So… this is different. Right? Weird and yet… amazing that we’re able to be gathered as a community and not in the same room. I’m grateful for that. So thanks for showing up today… maybe with sleep still in your eyes and your jammies on, or with the paper beside you and a good cup of coffee in your hands. It’s working for you. And not just working for you, but for your neighbor too. So thank you.
Some of you know that my youngest son has been living in Madrid, Spain for the last six months. He teaches English there — except the schools have been closed for over a week, and as of yesterday, he’s on lockdown, stuck in the room he rents for the next 15 days. I’m a little anxious about that. Actually, really anxious.
Any of you anxious about anything? There’s plenty to be anxious about these days. Anxiety is a prevalent part of our reality — even before COVID-19 showed up. But the spread of this virus has taken anxiety to a whole new level. We’re living in a moment of intense disruption and uncertainty — and that takes a toll on one’s spiritual well-being.
Which is why this virtual experience isn’t my preferred kind of worship. I look forward to Sundays and being together to connect with who shows up and be reminded of God’s radical promises of love and belonging.
It seems like it should be an easy truth to remember even when I’m not with you, but the voice of my own inner critic and the ways of the world have a way of chipping away at that truth. I need to be reminded of God’s good news in Jesus over and over again. Gathered with you reminds me that I’m not alone in this struggle. It’s the power of community. Together we can make a difference for each other.
We set things aside for a hot minute, we hit the mute button on all the noise for a moment, and we gather to confess all that gets in the way of our relationship with God. We listen for God’s word, sing God’s praises, pray for God’s people and God’s world, continually welcoming people into the community of faith, often sharing a meal at the Lord’s table too. Experiencing that with you changes me. I’m inspired, strengthened in faith, ready for what’s next. It’s a huge disruption to not connect in the ways we’re used to. But hopefully, familiar liturgy, familiar faces, familiar music, and a familiar space brings some calm in the midst of the current disruption.
Today’s story is a familiar one too. Mary and Martha. My initial plan was to ask for a wave of hands in response to a question — and I’m going to stick to it, even though we won’t get the visual I’d hoped for. There are three characters in the story: Jesus, Martha and Mary. Since there’s only one Jesus, there’s no need to ask this question concerning his character. I’m curious who you identify with more Martha or Mary.
First the Martha’s… who among you is a doer, tending to tasks, doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes so that others feel welcomed, cared for, appreciated, a hospitality rock star? How many of you identify with her?
And how many of you identify more closely with Mary… contemplative, learners, listeners, hungry for information. How many of you identify with Mary? I imagine each of us identifies with one, a little more than the other.
And this is what I’ve never liked about the story. It seems to be a story about one versus the other, of pitting Martha against Mary. You’re either a Martha or you’re a Mary. But this either/or mentality isn’t helpful and it isn’t healthy. It’s time to look at the story with new eyes.
First, I ask that you close your eyes while I pray, “Holy God, thank you for this opportunity to hear your word, to reflect on it and be changed by it in ways we have yet to imagine. Open our hearts to receive your Good News in this moment. Open our eyes to see you in our midst. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Ok. So now, open your eyes. Please. Back to the story.
It begins with, “Jesus entering a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”
What does the scene look like in your mind’s eye? I Googled images this past week and every image depicted the scene with Mary tucked in close at Jesus’ feet, with Martha at a distance from Jesus leaning in, obviously upset and Jesus exuding calm. But what if this is an inaccurate assumption about the scene?
Here are some more what-if’s to consider to help break open the story and wonder something new:
What if Mary’s not even in the room? How does that change the conversation we’re overhearing between Jesus and Martha? Pastor Ben shared with me another theologian’s interpretation and it totally changed the story for me. She points out that “sitting at the Lord’s feet” isn’t a literal, physical thing but that it’s an expression meaning disciple. The author is making sure that we know Mary is a disciple of Jesus (which is a whole other sermon about the social norms and women’s roles and breaking rules in the kingdom of God… but that’s for another time.)
Mary’s a disciple of Jesus and Martha is too. Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus emphasizes the importance of hospitality and Martha shows us what that looks like: you welcome people, care for them and feed them. In this particular story, Martha is welcoming Jesus and the crew into her home. No mention of Mary welcoming Jesus with Martha. She’s not in the scene.
What if Mary isn’t there… at all? What if Mary is out on the road, like other disciples, getting the word out about Jesus and the good news of God’s kingdom at hand? What if Martha is feeling the weight of being alone. Maybe THIS is what has Martha tied up in knots.
Because what if Martha isn’t distracted with tasks as the translation reads but is anxious and troubled about the work of ministry? There’s just too much going on; too much to keep track of; too much uncertain about the future ahead. The word “distracted” in Greek (the original language in which this story was written) can also be translated as troubled, stressed, feeling pulled in different directions. Ever felt like that? And the Greek word “tasks” is more often translated as ministry.
What if Martha is stressed about the ministry, stressed about being a disciple of Jesus and knowing that it’s going to be a hard, hard road ahead?
What if Martha’s not complaining but voicing her worry about her sister being gone, out on the road, doing what was considered man’s work in a man’s world (teaching others what Jesus taught)?
Do you not care that my sister has left me with all the work, she asks Jesus. Left me… as in gone away, physically absent. What if Martha’s worried and anxious about her sister’s well being? Feeling disconnected from those you love creates stress. Worrying about the welfare of others tears at your heart.
And what if Jesus isn’t reprimanding Martha but inviting her to return her focus to him? What if Jesus’ concern for Martha is her stress level? Her anxiety has gotten in the way of experiencing God’s goodness — God’s good news for her? She is enough. She is loved. She belongs.
Now the story is no longer about complaining or comparing or competing. It’s a story about God’s grace and what it looks like to be a follower of Christ.
I’d like you to go find a piece of paper — can be scrap, doesn’t have to big. And with it a crayon or pen or pencil… I’m going to do it too… and will give a little pause here for those of you running around your house looking for a pen, THAT works!
At the top write one thing about which you’re anxious or worried. Now, leave a little space. This time make a list of 5 things for which you’re grateful — directly below what you wrote down as your worry.
Now, draw a line starting at the very top of the paper, above your worry, and take it all the way to the bottom, through the middle of your list.
Next, I want you to draw a line from one side of the paper to the other —horizontal and right through the middle of your worry.
Look at that! It’s what discipleship looks like. Anxiety, worry — yes, but where there is gratitude, we’re able to experience Christ in the midst of it all.
Yesterday, as I was in the final push of this message I got a text from my son in Madrid. It read: “I just saw the coolest thing in my life ever.” Stuck in his apartment, he heard something outside. He thought it might be rain. It wasn’t. It was thousands of people standing out on their balconies applauding as a gesture of gratitude for Spain’s healthcare workers and other service workers in the midst of this virus crisis.
Dave will play it for you now… Listen carefully: Video
Mikkel wrote that it lasted at least five minutes. I wrote him back: That sounds like hope. That sounds like love.
These are anxious times. Our worries are real. But gratitude holds power to change our focus. Where there is gratitude, hope has a way of showing up.
This is the reality that God established in Jesus Christ. Saint Paul writes: “Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
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