us and to teach us. He came as a quiet, still voice in a loud and busy world. That’s what Sunday morning is for - to give us a little time away from all the busyness and the pressures of everyday life: time to listen for the voice of Jesus. I wonder, sometimes, whether we get that right. I wonder if, on Sunday, we spend to much time talking and singing - I looked up last week’s service and found it contained 4000 words - and not a lot of time listening for the voice of Jesus. I wonder, sometimes, if the Quakers don’t have a point. They spend almost all their services in silence, speaking only if moved by the Spirit.
I hope we do hear the voice of Jesus in our services on Sunday. I hope we respond to his teachings. But there’s more to it than that. We’re supposed to keep listening for the voice of Jesus when we go out of the doors and return to the hurly-burly and the busyness of everyday life. What goes on in here and in our times of prayer and reflection ought to affect the way we live our lives. It’s very easy to get those two things separated - to let the voice of Jesus be drowned out by the noise of everyday life.
Consider what Amos says in his prophecy. He talks about people piously observing the sacred festival of the new moon and the Sabbath but all the time they’re itching to get back to the busy lives of trading grain and wheat. And when they get back to those lives it will be as if God didn’t exist. They will cheat their customers without, it seems, a second thought. They will take advantage of the poor in their need, rather than seeking to care for them. They will sell the sweepings of the wheat - the stuff that the Law of Moses says should have been made available to the hungry for free. They will deafen their ears to the command for justice that God makes of his people; that Amos proclaims in his prophecy. They will deafen their ears to the voice of God in their lives.
They will be so busy making money that they will forget the most important things in life - the things that make us human. In a busy world that’s all too easy. Too often in our businesses and in our industries a “long-hours” culture has developed where - to be seen to be good industrious employees - people are prepared to work for long hours and keep busy. Sometimes they wind up leaving for work before their kids have woken up and don’t get home until after their kids have gone to bed. And at the weekends they just sleep. Assuming they’re not working at the weekend. We’re not made to do that, as human beings. We need down time. We need time when we are not busy - time for recreation and relationships. Time for reflection on what really matters in life - what it means to be a good and decent human being. Time to listen for the voice of God.
I think a society that doesn’t give that time eventually becomes sick - just as Israel at the time of Amos had become sick. When we don’t listen for the voice of God - the voice that spoke in the world in Jesus Christ - we start down the same road as Israel did. We put the making of money before everything else. We put profit before everything else. We forget the needs of the poor and the hungry. In the busy world we live in it’s easy to develop and “I’m all right Jack” attitude where the money we’ve earned keeps us so comfortable that we don’t even believe that there are people living in poverty in our country. In the busy, busy world we live in, it’s easy to insist that charity begins at home; that being competitive means that the devil takes the hindmost and the weak go to the wall.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Here, in this place, we can be like Mary. We are can lay aside the busyness of the world for a time and listen for the voice of Jesus. We are can listen to his teachings - teachings that insisted that we are all brothers and sisters and children of one Father. Here, in this place, we can be like Mary. We can set aside the busyness of the world and listen for the voice of Jesus - a voice that prompts us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and to treat those who are in need as if they were him. Here, in this place, we can be like Mary. We can lay aside the world’s business - the making of money and wealth - and listen for the voice of Jesus. A voice that teaches that what is really important in this life - what really makes a difference in this world and which makes us complete and glorious as human beings - is our capacity to love one another.
When we go from this place - when we go back out into the hurly-burly of a busy world - we can keep listening. We can listen for the voice of Jesus, when we meet those who are strange and different, reminding us that we’re all God’s children and loved beyond measure. We can listen for the voice of Jesus, when folk speak words of hatred and contempt for immigrants and those on benefits, reminding us that we are better than that: that we are God’s own children. We can listen for the voice of Jesus, when the world insists that we are just economic units - consumers and workers, reminding us that we are all so much more than that: we are made in the image of God.
And when we live that out. When we love as we have been loved. When we look after one another as brothers and sisters. When we give to those in need and embrace those who seem different then the world gets to hear the voice of Jesus.
Lord, let us never be so busy that we do not listen for the voice of your Son, speaking to us in the needs of others and in listening may we live out his teachings.