Out West, a cowboy was driving down a dirt road, his dog riding in back of the pickup truck, his faithful horse in the trailer behind. He failed to negotiate a curve and had a terrible accident. Sometime later, a highway patrol officer came on the scene. An animal lover, he saw the horse first. Realizing the serious nature of its injuries, he drew his service revolver and put the animal out of his misery. He walked around the accident and found the dog, also hurt critically. He couldn't bear to hear it whine in pain, so he ended the dog's suffering as well. Finally he located the cowboy --who suffered multiple fractures--off in the weeds. "Hey, are you okay?" the cop asked. The cowboy took one look at the smoking revolver in the trooper's hand and quickly replied, "Never felt better!"
Have you ever been in those situations when you started to complain but then you were corrected by the reality of the situation and it brought everything back into consideration? I had a moment like this cowboy did a while back. I was traveling from Montreat College to Western Carolina University to visit this hot girl. On the way there was a huge traffic jam and we were at a standstill. All of a sudden a guy comes up the left shoulder of the road and as he passed me, with his blinkers on, I honked my horn in disgust. I hate it when people do this. They move past everyone because they think where ever they have to get to is somehow more important than the hundreds of people in front of them. Plus they end up causing traffic to last longer because they butt into the line down the road. As I cursed his name and the Honda Civic he was driving I waited in the traffic and waited. Finally when I arrived at the scene of the accident I saw a car that had flipped over in the middle of the grass medium and was pretty beat up. Next to the fire truck and police cars was the Honda Civic that passed me 15 minutes earlier. I complained about him passing me but he was simply trying to get to his family or friend or loved one that was in the accident. I felt terrible. I thought the fact that I had a hot girl waiting for me at Western I was the most important one on the road, but I was wrong.
You see many of us get consumed by our own situation. We get so caught up in life that we forgot others have their own. That is because many of us keep our days so chalk full of stuff to do we don’t have time to be concerned about anything else. I wise person once said, “I no longer have a life, I have a schedule.” This may be true but is it healthy? Is it what God wants out of our lives? When we keep ourselves so focused on our schedule, we put blinders on to the rest of the world. We get surround by all of our own personal stuff that we don’t and sometimes can’t look up and see what others are doing.
The story of Mary and Martha is a classic piece of scripture that has had tons of sermons already written about. The sister dynamic here speaks to many of us and we look at people and say, “well you know she is just a Martha.” “She is so a Mary.” We feel comfortable with what we know about the story and so we read it, think about our fond thoughts and then move on. Yet there is some surprising social commentary going on here.
Jesus, a local rabbi, was coming by Mary and Martha’s house. He does this a couple times in the gospels because Lazarus, Jesus’ good friend, the one he raises from the dead, he is Mary and Martha’s brother. Jesus knows this family and these siblings. He likes them and finds great joy coming to their house. But when company comes over, the sibling issues come to the surface.
In this story Martha seems to be the homebody. She is the one frantically in the kitchen cooking up a meal for their honored guests. She if fulfilling the standard roll for women back then and one that is also prevalent today. She is being a gracious host and getting everything ready. If only she had some help.
What caught me reading this scripture again is the fact that Mary, during her complaint to Jesus, focuses her complaint on herself. Hear her complaint again, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" Did you hear it, me, myself, and me. Martha’s priorities were not centered on the one who came to visit but the responsibilities she had at home. Plus she thinks Jesus should be as worried as she is about this…“Lord Don’t you care…”
Martha is so consumed by her own self, her own schedule that she doesn’t see what is happening around her. Mary, her sister, is doing something quite radical. She is going against the social norms of the time and sitting at the feet of Jesus. Only disciples of the rabbi are supposed to sit at his feet and learn his lessons. These disciples are all men as well. In society at this time, women were seen as servants to their husbands. They were pieces of property that had to be cared for. For them to have any roll learning the way of a rabbi was unthinkable and crazy talk for that time. Yet there she sat, at Jesus feet, the same feet that the gospel of John tells us she will anoint with oil. This is a great moment but it seems someone has missed it.
