Take time to be a Disciple
Text: Luke 10:38-42
Theme: It is good to spend time with God.
Image: Busy Martha and Serene Mary
Message: Take time to worship.
Take time to be a Disciple
Jesus welcomed in Bethany
As Jesus and his disciples were travelling along, they entered a village, says Luke. We know this village is Bethany because here Jesus stays with Martha, and Mary. Surely this is the same Martha and Mary who were the sisters of Lazarus, who John tells us was from Bethany. Bethany is a little village about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, on the road to Jericho. This little village is actually rather prominent in the ministry of Jesus. Bethany is mentioned twelve times in the gospels. Jesus and his disciples stayed here when they attended the temple observances during the passover. Jesus was in Bethany, eating at the home of Simon the leper, when his head was anointed with costly perfume by an unknown woman. Here Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. From here Jesus obtained the young colt he rode on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was also from here that Jesus departed from his disciples after his resurrection and ascended into heaven.
As they were travelling, Jesus entered Bethany. You can picture the crowd of people walking with Jesus, down the dusty trail just as it is getting dusk. The sun sets behind them and their shadows stretch ahead of them past the village gates. They are tired and hungry. All they really want is some food and a bed. Jesus turns aside off the road, and enters the village. A woman named Martha welcomes him into her house. It appears as though Jesus enters Bethany with the express purpose of being entertained by Martha. Quite often Jesus sends some of his disciples ahead of him to make preparations for him when he comes to a village. It is possible that when Jesus sent out seventy two of his followers, some of them made a stop at Bethany. They may have met Martha and taken an invitation back to Jesus, asking him to accept her hospitality whenever he was in the area. Martha is waiting for Jesus in the square. Her face lights up when she sees him and she rushes over to him. “Master,” she says, “Thank you for coming here. Please follow me to our house.” Jesus replies, “Thank you Martha, I would be honoured to stay at your home.” We do not know if Jesus's disciples went with him to stay with Martha, Luke states only that Jesus went and stayed with her. Martha turns quickly from the square and leads Jesus into the heart of the village. After taking a few quick turns they arrive at her home. As Jesus crossed the threshold, he was welcomed warmly by Mary and Lazarus.
Knowing he must be exhausted from his travels, Mary and Martha quickly get to work making preparations for the evening meal. As Mary walks past Jesus she hears something in his teaching that captivates her attention. She pauses, tray in hand, listening to Jesus speaking. Mary is enraptured by his wisdom and authority. Quite forgetting the job she had been sent to do, she sits down on the floor, discards the tray beside her, and gives her full attention to Jesus. He begins to teach her, as he would any disciple. Mary sat at his feet, and listened to his teaching, his word.
Martha's serving becomes a distraction, pulling her apart.
Martha, however, begins to get anxious about the state of the dinner. The food is almost done, the table has not been set, and Jesus has not been offered anything to drink. The lamb is starting to burn over the fire, the rice is boiling over, and the cheese was mouldy. Frantically running around the kitchen she says to herself, “Where the heck is Mary? I sent her to get the other cheese five minutes ago. I want this to be a great meal for Jesus. Where is she?” Loading herself up with the dishes, she goes out to the dining room. As she lays out the table, she spots Mary. The plate is frozen in mid air as she stares open mouthed in disbelief. “What is she doing?” thinks Martha. “We have so much to do, and she goes over to listen to Jesus? How does she expect to get any work done?” Extremely frustrated, she noisily sets the table, hoping to get Mary's attention and remind her of her duties. This does not work and she rushes back into the kitchen, hoping that Mary will soon come to her senses and return to help her. Minute after minute goes by, and Martha becomes more and more upset. “How could she do this? How could she abandon me to do all the work? How can Jesus allow her to sit there and listen to him like one of his disciples, while I am left to do all the work?” Martha was distracted by many things, and she was running herself ragged trying to serve Jesus.
Our serving can become a distraction pulling us apart.
