Relationship with God

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

 

Title: Relationship with God

 

Structure:

  • Introduction – three keys to a respectful relationship with God are…
  • Welcoming
  • Listening
  • Boundaries
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

On the wall here we have 4 pictures

–         There is a bridge, some telephone wires, some blocks of lego & facebook

–         Would anyone like to have a guess – what do these 4 things have in common?     [Wait]

 

That’s right – they all create connections

–         A bridge connects two sides so traffic can flow

–         Telephone wires connect people so they can communicate

–         Lego blocks connect to each other so you can build things

–         And facebook, well that connects people in all sorts of ways

 

Where you have connections there you have some form of relationship

 

This morning we continue our series on ‘Being with God’

–         This series is about Christian spirituality

–         In very basic terms we could say that, for Christians, spirituality is Christ’s way of being with us as well as our way of being with Jesus

–         Using the analogy of wireless internet, if wifi is the capacity to connect and interact with others on-line

–         Then spirituality is our capacity to connect with God – to interact with His Spirit in other words

 

Rebecca Nye has an acronym which we are using to give structure to this series. [1]  Her acronym spells the word S.P.I.R.I.T.

–         Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy & Trust

 

These are all essential elements of Christian spirituality

–         We need these six things to connect with and interact with Jesus

–         So far we have looked at the importance of space, process & imagination

–         This morning we explore relationship with God

 

Christianity is primarily a relationship, more than a religion or a set of rules

–         It is a relationship with God through Christ

–         Jesus is the Son of God who became a human being

–         Because Jesus shares both God’s divinity and our humanity he is the common ground between us and God

–         In this way Jesus is like the bridge who connects us to God

 

There is obviously a lot we could say about relationship

–         I don’t want to try and say it all today

–         But I would like to pick out some of the key aspects of a respectful relationship with God

 

To help us explore what a respectful relationship with God looks like please turn to Luke chapter 10, verse 38 – page 93 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         To set the scene a little, Jesus is travelling the countryside with his disciples, preaching and healing and setting people free, when he stops for the night at the home of Martha

–         In Martha’s culture showing hospitality for someone important like Jesus was a great honour – which also came with a lot of extra work & pressure

–         From Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42 we read…

 

38 As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him in her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. 40 Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, 42 but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

 

May the Spirit of Jesus help us to relate

 

As I mentioned before this Scripture reveals some of the keys to a respectful relationship with God

–         In particular, welcoming Jesus, listening and boundaries

 

Welcoming:

Before you go onto a Marae you need to be officially welcomed

–         Maori have a special welcoming ceremony, called a powhiri, which follows certain traditions and protocols

–         There are speeches back and forth, as well as songs from both the hosts and the guests

–         Then people hongi – they press noses and share breathe before gathering to share a meal

 

Being received or welcomed onto a Marae is a pretty big deal – it is a respectful thing

–         The welcome is like the foundation or the beginning of the relationship

–         Without a willingness to connect, receive and make room for the other person there can’t be a relationship

–         In order to build a bridge the parties on both sides of the divide need to be willing to cooperate

 

In Luke 10 Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her home

–         Although they didn’t have a formal powhiri for Jesus, welcoming him and showing hospitality was a big deal in Martha’s culture

–         It was a sign of respect – something Martha wanted to do well

–         To her it would have felt like the honour of the whole village rested on her shoulders

 

Jesus is the common ground (the bridge) between humanity and God

–         To welcome Jesus is to welcome God the Father

–         By opening her home to Jesus, and his disciples, Martha shows respect for the Lord – she does a good thing here

–         Jesus, in turn, shows respect for Martha by graciously accepting her hospitality

 

Listening:

Another key to a respectful relationship is that both parties listen to each other

–         By listening I don’t just mean being quiet and letting the other person speak, while you think of what you’re going to say next

–         I mean paying attention and listening in order to understand them

–         Active listening includes reflecting back what you’ve heard the other person say, both to make sure you’ve understood correctly and to make them feel understood

–         An example of reflecting back:

o   Speaker; “I just don’t understand my boss. One minute he says one thing and the next he says the opposite.”

o   Listener; “You feel very confused by him?”

 

Without understanding there is a disconnect

–         But with a common understanding the connection (aka: the relationship) is maintained

–         Listening shows respect

 

In Luke 10, verse 39, we are told how Mary (the sister of Martha) sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching

 

Listening to the Lord is the right attitude, the right posture, in our relationship with God

–         To listen is to show respect – to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that wisdom comes from God

–         We listen to receive from God – to learn his will and do what he wants

–         In our relationship with God reflecting back what we’ve heard the Lord say takes the form of obedience

–         Understanding comes not just with hearing God’s word but with doing God’s will

 

In a respectful relationship listening goes two ways

–         So it’s not that God does all the talking and we do all the listening

–         God listens to us as well

–         He hears our prayers and he understands perfectly what we feel

 

In contrast to Mary, Martha doesn’t listen to Jesus

–         She storms in and starts telling Jesus what to do

–         ‘Tell my sister to help me’

–         Not all that respectful

–         Martha thinks she has the solution but she doesn’t really understand the problem in the first place

