(A message shared with the people of Friendship Church, April 10, 2005)
This was a week in which I felt, in the proverblial phrase, "like a chicken with my head cut off."
Because of the pace at which I ran all weeklong, much of what I did probably didn’t represent the best of which I’m capable or always reflect my best judgment. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed!
On Friday in fact, I felt so overwhelmed that I vented to some people on the telephone. Sometimes just to their answering machines! Of course, that solved nothing, because after the venting was done, I sill had things to do. To tell you the truth, later that afternoon, I put on a little pity party for myself.
Of course, there’s a certain guilt I feel in telling you this. When I look at the hard work done by so many people in this congregation, work that they pile on top of their job and family lives, I sometimes ask myself, “How dare you feel sorry for you?”
Just this past week, for example, I watched the giving team for the women’s retreat --their only motive being to give other women the gift of Jesus--as they worked to prepare for the end of this month; I saw the ensemble practice their music; Tim Toerner and Mike DeVore paint the lobby and front hallway of this building; Eric Petru co-teach Catechism with me; the Forty Days cabinet and their various committees make final preparations for this campaign of spiritual renewa we begin today; Brenda Knorr copy and staple the bulletins; Don Wood prepare the PowerPoint; and on and on it goes. There are lots of people in this congregation who work very hard!
I’m telling you all this because I suspect, the pace in your life has been as frenzied as mine has been lately. Maybe even more so.
I really need these forty days and judging by all that you do, I think that you need it too. That’s because in the busy-ness of life and the effort to simply put out the next fire, it's easy for us to forget about the meaning and the purpose of our living.
One of our Bible lessons for this morning tells the story of what happened one day when Jesus went to the house of three friends, a man named Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary. Most of you undoubtedly know it very well. We have no word on what Lazarus was doing during Jesus’ visit. But we do know that Martha was knocking herself out, busying herself with living up to being the sort of gracious, omnipresent hostess that her twenty-first century namesake Martha Stewart would seem to be. (When not doing time in the big house.) Meanwhile, Mary is chillin’. She is sitting, listening intently to Jesus teach.
Martha, frenzied, overwhelmed by all that she thinks she needs to do, finally has had enough. And she can’t believe that Jesus doesn’t see how hard she’s working and how Mary is sitting on her...blessed assurance.
She goes to Jesus and she asks, “Don’t you care that my sister [She’s so mad that she can’t even bring herself to say Mary’s name right now.] has left me to do all the work by myself? [Wah, wah, wah!] Tell her to help me!” (Parenthetically, notice here that this woman who seems to pride herself on being a super-servant is ordering the Lord of the universe to do something. I think this woman might be passive-aggressive.) “Tell her to help me!”
Jesus’ answer is nothing less than stunning. He says compassionately, “Martha, Martha.” [Isn’t it interesting that Jesus personalizes His response to this woman who had refused to use her sister’s name, by calling Martha by her name twice?] “Martha, Martha,” He tells her, “you are worried and distracted by many things; but there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Please don’t misunderstand. Jesus isn’t telling us to give up on doing any work and sit around listening to Bible CDs and K-Love Christian radio all day long. But He is condemning unnecessary worry and activity that crowds out the most important thing in life. That one thing in one word is: Jesus. When we rely on Him for forgiveness of our sins; for strength to face each day; for guidance in our decision-making; and for everything else in our lives, life makes sense. We live with purpose.
Martin Luther, the founder of the Christian movement of which Friendship Church is a part, was simultaneously, pastor of a local church, university professor, administrator of fourteen monasteries, and prolific author. He wrote to a friend, “I have too many things to do to spend anything less than three hours a day in prayer.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you and I spend three hours a day in prayer. But I will tell you this: The reason my week was so overwhelming was that I spent too little time getting the guidance, help, focus, and strength that a person can only get from spending time following and heeding Jesus.
Our other Bible lesson for this morning tells us: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Jesus would say that at that moment in their home, Mary understood the will of the Lord and Martha didn’t. And understanding God’s will for our lives is the key to understanding our purpose for living.
This morning, I want to consider three questions. They don’t originate with me. They come to us from Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life.
The first is this: What does the God we know through Jesus Christ want? Answer: God wants our whole lives! One passage in the New Testament book of Romans says, “No longer present your members [that means the various parts of your body] to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
The second question is this: What does it take to give our whole lives to God? Answer: Something that doesn’t come easily to me and which is only ours when we ask God to give it to us, discipline. To live our lives for God and for the purposes He built into our very DNA, we need the discipline it takes to turn our backs on the world’s ways of doing things and to embrace God’s ways. Another place in th New Testament tells us, “Train yourself in godliness.” (First Timothy 4:7)
And the final question is this: Why should I do this? Why should I give my whole life to God and put myself under God’s discipline?
The movie, Saving Private Ryan, tells the story of a group of US soldiers during World War Two, who find and bring to safety another soldier, the youngest member of a family in which all the older brothers have been killed in battle. In the movie's final scene, Private Ryan, now an aged man stands over a grave in a military cemetery. He looks, with tears in his eyes, to his wife, standing closeby, and asks her, "Am I a good man?" She assures him that, Yes, he is a very good man.
Why was that an important question to the aged Private Ryan? Because the man over whose grave he stood was the officer, played by Tom Hanks, who had been in charge of the detail of soldiers that had found and saved him. He had lost his life saving Private Ryan. Hanks' character had once told Ryan to make his efforts worthwhile by the life he lived.
Why should we give our whole lives to Jesus Christ and discipline our lives to do that? The answer is simple: The cross. On the cross, the God-Man Jesus died to set you and me from sin and death. He gives us our new life with God. Jesus gave His life to save us for life with God forever!
We put ourselves under the discipline and direction of God not to earn salvation or a place in heaven. That same Martin Luther I mentioned a moment ago began a Reformation when he insisted on what the Bible teaches: There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation. God loves us in spite of our sins and failures. Everything depends on Jesus. He has saved us. All that you and I can do is choose between following Him or ignoring Him. God gives new life to all who follow Jesus!
We can choose to use that new life in futile frenzy or use it according to God’s purposes. In yet another place in the New Testament, we read this: “And He [Christ] died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him Who died and was raised for them.”
The God Who died for us is worth paying attention to. He might have something to teach us about how to live.
God wants our whole lives. To give them to Him will require us to be disciplined. We should be willing to give our lives and submit to Jesus’ discipline because He died for us. Over the next forty days, I hope and pray we’ll pay special attention to Jesus and so, learn to live.