I have to admit, I can really identify with Martha in this situation. My wife and I love to entertain when we get a chance. I also love to do the cooking and prepare a meal for the people we are having over. At the seminary I meet with a group of guys every Monday for prayer and devotions. We also meet once a quarter at someone's house to discuss some project we had been assigned. I offered our house, and I decided to cook a full spread for the people coming over. I cooked BBQ ribs, broiled salmon with rosemary and lemon, garlic mashed potatoes, and buttered beans. The group was coming over at about 6 o'clock, and it was now 5. The food was not progressing quite as fast as I would have liked. The ribs were OK. I did not have the potatoes peeled, yet, nor did I know what I was doing with the salmon. It was a new recipe, not that I have cooked fish that often. I peeled the potatoes and set them aside in a pot. I began to clean the fish, scrapping the scales into the sink. I was scrapping with a sharp knife, and the scales were going everywhere! Every swipe of the knife sent scales flying all over the kitchen. Some landed in the pot with the potatoes, some in the beans, some on the plates laid out to place on the table, some in the glasses lined up neatly on the counter. Well, needless to say, I began to get a bit frustrated. The table had not been set, the food was not going well, and Sherilyn was on the phone with her parents in the other room. I was huffing and puffing loudly, banging dishes together, and generally making a racket trying to get her attention. Finally, I could not put up with it any longer. I stormed into the living room and said quietly, but quite firmly through clenched teeth, “Do you think you might be able to help me a bit?” She got the not so subtle hint, and came to help me. Often we are distracted by the many things we have to do, and run ourselves ragged trying to serve others. This is a simple illustration of how our service can overwhelm us and cause us to miss the good things of life.
Now, in the history of the church some have used this passage to indicate that the contemplative life is the better life. That the life of the monk is better than the life of the farmer, or butcher, or baker, or accountant, or business owner. This is not what is being taught here, however. Look at the passage just before this one. It is the parable of the good Samaritan. This parable is prompted by the questioning of an expert in the law. He asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him, “What does the law say? How do you read it?” The lawyer responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself” Jesus responds, “Good, do this and you will live.” The lawyer, trying to be tricky says, “Sure, but who is my neighbour.” Jesus responds with the parable of the good Samaritan. If you stop reading there, you may be left with an unbalanced picture of the Christian life. Luke seems to put this story here as a check to the over exuberant good Samaritan. Some people take the image of the serving Christian to the extreme, and they are distracted by their serving and become worried and upset about many things. All the joy of their Christian life is sucked right out of them.
There was a lady in my home church whom seemed to be like this. She was involved in everything in the church. She was always helping the janitor clean up on Saturday, or babysitting for the ladies who go to coffee break, or chaperoning the youth group on their yearly retreat, or teaching third grade Sunday school, or whatever. She tried her hardest to serve in every capacity imaginable. Her zeal was quite remarkable, but it drained her of all joy. She is probably the must draining person I have ever been around. She was always whining about all the work she had to do. She was constantly looking down on others because they did not do as much as she did. She was perpetually nagging the pastor to ask for more volunteers for this or that ministry of the church. She took the image of the serving Christian to the extreme, and it ruined her faith life. She became upset with her fellow Christians. She also became upset with God because things were not progressing as she had planned. She thought that the parable of the good Samaritan teaches that true followers of Jesus are those who do his work in the world; that loving our neighbour as ourself means doing things for them. Caring for the poor and hungry, looking after the widows and the orphans, visiting the sick and those in prison, this is how we love our neighbour. And this is how we inherit eternal life. She never would have said that directly, but that was how she lived her life. This is a great temptation for Christians, and I think the worldwide church has fallen into this temptation.
