Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sermon: First Things First

This is my sermon from today:

based on Luke 10:38-42

In our household, we have a very strict rule about Christmas eve. I wonder if any of you had the same or a similar rule. Remember, those were the days before dishwasher. Everything had to be washed and dried by hand. The rule was: not one single present could be opened until the dinner table was cleared, the leftovers were put away, and the dishes as well were washed, dried and put away. It was unbearable. Even with all of the aunts upstairs working together, it seemed to take forever. It was the same rule, although exaggerated, that operated every evening at our house: no one got to watch TV until the dishes were done. No one got to have fun until the chores were done. First things first, after all. Once the work is done, everyone can relax and put their feet up. Oncethe harvest is in, everyone can settle in for the winter. It's a good rule, and it makes for a well-ordered community.

I can't help feeling that Martha would approve. She is busy providing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. Remember that Jesus is traveling not alone, or even with two or three, but with a whole church-load of disciples. Perhaps Martha is not just providing supper and a place for them to wash their feet. Perhaps she is as well providing a kind of pastoral leadership -- a place for Jesus to eat, but also a place for Jesus and his disciples to worship and for him to teach them. She's not just a drudge, she is a disciple, she is a leader, but someone has to make sure the table is set, and the hymnals are set out, and the chairs are all in a row. First things first. Martha wants to sit and listen, she wants to join in the fun of learnning and worship with Jesus: but first she needs to get all of her work done.

In our house, the women were Marthas -- especially on Christmas eve. The men and the children sat and talked and the children especially looked at the presents with longing in their eyes. The women, not seeming to mind the suspense at all, cooked and cleaned and tidied and made sure that everything was done properly and in good order. they were Marthas, but they weren't complaining about it -- not then. In fact, it even sounded like they were having kind of a good time up there in the kitchen. Even though there were others who were getting to focus on other things -- who were setting their minds to football or politics, who were undder the tree counting presents, and shaking them, even though there were others who were Marys that evening, they didn't seem to mind.

It seems like nobody wants to be Martha any more. We have fast food, we have dishwashers, we even have people who will deliver your groceries for you! We have, I have discovered, not only fast food, but we have, not far from my house, a new kind of store where you can buy all of your groceries for dinner, 5 nights in a row, packaged and prepared (even veggies chopped up) and put in little containers to take home. Then all you have to do is open your refrigerator, and take our the containers (including sauces) and put them together. And you have a homemade meal. Unfortunately, there is not yet a store you can goto where you can get all of your "cleaning up" done for you. But everyone agrees -- cleaning up is less fun than cooking! Nobody wants to be Martha any more.

In this congregation, we have a group of women who have been going to different churches putting on a play about some of the women in the Bible. It's called "Never Underestimate the Power of Women." When we get to the story about Mary and Martha, and Martha takes out her long long list of household chores -- everybody laughs. And when Mary gets up to speak, and whispers to the audience, "I hate housework!" everybody laughs more. It seems that nobody wants to be Martha any more.

And why should anyone want to be Martha, anyway? Every Jesus scolds her. He thinks she is a fuss. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things," he tells her. Only one thing is needful." What a stick-in-the-mud poor Martha is! She is the drudging ant to the playful grasshopper of Aesop's fable fame. she wants to get the work done. she wants to put things in good order. It's not that she doesn't want to listen to Jesus. I'm sure she wants to sit at his feet and listen to him, and learn from him just like Mary is doing. But she doesn't have time. At least not yet, anyway. She's like Abraham and Sarah -- scurrying around, busily welcoming the three visitors who have surprised them -- and wanting to provide them the best hospitality. She is the responsible sister. She is the busy church board member. she is the 60 hour a week worker. She is the good housekeeper -- like the woman I knew hwo got all of her ironing done on Sunday morning before she went to church. (I wonder if she went to the early service.

No, nobody wants to be Martha anymore. But the truth is -- we are. For all of our labor-saving devices, there is more labor than ever. And, whether we like housework or not, the words "you are worried and distracted by many things" fits all of us, at one time or another, or about one thing or another. Maybe we aren't worried and distracted about housework. Maybe we are worried and distracted about our job, whether we will have one or not, whether the work is too much for us or not. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the demands of parenthood, whether the children are infants, toddlers or teenagers. Or maybe we are worried and distracted about our adult children and our grandchildren, or about our parents who are getting older, and are in and out of hospitals. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the problems of the world, not knowing the best way to help, feeling powerless, not wanting to walk on by. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the small stuff, the details of our lives: groceries to buy and people to call, and bills to pay, and friends to pray for. It's hard to focus sometimes, isn't it? "Martha, Martha," you are worried and distracted by many things..." Jesus says. Like it or not, we are all Martha at one time or another. Maybe mroe so now than ever, as our world offers so many distractions, so many choices, (both good and bad) so much noise.

