Mary and Martha: Mystery of God

The following sermon was presented at the United, United Church of Christ in Mobridge, SD on Sunday, July 21, 2013. The scriptures followed the common lectionary and were: Amos 8: 1-12, Colossians 1:15-28, and Luke: 10:38-42

Mystery of God

I didn’t give Lana a title for the sermon to be put in the bulletin, though ironically, I wrote one before I started the sermon. Interestingly if I had looked at it, really looked at the title, I might have spent less time trying to write the sermon. See, I have been trying to write this sermon all week. I would sit at the table or hide in my room, and it just didn’t happen. I couldn’t get it to work. I had some sketches written out from my thoughts after I read through the scriptures about a week ago, I was excited, it should have all fallen into place, but it just wouldn’t go.
I personally think that God has quite a sense of humor. Last winter we skipped a few Sundays of attending church. Yesterday we were in Wishek in the morning for a funeral and in Lisbon in the later afternoon for a wedding and now we are here this morning. I guess we are making up for lost time. So it seems that God was pulling a joke on us just like with my title.
My title is “Mystery of God” which comes from the lesson in Colossians. Well, God sure was making a mystery of the ‘oh so’ common gospel lesson we have today. This lesson in Luke is about Mary and Martha. The Mary and Martha who are sisters to Lazarus showed up on this very same Sunday three years ago when I filled in for Pastor Keith. On that particular day we talked all about Martha and her attention to detail and her fussing and cooking and working to be a great hostess for Jesus and his followers, and in the end we found out it was Mary who was doing what Jesus really wanted.
I realized early this week that we weren’t going down that same road today. I knew the wise thing to do would be to talk about Mary, but Martha just kept coming back. I was making myself Martha all week. I was making lists of what to do and leaving them for my daughters and James to “help out.” I was concerned about the unpacking (We are still trying to assimilate all of the items from the house we lived in when we were in Linton the past two years. Add to that the fact that Victoria has been with us during a house sale and purchase, which is why she is gone today, they finally sold one and are doing the final walk through on the house in Hebron, which they close on this Friday.). I was also concerned about weeding the garden and picking whatever has ripened. And on top of that, I was in a dither about getting the cable hooked up in the houses that I own with my sisters, and the list goes on.
I even went so far in my sermon writing efforts as to pick out a favorite book of mine to use as a comparison of what was happening with Martha. I was convinced that this passage worked with the original version of the book, Cheaper by the Dozen. That book was written about the Gilbreth family who had 12 children and lived in the 1920’s. The father was an efficiency expert, and he used his family to test out his theories. He also felt that time should never be wasted. A point he really got across to me. He was such a fanatic that he figured out tasks to be done while brushing teeth or bathing, etc… It seemed to me like the perfect correlation to go with Martha and all her work, her details of being a hostess. But that sermon just wouldn’t work. It wasn’t there. I was stuck. I finally had to let it go. I had to erase what was written, walk away, do my many tasks and hope some inspiration would hit me.
And wouldn’t you know, God in the infinite mystery of the way God operates, did hit me. It happened after I spent the afternoon working in the garden then moving furniture for the cable people and finally when I was through organizing supper, and I took some time to wash up. It was there in the quiet of being alone, that I realized the book of correlation wasn’t the Cheaper by the Dozen, which I thought went with the actions of Martha. No, it was a little tiny book called, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The actual title is Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff. It was published in 1997 and written by Richard Carlson. It was a book that fits with Mary.
I don’t know when I bought this book, though I have had it for many years, and I am sad to say I have never read it. I must admit that I have lots of books like that at my house. One of these days I will have to start reading them. Anyway going through the list of chapters, I couldn’t believe what was there. Ex: 1. Learn to live in the present moment, 2. Repeat to yourself, “Life isn’t an emergency,” 3. Choose your battles wisely, 4. Give up the idea that more is better, 5. Choose being kind over being right,( Now I know that I have to read this book!) and finally 6. Become a better listener. Yes, now I finally get it, this book is really about Mary.
