Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 10:38-42
July 18, 2010
Pentecost 8-Proper 11C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Today’s text is a tale of two sisters—Mary and Martha. And like a lot of sisters, Mary and Martha were quite different. Martha was hard-working, practical, task-oriented, and just a little bit uptight (and probably the older sister). Mary, on the other hand, was more of a free spirit—a “big picture” thinker who didn’t let the details of life get in the way of doing what she wanted to do.

The differences between the two sisters were magnified by the presence of an important visitor in their home. Jesus Himself had come calling. The arrival of important guests is often a stressful time for any household, and it was no different for the household of Mary and Martha. Luke reports that Martha was “distracted” by all the preparations. Literally, the original Greek describes Martha as being “dragged around with much service.” Do you ever feel like you’re being dragged around from task to task and job to job with no end in sight? Today we’d simply say that Martha was stressed out. Her sister Mary, meanwhile, simply sat there—passively—at Jesus’ feet, listening to His Word. When Martha finally blows her stack, Jesus gently reminds the sisters that only “one thing” is needed, and Mary had made the better choice.

So are you like Martha or Mary? Are you, like Martha, worried and uptight, distracted and dragged around, stressed out from serving others? Or are you more like Mary, content to be served by Jesus—to make the Savior your top priority in life—to sit at His feet and listen to His Word—focused on His promises?

Now, in all fairness, we should set the record straight. Both of these sisters were good girls. Both sisters had faith in Jesus. Both were well intentioned. So let’s be careful not to condemn Martha too harshly. She wasn’t wrong in what she was doing. Serving others is what Christians are called to do. Martha was, in a sense, just being a good Samaritan, providing for the needs of others. We need our share of Marthas, don’t we? If it weren’t for all the Marthas, then the work would never get done. After all, we can’t always be reading the Bible. We can’t always be sitting in the pew or kneeling at the Communion rail. Someone has to take out the trash! Someone has to mow the lawn! Someone has to cook the meal and set the table. Please notice that Jesus didn’t condemn Martha because of what she was doing. It was her attitude that needed some gentle adjustment. Her priorities needed tweaking. She needed to be reminded of the one needed thing—Jesus and His Word.

Every day you and I are called to do what Martha was doing. We’re called to serve others. We are God’s hands and God’s feet in this world. Each of us has vocations, or callings—such as parent or child, employer or employee, neighbor, citizen or CEO, custodian or care-giver. And whatever your vocations are, know this: They are holy callings. Because as we do the work of our vocations, we are serving as instruments of God to do His work. We are “masks of God,” Luther liked to say. We provide for others in the name of Jesus Christ. And that loving service—no matter how routine or ordinary—is God-pleasing. So let’s set the record straight: It wasn’t Martha’s busyness or her serving that bothered Jesus. It was her attitude. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are worried and upset about many things.”

I wonder if Jesus couldn’t say much the same thing to many of us here this morning? I can hear him: Michael, Michael, YOU are worried and upset about many things. You see, even as we walk by faith, doing the very things that God has called us to do, there’s an awful lot that can lead us to be anxious, fearful and upset. It happens when someone we love gets sick. It happens when we lose our job and the regular paycheck. It happens when our homes become battlegrounds instead of places of peace.

Many of us here today could justify our stress and our worry without much difficulty. But stress and worry are also symptoms of something deeper. When God Himself tells us that we should have no other gods, He means that we should fear, love and trust in Him above all things—despite all things, regardless of how hopeless things may seem. We who are baptized into Christ, are called to trust in Christ. Worry and upset are symptoms—reminders that we’re not totally trusting the God who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—the God who says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

How does the trust disappear? Well, no one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll trust less in God today.” No one who is baptized makes a decision to cut back on trusting God. It just happens. It happens even as we do the Lord’s work in this world—the holy, God-pleasing work of our vocations. As one hectic, stress-filled day runs into another, we somehow set aside the one thing we need: Jesus and His Word. Before we can faithfully serve our family and neighbors, we need to be served by Jesus with His Word and promises—the cleansing splash of His baptism and the holy meal of His body and blood. We simply have to sit at the Master’s feet (like Mary) and listen.

You can choose to live like Martha—to share her attitude—but I wouldn’t recommend it. People like Martha tend only to become more worried and upset and bitter as time goes by. They become comfortable playing the part of the poor martyr who has to do it all alone without any help from anyone. How different today’s account would have been if Martha had simply asked Mary to set the table, for instance, instead of playing the martyr and going to Jesus with her complaint against her sister. Did you notice that? Martha never asked Mary to help. Rather than ask for what she needed, she opted for bitterness and attempted to draft Jesus to set her sister straight.

But Jesus didn’t come to play the referee; He came to be our sacrifice for sin—for our bitterness and faithlessness, for our upset and worry. Jesus is the remedy for all that. And that’s why Jesus Himself is the one thing needed. Mary knew that; and that’s why she planted herself at the Savior’s feet and listened. For Mary, Jesus’ Word was a lamp to her feet and a light for her path.

Jesus and His Word is the one needed thing in this life. You need Jesus and His Word, and here’s why: Because Jesus has reconciled you with the Father. Jesus presents you to the Father holy, without blemish and free from accusation. Just this morning we saw Jesus pour out all the blessings and all the forgiveness He earned on the cross into the lives of our newest and littlest members: Eliana and Andrew.

Nowhere does Jesus promise that life won’t be chaotic and stressful. But in the midst of it all, Jesus does promise peace—peace for you and in your troubled life. That peace was established at the cross—signed, sealed and delivered in the blood of Christ—peace proclaimed by the Savior’s empty tomb and the promise of the life of the world to come. This is the place where that peace becomes your personal possession—in the preaching and proclamation of His Word and through the sacraments administered in Jesus’ name. This is the place where you can sit at the Savior’s feet.

In that peace and joy, you can let go. You can let go of the worry, the fear, the stress. You can lay your burdens down and let Jesus carry them awhile. So lay your burdens down and listen . . . because Jesus is speaking . . . to you. And that’s the one thing needed. Amen.

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