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.” *********************************************************
One of the few sermons I remember from my childhood was one where the preacher asked the congregation, "What would you do if Jesus was coming to your house for dinner? Would you get out your best tablecloths? Would you use the good china? Would you wipe the spots off those wine glasses- maybe even polish the silver? What about food? Would you stick with the 80% ground chuck you serve twice a week or would you spring for filet mignon? Would you serve your best dessert?
Mary and Martha must have also been pondering some of the same things. Jesus (their friend) was coming to visit! Remember there were no phones, FB, cars- so visits with friends, especially for someone who travels, were few and far between. When Jesus sent word that he'll be coming, the sisters must have been thrilled. And they decided to pull out all the stops!
We don't know too much about the sisters' personalities, but one thing we do know. Martha at the very least, had the gift of hospitality. The text says it was she was the one who welcomed Jesus into their home. And clearly it was she who took charge of the preparations. No doubt she had planned the celebration for days if not weeks! What would they cook? What would the table look like?
Does anyone watch the Food Network? There are these cooking shows where they not only teach you to prepare the meal but to set the table as well- and they often have a theme going on- everything matches.
I can totally see Martha into the whole thing: "Oh Mary! I've got it! Let's do a nautical theme! Jesus loves boats! He hangs out with all those fishermen! And I can go down to the dollar store and get one of those nets to throw over the table, and we can get out those lighthouse candlesticks we never use, and I think we have some rope in the basement we can sheep shank into napkin rings... Oh Mary, this is going to be fantastic!"
Martha strikes me as one of those people who wanted everything to be perfect! This was a big part of her joy, and a way to show her love for her friend. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?
But then Jesus got there, and while the place may have looked great, the prep work wasn't quite over... and so as Martha is in the breakfast nook folding parchment paper into little origami boats to hold the oyster crackers, Mary takes a seat at the feet of Jesus. Listening, as the text says, to his words.
Now, I know in the church, we have a tendency to make this a very serious and almost sacred scene; Mary sitting demurely yet astutely at the feet of Christ; and Jesus giving Mary a personalized version of the Sermon on the Mount (or something equally prophetic!) We picture some Hollywood version of Jesus, fair haired and soft-spoken; and who talks a little bit like Joel Osteen, saying something like, "Mary, blessed are the meek, for even they can have their best life... right now..."
But today I want us to picture this scene as not quite so serious, not quite so somber- and to make Jesus a little bit more real- and a little more lively! And since we are talking about the food network why don't we picture Jesus as someone with a little bit more personality, a little more robust-someone like say, Emeril Lagasse- do you know Emeril? Someone who is big and animated- someone who likes to laugh and tell jokes!
Something we know about Jesus is that he liked to tell stories. He used stories to teach, and often used humor and even sarcasm to get his point across. And again, there was always that crowd around, so Jesus had to have some great storytelling skills in order to keep large groups of people captivated.
So instead of recounting the Sermon on the Mount to Mary, what if he was just telling her about his latest escapades? What if he was telling her the story of how he fell asleep during the storm? Or about how Peter only gave him a half hearted "thank you" when he healed his mother in law? What if he was talking about the confusion he caused between the disciples when he told them that first shall be last stuff? And since this is a dinner, what if he was talking about the feeding of the 5000 in his big Emeril style?
"Mary, ya take your 2 fish, ya take your 5 loaves, ya kick it up a notch and say a prayer- Bam! Everybody's fed!" Would it be such a bad thing if Mary and Jesus were just laughing and joking like two old friend naturally would?
But while Mary and Jesus are yucking it up in the living room, Martha, long finished with her origami has now moved on to chopping celery for the lobster dip. Has anyone ever been in the kitchen "cooking" while you are angry at someone else in the house? Most of you women know exactly what I'm talking about, but I've been married long enough to know that men are really good at this one too. You're upset with your family or your guests and you don't want to "say" anything, but you want them to know. So you continue cooking, but chopping turns to CHOPPING! Pot tops get crashed, cabinet doors get slammed! There's coughing, there is throat clearing and my favorite... the big SIGH.
You don't have to say anything, but everyone in that house knows it: Mama aint happy, and like my husband always says, "When mama ain't happy, ain't nooobody happy."
Except as Martha continues to act out, Jesus and Mary don't respond. And finally, Martha blows a fuze! She can't take it anymore! And she marches into the living room shaking a spatula and says "Hey! I'm on my own out here! What gives? Tell her to get up an help me! Mary???"
