A Tale of Two Sisters
This message was delivered to Bethel UMC – Seymour on Sunday, July 21, 2019, 6th Sunday after Pentecost. Lectionary readings were Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42.
Reading of the word (Luke 10:38-42)
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.
When we’ve heard this story in the past, the tendency has been to limit the work Martha is upset about to the domestic chores involved in hosting Jesus and his companions for dinner, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. She owned her own home with no mention of a husband or any other men in her life or household. That would require having the resources to maintain the home and anyone who shared it with her, and in order to have resources, she probably had some type of income such as producing something that could be sold, so she must have had some level of business acumen.
It’s also doubtful that she would have invited strangers to dinner. She didn’t hesitate to ask Jesus to admonish Mary for not helping her, and he called her by her first name, so it’s likely that she knew Jesus personally. While not one of the twelve, she could have been one of the many other disciples and the things as Jesus called them would have included her ministry, managing the source of her income, and the immediate tasks needed to show hospitality to her guests.
For those of us who are Marthas … and there are probably more Marthas here than we’d like to admit … that includes you gentlemen in the room as well … we also need to be careful not to see Mary as irresponsible or not helpful. I have a sister and when I’ve taken on a project that she had a shared interest in because it related somehow to our kids or our family, she’s always been right there by my side.
We’ve all had at least one time in our lives where, between home, work, church, and other social organizations, our to-do list was more than one page, but we’re intelligent, organized folks, so we warned our loved ones and co-workers and fellow committee members it was going to require all hands on deck and maybe even delegated jobs to certain people … only when crunch time hit, you suddenly found yourself on the deck all alone with no clue about the status of those all critical parts you delegated out?
I can relate to Martha’s frustration. That’s how the world works right now. It’s totally a “Martha” world out there. Productivity, getting things done, being on the move and available 24/7, the “never sleeps” economy— this is how you “get ahead in the world,” right?
Throw in “expectations” like traditional roles of men and women, feeling obligated because of relationships or a sense of duty, those activities and events you’ve committed to going on longer than they’re supposed to causing your whole schedule to go out the window, and the frustration level goes right off the charts. Before you know it, you’re mad at the world and telling it so.
So, show of hands, how many Marthas are here this morning? Do we have any Marys here this morning? Are you sure?
When you came here this morning, what were you thinking about? Were you focused on God or on whether you remembered to turn the crockpot on, the coffee pot off, and lock the door on your way out? As you came in and sat down, were you thinking about what the Spirit might deliver this morning or were you making a mental list of all the things you need to do on the way home so you can do all those other things you’re thinking about once you get home?
When we recited the Lord’s prayer or sang the Doxology, did you really think about what you were saying or singing, or did the words come out instinctively with almost no thought at all?
But the Lord answered 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.”
While Martha was running around like the mother of the bride at a wedding without a wedding planner, Mary stopped whatever she’d been doing, set aside her own distractions and worries and … listened. She got down, as close as she could … right there at his feet … and listened to the message he was delivering that day.
The root of Martha’s problem Jesus tells her is not that she is busy. The verb used in the original text, thorubazein, comes from the noun, thorubos, which refers to the noise of a stirred-up crowd … Jesus is telling her she’s in an uproar. She’s overwhelmed, distracted from what matters, and lashing out at everyone else … her sister and even her guest.
Even though Martha was overwhelmed with trying to serve her guest, a basic and expected act of hospitality, she blows that hospitality, when she tries to use her guest to do what she is convinced, in her uproar, must be done, right now. And Jesus tells her the only thing needed right now is to listen as Mary had chosen to do.
This is where we tend to mess up. If we want to serve each other, our guests, our community, or anyone else, we need to listen first. Really listen. Do nothing else. Let go all other distractions. Turn off the live stream in our heads that is trying to juggle and manage all those other things, and just listen.
To love your neighbor as yourself, and to love God—both require this, first of all. Turn off the uproar. Stop. Listen.
To reach out into our community, to find out what it is we can do for our community, to be able to tell our community the Good News, we first have to listen, to really hear them. To know how to reach them, we need to pray for guidance so that we can hear them and then we need to listen for that still small voice that will lead us to do whatever it is God wants us to do for them.
And I’m going to confess to you, that’s a hard thing to do.
Even while I was writing this message about the importance of focusing and listening to God, I was thinking about whether the hymns I’d picked would reinforce the message, what I was going to try to say in the remaining two messages in this series, what series if any would follow this one, the fact that I still haven’t received the guidelines for presentation I’m scheduled to give for the upcoming Chrysalis flight, the pre-course homework I have to get done before I begin the required Course of Study, how I needed to get all my messages written, hymns chosen, various prayers and responsive readings and things done, and all the bulletins designed for between now and September 8 because I would be at the Course of Study classes the 6th and 7th, whether I could get the discovery finished in time on the cases waiting on my desk at work after missing Monday and Tuesday due to a bout with the flu, and whether I’d messed up buying the old used truck I bought to haul hay and trash and what not because I discovered driving it home that the oil gauge doesn’t work and the check engine light came on.
It’s so very hard to tune out the uproar and just focus on God long enough to write a cohesive message that actually makes a point … I totally get where Martha’s head was and I so desperately need to have more Mary moments.
We don’t know from the passages after the verses today what Martha did next, but if we were to read further, we do know what Luke reports Jesus doing next.
He prayed. (Luke 11:1).
Nowhere in this story are we told to stop working, stop producing, stop managing and do nothing but meditate on the word of God 24/7. At no time in this story are we told to give up or disengage from the duties we have toward one another or to our neighbors.
What Jesus is telling us is to not let things … work … tasks … duties … obligations … thing … overwhelm us; to focus on what matters most and to do that the first thing we have to do is listen. The only way we can love and learn to love better is to listen … to God, to our neighbors, to our guests, to all we serve and all with whom we seek to serve.
We ask God to listen to us when we pray, don’t we? It’s time to learn to listen back.
Let’s pray …
Father, we confess we let too much of the world interfere with our focus, clogging our heads and plugging our ears. Help us, Abba. Still our minds and focus our attention on your will for us and for our community. Make us good listeners. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.