 

Nevertheless Jesus listens to her and reflects back what he senses she is feeling

–         “Martha, Martha. You are worried and troubled over so many things…”

–         He gently shows Martha that he understands and he helps her to understand the problem as well

–         In this way Jesus shows respect for Martha’s feelings and builds a bridge to restore the connection

–         Only after letting Martha know that he gets her, does Jesus then go on to correct her

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, prayer isn’t just us saying words to God

–         It’s not just us giving God our list of requests

–         ‘Lord, help my children with exams’

–         ‘Help my husband find a job’

–         ‘Bring peace in Syria’

–         ‘Heal my mother, my son, my friend’

–         There’s nothing wrong with asking God for those sorts of things but there’s more to it than that

 

Prayer is also listening to God

–         We listen to God in a whole variety of ways…

–         By reading the Bible

–         By coming to church services and home-groups

–         By being still and meditating in silence

–         By reflecting on our dreams at night as well as our day time experiences

–         By gathering for church meetings to listen to other believers and so on

 

When it comes to listening to God we want to avoid extremes

–         On the one hand we don’t want to be too desperate to hear from God, because then we are at risk of manufacturing a word from the Lord

–         Forcing the Scriptures to say something they’re not or throwing good sense out the window

–         But on the other hand we don’t want to become so busy that we have no room to listen to God

–         Somehow we need to find that sacred space, in between anxious desperation and hurried exhaustion, where listening is not too pressured and we are able to think straight

–         A place we might call calm openness, where we are ready to hear what God wants to say but at the same time are quite relaxed if he is silent

–         Sabbath rest provides that sort of listening space

 

The other thing with listening to God is that it’s generally a good idea to share what you think you’ve heard with another believer (someone you trust), just to make sure you’re on the right track

 

Okay, so a respectful relationship with God involves welcoming Jesus and listening to him

 

Boundaries:

Another characteristic of a respectful relationship is having boundaries

–         Boundaries are there to protect

 

Here we have a picture of the Auckland Harbour Bridge again

–         As I said before a bridge creates a connection and so enables a relationship to happen

–         A bridge is fundamentally the opposite of a wall

–         However, even bridges have boundaries

–         There are normally railings and fences along the edges of a bridge to protect people from falling off the side

 

My point is, we need healthy boundaries in our relationships

–         We need fences and guard rails (lines we don’t cross) for the well-being of everyone

 

Jesus was gracious and went out of his way to build bridges for those lost sheep of Israel who had been excluded for so long

–         But at the same time he also had very clear boundaries

–         In his sermon on the mount, for example, he said (and I paraphrase)…

–         Don’t commit adultery. In fact, don’t even think about it

–         Jesus’ boundary isn’t just not sleeping with someone you shouldn’t

–         His boundary is not even thinking about doing that in the first place

–         I reckon he said this because marriage is a bridge and committing adultery is like jumping off the bridge – If you do that people get hurt

 

Returning to Jesus and Martha – in Luke 10 verse 40 we read…

–         Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”

 

Unfortunately Martha stepped over the line in a number of ways here

 

Martha starts by calling Jesus ‘Lord’ and then finishes by telling him what to do

–         That is inconsistent and it crosses a boundary

–         It’s inconsistent because we can’t call Jesus ‘Lord’ and then proceed to boss him around

–         And it crosses a boundary by reversing the natural order of things

–         It’s not right for the tail to wag the dog

 

What we have to remember is that a relationship with God is not a relationship of equals

–         God is different from us – he is greater than us

–         God is the creator and we are the creature

–         Jesus is Lord, which means he is the boss and we are his subjects, his servants – we do his bidding, not the other way round

 

Martha steps out of line in other ways too

–         Notice how she says, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself”

–         That is emotional blackmail and it’s not on

 

Emotional blackmail is when someone tries to hold you to ransom by making you feel bad, perhaps guilt-ing you into doing something you don’t want to do

–         ‘If you really loved me you would do this for me’

–         Emotional blackmail – it’s a form of manipulation and deceit

–         It crosses the line and undermines trust in any relationship

 

The other line that is crossed here is in Martha’s relationship with Mary

–         Martha doesn’t go directly to Mary to have a quiet word with her on the side – she doesn’t say, ‘Mary dear, I need a hand in the kitchen’

–         Instead she publically humiliates her sister by making herself look good at Mary’s expense

–         Again, that’s not on – that is disrespectful, it crosses a boundary

 

Despite the lack of respect that Martha shows, Jesus remains respectful to her

–         As we’ve already noted, he respects Martha by graciously acknowledging her feelings of worry and anxiety,

–         And he respects her by being truthful with her, saying…

–         “…just one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

Notice here how Jesus’ words to Martha are full of truth & grace

–         Truth & grace actually determine boundaries for respect

–         If it’s not both truthful and gracious then it’s not respectful

 

Martha had crossed a line when she publicly humiliated her sister

–         Jesus then repairs Mary’s reputation by pointing out to everyone that Mary has chosen the right thing here

–         Jesus doesn’t do this to shame Martha

–         He does this to restore Mary’s honour

–         At the same time Jesus is releasing Martha from her anxious activity and inviting her to join Mary in choosing the one thing that is needed

