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07.21.13 Making All Things Good, Luke 10.38-42, Sermon Summary

by on July 22, 2013

So often we think Martha and Mary are opposed to one another, but this is really a story about the key to integrating life and faith.

Summary Points

  • Why we identify more with Martha than Mary
  • How being religious leads to being Martha
  • How discernment reveals the fundamental truth of the Bible and of ourselves
  • How God uses silence and why it’s so hard for us
  • What biblical judgment really is
  • Affirming Martha in prayer

Most of us identify more easily with Martha than Mary. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Ours is a doing culture, and what is more, it’s a competitive culture. We’re trained to do everything, and to do it really well. There’s nothing essentially wrong with Martha. She’s just a little imbalanced.

I believe we’re all called to be religious people in the sense that we’re all called to pray, listen to the Bible, serve others, and share our faith. You don’t have to be a professional religious person like I am to discover that there is always more to pray for, more Bible to listen to, more people to serve, and more people to share with than we are capable of doing. Ministry, in other words, becomes overwhelming because there’s always more to do than time and resources to do it. It’s really easy for us to become Marthas.

This is why discernment is so important. Discernment is the ability to recognize God’s presence and what God is doing and wants to do, and more specifically how God wants us to be a part of it. We need to do discernment in our personal lives and as a church.

When I don’t practice discernment, I say “yes” to too much, I try to do too much, I exceed my capacities in time and talent, and I get stressed out, I feel horrible about myself, I begin to doubt God, and I become resentful because I think I’m the only one who cares. I think this is what happened to Martha.

When Jesus and his entourage show up unannounced at Martha’s house, she goes into host-mode—hiding piles of laundry and dishes, pulling out cushions for seating, checks her supplies and beginning to cook. These are culturally expected activities for Martha; perfectly normal.

Meanwhile, Mary sits down with the others and listens to Jesus. Martha begins to get upset; I can see her banging the cupboards, slamming down the plates, moaning and groaning—anything to get noticed and appreciated and to get some help. Eventually she snaps and turns, not to Mary but to Jesus, and asks, “Don’t your care that my sister isn’t helping me?!”

Jesus begins is answer to her, “Martha, Martha.” How do you hear that? Is it a chiding condescension, “Martha, Martha, you childish person”? Could it be frustrated anger, “Martha. Hey, Martha! Calm down!”? Maybe Jesus just noticed her, “Martha? Oh, Martha”?

I think maybe Jesus was calling to her, reminding her of who she was. In her frenzy she had forgotten. She started out as Jesus’ friend, but she had become the put upon host, the taken advantage of sister, the taken for granted servant, the victim. And I think maybe Jesus was calling her back to herself.

“Martha . . . Mar–tha, you are worried and distracted by many things when only one thing is most important. You are listening to voices that say, ‘The house must be perfect. The meal must be perfect. I must be a perfect host. What will the disciples say? How come no one else shares my values?’ But the voice that is most important is mine, and you have only just now begun to listen to it.”

Listening to God is the most important thing, and Martha hadn’t done it. Since Mary was doing it, Jesus lifts her up as an example, a contrast to Martha. But Jesus isn’t saying doing nothing is better than doing something. What he’s saying is, if you’re going to do something, do something good, not just something because it’s expected of you.

Listening to God first helps ensure that what we are doing is good, and that it does in fact need to be done. Had Martha listened first she might have discerned the fundamental truth of the Bible, which is that God is more interested in hosting us than in our hosting him.

Or she might have discerned her sacred calling to be a host, and then she could have done it with the confidence that this is what God wanted of her, and she wouldn’t have resented her sister. In either case, whatever might have resulted, the point is to listen first, then to do.

Listening is hard because it is done in silence. In order to listen to God, we have to silence other voices—our parents’ voices, our spouse’ voice, our neighbors’ voices, voices of doubt and skepticism and condemnation, even and especially our own voice.

Silence makes some people uncomfortable because we are less in control. We can control noise, but we can’t control silence. Others find silence exciting because we don’t know what will come along to fill it, like the moment right before a performer begins a piano recital. Silence is open ended and full of potential.

It seems kind of a paradox, but silence is one of God’s favorite ways to speak to us. God uses silence throughout the Bible, but it’s never a dead silence. It’s a living silence, always a means to an end. The silence may be long and even full of despair, but God always breaks the silence with a word. We can hear God’s word best when the rest of our lives are silent.

