Sermon for July 28, 2019
Texts: Psalm 15; James 1:19-25; Luke 10:38-42
Sermon: "When Jesus Comes To Visit"
Are you Mary or Martha? Do you listen or act? Should we study or serve? It is pretty clear that most of us want to be like both Mary and Martha. And it is equally clear that perhaps that is a good thing.
We cannot serve Jesus Christ without knowing how he taught us to serve, how we are to love the one we serve, what we are to say or not say, do or not do. All of the ways we serve him are tied to what we learn when we sit at his feet and hear the messages of compassion and grace, generosity and hospitality.
In the early days of forming a people -- a people God later would call his "light to the nations" (Isaiah 49:6, for example), God through Moses taught the people not just to memorize the laws and statutes that he gave them, but to observe them.
God through Moses taught the people to live the laws and statutes fully so that all around them people would know what kind of God they serve -- a just God, a good God who wants peace among all people and love shared with one another, a people who love God and serve their neighbors.
Moses appealed to the people in God's name, saying:
"For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?" (Deuteronomy 4:7-8)
A year ago I gathered a group of people together after the 10:30 worship service and planted in them a word that God had put in my heart.
I told them that the Natchez Stewpot was not able to serve its clients on the fourth Sunday of the month because the church that had filled that slot for a very long time had to give it up. No group had stepped up to fill that need.
That little group gathered in the church that day jumped on the idea.
"Let's do it," they said. "Let's do it."
And this morning as we sit here together in the sanctuary, some of them are at the Stewpot to serve 300 or more meals this morning. They are responding as the Letter of James says to us today, to "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers" (James 1:22).
Many of you, too, have responded to the new ministry at Stewpot, cooking and providing other needs for the meals. You have exhibited the love of God putting God's word into action that will make a difference in the lives of many, many people today and next month and the next.
There is no end to the opportunity to respond to God's word in acts of kindness and love. Sometimes even the simple ways of acting are powerful enough to take your breath away. It is God at work, God's Spirit doing what Jesus promised God's Spirit would do -- fill and send, teach and inspire.
Most often, yes, the story of Mary and Martha is seen as an either-or story.
I want us today to think of the story in a different way. Faithful Christians do seek to be like Mary and like Martha.
Faithful Christians work in the church kitchen preparing food for fellowship dinners and also sit at the feet of Jesus at worship service and prayer meetings.
Faithful followers plant flowers in the church yard and also study Scripture and teach Sunday school classes.
Dedicated church goers clean gutters, make repairs on the church -- and also volunteer to help form the faith of children of the church.
Let's look at the story again.
Jesus enters a village and goes to the home where he has friends.
Hospitality in the time of Jesus was very much the way it is today -- when visitors come, we want to give them something to eat and something to drink.
Martha welcomed Jesus. It was her home, Luke tells us. Her sister Mary was there, too. After the welcome, Martha hurries to the kitchen and Mary sits at the Lord's feet and listens to what he had to say.
Martha was distracted. Martha was distracted by many things, Jesus says. Martha had food to prepare and a table to get ready. She scurried about and became frustrated and then irritated at her sister for not helping her prepare the meal.
When Martha calls on Jesus to help her move Mary to help in the kitchen, Jesus answers her gently, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing."
Our first attempt to figure out what Jesus means by that "one thing" is to imagine he might mean simple choices about how we spend our time. Do we make time to sit and listen, time to share daily blessings and joys? In other words, do we make time to be less busy and more focused on the "one thing" -- that is, listening to Jesus?
Clearly, we cannot separate Martha and Mary in such a way that one is right and the other is wrong. We take a risk of putting the sisters in separate categories of people types and, just as I suggested earlier, putting ourselves in there with them. In which type might you want to be placed?
One theologian commenting on the story has put it this way: "We must not cartoon the scene: …If we censure Martha too harshly, she may abandon serving altogether, and if we commend Mary too profusely, she may sit there forever. There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing 'which and when' is a matter of spiritual discernment." (Fred Craddock, Luke Interpretation)
As we read in Ecclesiastes: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (3:1). Yes -- a time to go and do; and a time to listen and reflect. Knowing the proper time comes from spiritual discernment.
And that may be the key to what Jesus tells Martha and Mary, and us: Knowing when it is a time to listen and reflect and when it is a time to scurry about with a to-do list in hand so that life duties get done in good time -- that is a matter of discernment.
Amid all our doing, we can be distracted, losing touch with the meaning of simply being in God's presence, listening, watching with our heart for a special message, that is, a word meant to be heard in a particular time and place.
That kind of hearing happens when we open our hearts in a time of listening and reflecting, putting aside to-do lists and tasks to accomplish.
Let's hear Jesus again:
"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."
Mary has chosen to listen as she sits at the feet of Jesus. While he is present, she will be present to him. Mary chooses to turn away from the world of doing and instead to be totally in the presence of Jesus. This is her time. The Lord Jesus speaks to her.
The Kingdom of God is near, Jesus has told us. Be watchful. Be alert. Be ready to receive the good news breaking into the world all around you.
Prepare your heart to listen and to hear. The Lord will come to you, talk with you, and change your heart. We read in The Letter of James the call to listen and to "welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls" (1:21).
My prayer for you this week is that Jesus will be so fully present in your heart:
-- That you cannot ignore him;
-- That you will feel compelled to fall at his feet and listen;
-- That you will listen and know when he calls you to prayer and study and then sends you to do the things on a brand new to-do list, one that HE has put in your heart that will lead you to serve as a vital member of the Body of Christ, his church. Amen.