Martha and Mary

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Last week, I talked a little bit about this piece that a colleague wrote recently… this piece that made its way through clergy and around the socials…

She wrote that the last couple of years have been rough on clergy, and teachers, and healthcare workers, and everybody. Because, one way or another, we have all been traumatized by climate change and fascism and the erosion of democracy; by gun violence and racism and the erosion of women’s rights; by global pandemics and broken healthcare systems and so much more.

And she wrote that that there have been special pressures on clergy, because clergy have had to learn to be business managers, and workplace health and safety experts, and human resources managers, and fundraising gurus, and masters of public relations, and all sorts of other things…

and because clergy take sacred vows to love… and to walk through the struggle with… and to be available to… the communities that we serve.

And I told you that was a little bit true. And I told you that there was another side to that. 

Because, in the middle of all of that trauma, we have also been blessed by new ways to connect, by new people who have come into the world and into our communities, by new skills that we have learned and new talents that we have discovered, by new fires that have been lit in our souls and new passions that have filled our veins.

And I told you that there have been moments—for you and for me and for all of us—when everything has been wonderful and terrible and all too much. 

And I told you that when everything is wonderful and terrible and all too much, we can return to the promise that God is with the poor and the lowly, among the oppressed and the marginalized, and in every pleading face and outstretched hand… 

And we can return to the world that the community of the church is called to: loving… and serving… and caring…

And in that work, we could find the source of our being, who scatters our pride, and lifts up our lowliness, and feeds our hungry souls.

And all of that is true… but…

In our reading today, we meet Martha and Mary.

When Jesus first came to their village, Martha went out to greet him, and invited him to their house, and got him all set up. And then the crowds came. 

And Martha is busy getting chairs and making food and serving drinks… and that’s on top of all of the things that she usually has to do… and all of the things that her sister, Mary, usually does… because Mary is sitting there and listening to Jesus… which is exactly what Martha wanted to do… which is exactly why Martha invited Jesus to their house in the first place…  and it’s all too much

So Martha goes to Jesus. And she asks him, “Can you please tell my sister to help me?”

And Jesus tells her, “No. You are worried about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that one thing. And I’m not going to take that away from her.”

And the story just… ends… right there… with Martha standing next to Jesus… and Mary sitting and listening… and the world spinning around them all… with a million things that need to be done. 

And if might just be that none of them are necessary, but that one is still looking for a seat, and that one still needs something to eat, and that one still needs something to drink…

The truth is that I don’t always worry… but when I do, I worry about this congregation… and I worry about whether I am doing enough…

Is the sermon good enough? Is it uplifting and inspiring and interesting? Is it respectful to the text and honest to the gospel? Does it include enough stuff that’s personal but not too personal?

Are there going to be any young worshippers for the time with young worshippers? Are any of them going to like it? Is it really doing anything to shape their faith or is in just a cute show for the adults? O, God, was that joke appropriate around kids?

I should do some visits after worship. I don’t do enough visits. There are folks I haven’t seen in ages. But I’ve got to get that video edited and uploaded. It would be better if we could just stream. And I think the internet upgrade means that we could stream, but we have to train the projectionists. When can I train the projectionists on streaming?

And I’ve got to get the podcast up. Is that even worth doing anymore? There were like two downloads last week. And ten views on the worship video… and two on the sermon video. And what, five on What the Faith? And no one shares them. Is media the wrong way to go?

Shoot, where was I? Visits. Right. Maybe I can set aside Wednesday for visits? No. I was going to work on the church growth stuff on Wednesday. God, we have to grow. Forty people in worship is not sustainable. And how many people have just disappeared over the last few months. Am I talking about gun violence too much? LGBTQ stuff? Should I have mentioned climate change in this sermon? Fascism? Women’s rights?

O, Jesus, what if nobody comes this week? It’s like nine-twenty-eight and the only people here are the people with jobs. What if we completely fail and it all falls apart and the church closes? That will be all my fault.

What if I’m a complete fraud? What if I’m a total failure? What if everything I have ever done has been a mistake? That’s just my shoulder tensing up, right? A little strain across the chest? Can you have a teeny-tiny heart attack? 

No… this is definitely too personal…

And it’s not all the time, but it’s enough of the time. And it’s not just me, but it is me. 

As much as I might try to hide it… as much as I might try to put on the mask and be the calm, wise, patient, mature, gentle, and loving pastor… I am Martha. At least, some of the time. And I’m a little annoyed at Jesus for telling me that I am worried about too many things. Because, come on, there are a million things to worry about!

But he’s right. There are a million things to worry about; but there is only one thing that is necessary. And that thing is the call that Christ is placing on my life. And that means that I need to take the time… to set aside all of the things… and listen for that still small voice that will pull me forward.

That alone is a revolutionary act. That alone is something that all of us need. That alone is something that can change the whole world and bring it closer to being the kingdom of God, the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be, a reign of love.

It’s a little more complicated, of course. There are, in fact, a million things to worry about. And we do, in fact, need to set those worries aside and listen. And we can’t, in fact, do all of that, all together, all at once.

But here’s the thing…

What Martha is missing, and Mary is getting, is that Jesus is right there, in their house, speaking to them. But then he leaves, and Mary has to get up and get back to work.

And the difference between Martha and Mary is not that Martha does all the work and Mary sits around listening to Jesus. It is that Martha does not take the moment to listen to Jesus and Mary does.

And I wonder, after Jesus left, what Martha was doing, and what Mary was doing. And who was changing the whole world and bringing it closer to the kingdom of God, the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be, a reign of love.

And maybe…

Look, we have all been traumatized by climate change and fascism and the erosion of democracy; by gun violence and racism and the erosion of women’s rights; by global pandemics and broken healthcare systems and so much more. And we are all suffering under the weight of the world.

But we are a church. We are a community. We are a team. We are a little consulate of the kingdom of God, the world-as-God-is-calling-it-to-be, the reign of love.

And what if all of us… what if each one of us… what if you… took the time to listen for that still small voice calling you forward? What if you opened up about your fears and your worries and your uncertainties? And what if you stood up and supported some stranger in this congregation as they stepped toward the kingdom that you pray, every week, will come?

And not all of us… would have to do all of that… everywhere… all at once. But, over time, what if all of us… what if each of us… what if you… showed up for our teachers… and our healthcare workers… and our parents… and our youth… and our retirees… and our shut-ins… and, yes, even our pastor… for everyone… in whatever way God is calling you to show up?

And, over time, what if all of us… what if each of us… what if you had a whole church showing up for you?

What if all of us listen for that still small voice… and then show up… for the sake of each other? And what if all of us have the grace to let other folks show up for us?

Because the church is not a thing that Martha does for you; it is not, as that colleague put it, a product that exists to meet people’s needs… or a fondly-regarded public utility… or a service provider.

It is a thing that all of us… that each of us… that you… do… together… in Christ… for the sake of one another.

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