Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
Our culture is busy. We probably, as a culture, have not been as busy as we are now. We have smart phones to keep us connected, Facebook to keep us up to date, and various apps on our mobile devices to occupy our every second of time. Through all of our connectiveness we at times are more disconnected than ever. We have so many options to choose from, we have trouble knowing where to begin.
All too often we get trapped in a cycle of busyness. Many of the things that devour our time are often filled with great and honorable things. Through it all we can be left exhausted, and empty. We begin to seek something more, and in doing so we wrap ourselves in yet another cycle of busyness.
The story of Martha and her sister Mary is one we often hear, a story that calls us to take a side. We are asked questions like are you a Martha or a Mary? We are lead to believe that Martha had less faith than Mary. That somehow Mary is the ideal. This would be an adequate view of the story. All to often these interpretations attach themselves to the feelings of guilt and shame that rage within our spirits. But that is not the approach that Jesus takes. Rarely does Jesus ever push guilt and shame, in most cases Jesus does the opposite. Jesus usually attempts to redirect people’s minds to grace and forgiveness.
Back to the story, often we are encouraged to focus on the faith of Mary, but I want to ask who exactly welcomed Jesus to the house? It was Martha. The story of Mary and Martha is less about who is better, but a story we each find ourselves in.
Martha and Mary are caught in a cycle of life. Life has changed so much in the past millennia but there are a few things that are similar. For the past 2000 years and more, human existence has had similar needs: the needs of food, shelter, and security. These things have been the very things that consume our time and energy today, as they were the very things that occupied the lives of all men and women throughout the ages. For centuries men and women have labored to put food on the table, and sought companionship. They have joined together in families, clans, and tribes to develop bonds of security and to form a more efficient way to survive. All along the way things become increasingly more complex.
Martha invites Jesus to the home. But a home in ancient times is quite different than today. A home or house would not be the place a family resided but a small village. Servants and other laborers would be all around, working the fields tending the flocks, and tending to the other needs. Martha invited Jesus to live in the community with them.
We just like every culture throughout the ages realize that we cannot be alone. We as humans need others around. We need a community to cover the various tasks. We require others to fill in the gaps, and meeting a need.
Martha invites Jesus to the home. To invite someone to the community is to recognize that there is a need that only one can fill. Every community has a need that can only be filled by one.
Think about that for a moment. In every community we are involved in we have a place. It may be mother or father, it might be employee or manager, or it might be student or teacher. In each case there is a role that only we can fill. We seek out the ones to fill each role necessary in our community, and when we find and when they fill their role we begin to see our true selves. We see the reflection of our true identity. We each have a teacher or some one else that rose above all other, one person that changed the course of our lives, the one that allowed us to see the world differently. This person allowed us to dream of greatness, or inspired us to try something that we may never have before. As time progresses a new need emerges and someone else rises to fill the need and again we begin to see things all anew.
Martha invites Jesus to the house. Martha the oft-regarded villain of the story is in fact the one that opens the door to wonder. It is Martha that welcomed the one into the house that would change everything for the family. The story begins to change.
If we were to think back through our lives we would soon remember someone that opened a door into a new chapter of our life’s story. We may even be able to find several. They were our teachers, spouses, children, a coworker or a friend. Each opened to us a new expanded perspective of life. Someone in our life opened a door.
A community grows and gets more complicated. Martha is a caretaker of the community. She arranges and organizes, and she carries the worries of the community on her shoulders. Martha opened the door, but even the strong in the community can lose sight of what is important.
Martha had a sister, Mary. Mary is a free spirited person living in the moment. The type of person that helps us realizes that there is more to life then duty. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to the words that he speaks while Martha is running around preparing a meal for the guests. Martha opened the door and Mary entertains. Two very different gifts but both very important, each is vital to the health of a community. But as with every personality clash Martha and Mary are found at odds with each other. It is a typical sibling thing. You may have had similar roles in your family, being the responsible one, or the troublemaker.
But Jesus uses this sibling squabble to teach some very important things. We all can be distracted. Martha is a very faithful woman. She has provided hospitality; she has shown love to Jesus and his followers and welcomed them into the community. This is what we all should do. Martha is a shining example to each of us as to how we should treat those around us. But in all her service she is distracted.
