7.18.10 sermon notes
There is a saying I heard recently that I love, because it so beautifully speaks to me. It goes: “If you want to come see me, stop by anytime. If you want to come see my house, I’m going to need a few day’s notice.” I love people, but I am not one of those whose home is always ready for company. I have always admired people who make it seem effortless.
We have some good friends in North Carolina who often let us stay with them when we are in town. John and Valerie embody hospitality in a way I have rarely experienced. Their home becomes your home. They always have extra blankets in the winter, snacks they know our girls will like, good beer in the refrigerator for me and Joel, and more. Plus, their easy, comfortable manner just makes anyone instantly feel welcome and part of the family. It is a spirit of hospitality I try to emulate in my life whenever I have a chance to be the host.
Here in this story from Luke, two sisters: Mary and Martha, have an opportunity to host Jesus in their home, although I do not think this is a story about etiquette for receiving houseguests. In some respects it is a continuation of Luke’s discussion about discipleship, which we explored last week a bit with the parable of the Good Samaritan. So just after Jesus tells us who our neighbors are and what God’s love for them looks like, we are told to “go and do likewise.” And then, here, Luke offers another perspective on what it means, what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are going to see that one needs to strike a balance between loving one’s neighbor and loving God.
This story has been used for centuries to lift up what I think is a false dichotomy of our lives of faith. On one hand you have the active life: exhibited in Martha, busily doing/preparing/serving. And on the other hand you have the contemplative life that Mary demonstrates: faithfully sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words. Of course, with this dichotomy so clearly set up, we are going to come away from this story with the contemplative life as the winner every time. After all, when Martha tells Jesus to tell Mary to get in the kitchen and help, Jesus calls Martha out and tells her that her sister Mary has chosen the better part. Ouch. So there you have it, I guess we should all sit quietly and attend to the word of God and do nothing. Let someone else bring school supplies to the children at Lakeside Academy; let these baseboards paint themselves; let our homebound members do without visitors; why take precious time to prepare those meals for our grieving friends? We have contemplating to do. We can’t be bothered with that other stuff. We’ve chosen the “better part.”
Not so fast. Yes, Martha was busily practicing the important and sacred art of hospitality while her sister sat and listened to Jesus. And yes, Jesus did respond to Martha with some concern about her priorities, but it wasn’t because she felt called to serve. He called her out because she had forgotten why she was doing it. Jesus didn’t say, “Martha, how dare you spend your time preparing a meal for me as your guest. Get out here and listen like a good disciple.” No, Jesus’ words were ones of deep concern for Martha – they were not meant to chastise her. Hear the tenderness in his words, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.” Martha had lost her focus. She let her worry and frustration distract her from the presence of Jesus Christ in her midst. Jesus was not suggesting that there is only one form of devotion, as if we all should be quiet contemplatives. But as people of faith, there should only be one object of our devotion, no matter what we are doing. And Martha had lost sight of that. And so often we lose sight of that.
A few years ago while I was working at Montreat, we did an exercise with our summer staff where they wrote prayers based on a model of monastic work prayers. What we might think of as mundane tasks are critical for the work and service of an intentional community. To keep up the place and provide a welcome environment for guests, the monks had to clean and cook and tend gardens on a daily basis. Likewise, our staff at Montreat were engaged in often tedious work that made hospitality possible. And in all of this, the goal is to maintain an unwavering focus on WHY we do what we do. So we crafted prayers based on our commitment to service to the church, knowing that God was the reason we did what we did. Staff wrote beautiful prayers about changing diapers and sweeping stairwells and scrubbing toilets and un-jamming copy machines. Hard work and service were an expression of their faith. So there is no distinction between the contemplative life and the active life – everything that is done is done in devotion to God and in service to Jesus Christ.
So here we are on Sunday morning for our intentional time of worship. Potentially (hopefully!), you are engaged and present and attentive to God when you are here. But what about the other 167 hours in your week? This story about Jesus and Mary and Martha invites us into total discipleship – not just weekly devotion. This is not a story about finding your inner Mary and rejecting the busyness of your inner Martha. It is about finding balance and wholeness through complete focus on God. Because when we do that, “we will connect with the source that brings both peace and energy to all our undertakings.” We will work faithfully with purpose – not because we have to always be doing something, but because the one who serves us invites us to serve others; because the one who so graciously welcomes us calls us to welcome others.
In a minute, we will spend some time in silent reflection: Where do you sense God inviting you to stop being so worried and distracted by many things? How can you refocus? What will your week look like if you embark on the tasks of your life with new focus – seeing everything that you are doing as a part of God’s work in the world? What things would you do differently? What things would you be able to do with renewed energy and hope?
As we prepare for this time of silence, let us pray:
You have taught us, O God, that the way to life is to love you with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we are often so overwhelmed by the swirling demands of life that we cannot truly do either one. But then, in your mercy, there is Jesus, visiting us in our homes, speaking to us in the midst of life. Let us, like Mary, sit at his feet and listen to his Word that gives life. Then, having heard that Word, let us, like Martha, get up to serve others in Jesus’ name. Find us where we are. Take what we have and help us make it part of the work you are doing in the world. Amen.