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Good morning! It is a real joy and privilege to be back with my St Peter’s family today.
The new testament reading from 1 Corinthians says: “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”
Today we are going to explore just one of the many things that can keep us from experiencing all of what God has prepared for us. EMOTIONS….
We will use 2 very well-known stories about 2 sets of siblings to illustrate how emotions can get in the way…
The first story is set in the dusty village of Bethany not far from Jerusalem.
Once upon a time there were two sisters Mary and Martha. They lived with their brother Lazarus. The siblings knew Jesus well and he felt comfortable and welcome in their home.
One day Jesus arrived in Bethany. It was hot and dry, and Jesus and his companions were dusty and hungry from walking. Being a small place, news of the visitors spread quickly, and Martha rushed out to welcome the weary travellers into their home for a meal.
Mary led the guests into the courtyard and sat at Jesus’ feet, drinking in his every word as he continued teaching the group.
Martha immediately set about preparing food for the guests. Hmmm, A platter with cheeses and olives would be lovely. A lentil stew with fresh coriander would go far, and some lovely hot bread to go with it. She began preparing the bread, soaking the lentils.
It started to get hot in the kitchen and as the sound of conversation and laughter reached her ears, she began to feel more and more irate.
Eventually she couldn’t stand it anymore and bursting out into the courtyard she said
““Lord, is it of no concern to You that my sister has left me to do the serving alone? Tell her to help me and do her part.”
An awkward silence ensued. Jesus looked Martha in the eyes, smiled and said,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Tears stung Martha’s eyes. It just wasn’t fair…
A while later, Jesus told a story… Once upon a time there were two brothers. Years before the younger brother, in a self-centred and rebellious whirlwind, had taken his share of the inheritance and disappeared. The older brother had worked hard and endured the sadness in his father’s eyes, the hurt etched into the lines on his face. Things had been harder on the farm too with the famine and reduced funds. It made the older brother furious. He had grown tired of listening to his parent’s worried prayers, the wondering, the hoping, the longing for a message or a visit that he knew would never come. Finally, things were starting to become more peaceful. It was just him and his father now, they weren’t exactly close, but they worked well together. Once the older brother had heard talk of a wealthy young man living wildly and partying with prostitutes. It sounded like his brother, but he couldn’t be sure. The stories made him more resolved than ever to work hard and restore the family to what it had been. One evening the older brother was walking through the fields back to the house when he saw the flickering of lights in the windows and caught the unmistakeable aroma of meat in the air. His heart started to pound as he walked quickly closer – he could see dancing and hear the music pouring out into the night. He called a servant over. “What is going on?”, he asked. When he found out that his brother had returned in rags and that the party was in his honour, his anger burned and suppressing the urge to yell out in disgust, he turned and walked back the way he had come. He knew his father was following him and without turning around he said, “Look! all these many years I have been slaving for you, and I never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, who has squandered your living with prostitutes, comes home you killed the fattened calf for him.” The father pleaded and pleaded with his son to come in and join the family celebration. But the son would not budge. In the end, with tears in his eyes, the father said quietly
“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” There was nothing else to say. The older son felt cheated. He felt ignored and unnoticed. He was angry. Bitter. It wasn’t fair… While the first story is simply an account of an event in Mary and Martha’s home, we know the second story to be a parable intended to paint a picture of our relationship with God the father, through the story of the relationship of the brothers with their father. In both these stories events happen – insignificant in the one and major in the other – that cause unchecked emotions to take over and potentially derail an intimate relationship with God. Martha was irritated that she was left preparing and serving all on her own…It was a shallow and petty frustration. No one is helping, all I do is cook and clean and provide and all they do is take. It’s not fair…. But we know how those shallow and petty emotions can snowball and next thing resentment has taken root and become more and more deeply ingrained. And the older brother. What had made him so hard of heart? Was it pride in his place on the farm, pride in the work that he had been doing? Had he been so hurt and angry with his brother that he had allowed his feelings to stew and simmer until they consumed him? I can imagine that the older brother probably felt justified in his anger and judgement. Furthermore….Both these siblings had tried so hard to do what was right – working the farm, providing the food. And yet they are the ones that are rebuked. Martha and the older brother wanted to be noticed for the good things they were doing. They wanted praise and acknowledgement for their hard work and faithfulness. And on the surface they would both have looked like the model son, the faithful friend and hostess.
