Luke 10:38-42 | Rev. Will Conner
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
In just a few short weeks our kids and teachers are going to be going back to school. You see it at Walmart with the school supplies already in the front of the store. We have students about to pack up for college. We have kids entering the 9th grade who will be going to the high school for the first time.
It’s been several years since I’ve had to worry about back to school season. But this year, it enters my house. This year my son starts Kindergarten. We, along with countless other parents, are about to start the ritual of back to school shopping, meeting teachers, establishing a school routine, arranging for child care after school, and on and on and on.
The emotions that surround the back to school season are full and complex. You have new teachers who are excited to get into the classroom for the first time. You have veteran teachers who are eager to meet their kids, but are tired from the constant testing and bureaucracy that seems to be in education these days. Many parents are eager for school to start, but some of them begin to worry about the stress that school often puts on their children. Many kids are excited about the start of school, but I also know that many children really experience a lot of stress and anxiety when it comes to school. Anxiety about grades, about their clothes, about if they are going to be accepted by their peers.
These fears and anxieties are amplified even further if a child is going to a new school. You have new teachers, a new floorplan of the school, where will I sit at lunch? Will anyone want to sit with me?
As adults, I think that it is often difficult to appreciate the depths of stress and anxiety that many of our children face. It’s easy for adults to dismiss the feelings of children. If you are an adult, you know that the things you stress about have much larger consequences, usually. You know that if you don’t perform at your job, you won’t be able to take care of your family. If you don’t save enough for retirement, you won’t be able to make it when you are older. But the truth is, all of this stress and anxiety is relative—and kids are just as stressed and anxious as you can be.
Here lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting heartburn very frequently. This is not a pleasant thing. I’m trying to adjust my diet and exercise in hopes that losing weight will help. But I also can pinpoint the beginning of this heartburn when I began preparing for my transition here. The stress, the anxiety of the unknown. As things are settling in, I’m beginning to feel at home, and as I am getting to know many of you, my hope is also that my stress level will go down along with this heartburn.
It does seem that worry and anxiety are just a standard of life.
What would you do if I said, without any prior notice, “I’m looking forward to coming to your house after church today for lunch.” Did someone’s heart skip a beat? Did you start to get a little anxious? Oh, no, the preacher’s coming over, our house is a wreck, did I pick up the dirty clothes off the bathroom floor? What do the kid’s rooms look like? What is he going to think about me now? And lunch? What are we doing to have for lunch? I was just planning on eating peanut butter—I haven’t been to the grocery in week. – Are you anxious yet?
Just last week. I was in midst of moving into my office, Hope was working a lot—the house was a mess. We had to go to an attorney’s office. I went to Costco and the grocery store, and decided to call my grandmother. Let me remind you, our house was a wreck. In a lapse of judgement, I invited her over for dinner. She lives alone, we hadn’t seen her is several weeks, I was making a simple shrimp pasta, I had just bought some wine—easy, easy.
So then I text my wife who is out with the kids to let her know that my grandmother is coming over for dinner. She texts back two words, “the house.”
I have to imagine those are same words that Martha said when Jesus told her that he was coming over for dinner. In thinking about our scripture lesson, I am sure that there is excitement around Jesus coming over – but then the anxiety sits in – “the house.” Dirty dishes in the sink, the floors haven’t been vacuumed, there are no groceries, is our house even nice enough for Jesus? on and on and on. Worry and anxiety.
When we read our scripture lesson this morning, we read from the perspective of Jesus as the main character. We read, “Now as they (that is Jesus and his close followers) went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”
But I like imagine what this story might have looked like from Martha’s point of view. Martha lived with her sister Mary, and perhaps some other folks. Martha knew who Jesus was and loved him dearly, after all Martha is the only one in the story that call’s Jesus, Lord. And she hears that Jesus is coming for dinner.
This type of last minute guest doesn’t happen all that often these days. When we want to do something with a friend we both check our calendars and ensure that we have ample time to prepare. But not 2000 years ago. Martha got little notice that Jesus was coming. And when she realized that her friend and Lord was coming to her home, she wanted to be a great host. She wanted to practice hospitality to the one she loved so dearly. So she got to work.
