Sermon – July 21, 2019 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us begin in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +Amen. 


Today’s gospel reading is the well-known story of Mary and Martha. This is one of those hard texts we find in the Bible. One reason it is such a hard text is because it is familiar and well loved. Unfortunately, what makes this text comforting for you may well be a stumbling block for others. Just think ladies, how many times we are asked to describe ourselves as either a Mary or a Martha.  Sorry guys, maybe I just haven’t been at the right gatherings, but I have never heard anyone ask y’all to describe yourself as either a Peter or a Paul.

The interpretation history of this text is another reason it is a hard text. For the longest time, the commentaries suggested a zero-sum gain – that is for Mary to win, Martha had to lose. The other direction commentaries took was to make this passage about women’s discipleship. These words were used to keep women out of leadership roles within the church and may still create challenges for women seeking ordination even as the ELCA is celebrating the 50thanniversary of ordination of women into word and sacrament ministry. Women’s work was confined to hosting fellowship events, preparing the altar for worship, teaching children’s Sunday school, and maybe singing in the choir (although I have heard of congregations that had all male choirs).

In more recent times, commentators have recognized that Jesus’ group of disciples included more than just 12 men.  In Luke chapter 8 we learn that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna traveled with Jesus and the disciples

Martha’s hospitality was critical to the success of Jesus’ ministry. The whole kingdom movement was dependent upon the hospitality of women like Martha who opened their homes in support of Jesus’ ministry. You may recall when Jesus sent the 70 out, he sent instructed them to, “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide…” (Luke 10:4, 7)

Hospitality in the ancient world was quite different than it is today. In the ancient world the host was obligated to provide for their guest. Strict codes of conduct governed encounters between travelers and residents of a settled community to keep both parties safe.  The host was required to provide the traveler with food, water, and shelter. We see this in our first reading in the way Abraham welcomed three such “strangers” (Gen 18:1-8) into his tent. He provided them with water to wash their dusty feet and a place to rest.[1]

After welcoming the 70 disciples back from their mission and the encounter with the lawyer asking, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus and the disciples continued their journey towards Jerusalem. Since there were no cell phones Jesus couldn’t call, text, or message Martha that he was on his way to her house. I wonder if he sent a messenger ahead to let her know he and his entourage was on their way? The text is rather abrupt and simply makes it sound like the group just showed up at Martha’s door. When they arrived at her house, Martha had no choice but to welcome them and be a good host.

Can you imagine a group of 13 people showing up on yourdoorstep? Without any advance notice?

If this visit to Martha’s house is like Jesus’ other stops, he and the disciples will be staying at Martha’s house for some time, be it days or weeks. While they are at Martha’s house, they will roam the villages nearby to teach and heal. Martha’s house becomes the operations base camp where everyone returns to eat, drink, and sleep.

With this picture in mind, can you see how and why Martha is distracted by her work? Her work has just multiplied by at least 13 people who all need to be taken care of – to be served.

And the passage makes it sound like Martha is simply a hysterical female. However, taking a deeper look at the original Greek perhaps a better translation for she wasdistracted by her many taskswould be the voices and demands of Jesus and the disciples are pulling Martha in many different directions.

       If Martha’s house is not crowded enough, word of Jesus’ arrival brings more villagers to Martha’s door. They are eager to hear updates on Jesus’ ministry as well as to hear him teach.

Martha finally had enough and found Jesus. She wanted him to tell her sister Mary, who was sitting with the men and listening to Jesus teach, to help her with all the work, service that needed to be done. Rather than honor Martha’s request, Jesus invited, encouraged Martha to come, sit, and listen too. Martha was so distracted by the profane that she was unable to experience the divine in her midst. She couldn’t recognize the Word Incarnate in Jesus’ presence and his teaching.

Don’t our lives seem to be just as overwhelming today? How many of us long for a helper to get everything on our “to do” list accomplished? Why are we doing what we are doing? What drives us? What do we hope to gain? In the busyness of this world, the expectations of our culture seem to push us, especially women, to do more. Pack your schedule! Multitask – it’s not enough to be busy all day every day, you have to be doing multiple things at once! Take up new hobbies and turn them into a side hustle! Achieve! Do everything! Pull yourself up by the bootstraps even if you don’t have boots! And look perfectly Pinterest-and-Instagram-worthy while you do it! If you don’t do everything perfectly and better than everyone else, you’re a loser! You’re lazy and deserve whatever crap happens to you! More, moRE, MORE!

We get pressured into over functioning, and then we pressure others into doing it as well and sharing our pain. And a lot of times we end up so focused on what society tells us we should be doing, so busy with all the crap, that we never take time to sit down and ask the question: what’s the point? Of the things that we do, which are truly important, and which are just busy work? What’s the cost and what’s the benefit, and is it worth it? Most importantly, what is God calling us to do?

I don’t know whether Martha was over functioning like that. But I do know that Mary was certainly not. You don’t have to drive yourself to distraction getting all the busy-work done. It’s okay to take time to rest, time to ponder, time for spiritual growth, time just to BE, even if the chores aren’t done and things aren’t perfect.

God is not calling us to a life of frenzied activity until we collapse from exhaustion. God is calling us to an abundant life. There is work to be done but also time to rest, time to worship, time to study, time to have a balanced and holistic life full of shalom. And this my friends is the good news.[2]

As Christians, our service to others, grows out of our worship to Jesus and love of self. The congregation’s constitution enumerates how the congregation shall participate in the body of Christ. The first and foremost way we as congregation and as individuals participate in the church is in Worshipping God in proclamation of the Word and … sacraments and through lives of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, witness, and service.[3] Based on this directive, I encourage you to BOLDLY pencil in weekly worship on your calendar without fear that taking time to BE STILL and worship God is wasted time. Jesus promises to be present when we gather for worship. Serving as both the host and the meal, Jesus provides refreshment and renewing for tired bodies and souls reviving our energy for the days and service awaiting us.  Do not allow the divine to be unrecognized by you, “…seek first the kingdom of God….” (ESV Matt 6:33)






[3] Constitution for Congregations