What is the witness the church is giving to the world? What is the church most involved in? Is it missions, or relief work? Are we telling the world that we inherit eternal life by serving others? When we look at the church what do we see? We see an emphasis on relief work, instead of missions. The church seems to have abandoned the message of the gospel for the message of mercy. Even in our own denomination the tendency seems to be growing. The budget for the CRWRC is larger than the budgets for Home and World Missions combined. The denomination has stopped taking applicants for world missions because it does not have the money for it. It is not wrong to offer mercy to others, to take care of the poor and hungry is a great thing. To provide relief to those who have lost everything because of the tsunami in Asia, or because of the hurricanes on the gulf coast. The church has always been anxious that the widows and orphans be looked after. But the main function of the church is spreading the gospel. We are called to go out into all the world making disciples of all nations. We have been given the message of reconciliation so that we can go to those who do not know Christ and beg them to be reconciled to Christ. This is the main function of the church, this is the function of the church that only it can perform. If we do not relief work, there are other agencies who will. If we do not help the hurricane victims, Ty Pennington and extreme makeover home edition will. But if we do not share the gospel, who will? Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. To become his disciple, and this is the good portion.
Mary chose the better portion.
Martha became so angry with her sister, and with Jesus, that she stormed in on the study session and blurts out, “Lord, do you not care that Mary left me to serve alone? Tell her, then, to help me!” Martha is so troubled by the way things are falling apart she has the audacity to confront Jesus in a rather rude tone. “Lord, don't you care?” she asks. “Can you not see what is going on? Can you not see that I am working my tail off trying to get things ready for you, and you have allowed my one helper to abandon me? Make her get off her rump and get to work!”
Jesus is taken aback at the suddenness of the interruption, and the rudeness of Martha's tone. Not that long ago Jesus accepted the hospitality Martha had so graciously offered, but now it seems he has caused a familial dispute. I wonder if Jesus reconsiders his acceptance of Martha's offer, now that he has caused her so much stress. You can imagine him thinking, “Oh-oh, what have I got myself into.” But, collecting his thoughts, Jesus replies in a voice full of affection and understanding, “Martha, Martha,” he says. “You are worried about so much, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Feeling dejected, Martha slinks back out of the room into the kitchen.
“What does he mean only one thing is needed?” she asks herself. “Does he mean that it would be fine if we had only one dish of food for dinner? No, that cannot be it.” Getting back to her work she cannot get Jesus words out of her head, “I'm worried about many things, am I? Well of course I am. I am trying to be a good hostess to him. I am trying to serve him. How can he say that Mary has chosen what is better? What is better than serving Jesus?”
Mary realised what was better than serving Jesus, being with him. She realised that experiencing a time with Jesus was much better than doing something for him. Martha had neglected Jesus in order to serve him. See, Martha thought she knew how to keep a house going. She knew that to provide a proper welcome for a guest she had to provide him with a lovely dinner. She had to take out all the best china plates, which she had inherited from her grandmother. She had to lay out her her best silver, which she had picked up for a bargain at the local charity shop. She had to turn out the best of her house to make a good impression to her guest. But she missed the importance of her guest. She forgot that there was nothing she could do to impress Jesus, all she had to do was be with him, as Mary was.
We can choose the better portion, loving God.
This is the good news we have as Christians. There is nothing we can do to impress Jesus, nor do we have to. We are not required to perform amazing acts of service. We are not required to build the biggest church, to have the best services for our community, to eliminate poverty, to reverse global warming, to provide satisfying jobs to everyone in the world. If we were required to do this, we would fail miserable. Our meagre acts of service are tainted with the sin, like the sin of self interest. When we help out the poor and oppressed, are we doing it solely for them, or partly for the good feeling we get for helping someone out? Nothing we do is entirely sanctified or perfect. We are run ragged trying our hardest to serve Jesus, but he is asking us to go to him. He is calling out to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus has given us the opportunity to sit at his feet and learn from him, and this is the much better than pulling our hair out trying to serve him.
This event in Jesus's life shows us that we should not let our serving drive us crazy. We are called to be Christ's disciples, and to make others his disciples. We have the gift of being able to sit at the feet of Jesus, listen to him, and learn from him. The goal of being a disciple is to go on and make more disciples. Our lives should be marked with the love of Christ which draws others to him. Our witness to the world should show that we offer the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not through social services and relief work.
Let us Pray