And here's where if I were writing the story I would have made Jesus say something like "Ok Mary, she's right... let's go help her." But he doesn't. Instead, as Mary turns dramatically on her heal, flips her hair and heads back to the kitchen, Jesus calls after her, "Martha! And she's so mad she doesn't even hear him, so he calls her again... "Martha!" She turns and glares at him- tears in her eyes- mascara dripping down her face..."WHAT!" she snaps.
"What are you worried about! You're distracted by many things... this is only about one thing!" And then Jesus puts a hand on Mary's shoulder and says in his Emeril voice... "Mary gets it, ok? That's all there is to it- and I'm not taking it from her..."
WOW! That's harsh isn't it?
But here's what I see in this. Martha was so busy with her eyes on what Mary was doing that she wasn't being faithful to her own calling. The interesting thing is that Martha could have been just as close to Jesus doing what she was doing as Mary was sitting at his feet. She just didn't see it.
And that happens sometimes. We know we have a call- we even have done the work to discern what that calling is. Our calling could be affirmed by the whole body- and we become really good at it. But from time to time, we look over the fence. Somehow, our neighbor's call, seems better, more spiritual, or more fun or maybe less work, than ours. And especially if we see someone enjoying their call- oh boy, that makes us mad. And we begin to chop... and it sounds like this... "Here I am doing the kitchen work again... she never helps in the kitchen... (chop chop chop)i haven't seen her on one clean up committee... (chop chop chop) Deacon board, HA!... nice gig... they just pray for people all week and then float in on a Sunday morning and sit in worship, (chop chop) don't they?... Please... that's not work! I'd like to switch calls with her for a year. (chop, chop, chop) She wouldn't last two minutes in here with Johnny D always cooking those gourmet foods and I have to clean the pots!"
And there is just as much envy and comparison in all areas of ministry... we think everyone else's call is more glamorous or "ministry like" than ours...do you recognize any of these thoughts? "I wish all I had to do was sing in the choir... I'm stuck on the executive board" or "Man, those Bible study leaders have it great studying the word all week! I'm stuck crunching numbers on finance... " or "I wish I was a worship leader instead of a trustee? Who cares that I went to Home Depot to get light bulbs!"
Do you get my drift?
These are all examples of self-focused as opposed to Realm of God-focused thinking. They are all focused on the" me"...on what I'm doing... how hard I'm working... When we focus our eyes inward- when we start thinking about self, and not about God, and not about building up the Realm of God, we become unhappy, and what's more, we can disrupt the functioning of the whole body.
If we could stop for five seconds and put our eyes back on God-reflect and even give thanks for what God has called us to do- maybe pray while we're doing it, what a difference it would make. Ignatius of Loyal calls us to be prayerful in action. The Apostle Paul says to be prayerful in all things... rejoice at all times. Folks, if you find yourself doing something and you are bitter or complaining, something else is going on... either you are focusing on the self, or... you may be doing something you are not called to do. Ahhhhhh
You know, you don't have to have every gift. Just because you might be good at finance, and good at cooking, and good at leading Bible Study, and good at singing, it doesn't mean that you should be doing all of those things. Sometimes we sign up for all kinds of stuff we aren't called to, just because someone asked us. Let me tell you, just because someone says "we need this to be done" doesn't mean that you are the one called to do it! Spreading yourself too thin does two things- 1. It causes you to burn out (and then we lose a church member) and 2. It stops someone else from using their gift.
And I already hear the argument on this one... "That's not true pastor! If I don't do it, it's not going to get done! No one else is stepping up! I have to work on 112 committees! There's no one else to do it!"
Well aren't we lucky to have you! I don't know how the church survived 175 years till you showed up to do everything!
Here is a question... Do you believe that God has given this church every gift it needs in order to do the exact ministry it's called to? God has handpicked every person who is here, and each of us bring something to contribute to this particular community. And if we believe that then there are some of us who may be doing too much, and also there are some of us who haven't yet found a place to use our gift. And whatever gift you have, it is of value to the Kingdom of God! There is no "your gift is better than my gift!" All of the gifts we have been given in our church are of equal value- with even one missing, we can't do the ministry God has put before us. Further, I know this much- that when you serve where and how God wants you to serve, that brings about inner peace. When you follow your own call, you start on the journey to being all that God has designed for you to be.
That doesn't mean our call will be easy, or that we'll always be in this euphoric "super happy Christian" state, but it does mean that when we are doing what we're called to do- not more, not less- we grow in relationship to God and to one another... and bring the peace we find, into the community.