Pentecost 9 – St. Luke 10:38-42
One thing has always struck me about our Gospel text, more so than anything else. It is the plain brazenness with which Martha approaches Jesus and alerts Him that she is in the kitchen, preparing the meal for Jesus and His disciples, not to mention whoever else might be staying for dinner; she is the one who is running around finding chairs for everyone to sit at the table; running to the neighbors to check on the extra food being prepared over there; she is the one who is trying to pull together this last minute potluck, while Mary is sitting listening to Jesus speak.
Who walks up to their guest, and tells the guest to make sure the host gets up and helps with the work?
Maybe if your grandparents are visiting, your grandfather might politely suggest to a grandchild that they need to help set the table; maybe your grandmother speaks of the olden days when she would help prepare the meal; but would your parents ever tell your visiting grandparents that they should order you to get up and go help?
I would think not.
And yet, what is Martha doing?
To be honest it is really two things – first and foremost it is a cry for help, there is a lot of work to do, and Mary would add a much needed pair of hands. But it is also an effort by Martha to draw attention to herself – look at me Lord, I am doing the real work of serving you, while Mary just sits there listening to you talk.
And that is where the brazenness of Martha’s words are suddenly not so brazen, but in fact are rather familiar, both to our ears and to our lips.
For this is not just a cry for help, this is a cry of pride. Look at me, setting up tables and chairs; look at me making the food; look at me being the perfect host, while others sit and do nothing but listen.
The church is full of Martha’s after all; how many boards and committees do you serve on; how many hours have you volunteered; how many salads have you made that have been eaten by others; how often have you wonder out loud, in very clear terms, why others do not serve as much as you serve. How many Sunday afternoons do you wonder how others can sit around and do seemingly nothing but show up for church and go right back home, while you keep the wheels spinning throughout the year.
You would never approach someone and ask why they do not attend Bible study, but you would not even think twice about asking someone why they did not help clean up after the last potluck. You would think it to cruel and impolite to tell someone that they should come to church; but you would not worry about any manners at all when it came to signing up volunteers for the next big project.
And you would not hesitate for a second to approach Jesus as Martha does, and say ‘You do care that I am serving while others are watching, right?’
That is after all what Jesus wants is it not?
Which is more important: a proper understanding of Christ in the Old Testament, or that the food bank has enough help? Which matters more: that you can make the proper connections of Jesus passion predictions; or that the fair booth is filled up early? Which do you concern yourself with – the study of grace in Paul’s epistles, or the study of how many students will be in Sunday school in the Fall?
You are not denying anything here, you still confess Jesus as Lord, still trust your baptism, still receive the true body and blood of Christ; you just have decided that when it comes to Mary and Martha, you are more Martha than Mary. You are the one in the kitchen, while Mary sits and listens to Jesus.
And like Martha, you are not real happy about it.
But therein lies the problem. The Church needs Martha’s; the Church needs those who are willing to serve and help in many and various ways; the Church could not do even 10% of what it does in the community today without the willing and able band of Martha’s who show up whenever and wherever needed.
But the Church does not need Martha’s at the expense of the Word.
Today, Martha wants recognition that what she is doing is just as good, if not better, than what Mary is doing.
Tomorrow, Martha will want a better spot in heaven, because of what she has done on earth.
Next week, Martha will want a say in the administration of the heavenly kingdom, barring all those who did not put in the proper service time on earth.
Next month, Martha will have taken the place of God, making sure that anyone who enters through the pearly gates will have done enough to serve the Church on earth in order to gain entrance into heaven.
Do you see where Martha is headed? Martha loves to serve, and she is most likely an excellent host for Jesus and His disciples. But Martha is serving at the expense of the Word; Martha would rather everyone have a cold drink than that she herself receive the cup of salvation. Martha would rather everyone eat to their fill, than make sure that she herself eats of the Bread of Life. Martha would rather everyone have a comfortable seat, than to make sure her seat for eternity is secured.
That is what serving cannot offer, but what the Word does offer, it offers what food and drinks and couches cannot give; the Word alone offers the path that leads to eternal life. The Word alone offers grace and mercy and the forgiveness of sins. The Word alone comes to you and tells you of what Jesus has done to save you from your sins.
What are you to do? Stop serving for a moment, and hear the Word. Put down the tables and chairs; put down the mixing bowl; put down the sign up sheets; put down the pledge cards; it can all wait until later; for now, just stop and hear the Word.
Hear the Word in worship, where it is proclaimed to you that Christ Jesus came into the world so that you might have forgiveness, life and salvation. Hear the Word in Bible study, where the mysteries of the Scriptures are explored in greater depths, and you can learn to stand firm in the face of opposition. Hear the Word in daily devotions, where you can meditate on the riches of God’s grace and mercy.
And then you may serve. Once you have heard the Word and been refreshed, pick up those tables and chairs and mixing bowls; resume your search efforts for volunteers and for pledges.
For when you hear the Word first, you will know that your service is not for your benefit or for your salvation, but that it is for the glory of God, and God alone.
Like most things in the Gospels, we do not know what happens next. Based on far to many experiences, it would not be too farfetched to say that Martha stormed off into the kitchen in a huff. That is what we would be tempted to do after all.
But the proper conclusion to our Gospel text is not the reprimand that Jesus gives to Martha, but instead that after being admonished, Martha sits next to Mary, and they both hear the Word together; and when the lesson is complete, than they both get up and they both serve Jesus together.
Were the biscuits a little hard? Was the turkey a little overcooked? Were the potatoes lumpy? Did the disciples grumble a bit that they had to wait longer than they were accustomed to sit down at the table?
Yes, I suppose all of these things could have happened, and maybe even did happen. But what also happened, is that Mary and Martha, is that you dear children of God, heard the Word and were gladdened by it.