Quit Working So Hard 7-17-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, two sisters who represent both sides of the coin in our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/quit-working-so-hard-7-17-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

We moved from the Okoboji area up to the Twin Cities during the last couple of days of 2010…and so by the time of the Super Bowl in 2011, we’d only been living there for a month or so. For the most part, we didn’t know a whole lot of people up that way yet…with about our only built in community consisting of a couple of my wife’s cousins…and my uncle and his three kids.

As it turned out, my uncle invited us over to his house to watch the big game…and since we didn’t have any other plans, that’s what we figured on and so…on game day, late afternoon, we headed on over…now just a touch of back story…my uncle had recently been widowed, so hosting duties fell squarely on his shoulders that day…and let me tell you…he did not disappoint.

We walked in to find a spread of all sorts of different game time food including a bunch of different appetizers as well as some pretty darn good chili…not to mention the house was spotless…he had been busy.

But I still remember when we sat down, just in time for kickoff, my uncle let out a big old sigh and said “Wow…all this cooking and cleaning to get ready by myself…it’s a lot of work.” And I’m sure it was…it reminds me of the gradual change that we’ve undergone in recent years when we find ourselves preparing for guests coming over…particularly when the guests are family.

Gone are the days of making sure that the house is utterly spotless…because when we stop and think about it…all those extra people are going to get it messy…and then you promptly have to pick it all up again…and because of this, my wife and I have adopted a slightly different approach…bathroom and floors…namely we do clean the bathrooms and we run a broom across the floor…but that’s it…the major cleaning will happen after everyone else is gone.

Now I bring this up, because our gospel story features the same sort of deal…just like my uncle going all out to prepare for his role as host…with all sorts of food and a spotless house…just for us to sit and watch a football game mind you…today we hear that Jesus enters a village and is welcomed into the home of Martha…who turns into a major busy-body…all while her sister takes a load off, sitting at Jesus feet as he talks.

I can only imagine that Martha takes the same sort of approach…strapping on her apron and cooking up a storm…grabbing a broom…dusting spray, window cleaner…toilet bowl cleaner…washing the rugs, pulling out new bedding in the guest room…etc…etc…etc.

Okay, so maybe I went overboard there…but as we hear in the story…I’m not the only one…because Martha quite literally, goes overboard as well…and even though we don’t know exactly what’s she’s doing…we know she’s busy…so busy in fact that she was worried and stressed and completely absorbed in so many different things all at once, that she likely wasn’t accomplishing any of them overly well.

But you know what…I don’t really blame her…because she was in the mode of making sure absolutely everything got done that was expected…even if it was really needed. (pause) I think a lot of us have that tendency don’t we…the tendency to go overboard, trying to check everything off the list so that we can finally sit down and relax…all the while our guests…probably would rather that we just sit down and relax in the first place.

But that’s not what happens is it? (pause) Jesus has entered the house and is sitting there engaging with whoever else is there…and Martha keeps jumping from task to task…all the while getting more and more irritated because someone else is there who isn’t doing what’s expected of them…Mary…get off your keister and come help me.
But Mary ignores her…instead paying attention to the Lord…listening to his words…and Martha gets more and more irritated…and I don’t blame her…been there done that…who among us hasn’t had a time when they were doing task after task, and someone else just sits there…refusing to pitch in and do their share…doesn’t that drive you nuts when that happens? Doesn’t matter who it is…a coworker…a buddy…your kids…your spouse…they sit there, either intentionally ignoring you…or possibly just oblivious to the fact that you could use a hand.

No wonder Martha eventually got angry enough that she snarked off at Jesus…LORD…DON’T YOU CARE THAT MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK…TELL HER TO HELP ME!!!! (pause)
Now I have to admit…Jesus reaction in this story…it catches me just a little off guard…but maybe it shouldn’t…because he’s calling it like it is…Martha…Martha…you are worried and distracted by many things…there is need for only one…Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (pause)

The reaction of Jesus gives me pause…mainly because of what we have just hear from him. Directly before this passage, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan…offering the lesson that as followers of Christ…we are called to be servants…to meet the needs of those that we encounter…Jesus himself tells us that he has come among us as a servant and instructed us to do likewise….so when Martha is so passionately trying to meet the needs of her guests…why is it that Jesus gives her this gentle rebuke? (pause)
All too often when we hear this passage…I fear that it’s a common reaction that we demonize Martha…that we paint her with a portrait of the tyrant older sister…the strict one who cares more about appearances and rules and expectations than she does about anything else…and at the same time, we think of Mary as having it all together…being the image of the perfect Christ follower…and when we do that…we are doing a disservice to Martha.

