Sunday 21st July 2019
Genesis Chapter 18 verses 1 – 10a
Luke Chapter 10 verses 38 – 42
I’m busy doing nothing, working the whole day through
Trying to find lots of things not to do
I’m busy going nowhere, isn’t it just a crime
I’d like to be unhappy, but!!! I never do have the time
The words from the famous musical, “Connecticut Yankee” with Bing Crosby and Judy Garland
It can become so easy for us to get wrapped up in all the things we need to do and the things that need to be accomplished that we lose sight of what the most important thing is. Isn’t it possible that we can get too wrapped up in the cares of life? Sound familiar?
This is not an excuse to be lazy, and not take responsibility for anything. That is another trap entirely. We are to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only! But what we do has to be led by the Spirit, whose voice we learn to hear by choosing the good part. There is no blessing in running our own lives based on our human understanding of what is important. Mary understood that and she needed to learn more of her Master and to seek the things that have eternal value. It’s when we do that that we can be a blessing, because then all of our works are Spirit-driven. Love causes us to listen, to learn, and to keep His commandment.
Mary and Martha were close friends with and followers of Jesus. Together with their brother Lazarus, they hosted Jesus in their home on more than one occasion. Yet, on one such visit from Jesus, they chose two very different actions, and the way that Jesus reacted to their choices is a very valuable lesson for us today. Martha was rushing around, serving and doing her best to make everything good for their beloved guest. And where was Mary when Martha needed a hand? She chose to sit at Jesus’ feet, listening as He spoke.
It’s pretty easy to imagine how that made Martha feel irritated, frustrated, resentful and I know I would have felt like that as well. Why should she be doing all the work? Wasn’t it only righteous for Mary to be helping out? In fact, Martha felt so justified in her indignation that she went and talked to Jesus about it. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me,” she said to Him.
But, instead of backing her up in her demand, Jesus rebuked her! “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
This must have felt like a slap in the face for Martha. Here she was, doing everything in her power to be hospitable and make it a perfect meal. And Mary just sat there, and what she was doing was the right thing? The wrong choice that Martha made wasn’t that she was serving and doing good. It was that in her work she had demands and criticism on Mary, rather than doing what Jesus taught her. If we are living before the face of God, we have no cause to look around at what others are doing and feel that we have a right to pass judgement on them. We live in obedience to the Spirit’s promptings in our own lives, and what others do is none of our business. We don’t know how He is leading others.
Let’s rise above all the noise and pursuits of this world and seek those things which have eternal value. Like Mary, let’s find that fellowship with the Master and with those who follow Him so that we can learn of Him and become like Him. Through the Word of God, fellowship, and prayer we become rich in our spirit, and God will give us everything we need in abundance.
To use a trendy, contemporary expression, Martha is not “fully in touch with herself.” Jesus says twice, “Martha, Martha.” Mary, on the other hand, sufficiently integrates all the activities of life. Mary listens to Jesus in order to develop the single-mindedness necessary to achieve this integration.
Without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in the problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief. Born of desperation, it often contains enough fundamental inaccuracy to guarantee an equally perplexing problem will emerge as soon as it is put into place. In the soil of the quick fix is the seed of a new problem, because our quiet wisdom is unavailable.”
Scholars Muller and Heuertz both insist that we need to regularly stop, rest, delight and contemplate – essentially that self-care must precede any kind of usefulness. Does our life reflect this truth? Can we just sit quietly?
The search for distractions can be a reaction to anxiety or an emotional disconnection from ourselves. It’s the sense that we always need to be doing something and Martha had this!
In Acts 22:3, St. Paul describes himself as having received his education in the Law “at the feet of Gamaliel.” Mary has the posture of a listening disciple - it reveals her zealous readiness to learn. Back then, Jewish religious teachers did not accept women as disciples, but Jesus does. Mary was listening to the Word of God. Those who hear it and act on it become his new family.
The gentleness of Mary is the opposite of wilfulness of her sister Martha. The love of God is the source and end of all human endeavour.
The one thing that is needed in this culture of hectic schedules and the relentless pursuit of productivity, we are tempted to measure our worth by how busy we are, by how much we accomplish, or by how well we meet the expectations of others. Many of us here today likely identify with Martha. Feeling pulled in different directions, feeling worried and distracted by many things -- these seem to be common threads of life in our fast-paced world. And yet, as Jesus says in Luke 12: 25, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" We know that worrying does no good, and that much of what we worry about is not so important in the larger scheme of things, and yet we cannot seem to quell our anxious thoughts and frantic activity.
It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from the noblest of intentions. We want to provide for our families, we want to give our children every opportunity to enrich their lives, we want to serve our neighbours, and yes, we want to serve God. Indeed, where would the church be without its “Martha’s,” those faithful folk who perform the tasks of hospitality and service so vital to making our church a welcoming and well-functioning community?
And yet if all our activities leave us with no time to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, we are likely to end up anxious and troubled. We are likely to end up with a kind of service that is devoid of love and joy and is resentful of others.
Both listening and doing, receiving God’s Word and serving others, are vital to the Christian life, just as inhaling and exhaling are to breathing. Yet how often do we forget to breathe in deeply? Trying to serve without being nourished by God’s word is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted.
Luke’s story is left suspended. We do not know what happened next -- whether Mary and Martha were reconciled, whether they were all able to enjoy the meal that Martha had prepared, whether Martha was finally able to sit and give her full attention to Jesus.
We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service. There is need of only one thing: attention to our guest. As it turns out, our guest is also our host, with abundant gifts to give.
And we need to get our priorities right and the highest priority in our lives needs to be choosing the good part, as Mary did: to learn of Jesus so that we can become like Him. It’s love and devotion to Him that makes everything else of secondary importance. It is to seek the riches of wisdom and understanding that are in Him. If we don’t do this, how can we follow Him, how can we be His disciples? A disciple is another word for a follower of Christ, one who is learning to be like his Master. As a disciple we follow Jesus Christ, who is the Master and by living like Him we become more like Him and we can learn the lessons from the Master.