9th Sunday after Pentecost
21 July 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
We live in a fast-paced world. People are rushing here and there with phones attached to their bodies. We have any number of time-saving devices which for some reason keep us busy for hours. We thought computers would simplify our lives, and they do, but they have made us busier at all hours. We thought Iphones and Ipads would make it easier to keep up with texts, calls, and even email, but they just keep us busier in more places. We cannot even sit still and do nothing while waiting for an appointment or at a stoplight. Every spare moment can be filled with some accomplishment or some entertainment.
Stores used to close at 6:00, preserving quiet time for shoppers and employees. Then they started keeping late hours, sometimes never closing, and now we can shop online for nearly anything from a car to a bottle of cleaner. We can do anything almost any time. And so what do we do? We busy ourselves
constantly. We never stop. We’re working, we’re playing, we’re entertaining ourselves, we’re occupying ourselves, we doing, doing, doing and going, going, going. We don’t know how to be still and quiet.
Any of you have finding enough time to manage all your time-saving devices? Any of you have trouble turning off the television or computer or music, so that there’s complete quiet in the house? Any of you have trouble finding time to sit down and pray? Too busy with screens to enjoy the great outdoors. Hard to sit still and read your Bible, even your online one?
In the U.S., 86 percent of males and 67 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week. There’s just too much to get done, too many distractions to keep us from listening to Jesus. Martha lived in a time when preparing a meal took a long time. She did not have the luxury of eating out or ordering take out. She could not buy de-boned chicken or fish. She couldn’t pick up a rotisserie chicken at Publix. If bread were going to be on the table, it had to be kneaded, allowed to rise, and baked. Martha had a lot to accomplish when important company like Jesus Christ came for dinner. She didn’t have running water in her house. She had crude tools and she had a fire over which to cook, not an oven or a microwave.
Hear the word of the Lord from Luke 10 but before you hear it, I want you to know that this story comes after the parable of the Good Samaritan, which tells us we should be busy doing good works. This is story which provides balance to those of us who would always want to be accomplishing something, helping someone. The Story of Mary and Martha.
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village,
where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
39 She had a sister named Mary,
who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.
40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked,
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?
Tell her then to help me."
41 But the Lord answered her,
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
42 there is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
(New Revised Standard Version)
Don’t just sit there! Do something! Get up and be helpful. You know some of the
most irritating people are the people who will not do anything. Fortunately in this
church, everyone pitches in to help do something, to help out, to share the load, to make their contribution to the life of this church. Good ole Martha. She was accomplishing something. If we had lots of Marys around we might never get anything done.
The church needs people who can accomplish things: people who can teach the children, make the coffee, welcome the visitors, visit the sick, send notes to college students, orchestrate activities, help us get into a building, move tables and chairs, clean the bathrooms, count the money, write policies for the church, organize the storage rooms, encourage giving, plan missions, share good news.
The church needs active do-ers of the word. Good hard working people like Martha are what we need. Male and female Marthas getting the jobs done, making the church proud, making the pastor happy. Jesus might not have even come over that night if Martha had not invited him. And it was Martha was at the door welcoming, offering hospitality. Martha is an active greeter, making sure everyone who comes in feels at home. Where would we be without Martha? She gets things done.
Martha’s problem is her many tasks have distracted her from the primary task of
loving. She has grown resentful of her sister. Can’t you hear her back in the kitchen with the dishes, getting noisier and nosier the more angry she is at having to work alone? She is pulled in so many different directions, she can no longer hold in her frustration. She is so busy doing things for Jesus that she has not stopped to listen to him. So she storms out and embarrasses Mary, makes Jesus uncomfortable, and shames herself. Martha is out of touch with the people in her midst because she is too focused on the tasks at hand.
Martha’s service has become disconnected to the primary aim of loving, of caring.
She is lost in her endless work. And she’s consumed by comparison. It’s not fair. “I loaded the dishwasher last night!” or “she hasn’t done anything today.” I doubt Jesus would have corrected Martha if she had not come to complain to him about Mary.
