Summary: Wisdom lies in knowing when to be busy and when to be reflective. Both Martha and Mary wanted the affirmation of Jesus. But it always comes by grace alone.
Author Sam Keen, in his provocative little book called Apology for Wonder, tells us the lesson he learned as young boy swimming in the Indian River inlet on the Delaware coast. Keen says that swimming there was very tricky, because the outgoing waters from the bay met the incoming tides waves from the ocean, and so the currents were very irregular arid there were often very strong movements of the water. It was very dangerous to swim there. But he learned that if he just relaxed and yielded to the outgoing currents, and let them carry him well out into the sea, then he could swim across the current and find a calmer place below the inlet to swim back to shore.
The lesson is, says Sam Keen, "When swimming in turbulent waters, wisdom lies in knowing when to relax and when to struggle."
Today we are going to engage in a dialogue between the when to relax and the when to struggle.
Some of us are on the relaxed end. Maybe it’s weariness, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s something deeper. But some of us are at a time of life in which we want some space, we want some quiet. We want peace and calm, and that’s all we want. We’re on the relaxed end.
But some of us are on the struggling end. Maybe it’s energy, maybe it’s ambition, or maybe it’s something deeper. But some of us are at a time of life in which we just want to move. We want to get it done. We want to see accomplishment. We’re in the struggle.
Says Sam Keen, "When swimming in turbulent waters, wisdom lies in knowing when to relax and when to struggle." Wisdom lies in knowing what time it is in our lives.
This is the first Sunday of the summer. The word "vacation" has crept into our vocabularies. There is a shift in the tempo of life. School is out, families begin to plan for time away.
Even the church shifts into a different pattern. After five tremendously busy but wonderfully rewarding nights of Bible School, after several months of a Capital Stewardship Campaign, after lots of special events and activities, even the church changes its tempo at least a little. I say "even the church", because, as many of you know, we are caught up in a tradition that is on the go and in the groove. You have heard me quote the nursery rhyme, slightly altered: "Mary had a Little lamb; it would have been a sheep. But it became a Baptist, and died for lack of sleep!"
It’s time to think about this pattern of activity. It’s time to think about what time it is in our lives. It’s time to reflect on relaxing and struggling, because, "when swimming in turbulent waters, wisdom lies in knowing when to relax and when to struggle."
Here is the story of two women who, in their encounter with Jesus, teach us about relaxing and struggling.
I suspect you may be thinking, "Oh, it’s pretty obvious where the pastor is going with this one. Obviously we are supposed to be like Mary and spend our time learning and praying. And equally obviously, we are supposed not to be like Martha; we are not supposed to be working at piddling little mundane tasks instead of coming to church and sitting in Sunday School." You are saying, aren’t you, "I know what he’s going to do with this text, this sermon"?
Well, in the words of the late, lamented Johnny Carson. "Wrong, Bible breath!" Wrong. That is too easy. There is a lot more here than that.
One interpreter says that we should be wary of this passage. He says that we should not make a cartoon of this scene, "Martha up to her eyeballs in soapsuds. Mary pensively on a stool in the den, and Jesus giving scriptural warrant for letting dishes pile high in the sink." He goes on, "If we censure Martha too harshly, she may abandon serving altogether, and if we commend Mary too profusely, she may sit there forever. There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment."
"There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment." And remember, "When swimming in turbulent waters, wisdom lies in knowing when to relax and when to struggle."
Now some of us are Marthas, and we count on staying busy as a way to order our lives. We believe that if we just keep busy, that in and of itself will give us meaning.
There is an awful poem by Rudyard Kipling about "filling the unforgiving moment with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run". Isn’t that awful?! Unforgiving, indeed! What a compulsive business that is! But a lot of us are Marthas, who need to be busy, very busy, in order to feel that we are worth anything. We think that if we are busy, it tells the world that we are focused, purposeful.