I heard about a father who was so happy to have a son and was so willing and ready to share his love for baseball with his son that he buys all the right clothes and equipment. He brings his son to all the local games and as the kid gets older he sent him to the most expensive baseball camps. It isn’t until the boy is much older, reaching adulthood, until the father finds out that his son never really liked the game, as a matter of fact he hated it with a passion. The father didn’t set out to be a bad or oblivious parent; as a matter of fact all he wanted to do was share the game he loved with the child he loved. But yet something was amiss. His inability to hear his son or his refusal to even be in conversation with him caused the dad to confuse what his son wanted with what he himself wanted. I am sure many of you can think about times when better listening, communication or observation could have aided your good intentions.
The truth is brothers and sisters I think we as Christians even do it in our faith lives more than we’d like to admit. Sometimes we are all too willing to serve the Lord and in our eagerness we may miss a step. We jump into the serving without first listening to how we are being called to serve the Lord. Despite our good intentions we may be serving ourselves, the world, or yes even Satan. I think service and obedience to Jesus always includes discussion and listening to Him. Christians have a special name for communication with God, its called prayer.
The story of Mary and Martha offers us a corrective for this tendency that all Christians struggle with from time to time. Like many familiar texts it runs the danger of misinterpretation. So many times I hear it said that there are Marys and Marthas in this world and that is ok. After all we need people serving. I don’t think it’s fair to Mary to assume that since she’s sitting at Jesus’ feet she’s not called to service. And it’s definitely not right to assume Martha doesn’t belong at Jesus’ feet because she feels she is called to prepare the meal. And most importantly I think lifting up Mary and Martha as a typology where we see two ways of being a Christian fails to acknowledge Jesus’ admonition to Martha that her sister did in fact choose rightly, implying of course that she herself chose wrongly. I am not denying that there are different ways to serve and people are called to those different ways. The New Testament is full of passages that highlight that fact, but today’s isn’t one of them. What today’s Gospel lesson tells us however is that whatever we are called to; however we may serve the Lord it always begins and ends at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from our Lord and Savior. Jesus may not be knocking on door and visiting homes with his disciples like he did in today’s reading. But through study of God’s word and unceasing prayer we are offered the same opportunity that Martha and Mary had to be in God’s presence, and that is where we should desire to be as Christians. As we see in Martha anything else leads to distraction, hardened hearts, and confusion.
If you ask me Martha’s rebuke of Mary and her words to Jesus speak volumes about the heart and mind with which she served Jesus and the disciples. Martha’s bitter words are not a result of serving Jesus. I think they are a result of confusing the world’s expectations with the call of Christ. She knew she was expected to be in the kitchen so she succumbed to the expectation without realizing this was an opportunity to serve God’s son. Somebody had to prepare a meal and act as host and it may have been Martha’s call to do so. But I highly doubt either Jesus or his disciples would’ve minded waiting a little longer to be fed so Martha could join her sister in Jesus’ presence. Christian hospitality doesn’t begin with food on the table and end when the dishes are clean. Like all Christian service it begins and ends in the presence of Jesus Christ. If you find yourself becoming angry, jealous, or distracted in your service to the Lord I ask you to take a break and in prayer and study of the bible return to the feet of Jesus. You may find yourself able to return to the same service or you may find that perhaps God was calling you to something different the whole time.
As important as it is for individual Christians to learn this lesson it’s equally important that it is taken to heart at the congregational level. All too often mission is equated to having a lot going on. The busiest churches are seen as the most faithful or effective; and thus the churches do be emulated. Programming is good and churches should be striving to meet the needs of the wider community in the name of Christ. But any programming comes out of continued conversation with God and with their specific situation. I am reminded of a story from internship. The situation in which I did internship was a unique one. After a volatile departure of a Pastor 5 years before there was still a lot of hurt. After years of being vacant they decided to welcome a detached intern.
Much of the ministry that occurred was helping this congregation get back on its feet. In one conversation we were talking about new things we should be trying. One longtime member who has become a trusted friend was smitten with the mega church in West Des Moines said we need to do small groups like the Lutheran Church of Hope. I looked at him and said “Chuck you need to remember two things Dayton is not West Des Moines and Church of Hope does small groups so they can be more like you guys.”
The truth is if churches spent as much time talking about how to emulate Christ as they did talking about how to emulate each other, I think the whole church would be much better off. Congregations need to be more like Mary placing themselves in Jesus’ presence through prayer, study, and conversation before they act.
In my brief time here I have experienced a healthy congregation with a solid approach to mission. However in light of Mary and Martha I want to challenge us as a congregation to be more intentional about placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus, surrounding all we do with prayer and the Word of God. I would also challenge us to be in constant discussion not just with God but with each other about the ministry of Christ Hamilton. Because simply doing without asking questions, listening, and learning leads to distraction, hardened hearts, and confusion. Please pray with me.
Like Martha we often find ourselves distracted, confusing the expectations of the world with your call to serve. Help us choose the right thing like Mary did putting ourselves and our actions at your feet. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.