“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Today’s gospel is probably one of the shortest stories in the Bible. . . but even though it is short, it still has a LOT to say.
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for what he knew would be a difficult week. We know now that he would be tried, crucified and later be resurrected. As he travelled, he stopped to visit with his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Martha’s opened her home to offer hospitality to this traveling rabbi and his entourage. She did it as a public sign of her religious commitment. In welcoming Jesus and his followers, she was following the time-honored Middle-Eastern ritual of hospitality.
While she was busy in the kitchen, Mary, her sister, chose to remain with Jesus in the living room, listening to his words of wisdom. Martha wanted everything in the kitchen to turn out just right. She wondered whether her sister appreciated the pressure she was under in the kitchen. In fact, she thought that if her sister had the sense to come and help, much of the burden could be eased. But, her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word. Not helping with a thing!
So, let’s talk about Martha; I think Martha gets a little bit of a bum rap.
But I am prejudiced; you see,
I AM A ‘MARTHA’!
I see myself in Martha, intent on getting everything right and pleasing those around me. I grew up being taught that I should be a ‘good girl’ and only do things that would please anyone in authority. It made me a very good Martha.
And even today, I look at my calendar and see thirty-eight monthly meetings. . . how could it be that many?? I serve on committees and commissions that concentrate on social justice and advocacy. I tell myself that I need to do this because a lot of other people don’t or won’t . . . it is my diaconal ministry. I work for justice for immigrants, for LGBTQ+ people, for prisoners, for those in need of food and shelter, and a myriad of other people and causes. Surely, this hyperliving world needs all of that ‘Martha’ activity. How can I have time to sit still and really listen well enough to be able to make real changes?
And . . . when can I take time to listen?
Martha was preparing for Jesus to come to her house; she, too, didn’t have time to listen.
The way the story goes is that Martha is bad, and Mary is good. We are told again and again,
“Be like Mary, don’t be like Martha. The world is too full of Marthas; there are not enough Marys!”
As I was researching for this sermon, I ran across a new word: ‘hyperliving’. It was new to me and I found out that, not only are most of us hyperliving, but the University of Houston actually offers a master’s degree in Studies of the Future, centering around the phenomena of ‘hyperliving’.
So what is ‘hyperliving’?
- We want to do more and more things in less and less time.
- Some of us carry around planners with lots of scraps of paper attached and rubber bands holding it all together.
- We buy time-saving gadgets and don’t have the time to read the instructions to figure out how to use them.
- We do the ‘multi-tasking’ thing, especially in the car. We drive, eat, drink coffee, listen to the radio, talk on the cell phone, and make gestures – all at the same time!
- Before we come to a stop light, if there are two lanes and each contains one car, we find ourselves trying to guess which one will pull away first so we can get in that lane.
- At a grocery store, if we have a choice between two checkout lines, we find ourselves counting how many people are in each line, multiplying this number by the number of items per cart. After we get in line, we keep track of the other person who would have been us in the other line. If we finish checking out and the person who would have been us is still waiting you feel like we’ve won! But if the person who would have been us is walking out of the store and we’re still in line, we feel depressed.
- When we are driving, especially long distances, we push the posted speed limit by six miles an hour. We just HAVE to get there sooner.
(Do I see heads nodding out there in agreement?)
Well, my friends, that is ‘hyperliving’.
And hyperliving is a very good word to describe living in a ‘Martha’ world. A world in which one is so busy planning, organizing, perfecting, controlling and maximizing our time that we never have time to ‘stop and smell the roses’, or take a deep breath, or listen to the words of Jesus.
“Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which.shall.not.be.taken.away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
“There.is.need.of.only.one.thing.” (Luke 10:41)
Mary had chosen that ‘one thing’.
Martha had been scurrying to see that everything was ‘perfect’, yet all she was doing was transient; very soon all the food would be eaten, the guests would have left, the dishes done, and the house restored to order. It would be as if no one had ever been there.
Jesus’ visit would only be a faint memory. . . and Martha had missed it!
