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Mary & Martha
“While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named
Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who
also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But
Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, ‘Lord,
don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to
give me a hand.’  The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried
and upset about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has
made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (HCSB)
I checked my records this past week to see how often I’ve preached on
this text and could only find a couple of occasions—which really surprised
me because it is such a familiar text. While I haven’t preached on
it often, I do remember a reaction I received after referring to this text
during a revival meeting in Bakersfield, California. The lady let
me have it with both barrels because she felt I was overly critical of
Martha and heaped too high a praise on Mary. My memory isn’t good
enough to know if she was right or not, all I remember was that I was embarrassed
by the public confrontation and that I wished she would just go away and
leave me alone. I bring this up just today, because it reminds me
that this passage of scripture carries with it some emotional baggage for
some of us, because people who are “worker bees” who find themselves constantly
busy doing something for others are surprised and even a bit offended by
Jesus’ reaction to Martha.
The scripture says, Martha was busying herself with "preparations."
I’m not sure exactly what she was doing, but I’m sure there was plenty
that needed to be done. Perhaps she was tidying up, or making final
preparations for a meal. We really don’t know what she was doing,
but we do know that Martha was upset because Mary wasn’t helping her do
it. Think about what would have happened if Mary would have helped
Martha, yes the work would be done faster, but Jesus would have been sitting
Think about this from Martha’s point of view. I’m sure she
was honored to have Jesus in her home and wanted everything to be just
right for Him. In those days, I don’t think Dominoes delivered in
30 minutes or less or that she could buy the fried chicken deal at Albertsons.
She was on her own to prepare a meal and I’m sure she felt overwhelmed
by the daunting task of wanting everything to be just right for Jesus.
She needed help. And she was angry that her sister wasn’t pulling
her weight. Apparently, Mary hadn’t responded to her pleas for help,
or maybe Martha was expecting Mary to read her mind, but Martha was fed
up with the situation and marched into Jesus presence to order Him to tell
Mary to come help her. Think about the nerve she had—she walked into
the presence of God and had the audacity to start ordering Him around.
She didn’t pause to worship, enjoy Him or learn from Him; instead she decided
to manipulate Mary through Jesus.
OK, let’s reflect for a minute reflect on this. But let’s
not think about the time Martha did it, instead, let’s think about the
times we do it. How much of your prayer time is spent asking God
what He wants you to do? How much of it is spent with you telling
Him what you think He should do? How much sense does that make?
Think about it, when you pray you have an audience with the one who created
the universe and all human life, right? And you do most of the talking?
And you spend more time telling Him what you think He should do instead
of asking Him what He wants you to do?
Perhaps it was her brashness that Jesus reacted to, or maybe when
He looked into Martha’s heart He saw something that displeased Him.
Certainly Jesus rebuked her when He said, “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried
and upset about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has
made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
I think part of the problem could be that Martha had her priorities
wrong; she was making preparations to entertain Jesus, instead of showing
hospitality. In her book Open Heart, Open Home, Karen Mains describes
the scene from her point of view. Martha, the entertainer, could
have been saying, "I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever
decorating, my gourmet cooking." Karen describes this as "secular entertaining."
Its source is human pride. Demanding perfection, fostering the urge to
impress, it is a rigorous taskmaster that enslaves. On the other hand,
Mary was truly hospitable by being more concerned with her guest than anything
she could do to impress him. She put Jesus first in her life and experienced
joy in serving him. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “Love the Lord your God with
all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (HCSB)
Mary lived out the essence of this text in this passage. She
positioned herself at the feet of Jesus. Completely subjected to
Him, she was there to soak up His every word and learn from Him.
She loved Him with all her heart. I know that to us, the heart is
the center of emotions, but in the ancient near-east, the bowels were the
center of the emotions, while the heart was the center of the intellect.
Frankly, I’m glad we’ve made the shift. I don’t think Hallmark would
make any money selling cards that say things like, “I love you with all
my guts,” and it would be much harder to write lyrics to songs like, “Don’t
go breaking my intestines.” We need to be careful not to superimpose
our culture on the scripture. When Mary submitted to Jesus to learn
from Him, she loved Him with all her heart. No doubt, she was putting
her entire soul into the experience. Instead of viewing this evening
as just another dinner party, she “chose what is better” and worshiped
Him with her soul. I also believed she do so with all of her might,
there is no reason to believe her attention was divided with something
else. In fact, that is probably why she wasn’t helping Martha out.
I don’t think it was intentional. She was just so caught up with
the experience of being in the presence of God that nothing else mattered
at the time.
Have you ever noticed that there is a tension in most of our lives
between service and worship? The two are intertwined. It is
possible to be so passionate about our mission and we put so much energy
into “changing the world” that we skip out on our quite time with God,
our prayer life begins to deteriorate and worship becomes less of a priority.
Like a panicked student during finals week, we’re willing to skip sleep,
meals and needed relaxation to cram for the exam and write the paper that
was due last week. We go into service overdrive, neglect our own
spiritual health and before long, we’re exhausted from our labors and start
to forget why we are doing what we’re doing. The other extreme is
the person that spends all their time filling out a discipleship notebook
and preparing to serve, but never getting around to doing anything.
So which is more important, service or worship? Does this text give
us the definitive word on this, or do other scriptures help answer this
question? Tonight we’re going to see if we can unravel this issue,
but for now, let me ask you a simple question: Do you long to be in the
presence of God?
When you are in His presence, do you use it to give Him orders
like Martha did or to marinate your soul in His glory, like Mary did?
Last Sunday Morning 69-year old Jack Arnold was doing what he always
did on Sunday Mornings, he was standing in his pulpit at Covenant Presbyterian
Church in a Suburb of Orlando, Florida preaching. According to the
Associate Pastor, Rev. Michael S. Beates, Arnold had quoted John Wesley
in his sermon saying, “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal.
But when my work for Christ is done ... I go to be with Jesus,” Though
he didn’t finish his sermon, he finished his work on earth and went to
be with the Lord. As he was winding down his sermon on heaven,
he uttered his final words on this earth, "And when I go to heaven ...”
Before he could say anything else, he died. On the other side, I wonder
how he finished that sentence?
Last Sunday he preached about heaven, this Sunday he is there,
in the presence of God. I’m pretty sure he isn’t using his first
Sunday in glory lecturing God, like Martha did. I have a feeling
he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, like Mary did.
And that’s where we should be too.