She began sweeping the floors, polishing the silver, perhaps she was in the middle of laundry, and she had clothes strung through the house trying get stuff put away. And then with Jesus coming over, she worried if the bread she baked two days ago was still going to be fresh. Could she get figs? Were there olives in the pantry? She didn’t have any meat to feed her Lord. If she could get any food together it would only be very meager. Oh, she worried, what will he think of me; he won’t even enjoy himself. Worry, anxiety, worry, anxiety.
Perhaps, she thinks, Mary could run to market and see if there is anything left so they could prepare to show their friend a good welcome. She is about to ask Mary to go run this errand, then there is knock at the door. It’s Jesus. So instead of asking Mary right away, she makes a plan to invite Jesus in, get him something drink, then ask Mary to run out for bit. Surely Jesus won’t mind, because if Mary does this one little thing, the three friends will be able to relax shortly and enjoy their reunion. That’s a good plan, Martha realizes and goes to the door to invite Jesus in. She helps Jesus through the door, offers him water and a towel to clean up after journeying through the dusty streets.
Meanwhile Mary starts a conversation with Jesus. Martha then goes to the kitchen to prepare a small plate of food and a drink for Jesus. She knows that Mary will follow her into the kitchen, and then Martha can ask her to run out for a moment. But Mary never comes to the kitchen.
Serving plate and drink in hand, Martha walks back into the gathering room to give Jesus his refreshments. By this time Jesus is already sitting down. He is relaxing, resting his feet from long day of walking. But Mary is sitting too. As Martha brings Jesus his refreshments, Mary isn’t even courteous enough to realize that her sister needs help. Martha is fuming; she’s been working all day, there is still work to do and Mary is just sitting. Perhaps she takes the refreshments to Jesus, when she says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
You can hear the desperation in Martha’s voice. She just wants a little help. She just needs a little help, and then everyone can enjoy the evening. But Mary is making it impossible to Martha to relax. Worry, anxiety.
Then Jesus speaks, “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.”
I can almost hear it… “Yea, Jesus, but …”
You see some have taken this passage to rebuke those who do things for the church. Some have taken this passage to criticize those who take great care at planning church events such as potlucks, Vacation Bible School, or the doing construction work for the church. Then some would say that the better life is to live the life of contemplation and prayer. Perhaps we should stop having potlucks and begin having more Bible study. Let’s not worry about cleaning the church, let’s just focus on Jesus.
When we look closely at what Jesus teaches, and when we look at our own lives—this type of interpretation doesn’t hold. It’s important to study the bible; it’s important to pray; but it’s also important to prepare for church get-togethers, and VBS; and it’s important to clean the church and prepare the church for worship on Sunday.
Martha’s problem in this scripture passage is not what she was doing, after all she was hosting Jesus in her home. Martha’s problem is that she is worried and anxious and troubled and distracted. When the host is anxious and distracted, she loses her focus. When you host someone the goal, the focus of the hosting is not the particulars of your home (are the clothes clean, are all the floors swept, are all the legos put away). The focus of hosting is your guest. You see, what Mary got and Martha missed was that Mary’s focus was on Jesus, and Martha focused on her worry.
Mary neglected to help her sister clean up the house, but she realized that the most important thing about this visit was not the house but it was their guest. And by being close to Jesus, she was able to experience the peace that Jesus offered. And Jesus wants Martha to enjoy this peace too. Jesus is not concerned that house is perfect.
What this story tells us is that the love of God is the most important thing. And when we love God, when we attend to Jesus we can be free from the worries and anxieties of life.
I used to be hesitant to invite people over for dinner. I built a beautiful patio behind our house, and I like to cook, and I like to cook for people. But I have always had a hard time inviting people over because of all the work it takes to prepare our house for guests. But in the past year or so, I’ve come to realize that it is much more important to enjoy friends than it is to have the “prefect” house and “perfect” dinner party. Because the point of having people over is not to show how good we keep house, but is to enjoy the company of people we hold dear. And that’s a beautiful and peaceful thing.
When we focus on the love of others, when focus on Jesus we are able to put our stress and anxiety in perspective. Jesus told Martha to not worry or be anxious so much. Jesus wanted Martha to enjoy him. You see, peace is a gift of following Jesus. Jesus wants to give this peace to Martha, and Jesus wants to give this peace to you. Will you sit? Will you listen? Will you take the gift of peace Jesus offers?
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.