Posts Tagged ‘Mary and Martha’

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:

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.

Mary Moments

Attached is the sermon in written form and the link below is for the sound file.

As usual…disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause…I gotta remember to do that stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you (pause)…Oh sorry…I got distracted for a second there…Let me start over…Grace and Peace to you from God…wait, what was I just thinking…oh never mind…Sorry about that…I kept getting distracted…a lot of stuff to keep track of…

You know, things are certainly out of the ordinary today. I mean, for starters its Saturday evening and here we are, gathered for worship. Anyone else thinking about RAGBRAI tomorrow? Hopefully all the pieces come together. It’s gonna be busy though…
Water bottles…I’ve seen some of those…serving breakfast…yah, that’s right. Carol Bertelson’s in charge…hopefully she’s got everything in line…I wonder if she needs any more help…oh wait…sorry I got distracted again…what was I talking about? Oh worship…right…Let’s see, I need to think about the children’s sermon…oh hold on, no…I already did that…check, I can mark that off my list…but communion isn’t done yet…are the elements in place? I think so…I hope so…otherwise that’ll be awkward…oh and the offering plates…let me see…yah, they are there on the alter where they are supposed to be…check…got that covered too. (pause)

Okay…opening illustration over. How about we try this again.  People of God, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well that was an interesting way to start things out wasn’t it? I guess I was having a bit of a Martha moment wasn’t I? I’m sure we’ve all had those times haven’t we? Those times when there’s just too much on our plate or too many irons in the fire. Be honest…who can relate? Think about those times when you’re the host, or you’re in charge and all the important aspects of the day are falling on your shoulders. Sound familiar? (pause) I imagine so.

That is the dilemma that faces Martha in today’s scripture lesson. She’s the hostess…the head of the household…and today…she is hosting a very important guest. Jesus himself…the LORD himself has come to town…and Martha has welcomed Jesus and his entire entourage into her home. Think about it…that’s got to be crazy…

Social decorum dictates that she put on a good spread. The people have got to be hungry…they’ve been traveling…walking through the countryside in the hot sun…I bet they’re thirsty too. And of course, dinner time entertainment is in order as well.

Martha is struggling to impress. She’s thinking about the many activities of service that are required of her now that she has a house full of guests. A multi-course meal…fetching water from the well to refresh the travelers…and so on and so forth…and don’t forget that this is Jesus at the head of the table…as Martha runs around from task to task…duty to duty…service to service…

She must be thinking…Man I could really use some help here…a whole slug of people sitting in the dining room…listening to Jesus speak…I sure would like to join in…but I’m too busy…some help would really be nice…Hey, where’s Mary at? She’s my younger sister. I might be the host, but she’s should really be pitching in and helping out…Where is she at? (pause) What, she’s sitting in there with the men…sitting at Jesus feet like she’s his student? Women don’t do that…she needs to be helping me out. She knows better than that…but that’s just like Mary…always ignoring her duties…I swear she’s been like that her whole life…always spacing off expectations whenever someone comes to visit.

And so Martha…goes straight to source…Jesus…don’t you care that I’m working my tail off here and Mary’s just sitting there listing to you…crack the whip on her will you…I’d love to just sit there with you too…but there’s too much to do and she’s letting me do it all…IT’S NOT FAIR JESUS!!! (pause) It’s not fair.

Anyone ever heard that phrase before? It’s not fair? I bet if you have kids you’ve heard it. And let’s be honest…We’ve all thought it or said it ourselves…probably many times haven’t we.  It’s amazing how the notion of justice becomes so apparent when we are the ones that feel like we’re getting the short end of the stick…and our attention centers right in on that doesn’t it?

It’s not fair…all my friends get to stay out past 11…why do I have to be home? (pause)  It’s not fair…why can’t I have that toy, all my friends have it. (pause)  It’s not fair…I’ve been working my tail off, why did he get the promotion over me? (pause)  It’s not fair…last year we had a drought that killed the crops and now this year we’re getting drowned out by all the rain?  WHY ME?  WHY THIS?

Just like Martha in today’s story…I think we all tend to get a little self-centered at times don’t we? As Martha looks at her sister, sitting at Jesus feet, she seems to have a bit of a “grass is always greener” moment…and we all have those tendencies…and perhaps the tendency that we all share in the most, even more than the “It’s not fair” attitude, is the ability to get caught up in the crazy, day to day grind.

Think about your calendar for a moment. We’re ruled by it aren’t we?

How many times have you gotten into the conversation with someone else and you end up in a bit of a competition about who’s busier? Who has the most meetings…or the most errands…or the most sports practices and homework?

