Have you ever been to a party where our host or hosts are so busy with all of the little details that the guests leave the party thinking, “That was a great party, but I wish we'd had more time to speak with our host!” (perhaps that is why we go 'out' to dinner more these days!) I imagine this Martha from over 2,000 years ago to have something in common with a certain ‘Marthas’ and perhaps even 'Michaels' of our present day and culture.. Making the just the right table setting, the delicious and perhaps elaborate meal, adjusting every little detail until it is just so perfectly in place, they turning to the guests to enjoy their company. I think we enjoy being a host and doing something special and enjoying your guests, but it should not replace the time we have to really spend our time with them, especially when it starts to feel like ‘work’ as Martha obviously expresses in today's reading.
What was at issue is a principle known as the ancient 'sacred' law of hospitality. In a culture where there was liltterally no inn, a cultural norm was to entertain strangers and both invite them and provide for them as though they were family. So significant is this that it is illustrated repeatedly in the Older Testament and we see if essentially 'commanded' in the book of Hebrews: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. " (Hebrews 13)
If you don't mind I'm going to preach to myself this morning, but you can listen in!
Today we read "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things" Have you ever seen an age so filled with anxiety as ours? The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that two-thirds of all office visits are prompted by stress related symptoms. We are all so driven. Being busy has become a way of life. A man had a sign on his desk that said "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life. Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.
I don=t know about you, but I feel the stress of our driven-ness.. How about you? Ever had bills to pay, be at a certain place at a certain time, get stuck in traffic, behind at work, pressured by friends, business colleagues or family, tried to fit Awellness in life, get enough sleep and be up and about at daybreak! I know I have. We live in an age that values "productivity". We talk about the values of relationships and people, but "time is money". And then people like me, stand up and tell you to come to church for a relationship with God and others! When I was young there was the stress of getting to the cafeteria early enough after church before the line got too long! Stress! In his book "Restoring Your Spiritual Passion" pastor Gordon McDonald speaks of the pace in IHS' day. The days were filled with things to doCbut the time between occasions of ministry to talk as they walked from place to place. Not breakfast in Damascus, lunch in Jerusalem and dinner in Capernaum!
Our culture is shaping usCfashioning us into its image. We see its moldsCbroken homes, broken dreams, broken people, addiction, suicide and obsession. Romans 12:2 says"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world". J.B. Phillips translated this verse "don't let the world squeeze you into its mold."Christians are called to "come out from among them".We are the Acalled out" ones. We expect to look at the world and see the ChurchCbut instead we look at the Church and see the world. This driven-nessCthis frightening pragmatism and "one-upmanship"Care even seen in the Church. We are called to exemplify ChristCnot the world with a Cross on top! Driven-ness results in spiritual emptiness. There was a story of a Florida resident who woke to find the street in front of their apartment building collapsed because of a lack of water underneath and produced a giant sinkhole. The less water to support, the bigger the sinkhole. This is a good analogy for the driven lifeCa spiritual collapse. The emphasis is on surface concernsCnot counting the potential cost to the inner self. Many of us are more Marthas than the Marys of today=s Gospel. We are more worried about the things of life than the meaning of life.
Where is our trust in God. I once heard of a sign that said, Worry is an insult to your Father. In Church were can be so occupied with the things of God that we never encounter the person of God, never really encounter the person of Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah said,. "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer. 2:13This produces Churches with the country club mentality or the entitlement mentality. They produce goods but no godliness. Busy, busy, busy, but where is the fruit of godliness, a reflection of Jesus Christ in the lives of those church-goers? People can walk out of those churches self-satisfied and wake up some day in separated from God in eternity. We separate the physical and the spiritual forgetting that IHS pulls the world together. For the Christian all ground is Holy Ground every bush a burning bush all space is Holy space for us because we carry God=s Spirit in us. IHS X is a God of the common the ordinary he simple. IHS said to Martha one thing is needful. That one thing is to hear God's voice.
Those of us in Church can be worried so much over the things of Church that we forget the reason for Church. Remember God does not dwell in a Temple made with hands, He dwells in our hearts.@ We live in a culture that sees value only in what we produce what we do not who we are and there is a real dearth of character in our world today. We can become workaholics in any area including churchy things. Why was Mary=s act of sitting and relating, being taught by IHS the good portion because it built toward eternal goals. One Rabbi says that Mary sits at the feet of Jesus the position of a student in Hebraic culture who sits at the feet of the great teacher or rabbi. I had a priest tell me he could never worship at Church before he retired as he was too busy worrying about things. Worrying about religious things can become a golden calf of idolatry if it becomes a substitute for our personal relationship with IHS and how easy it is to happen!
Was what Martha did bad? No but it was a substitute for being with IHS. In our lives we know we "should" prioritize. But do we? In his book: First things First, author Stephen Covey speaks of four areas in which we function in our priority making. Important but not urgent; Important and urgent; not important but urgent and not important and not urgent. Where do most of us lose our time? In the last category: the path of least resistance. If you haven't seen this, look it up online when you get home. What does God call us to do? Follow, worship, fellowship, be still, to be doers of the word and not hearers only. In this Gospel we have a contrast between doing and being. You see the only thing we can give to God is our time our time represents ourselves our most valuable resource. We show value to our spouses, friends and children by being with them, really listening to them and by lovingly giving them our time. We build relationships, trust, common goals and purposes with time. So it is with God!
Are we anxious about so many things that in the eye of Eternity don=t really matter? Have we made some concern, some Churchly or secular preoccupation so central that God is left out in the mix?
In Philippians 4:6 we are told Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Have a goal for your material and spiritual life: integration We must press on toward the goal as St. Paul in Philippians 3:14CAI press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me...in Christ Jesus. We must be on God=s team, not our own! May we serve as we have learned why we serve. But, let us order our private worlds purposefully, making the decision daily to live as a called rather than a driven person.
If we are to be driven let it be to sit with Mary at IHS feet and as she was, be a disciple, one who learns to be a follower of his way which is Gods Truth revealed. We prayed: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. As Jesus told Martha let us choose the necessary and better part in Christ which cannot be taken away.