In truth, I think that Mary and Martha represent two sides of the same coin…how do we respond to the Lord…or perhaps a way for us to think about it today, is how do we respond to one who brings the good news…because isn’t that what Jesus must have been sharing as he sat there in Martha’s house? Isn’t that what Mary must have been listening to? (pause)
Now think back to some of the different gospel texts we’ve heard recently…the Good Samaritan and serving our neighbors that I’ve already mentioned…and the mission of the 70, when Jesus sends his followers out to proclaim the good news…and doing so at the mercy of others…utterly dependent upon the hospitality of those that they are proclaiming the good news to.

And so we realize that at times, we are called to serve…and at other times we’re called to listen to the voice of the Lord…both are needed…both are important…and I really realized this as I worked with the original language of this text…and we hear that Martha was so worried and distracted by her many tasks…but the word for that is the same word that we apply to the notion of service or ministry…Martha was distracted by her many ministries…and Jesus tells her…you are doing many things…only one is needed.

Now at first, when I thought about that…picturing Martha cooking a 5 course meal while trying to sweep and dust and wash windows all at the same time…it occurred to me that all Jesus probably needed was for her to pick up a spare cloak off the chair so he could sit down…and maybe she could make him a sandwich…and then come sit down too so they could actually share the time together….but she was so wrapped up in her many acts of service…her many ministries that she wasn’t actually accomplishing any of them…and she was ignoring the voice of the one who simply desired to spend time with her.

I wonder if we do the same…if we get so wrapped up in so many different things that we aren’t doing any of them well…and I wonder if this is the case in the church…we do a lot here at Underwood…and there are a lot of other churches that do a lot as well…and the greater church…we have so many ministries going on at any given time, I wonder if we are actually accomplishing that which is needed…which is often quite simple…Preach the gospel, share the sacraments, and announce the forgiveness of sins…that’s what the church is called to do…and in the mean time, we’re called to sit at the feet of our Lord…time well spent…time that shapes us…that helps us grow…a time that we could call Sabbath.

Now just what this looks like is different from person to person, and even from time to time…There is no rule book for Sabbath…God just tells us to keep it Holy…to realize that Sabbath is a way and a time that we encounter the Lord…perhaps its time spent in the word…or maybe its time we spend gathered in community here in worship…or maybe its time spent praying…or maybe, just maybe, its like when you’re sitting around with your buddied with no agenda…and someone says “What do you want to do?” And someone else says “I dunno…what do you want to do?” And so you just sit there drinking coffee and having a conversation about nothing…and then at some point you realize that this is some of the most relaxing wonderful time that you’ve ever spent together. (pause)

I think that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make today…when he gently calls Martha’s name twice…because maybe the first time she didn’t hear him…and he needed to call her again….Martha…calm down…you don’t have to do all that…all I need is a sandwich and place to sit down…and then we can spend time together.

Now granted…we don’t know just what happens…because the story cuts off here and Luke takes the narrative in a different direction…but I’d like to think that once Jesus finally gets Martha’s attention…that she stops…and she takes off her apron…and she puts down her broom…and she pulls up a chair beside her sister…content simply to spend time with the one who is willing to call her by name…just as he is willing to call each of us by name.

May we remember to slow down…and to stop trying to do everything…when only one thing is needed…you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts for the kingdom…and that is wonderful…and yes we are called to use them…but sometimes simply doing that one thing is enough…so that we still have time to listen the voice of the one who calls our name…and we can simply be content to ask the Lord “So what do you want to do?” and maybe in that instance, the Lord will simply reply “I dunno…what do you want to do?” (take a drink of coffee) Maybe we should just do this for awhile.   Amen.

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