When we are silent, open to God, we can listen to God who speaks to us from various places. On such place is the Scriptures, especially when we quiet the voices of analysis and comprehension.

God speaks to us in the resurrected Jesus Christ. We hear Jesus’ resurrected voice speaking to us in the Bible, of course, but also in our traditions and through other people. Amos, for example, was a person who spoke God’s word to the northern kingdom of Judah.

God also speaks to us through our own lives, through the things that make us unique, through our personal experiences with life and God.

We need to listen to God—in the Bible, in the resurrected Christ through the tradition and others, and in our experiences, because God is giving us directions all the time.

Amos spoke about God’s judgment. He tried to warn the people to be prepared for God’s coming. The summer fruit is a symbol of God’s harvest, when God comes calling to see what the people have done with their lives. This is the essence of what “judgment” means in the Bible—answer the question about what we’re doing with our lives.

The people in Amos’ time observe the new moon festival and Sabbath. The problem is, while they are practicing the liturgies of religion, they are not practicing the teaching of it. They go to church one day, but then they exploit their neighbors by unfair and deceptive business practices the other days.

When God comes to see what we’re doing with our lives, he doesn’t check our worship record, but our justice record. The problem in Amos’ day was the people went to worship but they weren’t listening. They were worried and distracted by many things, when only one thing was necessary—listening. Had they listened first to the liturgy, they would have done what God wanted them to do.

If you don’t listen to God long enough, you end up like the people in Psalm 52. We forget all the good things that God has done for us. We begin to trust in something other than God. In the Psalm, it is riches. In Amos it was religion. It isn’t that riches and religion are bad, they are actually good. It’s just that they aren’t the highest good. And what God wants us to do is listen to the highest good, to put things in order, to prioritize things right.

That Martha had the riches and the religious sensibilities to serve Jesus and the disciples is good, but not the highest good. These things are good so long as they are not a distraction to the highest good. Martha didn’t recognize that, which is why she got upset with Mary and Jesus; they were doing the highest good first, before doing any lower goods.

Even though listening should always come first, we can always start listening later. But eventually time to listen runs out. Amos warned the people to listen now, because a time will come when God stops speaking. He says a drought of God’s word is coming, before the judgment. But actually, the drought of God’s word is already the beginning of judgment.

The key point, then, is to listen first, and to begin listening now. Some of us stopped listening a while ago because we think we already know what God has said. Some of us don’t believe God still speaks today. Others say maybe God speaks but not to me. No matter what the case, today is the time for us to start listening.

Let’s not be like the people in Amos’ time. They didn’t listen, the opportunity was taken away, and their world was destroyed by another nation. Or like those in the Psalm who no longer take refuge in God. All their security was stripped away from them. Let’s not be like Martha who does good things but becomes resentful for doing them because she didn’t listen to God first to know that these are what God wants her to do.

Instead, let’s be more like Mary, and start by listening at the feet of Jesus. Let’s silent other voices to better hear the voice that spoke at the beginning of the Bible, at the beginning of time, and that always wants to be heard first.

I am including the Eucharistic prayer (abridged) from this week because of it’s instructive contribution to the message. Before we come down too hard on Martha, let’s remember that Jesus, who was worried and distracted by many things on the night of his betrayal, assumed the role of Martha with his disciples, serving them a meal. And now, the prayer.

Jesus, Word of God Incarnate, how you loved to proclaim God’s Word in the context of a meal! You taught thousands all day and were concerned about their strength for the journey home, so you fed them. You went to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal with his sinner friends and taught them of God’s love. You spoke over breakfast with the disciples on the sea shore after your resurrection. And in the home of Martha and Mary, you taught us how important it is for us to listen to your word in the midst of this meal.

Send your Holy Spirit to us now, that, having heard God’s Word in scripture and sermon, we may receive it more deeply in sacrament. God, speak to us here as you spoke in Creation. Call forth order from our chaotic lives. Proclaim light into our darkness. Evoke from within us new life. Speak to us at this table of your love for us. Speak to us here of invitation and welcome. Speak to us here of acceptance and forgiveness. Speak to us here of service to one another and to the world in love. Speak to us here of your abiding and faithful presence not only here, but throughout our lives.

Grant that we may listen and believe, and having assumed the posture of Mary, send us forth to pursue the faithfulness of Martha, that we may be those who not only have listened to your word, but are those who do it joyfully this week. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.


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