Sixth Weekend after Pentecost
July 21, 2019 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Luke 10:38-42
My grandmother--this Norwegian woman--loved butter. This isn't part of the sermon. She would (she stopped doing it by the time I would have remembered) but I was told that she would spread it on her pizza. To each their own, I guess. Well, you know, it's shaping up to be a pretty nice day, and it's the Mary and Martha story. So we don't need to talk about it too much, I suppose. What are we supposed to be like? Raise your hand. We're supposed to be like Mary right? Not too many hands up. Are we supposed to be like Martha?
Not too many hands there either. OK.
I guess it does. I guess it does warrant some conversation. It's an interesting passage and I've always kind of had a problem with it because oftentimes it sends that message. Jesus says to Mary--or says to Martha that Mary's chosen the better part and won't be taken away from her. And Martha, you silly fool.
Right. You're so distracted with your many tasks. You should be like Mary. We should all be like Mary. Mary is the right one.
I always feel like Martha gets a bad rap in that. We go back to the Genesis story, you can see this idea of hospitality being very important and Abraham's just sitting there and he sees three men that just show up, strangers. He doesn't know who they are.
He says to them. Come on in. Wash your feet. Get some good bread. We'll cook up the good lamb. Hospitality was huge. Hospitality was key. And it's an honor-shamed society if you were not hospitable, it was to your own shame as you were disgracing your guest, no matter who they might be.
And so here is Martha hurriedly trying to prepare meals and clean the house and all of that for the sake of Jesus. And Mary is just sitting there at his feet doing none of that, showing no hospitality at all by not preparing anything, or cleaning, or doing any of that sort of thing.
It's a confusing passage. And it makes it sound like you and I should just--I don't know--maybe we should just be Mary, right? That actually sounds easy. Let's just focus on Jesus. Let's all be monks and nuns and we can go and be cloistered off from reality.
Who wants to do that? Anymore that's starts sounding better and better! The world we live in... plus, the monks make some great beer. But I tell you, it's not what this passage is talking about. I don't think Jesus is saying Mary chose the better part, therefore, we should all be like Mary all the time.
I think Martha can be validated in her attempt to show hospitality. Martha realizes just as much as Mary does, that Jesus, the living Christ, is there in their midst. It's not like Martha doesn't know that.
That's why Martha is distracted by these many tasks, is to do it, to HONOR Christ, and to make sure that Christ feels the hospitality of the home. But the danger in being Martha--the danger in being Martha--is that you do get distracted by the many tasks. And I don't think this is a text just about being busy. And it has everything to do with this scene right here. Jesus in their midst.
Martha trying to do her best to show hospitality, to do the right thing, to honor and please God. And yet she is doing it to the neglect of the son of God sitting right in her living room. I think we do that, too. It's a very easy trap to fall into the Martha way.
Because it's not an "either-or," you can be Mary and Martha. But if you end up being one exclusively over the other, you lose the concept of both. I see out there in our society--our increasingly divided and bitter society--a growing number of Christians that are absolutely convicted by Christ. That how they believe on a particular controversial issue is right. At the same time, statistically, it's showing that reading scripture, prayer, coming to worship is on a steep decline.
I'm going to be very careful with my words here because I want everyone to know that we are all affected by this. So whatever pops in your head, that's probably what I'm talking about, and the good news is there's lots of you out there and there's lots of different things that have popped in your head by now. The world's a mess. We know that. God knows that. It's been a mess for long before we've been here. And the danger in being a Martha and busying yourself and working to try to please God by doing the righteous thing--if you end up hating the people opposed to you--is you are working on behalf of God, to the neglect of God.
We are founded on sacrificial love. That is what Jesus is for you and me. Paul says, we claim to know nothing but Christ crucified for the sake of the world. And if that is the starting point, if Christ is the starting point, if we choose the better part, we can look at the world through God's eyes. Who so loved the world that he gave his only son, right? And we can work for the betterment of all. And do it, in love.
We can be Martha and do the work that needs to be done. We can be Mary and keep our focus on Christ. And we can mend a bitter, divided society in love. These are complicated issues out there. There are hurting people out there. Our foundation needs to be Christ for the sake of all.
The same Christ who is with you, always in you, had baptism. You receive the Holy Spirit connecting you to Christ forever. We strengthen ourselves in this meal for this work that we are called to. And it is not easy because it is so easy to slip into work for the sake of work. It is so easy to think we are doing the right thing, and yet somehow doing it the wrong way.
But the beauty of it is we do have Christ. We do have Christ, and like Mary, when Jesus says she's chosen the best part, it will never be taken away from her. Christ will never be taken away from us, too--so we can work in the world and love those who hate us--because of that very truth.
And maybe we didn't need this discussion. Maybe you already knew that. Except for the ones who raised your hands earlier. We don't need to be Mary or Martha. We are both living in this world doing the work which God has prepared for us to do. Keeping our focus on Christ until that one day when the better part is the only part we have, because we will be forever with Jesus. Amen.