Different Perspectives

Different Perspectives

Theme: Different Perspectives
Bible Reading: Luke 10:38-42
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
ONLINE – Sunday 14 June, 2020


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Bible Study / Reflection Questions on Sermon

Kids Handout for 14 June

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I am going to start with a little bit of honest sharing.  During the week I have been feeling quite mentally and emotionally drained … and I blame my sermon from a few weeks ago.  I have been trying to live out the message of the Pentecost sermon – remember that one – where we were challenged to embrace the diversity in our world and communities and genuinely try to listen to, understand, value and journey alongside those who are or think differently to me.  The problem has been that these past few weeks have presented too many opportunities around me for this to happen. 

I have been trying to listen to the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement and get an understanding of not only the situation that people of colour are facing but what we as a society can be, and should be doing to address systemic racism.  There is a whole range of opinions and experiences on this topic and it has been quite draining to try and genuinely see this important issue from all the different perspectives.

 At the same time, we have been working through what we need to do to reopen the church – and once again, there are so many different perspectives that we have to listen to, address and incorporate in our own reopening plan. 

Many of us might admit that have not been taught the tools we need to hold different perspectives together.  Society seems to have the rule if we don’t personally agree with a perspective then we can’t place any value on it, or by listening to another perspective somehow diminishes the perspective we have. 

However, if we are to truly embrace the message of our Pentecost sermon of valuing unity within diversity then we need to be equipped with the tools that will help us see, listen to, engage with and sometimes even learn from many different perspectives.

So today in this input session I wish to try two different things.  Firstly, I want to show you a couple of really cool things that will mess with your minds and show us why we need to be open to different perspectives.  And then I want to try this in practice with a piece of Scripture.  I am going to take a well known bible passage – the story of Mary and Martha – and see if opening up other perspectives might bring us greater insight or revelation.  Sound like fun?

Ok … have a look at this picture.  This is a classic picture of how perspective changes depending how you look at something. 

It is a cork casting two shadows – and depending which way you are looking at it, the shadow is either a circle or a rectangle.   Now the question is, if two people were arguing about the shape of the shadow … one arguing that it is a circle and the other a rectangle … which person is right or truthful?  They both are?  And they will only realise this if they try and see things from the other persons perspective.

Does this make sense?  It is a visual representation of the Pentecost sermon.  We don’t make all people stand in the same position so that they see the same shadow but rather we open ourselves up to seeing the shadow within the diversity of positions and the learning or insight that comes from that.

That might make sense … but check out this video. 

I remember when I first saw this video, I remember thinking that this could not possibly be true.  There was some video editing done somehow.  But it is true.

So how do we see things from a different perspective when we have no idea how that other perspective even works?  In times like this it is going to take much more effort and intention – and even cause us to be a little mentally and emotionally drained – to try and see things from a perspective that is so diverse from ours.  But sometimes that is the challenge.

Don’t stress … I will at the end of the service show another video explaining how that last video works.  But let’s jump into the bible reading for today – the well know story of Mary and Martha – and I challenge us to be open to the different perspectives.  I am going to get Barb to read this passage out – actually she is going to read it twice in two different versions – and as Barb read this out, I want you to ponder two things.

What is an obvious message / moral / lesson from the passage?  Why did Luke the writer make sure that this story was in the gospel?  If this was Family Feud – What would be the top response to “What is the passage about?”

But then I want you to look beyond the obvious and see what else is there.  What’s a question raised for you in this passage?  What is a detail you never noticed before?  What is a word or phrase that jumps out?  What is Mary thinking, Martha thinking, Jesus thinking?  Where is Lazarus?    What’s an “other” observation?

Got it?  Barb will read it out and I would like everyone (unless you really don’t want to) but I really, really encourage you to write two things in the comments:

1) What is the obvious message/moral/lesson from the passage? 

2) What is an “other” or obscure or different observation?

To help with the context.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus are good friends of Jesus.  Jesus would often stay at their home when visiting or teaching near Jerusalem.  Let’s hear what happens:

Bible Reading: Luke 10:38-42

So – the message of this Bible story is…

Don’t do housework … sit and do nothing!

Or maybe a better way to say it would be…

It is better to sit and listen to Jesus than get caught up in less important things.

Actually … the 13th Century theologian Meister Eckhart used Mary and Martha as his main point on this thesis on spiritual contemplation and distraction.   His point was that to grow spiritually requires us to spend time in “Spiritual Contemplation” – things like reflecting on Scripture or time in prayer.  But often we are distracted from this by the seemingly urgent aspects of daily life … or as Jesus put it in verse 31, “worried and upset about many things”.

So Eckhart would say … don’t be like Martha and be distracted by being the perfect host and miss the opportunity that Mary found – to sit in spiritual contemplation at the feet of Jesus. 

Interesting perspective?  I think that idea certainly relates to us … the battle between finding time and space for Spiritual contemplation and being distracted from it by other things.

Another perspective I found focused in on the statement of Jesus in verse 42 where he said, “Mary has chosen what is better”.  Is this passage less about what is right and wrong but more about priorities?  You see, culturally Martha was doing the right thing.  Martha invited Jesus into the house and was culturally required to do certain things as host such as providing bowls to wash feet and hands and preparing a meal.

