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Pentecost 6C Sermon
Luke 10: 38-42
21, 2019


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Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.’ 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Are you a Martha or a Mary? A lot of people try to qualify which one of these two sisters they are more like … the one who takes the bull by the horns, gets down to business with the task at hand, or the one who would rather sit, read, listen to an inspirational podcast and reflect on life. You have to admit, for most people the dial leans toward one or the other. I have visited with friends or family members and one or more of them are doing so much busy work that they can’t even sit down for 15 minutes to catch up. I have also felt like Martha, wondering if that perfectly able-bodied person is ever going to lend a hand. It can be frustrating to both sides of the Mary and Martha coin.

Of course, there is more of that going on in this story here. Coming right on the heels of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan – where all social norms of the day are turned upside down, and a Samaritan acts in love toward one in need – we are inclined to side with Martha in this scene as well. She is following social expectations for women in her day – their place really was working in the house to provide hospitality to people like Jesus. They are supposed to keep some distance from men like him – women would not have been students of rabbis, and yet she is assuming the posture of the follower of a rabbi. She is wrong, according to the cultural expectations of the world of Jesus’ day. Martha should be commended, not Mary.

Jesus doesn’t quite live in the black and white, right and wrong rules that culture sets up. Rather, Jesus dwells in the family in which God creates all of us. These two were and always would be sisters who loved and cared for each other. Their love for Jesus was just as evident as their love for each other and for their brother, Lazarus, and each of them was expressing that love in the ways that each could – Martha by serving Jesus and Mary by sitting at his feet, listening to him. So why does it appear that Martha is chastised while Mary is praised?

While it does appear that Martha herself is being chastised by Jesus, if we read closer it seems that her attitude toward Mary is really what is being criticized. Jesus says, “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.” In other words, “Martha, your work is blessed, but your worry is not. Don’t criticize Mary for recognizing that there is some urgency in sitting at my feet. She knows that while you have me here, you should make the best of it.” Indeed, while we have the presence of Jesus, there is urgency to spend time in that presence. Those who have the gifts of serving others in love are also called to carry out that service without complaint.

This has always been the frustration that I have experienced as a pastor. Corporate worship is that place where Jesus’ presence is promised most fully – in the Word that we hear, and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion that we share. I know that we can get busy and distracted by our many tasks, and it seems that Sunday morning is the only time to sleep in, do something fun, or get that project done around the house. But the better thing, according to Jesus, is to dwell in His presence. Often church councils believe that we cannot afford to take the time to begin meetings with scripture, discussion and prayer, while the reality is that we cannot afford not to when the mission of Jesus’ church is so important, and we have an opportunity to dwell with our Christian brothers and sisters in God’s word. It all begins with experiencing Jesus presence; then we can get to the business of loving and serving in his name.

I do think that all of us have gifts for both dwelling with Jesus and serving him. We all have some Mary and some Martha in us, even though one sister may present herself more often than the other. I guess the challenge is to discern when it is urgent to be one or the other – is it urgent to forget where we are going and help the man beaten and left for dead on the road? Is it more urgent to put aside tasks to nurture Christian relationships with others? Is it urgent to reflect with devotionals? Is it urgent to get right down to business and reach out in love to our suffering neighbor?

A couple of weeks ago we were on our annual family vacation. 18 members of my wife’s family between the ages of 3 and 75 living under the same roof for five days. It was mostly fun, if not a little challenging. Every year my brother in law and I sort of see it as our tasks to take charge of most of the meals, mostly on the grill. While we are not trained chefs, her has worked in a restaurant and we both know our ways around a kitchen. We both see this as a somewhat “urgent” task during these vacations, partly because it is a task to feed that many people with those varied ages and tastes in food … but mostly because there are those in the group who would like to cook … and yet, they don’t really understand how to make really tasty food. For instance, the first day we were not there early enough to prepare the dinner, so our very generous and gracious hosts made a whole turkey in the oven. Sounded great to me until I thought of who was preparing it and I realized that this bird was simply going to be put into a roaster pan and cooked at 350 until the sensor popped. There was no seasonings, not extra fats like butter or olive oil … no lemon under the skin, no rosemary or sage, no basting, nothing. When I asked if they didn’t even use salt and pepper I was told, “People can put that on at the table if they want.” I shook my head, put some rather dry turkey on a couple of pieces of bread and slathered as much mayo on it as I could!!

Maybe Martha was in the kitchen because she had those gifts and Mary knew that whatever came out of Martha’s kitchen was going to be delicious and delightful. Maybe Mary knew that she was breaking with the traditions of the day, but that leaving this discipleship in the hands of the men like Peter, James and John was something that would leave Jesus’ mission lacking. Using our gifts as we are able and willing, that seems to be the test for the urgency of our Christian discipleship. We are called to lives of balance, especially when it comes to things like worship/devotion/reflection and deeds/actions/serving. May we always seek the better part for our own personal discipleship, and may we not be worried when we see others seeking their better part. In it all, we dwell in the promise from Jesus that it will not be taken away from us! May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.