But, and here’s the important bit, it wasn’t about the things that they were doing… It was about the state of their hearts. Both the petty and the difficult emotions can cause our hearts to become, proud, stubborn, hardened. The Message translation talks about a heart with “thick calluses” that God needs to cut away! It was these thick calluses, the hardness of the emotions that Martha and the older brother were holding – that was the issue. So how does God respond to these emotions that are getting in the way of relationship with him? Well – Hear the tenderness in Jesus’ voice as he tries to soothe the stubborn and angry sister: “Martha, Martha….” He says … Hear the tenderness in the father’s voice as he tries to reach out to the furious older brother – “My son…” he says…. God reaches out to each with gentleness, familiarity…. But can they hear? And in both stories the tender call is followed by a gentle but firm rebuke: 31 “‘My son,’ the father says, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15) 41 “Martha, Martha,” Jesus says, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10) The father shows how he wanted to celebrate the wild and reckless younger son’s return because he was delighted that he had returned. Jesus gently tells Martha that he is thrilled that Mary is simply sitting and listening to him. Martha and the older brother… Did they hear their names being called? Did they hear the rebuke? Did they respond? What emotions held them back from responding? Stubbornness? Hurt? Unforgiveness? Frustration? Pride? Anger? What emotions are we holding that might be keeping us from hearing the tender voice of God calling to us?
I want to acknowledge at this point that in all of us there can be deep emotions that are not to be trivialised. Hurts that are not to be minimised. I encourage you to notice these emotions. Talk to God about them. God is tender and gentle and he desires all of us to be healed and whole. To be able to hear his voice. And where the emotions are too big, please don’t try and deal with them on your own. But what about the shallower emotions? The ones that cause hardness of heart… frustration, envy, jealousy, racism, bitterness, insecurity…. the list is endless. What emotions are we holding onto that blind us to the most important thing – that we are all sons and daughters of God, loved and saved by grace. This reminds me of another son. Another son sharing his inheritance with countless adopted wayward brothers and sisters that most of the time don’t even realise exactly what the inheritance that they are sharing in is worth. That son is, of course, Jesus. Think about his life for a moment…Jesus could have allowed that little bit of resentment in when he was called, yet again, to heal someone, or teach in the hot sun or when he thought about the carpentry business that he had left to become a wandering teacher… He could have wallowed in self-pity when he was left praying all by himself – yet again. He could have allowed pride to take root when he did not get the recognition he felt he deserved – he was not crowned as an earthly king, and he was not recognised as messiah by the religious institution of the time. He could have raged at the injustice of being unfairly sentenced to death… But he didn’t. Instead he shared with us unconditional love, grace, mercy and peace which passes all understanding. I love that the father knows the older son and Jesus knows Martha so well as to rebuke them and say effectively – come on, let it go. Enough with the stubbornness and the hardness of heart.
I love that God knows us so well and says the same to all of us – enough with the stubbornness and the hardness of heart. Let it all go. Trust me for justice. Trust me for grace and mercy and forgiveness. You have no idea what I have prepared for you! We don’t know how either Martha or the older son responded – the bible doesn’t tell us. But imagine if Martha had noticed the resentment and anger building in her and instead of allowing it to fester she had simply asked for some others to help her and had sat down in quietness next to her sister Mary? What if the older son had heard the commotion of the party and had joined in the father’s joy at the return of the wayward brother. Imagine the healing that could have flowed if the three of them had embraced in love, laughter and mingling tears. And imagine what could happen if we would entrust the hard parts of our hearts, the calloused parts, to God. Imagine what God could do! “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. Maybe today God has highlighted an emotion in your heart that is holding you back from entering fully into your relationship with him. Perhaps you have felt God’s unmistakeable rebuke. I invite you today to offer these things into God’s tender care and listen out for him tenderly calling your name. Amen.