Sunday, July 17, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
When you stop to really listen it’s amazing what things you hear, like the echo of the ocean in the shells on the beach. If we passed by the home of Martha and Mary thousands of years ago when Jesus was visiting, what would we hear? There was certainly a lot going on that day. Maybe it was the clanging of pots and pans, or the chopping of vegetables, or the movement of furniture as Martha swept the house. We don’t know exactly what Martha was doing, but we do know that she was “distracted by her many tasks” whatever those tasks might have been.
We’ve all been there haven’t we? We plan special meals, family events, work projects, even church activities …there seems an endless amount of tasks we have to do. Some of them are fun and some not, but they certainly distract us. And we want them to be as perfect as they can be, so we spend a lot of effort to make them extra special. Hospitality is a great gift, but not if we do it with a resentful heart. We heard about it in last week’s gospel in the story of the Good Samaritan who went above and beyond to care for someone – someone who was an enemy. The Good Samaritan saw someone in need and responded. Today’s story is very similar.
In today’s story we hear about someone who is responding to another’s need. That person saw an opportunity to be of help and took the time to make a difference. Their life was already busy with many tasks, but this person decided that they weren’t too busy to do something more for a friend. Yes, it was going out of the way. It was adding one more thing to a plate that was already full, but that’s what you do for those you love.
Listening by the door or window, we’d hear Jesus sitting in the main room of the house talking about…..Well, Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus was saying. He only says that Martha’s sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet like any other disciple, listening to what Jesus was saying. I wonder what it was. Was He talking about the many people and events that happened prior to His arrival? Was Jesus explaining the Scriptures? Or was He talking about Jerusalem and what would happen to Him when He got there? We don’t know what Jesus was talking about that day, but whatever it was it was important because whatever Jesus had to say was important. Mary knew that and she didn’t want to miss a word. And when Jesus began to speak she dropped whatever she was doing and listened. She wanted to hear everything. Jesus was the focus despite the noise that was getting louder in the house.
And if we were there we would hear that growing noise too. Maybe the sound of things getting slammed around. Martha mumbling even louder, angry that she was attending to the tasks that needed to be done like every good Jewish woman of her time was expected to do while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet like one of the disciples just listening – relaxing – taking it all in, while Martha was getting increasingly more distracted and stressed.
When Martha couldn’t take it anymore, she went and interrupted Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Martha expected Jesus to say, “Yes, Martha, you’re right. Mary, go and help your sister Martha.” But instead she heard, “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.”
That wasn’t what Martha wanted to hear and if we were listening in that day, it would have surprised us too. It still surprises us doesn’t it? How often have we found ourselves in such a state. We spend our days running around trying to do one thing after another. We try to fit more things in than are possible in 24 hours leaving little or no time to relax or spend time with our families. And in our church communities we do the same thing. We focus on how to increase membership, and all the things that are going wrong rather than on the mission of God’s church. And we may find ourselves resentful that others aren’t doing more. Our focus is on the wrong thing.
And today more than ever it’s easy to be filled with more and more anxiety. We can worry ourselves sick wondering about finances, and the work that needs to be done, and how we are going to get where we want to be, and what the future will bring. We’ve forgotten Jesus’ prayer, of “give us today our daily bread.” Instead of dealing with our problems one day at a time we can become trapped with every detail of the future. The headlines on the news don’t make it any easier. Every day there is another shooting, more racial violence, more anxiety that is flashed across our tv and computer screens. And while it’s important to do our best to help each other and to stand up against all this violence, we can’t do that if our focus is on everything that is going wrong instead of our real focus – Jesus. That is what Jesus was compassionately saying to Martha that day, and that’s what He’s saying to us today. “You are worried and distracted by many things, but there is need of only one thing.” Jesus wants us to know that He is all we need. He will ease our burdens.
The answer to our worries is not fear, but surrender to focusing on Jesus and listening to his voice for direction. The answer to violence is not more violence but the compassionate love of Christ. The answer to fear is not isolation and discrimination, but the generous hospitality of a servants heart. The answer to the many problems that we face every day is not apathy or defeat, but living generously as faithful disciples of Jesus. He needs to be our focus and if we keep our focus on Jesus then all the other things that we need to do will be taken care of in a balanced and healthy way. When we listen to Jesus, then we are energized and empowered to do all those tasks we have to do. We don’t have to do them alone. We, as a community of believers, can and need to work together. Jesus is with us to lead the way, but first we must listen to him.
Martha and Mary, are not the focus of this story. The focus is Jesus. In today’s story we hear about someone who is responding to another’s need. That person saw an opportunity to be of help and took the time to make a difference. Their life was already busy with many tasks, but this person decided that they weren’t too busy to do something more for a friend. Yes, it was going out of the way. It was adding one more thing to a plate that was already full, but that’s what you do for those you love. That someone was Jesus and He was willing to do anything – including dying – for those He loved and that means everyone. He was there for Martha, and Mary that day. They needed Him more than they realized, certainly more than Martha realized. And He is here for us today.
Jesus hears our worried cries for help, just as He heard Martha’s. And he responds with compassion and says, Come to me, all you who are heavily burdened. I will be your rest. I AM the better part. When we feel overwhelmed, overburdened with many tasks, underappreciated, or hopeless, it is in listening to the word of God that will restore our hope, restore our souls.
And once restored, we can then go and proclaim what God has done for us. We can then be the instruments of peace that God will work through. There are so many distractions – both external and internal – that can pull us away from God. Our own inner fears can be louder than anything or anyone else. That was the case for Martha. She eventually couldn’t even hear Jesus over her own distractions and worries, but Jesus responded to her with love and with a word of hope. He invited her sit and listen, to be refreshed, and to imagine what is possible with Jesus as the focus. Jesus lovingly responds to us in the same way.
Can we hear Jesus’ voice over the many worries and distractions that pull us away? Can we hear Jesus’ voice in others as He speaks through them? Can we hear Jesus’ voice in the least likely of people and places – the ones we try to ignore?
In the midst of our distractions it’s often hard to hear. It’s easy to hear Jesus’ voice when we slow down and make the time, but we always find a reason to do just one more task. The problem is, there’s always one more task. Jesus is speaking to us all the time, but in the noise of our thoughts it’s impossible to hear. We expect Jesus to say what we want Him to say and we don’t expect Him to speak through those we’d rather avoid. But Jesus is speaking all the time, through people who are far from perfect – people like you and me – filled with worries, and fears, and distractions.
Being a disciple means not only doing, but listening. It’s a holy balance of the two. In fact, we first have to listen – listen to the direction God is pointing us to next. Like the sound of the ocean echoing in a seashell, we must draw close in order to hear the voice of God echoing all around us. The Spirit is calling us to come close to Jesus and be restored. Today, as we worship and hear God’s Holy Word, as we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion and experience the real presence of Christ, we see and hear the sounds of forgiveness and grace. Today, Jesus lovingly asks us to make him our focus, to take time and listen to his voice of grace, to be refreshed, and to imagine the endless possibilities through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.