In fact, if Mary had complained to Jesus about Martha being too much of a busybody, never sitting down, then maybe Jesus would have said to Mary, “When have you been helpful to your sister? Are you going to sit there and let her do all the work?” “Go help your sister. Let her come sit with me” he might have said.
It is actually remarkable that Jesus thought it important for a woman to sit and
listen because in the 1 century, women were servants, not conversationalists. Martha was doing, you see, what was expected of women. It was particularly annoying in the 1st century for a woman to sit down to talk as if she were a man. He apparently didn’t think that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. He wanted to be in an authentic relationship with Mary and Martha.
And that is what Jesus wants with you – a genuine relationship. Yes, he appreciates all you do, especially if your busyness is in service to others and in some way furthers the love, peace, and justice Jesus came to bring to earth. You might be doing very important work, but Christ wants YOU more than your work. More than any accomplishment or service you can provide, Christ wants you sitting at his feet listening, adoring, worshiping. As CS Lewis said, God doesn’t want something from us. God wants US.
That’s why every time a ministry team gets together to do church work, we begin by meditating on a short passage of scripture – listening for the Spirit of Jesus speaking to us first. With all the time-saving devices we have in this life, we are perhaps more worried and distracted than any generation before us. Some of us have a hard time even setting aside one full hour for worship each week, even though we call ourselves Christian. How many teens cannot make it through a one hour worship service without texting a friend? Most of us do not take enough time each day to meditate on the goodness of God, to just sit and listen. We too are worried and distracted by many things. Our full schedules make us feel important or allow us to avoid serious self-examination. Our endless options for entertainment numb us to our need to connect with Christ. I’m not saying you cannot connect with Christ via technology but watch out for the distractions.
Barry Schwartz has written a book, called “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is
Less.” In it he makes it clear that Americans place high value on having many options but that options have become a problem for us. We have so many choices, we spend an enormous amount of time choosing and then are less happy with our selection. Think about grocery shopping. In a typical grocery store, there are 85 varieties of crackers and 285 types of cookies, 230 different cans of soup, 120 pasta sauces and 175 kinds of salad dressing. If you send someone to the store for you, you cannot simply put “Tide” or “Cheerios” or “Colgate” on the list because there are so many different varieties of Tide, Cheerios, and Colgate. We are distracted with many things. We have a hundred channels on TV to surf before we can decide that none of them are really worth watching. The truth is: we are bombarded with choices all day long and yet we are not satisfied with life.
We are miserable like Martha because we have not chosen the “better part” as
Jesus puts it. The better part is the part which as he says “can never be taken away.”
We need to learn to sit. Deep thinker Winnie the Pooh once said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.” We need to stop all our running from one thing to the next, flipping from one channel to the next, from one activity to another until we collapse in our beds. We need Sabbath time – time to stop and let God be God. We need to sit, talk a walk, talk to one another. We need to pray and worship. We need some quiet space in our lives. Our highest goal, our chief purpose in life is to glorify and enjoy God forever – not to impress God or anyone else with how much we can accomplish. Sabbath is stopping. Stopping all our regular routines to inhabit a different realm, a spiritual pace of resting, trusting, listening, and wasting time with God. It is looking for and valuing the goodness of God in everything, not just numbing ourselves with entertainment, as Tilden Edwards explains in his book Sabbath Time.
Our ability to accomplish things will inevitably diminish if we live long enough.
We will be forced by physical limitation to stop our feverish busyness. The better part is the relational part – the listening to Jesus, praying and worshiping – that can never be taken away from us.
How much different it might have been for Trayvon Martin and for George Zimmerman, if they had been quiet, reflective, and aware of the peace of Christ and the dignity of human life? Instead of being fearful, reactive, and angry, they might have taken time to listen to one another, instead of pre-judging.
Don’t just do something. Sit there. Sit there long enough to love God and love one another deeply, quietly, reverently, peacefully. Be like Mary today. Stop and listen.