We live in a world that is SO distracting…and it’s getting worse all the time. We live in a world where you can get your email, respond to text messages, update facebook, send a tweet, book airplane tickets, check the box score, get news updates, and see the weather forecast all right here on our phones…oh yah…not to mention get the occasional phone call right?

Our brains are going a mile a minute and how much focus to we actually give to anything? That is the error that Martha suffers in today’s story…and we share it. All too often we jump from distraction to distraction…never really giving anything our full attention…and everything suffers because of it.  Those are the Martha moments that we all experience…and Jesus points it out to her…and I think in doing so…he’s also pointing it out to us.

Martha…MARTHA…and you can probably insert your name right there…you are worried and distracted by many things…but only one thing is needed…We get so busy skipping from thought to thought…activity to activity that nothing is really being done well. This happens in our lives…it happens in our interactions with each other…and if we stop and think about it…all too often it happens in our ministry.

In today’s story, there are two types of ministry…or service happening. Hospitality on the part of Martha…and attention to the guest on the part of Mary.  One of the sister’s keep’s her focus on the ministry at hand…but the other is trying to do too much…but keep in mind, that Jesus doesn’t condemn Martha for everything she’s trying to do. He never says that the many services she’s doing are bad…quite the opposite…he only says that she’s trying to do too many of them at one time…and she needs to slow down and focus on one thing.  Martha, you are distracted and worried about many things…but only one thing is needed.

People of God…I pose this question to you…what is the one thing that is needed in your ministry…in your service?  The apostle Paul tells us that there is one body with many members. Each member has a specific function…and that applies to us?  Are you trying to do so much in your day to day life that you are missing out on the opportunity to really pay attention to the person that is standing right in front of you? (pause)

In the end, I think that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make when he says that Mary has chosen the better part…she has chosen to really focus on the guest…and yes in this case it is Jesus himself…but we are called to give our attention to the “guest” that we have crossed paths with…that is what God is telling us to do…that is what God is telling us to focus on.

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Shreeves. Most of you know Jeff. He’s our congregational president and from what I hear, he did a wonderful job of leading the church through the time of pastoral transition.  Now you may or may not know that Jeff is an insurance man…and when he meets with someone for the first time, he focuses on the individual. Through simple conversation…he gets to know them…He listens and you can tell as you sit across the table from Jeff, that in that moment…he genuinely cares…and he wants to help people…he even went so far as to tell me that he considers that work to be his ministry…and I applaud that.

We each have our own type of ministry to do. God places us in specific roles at specific times. I think of Beth Torneton and Wendy Leaders who coordinated Vacation Bible School last week. I think of Chris Privia and Joyce Tiarks who have served as Sunday school coordinators for the last 5 years.  I think of the different members of the church council and various boards that they serve…I think of the volunteers who usher, and prepare communion…I think of the junior high students that volunteer to acolyte or the high school students that served as VBS helpers…those are all important roles…but ministry isn’t limited to church. Ministry happens outside those doors…and each of you is God’s worker out there. You don’t have be a pastor…you don’t need some big fancy education…you simply need to be aware of the person standing right in front of you in your day to day life…that’s the person that God wants you to pay attention to.

But in order to accomplish this, we also need to remember the need to quiet our minds from the distractions, and finally to follow Mary’s example by sitting at the Lord’s feet. Jesus says that what Mary has chosen the part that cannot be taken away from her…and we each need to do the same. When God shares a word with us…we need to be listening…and sometimes this takes conscious effort. Sometimes we have to conscious step away from the distractions and those expectations that we place on ourselves…and choose to sit at Jesus feet. That’s the Mary moment from today’s story.

There’s a poem out there that applies pretty directly. Perhaps you’ve heard it, but I’ll share it here.

I got up one morning and rushed right into the day. I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray. Problems tumbled about me and harder came each task. Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered. He answered, “You didn’t ask.”

I wanted joy and beauty, but the day was gray and bleak, I wondered why God didn’t show me, He said, “You didn’t seek.” I tried to come into God presence; I used all my keys at the lock. God gently and lovingly said, “My child, you didn’t knock.” I woke up early this morning, and paused before starting the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.

I want to offer you a challenge today…and that’s to slow down…and take your Mary moment. If this isn’t something you normally do…try taking 5 minutes…just start there…ask God to quiet your mind and your heart from the many distractions…and then ask God to show you the guest…that he wants you to focus on.  If you already do this every day, good for you…keep it up…but ask God what else you can add…maybe it’s joining a Bible Study…maybe it’s inviting your neighbor out for coffee…God will show you what it is….so when you find yourself in the midst of a Martha moment…and there’s just too much pulling you in different directions…take 5…shut off the cell phone, put down the laptop, turn off the tv…and have a Mary Moment at Jesus feet. Amen