This story is not so much about serving versus studying. It's not saying that owmen who study the Bible are better than women who work in the kitchen. We need women who work in the kitchen, and men too for that matter. Even though this story is about two sisters, it's not aobut women's work, either. It's really a story about discipleshipl, just like the story before it, the story of the Good Samaritan, is a story about discipleship. It is meant to illustrate the verse, "You shall love the Lord with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all you strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Both of these stories, taken together, illustrate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. the Samaritan is good because he sees the broken man lying by the side of the road -- and goes to help him. The other two look away, they don't have time, they are worried and distracted about other things. And Mary (in this story) is praised because she is focused on Jesus -- first things first. Yes, it's true, the work has to get done. But first things first. what is more important, the task or the person?

And actually, here is Martha's problem: she really wants to sit at Jesus' feet, too. She wants to hear his words. She wants to experience his promise. But she doesn't think she can. She's too busy. she has to get all of her work done first. she has to make all of her phone calls first. she has to stir the soup, and line up the chairs, and unlock the doors. she has to do all of it -- the long long list of making e erything right. It's on her shoulders. It must weight heavily on her. So she thinks that she can't sit down to hear the good words Jesus has to speak.

But Jesus tells her: Martha -- you're wrong. You don't have to do it all. You don't have to make everything right. You don't have to make the soup delicious every time, and the phone calls -- they'll wait. You don't ha ve to be the perfect mothelr, or father. You dol't h ave to do all the dishes right now. Maybe if you sit down, someone else will sweep the floor, or unlock the door, and greet the people. Maybe they will. But in the meantime, you sit here, with Mary, at my feet. I have a word for you. I h ave a promise for you. And I have a present for you. Open it.

First things first. that's what it means to be a disciple. It means first of all, to see Jesus... coming to you in your worried and distracted life, with bread and wine in his hands, and a promise on his lips. He comes to us like the strangers in the story from Genesis, a gracious presence in our lonely lives, out in the desert -- and yes, there is much glad activity when we see him.

But stop and listen ... he comes to us in our worried and distracted life ... and he comes to give us a promise. "In due season, you will have a son," is what he tells Abraham and Sarah." "I am the resurrection and the life," he tells us. "Your life is not barren, but full," he tells us. "Take and eat," he tells us. He comes to us in the stranger lying by the side of the road, the one who is wounded and needs our love. He comes to us in the Samaritan, binding up our wounds, taking us in, healing us. He comes to us in the stranger, with a free gift we did not deserve and were not expecting: forgiveness, life. Take and eat. You have time.

First things first. AMEN


Rowan The Dog said...

Hi Diane,
Me and my guardian are glad you are posting your sermons.

We rather like the Pharisee and the Priest in the story from last week. Lindy says that she thinks she would have been an excellent Pharisee and, because I am her loyal dog, I agree.

We like Martha too. Lindy says that there’s no point in saying which characters are good and which ones are bad. She’s really rather opposed to stuff like that. Not me. I know, for example that liver treats are good, carrot chips are bad. I am clear on that. But good and bad don’t really exist for Lindy.

Lindy says that both stories are about roles and how they entrap and define us. The Pharisee and the priest, for example, were unable to go to the wounded man for risk of becoming ritually impure. The role that they were constrained by actually prevented them from what was likely their first and higher impulse. The Samaritan, on the other hand, was already so low on the status scale that he didn’t have to worry about being ritually pure. There were no such expectations, no assigned role, for him.

Martha was simply constrained by her role too. When Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, he is saying that it is better not to let yourself become entrapped by the expectations of your role. He is saying that it is OK for Mary to behave like a man, that strict gender roles are out the window. Jesus just doesn’t have that sort of thing. And, while we think it’s doubtful, this sort of emancipation from what is expected would have allowed some of the men to step up and cook and clean too.

At least that’s what my guardian says. I am only a dog… hey, wait a minute, maybe I should step out of my role too. But, what to be…what to be… Not a cat, that’s for sure. Not a cat.

And, my best to Scout.



Diane said...

good point, rowan! and I have talked about these things in other sermons on these texts. I do believe as well (or I wouldn't have preached about it) that these two texts are examples of how to "Love the Lord your God with all your....etc. and your neighbor as yourself."

Diane said...

..And Rowan, LOTS of good church people like Martha. I like Martha. sometimes, I am Martha. But that's another point.

Rowan The Dog said...

Yeah... I am pretty sure it's a "Martha" who makes sure I have my favorite kibble and those nice liver treats.

Go Martha.




Gannet Girl said...

I have read so many sermons sympathetic to Martha in the past week! I am glad she is getting her due -- even though there has never bveen any hope for me as a Martha.

RevDrKate said...

Thank you for this, I really, really needed that reminder that Jesus comes into our lives as we are...we don't have to get them all perfect and tended first. Wonderful glad you posted it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your sermon!

mompriest said...

diane, I enjoyed this sermon and your reflection on Martha.

Barbara B. said...

Yes, I agree with mompriest! Thanks for posting!

kim said...

A huge thank you from me for posting your sermon. You know why, and I feel guilty. I'll be there eventually, but until then I appreciate being able to read the sermon. I don't know what I am anymore, but I'm fairly certain I'm hardly ever a Martha. At least not with a lot of concentrating. Or maybe I'm not getting it? That could be, too. I don't know very much about any of these people, but I want to.