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Oh, Mary and Martha- Christendoms famous sisters. Not as climactic as Jacob and Esau, not as evil as Joseph and his brothers, not as righteous as James and John- but one of the most recognizable sibling pairs in the Bible. This week Jesus finds himself having dinner with this sister pair, and what he reveals to us is quite amazing. Today the sermon is all about focus.
Mary and Martha are very opposite when it comes to the topic of hospitality. This is one of the most private meals that we will see Jesus eat with some of his closest friends. Mary and Martha are obviously very close to Jesus- it was their brother Lazarus that Jesus wept over and later rose from the dead. So it is important for us to remember that Jesus in this story is his most personal, most vulnerable, he is not eating with those against him, he is eating with some of his closest of friends. I also wonder how often Jesus ate with Mary and Martha, because when I read this story I get the impression that Jesus had been in that home many times before, and that perhaps Martha had found herself in this position before- this seems like familiar territory.
Martha seems to suffer from what we might call CHAOS- Cant Have Anyone Over Syndrome. You all know what I am talking about, the house must be perfect in order for guests to come over. Jeff Foxworthy used to do a bit about his wife doing the flight of the bumblebee before people got to their house- making sure that everything was in order and in place. Now, we should all take pride in our homes and stewardship says we need to make sure to keep our things in good order and upkeep, but Martha seems to take it a bit far.
CHAOS- Cant Have Anyone Over Syndrome
Meanwhile, there is Mary- sitting at the feet of Jesus intently listening to him, hanging on every word he says- that is until a flustered and frantic Martha comes in and demands a rebuke from Jesus to Mary. Martha is so angry because there is so much to be done, she is running around like wildfire trying to get it all done, meanwhile Mary is sitting.....just sitting....
Can I confess to you that as a pastor, a church leader, someone who has served on boards and committees for the church for most of my life I have been a Martha plenty of times? I bet if we were honest many of us have been Martha- frustrated and hot under the collar at the amount of work that we are doing while others are seemingly sitting around and doing nothing. It’s the 80/20 rule, right? Eighty percent of the work in the church is done by 20% of the people…or so we think- especially when we are part of the 20% doing the 80% of the work. But do you know the problem with this scenario? Martha wasn’t looking at Jesus- Martha was looking at Mary- looking at Jesus.
Those of us who suffer from Martha syndrome suffer from a focus problem. We are focused on the wrong things- or in this case the wrong person. Somehow this is much easier to do in church than anywhere else in the world- focus on someone looking at the thing we are supposed to be looking at as well. Think about it, you would never buy a movie ticket, go into the theatre, set a chair in the front of the theatre and watch the crowd as they watched the movie. Not way you would buy a ticket to a football game, and spend the entire game walking the aisles just looking at people. No way- only in church can we do something when we are all supposed to be looking at Jesus, and many of us will spend our time looking at other people looking at Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews said it this way in

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews reminds us that faith is a community practice. We are always being observed when we work out our salvation- either by people around us or by the great cloud of witnesses in Heaven as this passage suggests. What does the writer tell us to do, then? Focus on Jesus and Jesus alone. If you are focused on Jesus it wont matter what the person next to you is doing, wearing, saying, or how they are acting because you will be focused on Jesus.
I remember having a conversation a few years ago with a friend who had volunteered to do some cleaning up after an event. They were complaining, moaning, and groaning about the lack of help from all the people around them. Finally, I had enough of their bellyaching so I asked them “Are you here because God asked you to do this?” “Yes” they replied. “So you believe that you are doing what God asked you to do?” “Yes” they replied “Ok, did God tell you how many of these tables and chair you need to clean up?” “No” they replied “So it would seem that your call is to clean up until the job is done?” “I suppose so” he replied. “Ok, well my advice is that you and I worry about what God asked us to do, stop being so worried about whether or not God asked those people to do it, and get this job done so we can move onto the next thing...” And that is what we did.
But there is a second kind of focus problem in this story. After all, this text is not about laziness or workoholism- it is about balance. You see, when we preach, teach, or read this story it is easy to place the emphasis on the wrong place. Too many times we place the emphasis on Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet or Martha’s business, but I do not think that the emphasis belongs in either of those places. No, after all I do think that there is anything wrong or evil with either of the actions that the ladies in this story are taking part in. In fact, I may even argue that we need both Marys and Marthas in the church. We need Martha’s who will be diligent workers, those who will put in the time and effort that we need to make things work and run in the church. However, we also need Mary’s that will remind us of the importance of sitting at Jesus’ feet, being fully present in the moments of worship and adoration of Chrsit- we need both.
This text is not about laziness or workoholism- it is about balance
I believe that the emphasis belongs, instead, on the word DISTRACTED the problem was not that Martha was wanting to provide hospitality for Jesus- the problem was that she was allowing her desire to do so distract her from being present with Jesus. Can I ask you today, what distracts you?
Now, keep in mind- what was distracting Martha was not anything bad. It is easy to point out the bad things that distract us- drugs, alcohol, money, etc.
But did you know you can be distracted from Jesus if you’re too focused on being a good parent...
Or playing in the praise team...
Or social work...
Good things can still be distracting. That is one thing I love about Lent. Lent gives us the chance to slow down and focus. Unlike Advent that can get filled up with Christmas parties and shopping, Lent normally is a time to slow down and breathe. Lent provides us a season to slow down and strip away the things that distract us.
But did you notice what Martha’s reaction caused? It causes a break down in her relationship with Mary- Jesus! She says “Tell her to get up and help me!” Martha’s anxiety and worry about all of the things grabbing for her attention causes her to lash out at Mary. Have you been there? I have. My own lack of focusing on Jesus causes me not to pay attention to myself and my spiritual needs, but causes me to attack those around me.
You see, friends transformation takes self-reflection and Martha shows none of that in this passage. All she is worried about is Mary- We can all have a little Martha in us if we are not careful.
But I love Jesus’ response to Martha- Mary has chosen “From the good portion” as the ESV puts it. This calls to mind “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” So imagine that in each day we have a menu full of option in front of us…what will we chose to do with our time, effort, and life?
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
Yall know I love the Wood Grill.... my favorite part of the Wood Grill? The Meat Bar! Give me the steak, the ribs, the prime rib…every now and then when we go to WG I will ask Jess why in the world they put all of those other bars of food inbetween the tables and the steak! I do not go to WG for the salad, or the Mac and cheese, or the corn on the cob, all of those things are good, and I may even have a helping or 2 of those…BUT I AM GOING FOR THE MEAT!! So I am going to portion my plates and helpings appropriately. This is a lot like our lives. If Jesus is our everything, our all in all, the center of our lives should we not fill our lives with him first?
you hold my lot.
Too often we are Martha. We spend our time doing all the things we are “supposed to do” and we tell ourselves we will add our Jesus time later…when things slow down…when life isnt so hectic…Jesus will understand we rationalize.
But I have said it before, if Satan cant keep you from giving your heart to Jesus, he will keep you busy.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), .
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