As much as I might want to go back to that old sermon and talk about Martha, today this story is about Mary. Mary, when you look up that name in my Everybody in the Bible book, you find seven entries, including Mary the mother of Jesus. The Mary of today’s story should not be confused with Mary Magdalene who finds Jesus in the garden after he rises on Easter, but according to the gospel of John, she is the Mary who anoints the feet of Jesus with ointment, an act which upsets Judas for its wastefulness.
Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived in the village of Bethany. Bethany was just outside of Jerusalem, a suburb sort of. It is a good place for Jesus and the disciples to stop and rest. Imagine having someone of Jesus’ popularity stop at your home. It was a big deal for Martha to host someone of his status. And perhaps it was even a bigger deal for Mary to spend the time sitting near him and listening to his teachings.
What Jesus was offering wasn’t just a new product. It wasn’t like the traveling salesmen of my younger days. I think of the people who traveled around selling vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias. He wasn’t just offering up some new thing or a new fad to follow. This was Jesus, the Son of God. Because of him and the fact that he died on the cross, the rest of us have the opportunity to become God’s children, sort of like adoption as Paul states in Colossians, though we can inherit the kingdom because of Jesus, we do not have that same exact birth right. Jesus is the first-born; Jesus is the only begotten son of the Father. It is only through him that we have an opportunity to know the Father.
We don’t live in the age when Jesus walked on this earth. We didn’t have the fortune of Mary or Martha. We didn’t get to invite the physical human Jesus into our homes for lunch or supper or even over night. What we have is the stories about Jesus and the teachings of Jesus and the opportunity to share what we have learned about the man Jesus, the man who was the physical form of God.
In the Old Testament scripture that Ann read for us today, we heard a whole lot about gloom and doom. The text of Amos was actually the alternative scripture today. The Amos reading, too, goes along with the idea of looking at Mary. The other scripture is the story of when God came and talked to Abram and was entertained by Abram and Sarah and told they would be the parents of a great nation. But not so with the Amos passage. In Amos we hear about how that great nation has fallen away from following God.
In the passage just before what we read, Amos the prophet points out how far King Jeroboam and the people of Israel have strayed from following God. When he is told to get out and leave the king alone, Amos says that he didn’t set out to be a prophet, he was just a plain herdsman when God pointed him into prophecy. Amos simply did as God told him to do. In the end, Amos warns the people of Israel that if they do not repent they will face a great famine, but it won’t be a famine of food or drink; it will be a famine of the word of God. They would hunger for God’s plan, but would never be told what it is.
Mary wasn’t worried about the physical food or drinks or details of the gathering. Mary was concerned with learning at the feet of the Master. Mary’s hunger was for the word, the plan. Mary was taking advantage of learning all she could from Jesus while he was there in her community, in her time, in her house.
I know that I have used this same thought, perhaps this same phrase in the past. We may not have the human, physical Jesus with us here in Mobridge, South Dakota in 2013. But, we have his words. We have his stories, his parables, and his teachings as recorded by the disciples and others who knew him. We have the Bible, and we are free to read it in our own language on our own time and listen to what he teaches us through his words. We don’t face the famine that Amos warned us about.
One of the themes of our denomination, The United Church of Christ is that God is Still Speaking. Yes, I do believe that God is still speaking through his word. Every day in every place that we take the time to read His words, or pause for prayer, he is speaking to us, and telling us what he needs us to do. Just as Jesus upheld Mary when Martha was complaining about her sitting around while there was so much to do, so too Jesus up holds us as we read and study His word and take the time to listen for what it is we need to do in His name. All we have to do is give God some time and an ear or two so we can get the message. Let’s take some time this week to sit at his feet and feast on his words. Amen!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: “Sit Down & Be” – Sermon 07.21.2013 | Pastor Craig Schweitzer

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