Yes, the busyness of our lives, the smart phones distracting our attention and calling us to various tasks can distract us. Service to others can be just as much of a distraction. Ministry can be a distraction. I will let you catch your breath for a moment, and repeat myself. Ministry can be a distraction. We can get so caught up in doing the work that God has called us to do that we forget to spend time with God. It is a scary place to find ones self in. In our ongoing quest to walk down the roads of faith we miss the exit because we get to busy.
This has happened to many of us. We are asked to serve on a committee and we are excited because we are doing the work of the Lord, only to find one year down the road we are burnt out and tired. We begin to develop hardness in our hearts because we are doing all the work and others are not carrying their fair share of the load and through the hardness a root of bitterness enters into our lives that threaten to divide the community. What is it that is upsetting us? Is the other in the wrong or are we the ones that have missed the mark? From this root of bitterness we evolve into judges and start claiming sin in others, all over a difference in perspective. Martha and Mary are sitting in a pivotal point; hanging before them is the essence of the entire question of faith and religion, as well as the Kingdom of God. Is the Kingdom one of service and deeds, or is it one of grace and faith?
Jesus knows Martha, and he loves her. He says to her, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” You may read into this and assume that Jesus is lifting Mary up and chastising Martha but that is not the total truth. I say this because directly after this story, in the next chapter, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. So Jesus is showing Martha that there is a rhythm in life. He is saying to Martha that we need a community to teach us that rhythm, a rhythm of prayer, worship, and service. Mary is showing Martha something important, just as Martha is teaching Mary something important. Each has their place in the community, and each should honor and listen to the other to learn that rhythm of life.
Through the three years of Jesus’ public life he exemplified this rhythm to his followers. He withdrew to the isolated places to pray, He made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, and he ministered and healed all who came to him. After the ministry the repeated the cycle again. He lived a life with a tempo of prayer, worship, and ministry; of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others as our own mission statement says.
Martha is rushing around trying to do everything, trying to make the community a better more hospitable place, and along the way inside her she anger and resentment is building because she is missing the one thing that only Mary can show her. But in her quest to minister she is distracted, and can only demand that Mary does things her way… it almost sounds like so many communities around the world. But there is only one thing needed, the Spiritual rhythm.
Mary sat at the feet of Jesus; we know that she is more in tune with this life because she is mentioned many times in scripture. She is the saint Jesus chose to first appear to after he rose from the grave. We know that she was not just an idle person wasting time, but that she participated in ministry throughout her life. But she had discernment because she listened to the teacher. She waited at the feet of Jesus and listened to his call. How often we are distracted from this very thing. How often we allow the worries and busyness of life distract us from sitting at the feet of our loving Lord and Savior.
This happens to us all at one point or another. It happened to George Fox, throughout his journal we read that he went to one place to meet with friends and minister, and then to another, then he would find himself in jail, and then out preaching again. But he wrote in one place that after a meeting with friends, he took up his book of scripture and walked out into the fields as he used to do. He found himself busy in ministry, busy in life, and he had to find direction again by withdrawing to the isolated place to pray and then he could come to worship and minister in the right spirit. It is this spiritual rhythm that connects and builds the relationship with God, a faith of grace and works wedded together. This lifestyle builds and sustains a community allowing each member to participate in their own special way, and allows each personality to enrich the others.
Most of us look at Mary and Martha and we ask ourselves which of the two do we identify most with. Which can be a wonderful examination of our spiritual lives, but it goes far deeper, because both women are women of faith, and we are people of faith. If we are to only pick a side we are in essence picking a side and drawing a line to divide the community, which is not what Jesus wants for us. Instead he wants to offer us an abundant, full and satisfying life. This is a life filled with grace and love that spills out of our hearts into the lives of those around us. We gain this life if we turn from our old ways and begin to follow him. It begins with opening the door, just as Martha did. It continues with sitting at His feet, like Mary. But is fulfilled with living with him in community just as both women show us.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us remember the people in our lives that have opened the doors to allow us to see things in a different light. Let us also think of those who annoy us with their different approach to faith and let us ask Jesus to show us how to love, bless, and honor them as he allows them to show us a different perspective of faith as well. But most of all let us open the door to the Christ who was born, lived, died, and rose again so that we could have an opportunity to live in a community build on love, hope, and grace.