She was being a servant to Jesus … and isn’t that a good thing?

I can give you a fist-full of verses in the bible where we are told to be hospitable to others – to think of others needs before our own – to wash the feet of others – to be a servant to all. [Mark 10:42-45, John 13:12-17, Col 3:23-24]

So … was Martha wrong in what she was doing?  No.  She was doing a good thing.  But so was Mary in listening and learning from Jesus.  So – how do we choose what to do when it seems both choices are good.  It comes down to what is the best thing … what should be our priority when we have 2 good choices.

Is this passage suggesting that we should prioritise time with Jesus over other good things – such as serving others.  Or maybe it is saying that to give us the strength and passion to serve others we first need to spend some time at the feet of Jesus in worship and prayer.  That’s not a bad perspective.

Another writer that I read suggested that Mary might have started with the right motives and priorities in choosing to priorities the host-ly duties but soon let her focus drift from the needs of others to the needs of herself. 

Resentment started to creep in as she began to think about all the work she was doing compared to Mary.  The writer was imagining Martha doing all these hints to Mary … like banging the pots and pans in the kitchen … quizzical looks through the door at Mary … loud coughs and she poured the drinks … finally blurting out to Jesus her frustrations.  “Jesus – don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work?”  Did you hear how she started that sentence?  “Jesus – don’t you care…”  The writer suggested that when you start accusing the Lord of Compassion of “not caring” then maybe your thinking has become distorted and you need to take a deep breath and ponder what is really going on.    

Or here is one last perspective where I turn things completely upside-down.  To give some context, I got this perspective off a postmodern feminist website and I think it has some merit.

The writer – Mark Matterson – questioned whether this biblical story is about housework or contemplation at all.  Rather using cultural understandings and the original Greek, the writer shows how we can see this passage in a new but different light which is both empowering and challenging.

Firstly he compared 39 in the NIV version and the New King James Version.   “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.”  Where did that also come from?  Most English translators for some reason leave it out … so I went back to the Greek and sure enough … the also was also there.

So both Mary and Martha sat at Jesus feet? 

Then the writer explores the phrase “at the feet of Jesus” explained that the phrase was used at the time as denoting a follower of Jesus.  Someone who was “at the feet of Jesus” was a disciple of Jesus.  So maybe another way of reading verse 39 is … Martha had a sister called Mary, who also was a disciple of Jesus and heard His word.

Are you keeping up with me?  Because then he picked up on the Greek word in verse 40 for preparations – “But Martha was distracted with all her preparations”.  The Greek word for preparation is diakonía (which is the word we get Deacon) from which means … ministry, or the ministry of the church in serving and helping people.

So if I pull all his points together, the writer Mark Matterson puts forward another English translation of this passage.

 As they were on their way, Jesus came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister called Mary, who also was a disciple of Jesus, and heard his words. But Martha was constantly torn apart concerning much ministry. She approached Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister regularly leaves me to minister alone? Tell her therefore to come home that she may give me a hand.”

Gives a whole different view on it doesn’t it.  And I’ve checked, this is a valid way of interpreting the Greek.  But here we have Martha who is like the town pastor who is struggling with the workload while her sister is doing different ministry elsewhere.  Martha wants her to come back and help her.  (It would be a little like me asking God to send the the Blairs in their mission work at LOGOS back help to TUC to help out).

Jesus says to Martha that Mary is doing a good thing and that won’t be taken away from her.

Actually the writer went on to hold this story against the passages in Acts where the early church wrestled with the importance of the ministry of the apostle’s vs the ministry of the deacons and realising that they were both important.

I find this perspective wonderfully empowering.  Martha is no longer fussing around the house but the town pastor.  A strong woman who is giving her all.  But it also empowering to the people who feel called to serve God and serve others in areas beyond the church – because that it a good thing too.

Four different perspectives today …  what was helpful to you?

  • Meister Eckhart “Spiritual Contemplation and Distraction” and how we need to make sure we find time to “sit at the feet of Jesus”
  • Or the perspective about priorities – that sometimes life is about choosing the best priority over two good choices.  Or how maybe sitting at the feet of Jesus can help us have the strength and passion to go and serve others?
  • Or the perspective about the danger of resentment – how resentment can creep in and distort our thinking and before we know it we are accusing Jesus of not caring?
  • Or that last perspective about how the passage is about the different forms that ministry can take – and how Jesus affirms that both serving within the church and serving in other ways beyond the church are both good things.

Or did God reveal to you another perspective? 

Why don’t you just for a moment and ponder this.  If there is more than one person in the room, turn to the people around you and say which perspective resonated with you?  Or comment in the comment section which perspective resonated with you.  Through which perspective did God stir something in your spirit?

I encourage you to download the study sheet with you and continue to ponder and explore this passage.  It is in the wrestling with scripture that we grow and that we discover more about God. 

And may we continue with the larger challenge of being open to the different perspectives within the diversity of people and opinions around us, and search for God’s wisdom and revelation within them.