But for her sister Mary, His words and being near Jesus would have a lasting impact. In fact, it is thought that this Mary is the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with precious oil within a few days of His death (Mathew 26:12). Whatever she heard at His feet caused her to follow Jesus, to be one of the women at his crucifixion. Something touched her faith down to the core of her being.
So, should we become more like Mary and less like Martha?
Is there no place for the busy service of Martha?
What we need to do is find ourselves in an environment that nurtures and encourages us. We do not live “by bread alone.” Here was Jesus, ‘the bread of life’, present and available, but Martha had her mind on other bread. So Martha missed out hearing the stimulating words of Jesus.
Whenever we sit with the Lord, He brings us insight and understanding, not only about his own suffering and struggle, but about our own as well. When you and I feel nervous and agitated, worked up and wound up because of what’s going on in our lives, we need an understanding partner with whom to sit, so that we can sort things out, gain an understanding of our situation, and receive encouraging words from the person listening.
God’s plan for each of us is made up of a lifetime of small opportunities. No matter what our career or calling may be, we should each seek ways to serve the Lord daily. We do this by ministering wherever we are – to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
God has intended this world to be Mary first, then Martha. God built this world to be a Mary world with Martha moments.
So, how can we live like Mary in a Martha world?
Perhaps we need both Marys and Marthas; we need is Marys who can learn from Marthas and Marthas who can learn from the Marys of the world. We need a delicate balance between work and prayer, between service and the spiritual, between busyness and attentiveness. We need the Marthas to keep the world running and the Marys to remind us to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.
But how can we take time to be Mary in our hyperliving world?
All the recent shooting and protests are, in part, caused by reactions of people who have for far too long not been listened to.
Why are we surprised that they feel their only recourse is to protest so that they cannot be ignored?
Why are we surprised because they feel hopeless about their futures when they have substandard education, no jobs and seem the target of any person who doesn’t like ‘the other’?
Now is the time to sit and listen, just as Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him.
Listen to the pain of our neighbors; their demands for justice.
Listen so that we can move beyond our own fears and prejudices.
Listen for the words that will convince us to act with more mercy than judgement.
Mary knew who to listen to.
Surely, we can do the same.
Since the Civil Rights Movement ended, there have been many opportunities for people of faith to be merciful and demand justice for all our neighbors. Shamefully, we have mostly remained silent. We cannot be silent anymore and remain faithful to a God who commands us to
love our neighbors as ourselves. (Luke 10:27)
So sit quietly and listen.
Do you hear God’s call to speak truth to the powerful and privileged in the silence?
Do you hear God calling you away from the distractions of everyday tasks and blatant excuses for not doing anything into acts of mercy, love, and justice?
It’s all well and good to welcome all to God’s table, but if we aren’t living out the meaning of that bread and cup with those who hunger and thirst for justice, we are ignoring completely the core of Jesus’ message.
So we need to listen, reflect, and listen for that still small voice and then get very HYPER about making things happen! We need to first calm down, center, discern, pray and then get up and GO TO WORK! For, if we lose one part of ourselves, the other has no meaning.
In closing, let me read you a poem by a pastor friend of mine:
My dear, my dear, you are distracted by any things.
One thing is needed.
Every moment, you are sitting at your teacher’s feet.
Everything that happens is an entrance.
Each moment can be a falling, a falling in love.
The mouth that speaks this into being is right here.
Listen for the voice of the Beloved in every breath.
Everything else can rot or be stolen; this can’t be taken from you.
Nothing else matters.
We all need to listen if we are to come through this current environment of hostility, vitriolic speech, mass murders to build a world where everyone is equal, everyone is wanted, and everyone is our brother and sister.
But WE HAVE TO BUILD THAT WORLD.
It is up to each one of us, not someone else.
We must listen and then ACT.
WE HAVE TO DO IT!
AND WE MUST LISTEN!
 Futurist David Zach, master’s in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston
 Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH; 17 July 2016