A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
July 17, 2016
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
What’s a person to do?
I mean, really- what was Martha to do? Let everyone go hungry? And really- what’s a church supposed to do?
Bob and Carolyn are here- do you want us to put on the dirty table cloths?
And the boat sails at 2 and nobody wants coffee that was brewed at nine this morning and who wants to come BACK and wash dishes?
Seriously- are we supposed to be a church that doesn’t feed the hungry, or visit the sick, or do all the things that God keeps telling us are important?
No wonder nobody likes preaching on this passage.
Wait- I take that back. If you’re president of the women’s group, or moderator of the deacons, and you’ve been working as hard as Martha, you probably are READY to sit down right beside Mary and let your brother Lazarus figure out how to take care of a houseful of guests.
You see, we have two huge problems with this story, and the first one is, we want to honor Martha for all the work she was doing.
And while we admit that not everything needs to be done that we do in church, most of it is somehow connected to the Gospel. Didn’t Jesus feed 5,000 people? Didn’t he heal the sick? Didn’t he DO stuff?
Yes he did. And so should we. That’s the first problem.
The second one is this:
Most Americans can’t be like Mary because most of us don’t know how to sit still and listen. Listening is well, boring. And real listening is something that we’re constantly being told that nobody does anymore.
It means somebody else is in charge.
It means thinking about what they’re saying,
And not about what you’re going to say next.
Every Thursday we have a speaker at Rotary Club, and almost every week somebody interrupts the speaker with a question. Which is fine and even good, but often, somebody else has another question as soon as the first is answered, and frequently the speaker never gets more than about two minutes into their presentation before it’s hijacked for good.
I am convinced most of those questions will get answered, if we sat there, waited, and listened.
But we don’t.
And I should say something else. Two years ago, when I was at alumni days at Princeton, Eugene Peterson was speaking, and he as talking about pastors that never rest.
No Sabbaths, and meetings every night. Or at least it seems that way by the time Sunday morning rolls around.
So I was doing what I often do when I’m listening to an interesting speaker, I was taking notes on my phone and posting few quotes on Facebook (Can I really call that listening? I insist I can…), and one of my friends took exception.
Katie works in the poor neighborhoods of of a poor city, and those folk who have jobs can’t take vacation, and they might have to work two jobs, and they don’t have time to shop for bargain foods that are also healthy, and they’re too tired to cook AND be cheerful on the same evening.
What would a retired pastor who lives in Montana know about that?
So yeah, Jesus. Let Martha do the work while Mary sits and listens, but we don’t get it.
So what’s a person to do?
Well, I commend to you- as did Paul- our sister, Phoebe.
Phoebe, and all the other people that Paul listed on his gratitude list.
You know what a gratitude list is, don’t you?
It’s a real, live, actual written down list of things- or situations- or PEOPLE- that you’re grateful for at any given moment.
And Paul had a list, which began with Phoebe.
He said, “Receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.
First off, “receive her in the Lord.”
That’s MORE than saying “Hello!”
It’s MORE than being extra nice to her when you see her.
It means even a bit more than “doing what Jesus would do for her”.
I think it means, “be Jesus to her when you see her,” and he’s saying that because SHE was Jesus to him.
Then there are Priscilla and Aquila, who were co-workers with Paul IN Jesus.
What’s THAT mean?
It means something more than doing Christ’s work together.
It means they were working IN Jesus, immersed in his work and IN HIM.
Not just his work, his self!
And there are other co-workers IN Christ, and friends IN Christ, and people who faithfulness stood the test- meaning, they were always there, whenever Jesus turned around.
One of them was even in jail with Paul!
And others were described as CHOSEN in Christ.
I’m convinced that one way or another, all of these people were IN Christ- that is, immersed and marinated in Jesus words and Jesus actions, in Jesus way of thinking and being.
But there’s something I’m also sure of: They weren’t born that way.
I think that one way or another, they all GOT that way, each of them their own different way- and I think Martha got that way, too.
Some got that way fast and some slow and some in spurts and stops., but they all started out as people who’ never heard of Jesus, and became people who tried to be the kind of people Jesus was asking them to be, and along the way they fell into the pool and got soaking wet in Jesus, until Jesus was just everywhere they were.
In the 17th century there was a cook in a monastery, named Brother Lawrence.
All day long, it seemed some days, he peeled potatoes, scrubbed pots, and whatever needed doing in the kitchen. But he was the holiest man at that monastery, because as his abbot reported, he developed the habit of “unbroken conversation with God.”
In other words, everything that he did for anybody else, he did as praise to God, because he loved Jesus.
And maybe he had to start somewhere, by stopping at certain times and places, and really listening. Or maybe not. But he GOT THERE.
But if that all STILL sounds hard, don’t go so far back in time.
Go back to yesterday, when we heard Amy talking about her mom, Jane, the woman who reminded both Bob and myself of BOTH Mary and Martha.
Amy said the kids had told their mom she should open up a restaurant, because she cooked so good, and loved cooking.
“No,” said Jane. “I love to cook because I love who I’m cooking for.”
So do what Jesus loves for you to do, because you’ve grown to love him. And do it, immersed in the one you love.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.