Luke 10.38-42
July 17, 2016
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.

Thinking about the Mary and Martha story for the past week, I doubt Jesus means that sitting and listening is better than being busy. It does not make sense to me that what Jesus says to Martha is meant to be taken as scathing criticism. I also think we have for too long interpreted this story as Mary shirking her responsibilities. Mary does what dedicated followers of Christ do. She sits at his feet: the posture of a disciple. But the real question from this exchange is, “What does it mean that Mary has chosen the better part?” 

Last week you heard the story of the Good Samaritan. Luke places these two stories in juxtaposition for a reason. The Samaritan is commended for taking action. Martha is taking care of the needs of others, similar to the Good Samaritan.

One thing I learned a long time ago is that the pastor never chose sides in a family argument. The obvious reason is that no matter which side I choose, some group will be disappointed, if not angry with me, for not choosing their side. The more important reason for not choosing sides is that I never know the whole story. Jesus does not really choose one sister over the other. I know it appears that way. But Jesus engages both sisters, just differently. He offers them both the benefit of his teaching and his presence. The way I prefer to read this story is to see both sisters as two complimentary, necessary aspects of discipleship. This is a parable of discipleship instruction. Jesus loves both sisters. Each sister shows her love for Jesus. They show their love in different ways, and both ways are essential for the faithful following of Jesus.

Do you remember a few weeks ago the story from Luke that was about the sending of the first 70 missionaries?  I can imagine the Mary and Martha scene repeated in at least 35 houses all around the Galilee area. But wait; it was more that 35 homes because the disciples shared the Good News and moved on to more homes. I bet it was the same scene over and over again. Some gathered to hear the word of God while others busied themselves being the hospitable hosts. Both forms of discipleship are necessary. How do we show our discipleship when the Kingdom of God draws near? 

Can a church take on the personality of Mary or Martha?  Are we a church that is “worried and distracted by many things”?  Are we frantic about the Wednesday night program?  Do we wring our hands over having enough adults to help with Vacation Bible School? Are we anxious about the fall stewardship season?  Do we spend most of our time and energy on those things that are designed to perpetuate the institution of the church?  Do we make decisions in meetings without a hint of God’s reign?  We address the social issues of feeding the hungry and we support mission trips, but is it only politics and business as usual? 

Are we doing the business of the church without any word from or about God?  Have we missed the one needful thing?  Have we forgotten to give singular attention to God in season and out?  If we are only going through the motions, then do not be surprised in August at the congregational meeting to elect new leaders, if the nominating committee comes back with a report that says, “Sorry, we can’t fill all of the vacancies on the ballot.” 

How do we take on the posture of discipleship?  How do we position ourselves at the feet of Christ?  We read and study Holy Scripture together. Do you regularly attend Sunday School?  Do you participate in one of the several Bible studies offered every week?  Do you attend classes on Wednesday evenings?  When you listen to a sermon, are you a passive consumer who has come to be entertained, or do you wrestle like Jacob for God’s blessing? 

When God is at the center of our lives then even the details of our common life resonate with the Good News. The Mary and Martha story takes place in a home for a reason. Remember that I said this is a parable about discipleship. Luke sets the parable in a home because often the most profound moments of ministry begin with an off-the-cuff comment at a dinner party. I cannot keep count of the number of times a newly introduced acquaintance comes up to me at a social gathering and asks, “How do you come up with all of those ideas for a new sermon every week?”  Or “Doesn’t it get depressing making all of those hospital visits?”  Or “Doing all of those funerals?”  In all of those situations, my answer somehow rambles its way back around to my faith in our gracious God. And sometimes, I even get to talk about God’s faithfulness when my faith fails.

A little while ago I helped in the kitchen of an orphanage in Haiti. I think the Mary and Martha story prompted me to remember that hot, smoky kitchen work in Haiti and that reminded me of a story that occurred shortly after the most recently devastating earthquake that struck Haiti. Some of you may remember this story because it was told by the popular evangelist Tony Campolo. For those of you who do not know him, Tony is a retired Sociology professor and ordained in the American Baptist Church. Tony is a self-avowed evangelical who has fallen out with the more conservative evangelicals over issues that I label as “social gospel.”   In a simplistic word the issue is inclusion. Tony flew to Haiti as soon as possible to attempt to help in the recovery work. Tony was staying in one of the few safe buildings left standing in Port au Prince. Here is the story he told. One evening he was walking back to his hotel when three young girls stopped him on the sidewalk. I am OK if you are offended by what happens next in the story, but please stay with me until the end of the story and I will not attempt to repeat the story in Creole and broken English. The older of the girls was maybe 15. The middle one was probably 13 and Tony could not bring himself to say how young the third girl was. The middle girl spoke up and said, “For $10 she would spend the night with him and do anything he wanted.”  If you know anything about Tony, you can imagine his reaction. But rather than showing his heartbreak, he turned to the older girl and asked, “What about you?”  She readily agreed that she too would spend the night for only $10. Finally, what happened was that Tony Campolo negotiated for all three girls to come to his hotel room for $30. He said, “I am staying in room 210 in this hotel. Be at my room in 30 minutes.”  They agreed. Tony went directly to the concierge and asked that all of the Disney movies they had in the hotel be sent to his room. When he got to his room he called the dinning room and asked, “Do you make banana splits?”  Thirty minutes later the three girls knocked on his door. They spent the evening watching Disney movies and eating banana splits until they all three fell asleep on the king-sized bed.  

Which would Jesus prefer?  To do something that gave those three little girls back their childhood for one night? Or for Tony to go back to his hotel room and pray for them?  The question is not “What would Jesus do?”  The question is, “What does Jesus want us to do?”  How do we show hospitality to the desperate on the street even when we are the guest in their country? 

The Mary and Martha story teaches us that Jesus blesses both sides of our personalities. The Christian life involves activity and times of quiet meditation. The challenge is to know the difference and to know when to do which. In what Luke records of Martha’s speech, we get the impression that it was all about her. She attempts to engage Jesus to assist in her plans. She does not appear to be interested in learning from him. When our anxiety over doing it “right” becomes the measure of our hospitality, then the church has forgotten the One for whom we have gathered to serve.   

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