Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
At this point in the summer season, my guess is that you are saying one of two things – you have already had your fill of the heat and summer fun and are ready for whatever is coming your way this fall OR you are still waiting for your schedule to slow down enough so that you can actually enjoy a little summer fun before it’s too late.
When I’m in El Salvador with our brothers and sisters at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church a common greeting we offer each other is, “como es das?” Which means “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” Usually the response is “bein” or “mue bein” – “good” or “very good”.
If I ask that same question to someone in North Dakota the response is very different. More often than not, it sounds something like “I’ve been really busy!” or “I just don’t seem to have enough hours in the day anymore.”
That’s one of our favorite self-descriptions isn’t it? When we are asked how we are doing or how everything in life is going, we like to stress how high our activity levels are. We want people to know all about the craziness of our calendars.
I think that’s one of the great tragedies actually of living in the United States. We place such significance on initiative and hard work; on getting things done and always trying to outdo the competition, that we fail to take time to slow down and enjoy things like having a little fun in the summer. We are so busy doing something that we rarely stop in order to just be for a little while.
Let’s face it. Most of us, myself included, we’re not all that good at dialing it back a little. We struggle for balance between always doing something; always moving at the speed of light that at times we loose touch with what it actually feels like to just sit down with Jesus and be.
And when we do in fact slow down a little, it’s usually just enough to catch our breath before we jump back into the busy-ness our lives. Our gospel reading today brothers and sisters from Saint Luke speaks to that directly.
Martha was busy – busy sweeping the floor, baking bread, setting the table. Martha, as Luke tells us is, “distracted by her many tasks.” She is caught up in busy-ness, distracted making sure that the dog is in the utility room, that the bikes are in the garage and the skateboards are out of the way; that the hors’ d’oeuvres are ready and the drinks are chilled; that the chex-mix is in the proper bowls and the candles are lit. Martha is busy making sure there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place, no thanks of course to Mary.
Martha is irritated. Martha is annoyed. And in what’s possibly the best version of biblical whining that we have, she marches into the living room and says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” To which Jesus says “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.”
“The better part”? Now what in the world does that mean? What is Mary doing that Jesus would point to it directly and say it is better?
I think it’s a point that we often miss in the midst of this very familiar gospel story. Jesus isn’t pushing Martha aside and telling her that she is kind of grabby and needs to take a break. Remember her sister Mary is not stretched out on the couch taking a nap. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus. One could argue that she is in fact doing something.
I believe Jesus is telling Martha, and you and me today, that the core of our existence – of who we are as children of God – is in our life with him. And that life with Jesus is not boring. It doesn’t require us to overbook our calendars. This life with Jesus is experiencing being with Jesus always. Being with Jesus in worship and service and in telling everyone we meet about the story of God’s redeeming love and mercy for all people. It’s an active life who’s center is not in the amount of work we have before us. To keep distractions and worries at the fore-front instead of Jesus.
I think that’s what’s going on here. Jesus calls Martha, Mary, and everyone of his followers since this day in Bethany so long ago, into deep devotion toward the central element of faith – being with Jesus. The apostle Paul describes it as Christ “formed in” us. (Galatians 4:19)
I think Mary was beginning to figure that out. Discovering that her life with Jesus was more important than making sure the lemonade was cold when the guests arrived. Does this minimize our call to serve our neighbor as Lutheran Christians? Absolutely not. But hopefully this story of Mary and Martha helps center us a little.
I just returned from a week of spiritual retreat in Dallas. During this retreat, one of my mentors said that, “our outward journey of faith is deeply rooted in and sustained by our inward journey of faith.” Did you hear that?
Our outward journey of faith, how the world sees us as followers of Jesus, is deeply rooted in and sustained by our inward journey of faith, the times that we simply sit at the feet of Jesus and be. And Lutheran Pastor Rob James said that the question he wrestles with is: “If we are not listening to Jesus, how are we sure that we doing the right work?”
Believe it or not brothers and sisters in Christ, your life in Christ is way more than making sure you say a quick prayer from time to time to check in with God or methodically doing a devotion every day or even showing up for worship once in a while. Jesus offers Martha, and you and me too, a better part that isn’t just about staying busy all the time.
Two things to take with you – First, when you and I are distracted by many things, we miss what’s most important. Martha is worried and distracted by her mile-long to-do list. Jesus doesn’t say that having a list or wanting to do the list well is wrong. He simply says that Mary has chosen the better part. In other words, Mary has stepped out of the fast lane, put down her to-do list for a short while, and slowed things way down.
The best “To-Do List” I think I’ve ever seen had five things on it: 1. Wake up, 2. Take a shower, 3. Eat, 4. Breathe, 5. Blink when eyes start getting dry. Repeat as necessary.
Hopefully you the see the wisdom there. I think it reminds us of what is most important. So the second thing I offer you today to take with you is this. It comes right out of Mary’s example: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” A lot of us never take the time to do that and for some of us it is almost impossible to even think of attempting it. But I challenge you to do just that in the next seven days.
Set aside all of the distractions and worries that make up your life and focus on the “better part” that Jesus offers.
And in doing that, I hope and pray that you experience being with Jesus. It’s the better part for all of us who seek to follow the risen savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.
- Mary and Martha: Choosing the better part (markatstpauls.wordpress.com)
- Someone’s In the Kitchen With Martha… (drewdowns.net)
- Expecting the Unexpected (stephaniekvazquez.wordpress.com)
- Mary and Martha: Mystery of God (lucindalines.wordpress.com)