 

Which brings us to the next point: Jesus’ boundaries were quite different from some of the boundaries of the culture in which he lived

–         In Martha’s culture women didn’t sit with the men to listen to a teacher like Jesus

–         Women were out the back in the kitchen preparing the meal and doing the practical tasks associated with providing hospitality

–         By sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him, Mary had crossed a social and cultural boundary

–         Which may have made Martha feel terribly embarrassed, causing her to save face by telling Jesus to send Mary back to the kitchen

 

In any case Jesus is not concerned that Mary has crossed this social boundary

–         Jesus welcomes her listening, with the men

–         The implication is that women can be taught – they can learn, like men

–         And therefore women are equal partners in God’s kingdom with men

 

That might not seem like such a big deal to us – but 2000 years ago, in the Middle East, it was a huge deal

–         The fact that it is not a big deal for us today is really because of Jesus

 

The point here is that God’s boundaries are sometimes different from ours

–         I don’t believe that God shifts the boundaries

–         God made women equal partners with men from the very beginning

–         It is humanity who keeps shifting the boundaries

–         Like a survey peg hidden in the long grass, we may not always be aware of exactly where God’s boundaries are

–         Martha may have been doing the culturally appropriate thing but it wasn’t the spiritually appropriate thing

 

One of the things we need if we are going to respect God’s boundaries is a strong sense of who we are in Christ

–         We need to know our true selves – what’s really important to us – and hold on to that

–         In other words, we need to have good internal boundaries

–         This is who I am, this is who you are – I am this, I am not that

 

Jesus had a strong sense of who he was and so he was able to resist Satan

–         When the devil tempted Jesus saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread’

–         Jesus refused – he didn’t need to prove anything, he knew who he was

 

In order to be able to respect God’s boundaries we need a strong sense of our true selves

–         We need to know this is who I am and this is the line I won’t cross

 

In his book The Emotionally Healthy Church, Peter Scazzero talks about the need “to hold on to ourselves and not lose ourselves when we enter another person’s world” [2]

–         What he means, I think, is respecting other people’s point of view without changing your own point view just to appease them

 

For example, you may not like Donald Trump all that much but then find yourself in a room with some people who do

–         Holding on to yourself in that situation means listening to their point of view while at the same time maintaining your own point of view

–         Not changing your position just to fit in or to avoid offending people

–         Basically saying, ‘I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one’

 

Now some of you might think, that’s a bit of an unreal scenario – so here’s another example…

 

Maybe you are in a conversation at work or school and someone starts bad mouthing someone else behind their back

–         You don’t agree with them or, even if you do, you don’t feel comfortable being in that conversation

–         Holding on to yourself in that situation means being honest and saying,

–         “I don’t agree, I have had quite a different experience of that person”,

–         Or, “I don’t feel comfortable you telling me this.”

 

Do you get what I’m saying?

–         Each of us has these deeply held values or principles which serve as our inner boundaries

–         We dare not cross that line – we dare not transgress our principles – or we won’t be able to live with ourselves

 

One of Jesus’ values is that women are included in God’s kingdom

–         Mary should be able to sit with the men and listen to his teaching if she chooses

–         Jesus wasn’t going to compromise on that

–         He wasn’t going to be manipulated by Martha’s emotional blackmail, nor influenced by the social & cultural expectations of that time

–         So he held on to himself – but he also left the door open for Martha

 

Conclusion:

This morning we have heard about 3 keys to a respectful relationship with God:

–         Welcoming, listening and boundaries

 

Jesus shows us what a respectful relationship with God looks like

–         Jesus listens to us and respects our boundaries

–         He doesn’t force his will on us

–         He provides a bridge for us – but at the end of the day it’s up to us whether we choose to walk over that bridge or not

–         God gives us human beings real choices and he respects the choices we make, even if he doesn’t agree with them

 

By the same token God won’t be manipulated by us

–         He has his own integrity – his own boundaries

 

In saying all of this I’m conscious that while God is respectful in his relationship with us, other people are not always respectful

–         The reality is other people don’t always listen to you or seek to understand what you are saying

–         And they may not respect your boundaries

 

Let me say, that’s really difficult, it’s hard – especially if you have to relate to that person because you work with them or they are in your wider family or whatever

 

Three things for you, if you find yourself in that situation…

 

Firstly, don’t try and change them. You can’t

–         Leave that to God. Ask him to change them if he wants to

 

Secondly, don’t let them change you. Stay true to who you are

–         Forgive them in your heart, let it go – move on

–         Let grace & truth be your guide

 

Third thing, abide in Christ – spend time in your relationship with God

–         Don’t waste time thinking about that person who has not listened to you. not understood you, or not respected your boundaries

–         Think about God’s goodness – delight in his knowledge of you, his positive regard for you

–         And spend time with people who are respectful in their relationship with you – people who you enjoy being with

 

I know that most of this stuff is easier said than done, but we have to do it if we want to be free

 

There’s a lot more we could say about relationship, but that’s enough for today

–         Let’s pray…

[1] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 41.

[2] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, page 193.

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