Now what does this have to do with us? Well if we are engulfed in our schedules all the time we miss out on a lot. We feel that pressure. I think one of the most over used statements in our society right now is, “I’m just so busy.” We look at everything we have to do and it makes sense. Children need to go to school and the ones that play sports or dance or have extracurricular activities learn a lot from them and it forms them as a person. We need to teach our kids how to play instruments, play with others, learn skills only scouting, dance, and sports can teach. Then we pile on stuff here at church that they can benefit from as well. For us adults we are involved in social clubs, country clubs, hunting clubs, dancing clubs, dinner clubs and golf clubs. We are involved in the activities of our kids, our grandkids, our neighbor’s kids, and our church’s kids. We have our hobbies and habits that need our attention. We have family to take care of too. If you aren’t taking care of your kids, you may be taking care of your parents. This is all outside work and a career.
None of this is bad, it is all good. But this shell of a schedule we create around the 24 hours in a day create blindness to the world around us and we become distracted. We don’t have time to disconnect and relax. We go, go, go, go, go until we fall in a heap of anxiety and distraction and then yell at God and ask “Lord, don’t you care?” Jesus looks at her and tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” The one thing that is needed is to take time to sit at the feet of the Son of God.
Now we need Marthas and Marys in this world. We need people who can provide great hospitality and know how to make people welcome. We need people who can dazzle at potlucks and flourish at making sweet tea and coffee. The gift of hospitality is a spiritual gift that God grants people. But in our frantic lifestyle, when we start to get frustrated, we at times lash out and demand that people recognize everything we are doing. But when we do that we unveil our true heart. We reveal the person behind the curtain. When Martha complains to Jesus about Mary just sitting there, Jesus knows what is at the heart of her complaint. She is actually focused on herself and she forgot who she was being hospitable too.
Now this happens on an individual level but it can happen on a church level as well. In one of the commentaries I read this week, Cynthia Jarvis wrote, “When anxiety in well-doing becomes the measure of our hospitality, then the church has forgotten the one whom it has gathered to serve.” If Martha took a step back and actually listened to herself she would have realized that her complaint was invalid. Mary was breaking down stereotypes and she was using her spiritual gifts to welcome in the Son of God. Martha was doing the same thing but because she is so busy she misses the gift she is giving. She was cooking dinner for the Son of God but instead she starts to feel neglected because no one, especially her sister, is helping. Instead of concentrating on the gift, her thoughts revolve around herself.
When our schedules are so full that we cannot see the reason why we are doing everything, we miss out on the purpose. If we are distracted from the purpose of why we are doing what we are doing life losing its meaning. If we don’t take time to center our lives on the one who granted us life to begin with, life will just pass us by. This goes for us personally, in our daily lives. If we are distracted that life is a gift and that God has a purpose for that gift, we will have an unfulfilled life and one that concentrates only on us. If we as a church forget why we are here at 609 Liberty Dr in Thomasville. If we get distracted by all our activities and meetings that we forget that we are the body of Christ for the world, we will have an unfulfilled life.
We have to take time to step back and realize who we are serving in our life. Are we serving our schedules, the demands on our lives, or are we serving the one who created us, the one who gave us the spiritual gifts we possess? In this part of Luke’s gospel Jesus is pushing people to have the right priorities. He does that in the parable of the Good Samaritan and this story here. He speaks against the anxiety and distraction by lifting up the one who is single-minded, Mary.
Today I want to end this sermon by just having some time to be at the feet of Jesus. I want you to get into a prayerful position. Whether that is sitting there in seat with your head bowed or kneeling there in your pew or up here at the prayer rail. You could sit there with your hands on your knees and your palms face up or you could hold them in the shape of a cross in your lap. I want you to find a prayerful position because in the midst of silence we are going to be at the feet of Jesus. We are going to take some time to shut off our scheduled, hectic, distracted lives, and we are going to remind ourselves personally and as a church that we are here to serve the one who made us.
Let us pray…