9th Sunday after Pentecost—Lectionary C—July 21, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
I have to admit: I am a Martha!
I love making lists, but I especially checking things off my to-do lists. Sometimes I make to-do lists and add more tasks, ones that I have completed, just so that I can check them off. It is the final product, the progress, the visual productivity that drives me a lot of time.
This is especially true around the house, when I’m getting ready for company to come over. The home and meal greatly reflect on me, or so I think, and I so I work hard to make everything perfect and ready, above people’s expectations, in a way that seems effortless.
If Jesus was ever to come over to my home, I’m sure I would be busy cooking, cleaning, and making sure everything was as good as it could be, all the more—because it is Jesus!
But in addition to presenting a comfortable atmosphere, the welcome of the host is just as important. Greeting each person at the door, welcoming them warmly, taking their coats, and showing them around to the drinks, food, and seating area.
Martha did that part right! Verse 38 says, “Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her home.”
She prepared well, she welcomed well, she starts to serve…but then she fell short.
We all fall into the trap of busyness. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget the purpose of task. Martha was so busy working to make her guests comfortable, that she forgot to actually pay attention to them, to listen to them, to visit with them, to spend time with them—to continue to welcome them throughout their time with her. She got too focused on tasks, forgot about the people.
When you only focus on the task instead of on the people around you, it turns you in on yourself, and it is easy to feel like you are the only one working and that no else is pulling their weight, helping out, contributing toward the goal. When you are turned in on yourself, it can seem like you have been left to do all the work yourself, that everyone else is being lazy, and it is easy to NOT see how others are still contributing to the goal, but maybe they are, just in a different way.
Growing up, I always heard this parable preached as a complete condemnation of Martha and her service, and a complete praise of Mary’s sitting and listening. But that is not Jesus’ point. He is not instructing Martha, or all of us, to JUST sit and listen like Mary. He is not saying that hers is the ONLY way to devoting one’s-self to God. He is also not saying that Mary doesn’t ever need to get up and serve also.
I believe that Jesus is calling out Martha’s distraction and her judging. Her errors are not in preparing, serving, cooking, cleaning, welcoming, and attending to tasks; it is letting those tasks get in the way of the bigger picture, cloud what is really important, obscure the original purpose of the service—that is, the people to which is directed and the relationships that will be built and strengthened.
My mom and I are the prefect example of how you can build relationships in the midst of busy tasks. She is her visiting for a week, and we have a list of tasks to accomplish. Anytime I go to visit her, the same it true. But the work does not get in the way of our chatting, laughing, and sharing. We have figured out that for us, when we are physically together, we nurture our relationship best in the midst of tasks…whether it is buying canning supplies so that I can preserve my garden produce for the first time, playing our favorite board game, or doing odd jobs around the parsonage (or her farm) that you just can’t do with one person. Although we might be Marthas, who commonly are busy doing something, we do not always get distracted by those tasks—to the detriment of the people around us, to the relationships that need nurturing, or so that miss God at work around us.
If you read carefully, Jesus does not only scold Martha because it is he who is the guest. Jesus’ message remains the same no matter who the guest, because as we have been reminded the last couple of weeks, all people are children of God, beloved neighbors, who deserve our welcome, hospitality, service—ultimately our attention, respect, and love.
Jesus rebukes Martha’s distraction, anger, and the way she calls-out her sister in judgment, but he does not condemn her. He instead invites her into God’s grace by refocusing her attention, back on the other, where we can most tangibly encounter God’s love.
It is not that one way of life—listening/studying —is superior to another—working/serving; it is that we need a mix of both. We need to experience God’s love as much as give God’s love. We are called to receive as much as we are called to serve. When Jesus sees that Martha is only doing half, he invites her back to the other half, to be refreshed and enlightened.
Whether you are a Mary or a Martha, I want to leave you with this quote: “Both listening and doing, receiving God’s Word and serving others, are vital to the Christian life, just as inhaling and exhaling are to breathing. Yet how often do we forget to breathe in deeply? Trying to serve without being nourished by God’s word is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted.” Amen.
 Elisabeth Johnson, workingpreacher.com