Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sermon: Luke 10: 38-42 Mary and Martha

Something I always find fascinating is the fact that brothers and sisters can turn out so differently. From the same father and mother can come very different people and personalities. So, for example, I have one brother, Neil, who has dirty fair hair, and is much more sporty than I am. We grew up in the same house, but are very different indeed. Watching family dynamics is interesting - how siblings get on together, whether they complement or contradict each other, spotting similarities and discovering differences.

For that special kind of people watching, the home of Mary and Martha (and Lazarus) must have been an interesting case study. Martha is probably older, she’s the one whose house it is, she’s the one who takes responsibility for the household, making arrangements and catering and all the rest. Mary, based on these verses, seems to be a different sort of woman altogether.

If you’re a Martha type, you might think of Mary as lazy, or workshy, certainly not fulfilling her duties or helping with her share of the work. If you’re a Mary type, you probably think Martha’s a bit uptight; Mary is just relaxed and wanting to make sure her guests are put at ease, chatting and being sociable.

We get an insight into the family because of their special guest. On Sunday mornings we’ve been following Jesus along the road up to Jerusalem. Tonight, we’re rewinding a little bit (as we intended to cover these verses in January). Jesus has arrived in their village, so Martha invites him in. And Martha is stressed.

I wonder how things work in your house if you’re having guests round for dinner or to stay. There’s maybe cleaning to be done; the floor hoovered and surfaces polished and dusted; the food needs to be prepared; the bathroom sparkling. The preparations may start weeks beforehand to make sure all is ready for the visitors.

Martha is in the thick of it, getting everything ready. Imagine her like a cartoon character with about twenty arms all doing something, trying to keep on top of all that has to be done. Her glasses are steamed up from checking the oven, and when the steam clears, she realises that she’s on her own in the kitchen. They have a very very important visitor, but Mary has abandoned her. So she goes looking for Mary, only to find her sitting at Jesus’ feet. It’s well for her can sit down, Martha thinks to herself. Mary has found the time to sit and listen to his teaching.

It seems so unfair. Martha working her fingers to the bone while lady muck sits listening to Jesus? Martyr Martha is doing all the work, and I do feel sorry for her. You see, I reckon that the Protestant work ethic makes us identify with Martha. We almost feel guilty if we sit down for a wee while, knowing there’s always something we could be getting on with.

Some of us even take pride in our busyness and non-stop-ness (if that’s a word)! I’ve even heard clergy colleagues complaining (or boasting, I’m never sure which) that they haven’t had a day off in over twelve weeks. It’s as if we’re meant to congratulate them on their hard work.

I know that there are some mornings where I look at the list of things I’ve to do that day, that I just launch straight in. The sooner I start, the sooner I might get a couple finished. After all, it all depends on me, doesn’t it? Have you ever found yourself thinking the same? I’ve so much to do, I’ll have to get it all done. It’s nearly made worse when you see the Mary types who don’t get worked up about work. It’s not fair.

So Martha takes the bull by the horns. She tackles Jesus. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ Jesus, you see Mary sitting at your feet, but you’re not telling her to help. You’re encouraging her to be lazy. So sort yourself out, and sort her out as well!

Now if you were Jesus, how would you respond? Right Mary, break time is over, away back to work? But that’s not what Jesus says. ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’

Martha was distracted, anxious and troubled in her service for the Lord. She wanted to make sure everything was right for him. She was doing things for him, but she missed the one necessary thing. He was right there. She could be with him. She could spend time with him, but instead she chose to busy herself (and annoy herself) for him.

It’s good to serve the Lord. But there is something better - being with the Lord. Mary had chosen the good portion. She chose the thing that was best. The Lord Jesus was in her home, so she wanted to get the most out of that experience, sitting at his feet, listening to his teaching. She may not have realised, but Jesus was on his way up to Jerusalem. He was heading for the cross. How precious to have Jesus in her home, teaching her, speaking with her. And to think she could have missed out, like Martha, distracted by things that seemed to be important or urgent, things that may have been good, but not the best.

Now you might be thinking, well, it was all right for her. She had Jesus coming to her house, speaking to her, teaching her. Could we have the same? Just think what we have. We have the Spirit of Jesus living inside us. We have the teaching of Jesus written down, and the whole of the Bible is about him. We have this, in our own language. We have this access, any time, all the time. We have the opportunity to be like Mary, to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Bible reading isn’t a duty to be done, something you have to do, something to feel guilty about if you miss a day or two. Rather, Bible reading is a privilege. We get to do it (rather than we’ve got to do it). We get to read about Jesus, listen to his teaching, spend time in his presence. Surely we would want to do this?

Yet it’s so easy to be like Martha. Distracted. Caught up in the busyness of things to be done - even things for the Lord that we forget to be with the Lord. Perhaps we need to schedule times to spend with Jesus - make an appointment, mark out time in your diary; you may need to work hard at not working to carve out time from your activities.

In Acts 4, the Jewish council have Peter and John on trial because they were preaching the name of Jesus. The council were the high & mighty religious people. They tried Peter and John and found they were uneducated, common men. So how could they turn Jerusalem upside down with their boldness of preaching and healing? ‘They recognised that they had been with Jesus.’ They were able to do things for Jesus because they had spent time with Jesus.

For the Marthas among us, learn from Mary, as he sits at Jesus’ feet, and listens to his teaching. Savour the moments and find in them the strength to do what needs to be done.

This sermon was preached at the evening service in Aghavea Hall on Sunday 1st March 2015.

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