Summary: This sermon concerns Mary and Martha and how we often get caught up in the details and forget about what is important.
What lessons can we learn from the story of Martha and Mary? Before we begin to answer that question we should know who Martha and Mary were. We know from John chapter 11 verse 5 that Martha and Mary were the sisters of Lazarus and were loved by Jesus. Many scholars believe that although Martha, Mary and Lazarus were not among the 12 disciples, they were members of one of the larger groups of disciples. We most often think of Jesus traveling only with the twelve, but there is a lot of biblical evidence that there were at least three circles of disciples. The innermost circle was of course the twelve. The next circle probably consisted of about thirty people and probably included Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary and Lazarus as well as several of the wives of the twelve. The next circle included all the other followers of Jesus.
Our lesson says that when Jesus came to Bethany, Martha invited him into her house and began to prepare a feast. In a society that required hospitality, Martha and Mary were renowned for theirs. While Martha was busy with the meal Jesus was speaking and Mary sat at his feet listening. We don’t know who else may have been at Martha and Mary’s house. We could probably assume at least some of the twelve disciples were there since they were with Jesus before Bethany and afterwards. Mary’s position as Jesus’ feet was the place of honor. This is noteworthy since in Jesus’ time women were not allowed to sit with the men and listen to the rabbis. Unlike today’s homes, the houses in those days did not have a separate kitchen and living room. Martha was most likely able to hear what Jesus was saying but because she was so busy she wasn’t listening. After a while she decided she needed some help and came to Jesus and asked if he cared that her sister was loafing while she was forced to do all the work. Jesus should make Mary help. Jesus replied that Martha was too busy with her preparations to pay attention to the most important thing. Since Mary was paying attention to what was most important, Jesus was not going to tell her to stop. From the tone of the scripture Jesus did not sternly rebuke Martha. Since he repeated her name we know that he addressed her with affection.
As an illustration, every time we had dinner at my grandmother’s house she would spend all day cooking. For dinner we would have meat, potatoes, corn, at least one vegetable, bread, two salads and a homemade dessert. As soon as dinner was over she had to wash the dishes. We would offer to help or tell her to leave them for later but our help was generally refused. When we got ready to leave she always complained that she hadn’t had enough time to visit.
It sounds like its almost the same story doesn’t it? Probably every one of us could think of someone (if not ourselves) that acts exactly like Martha when it comes to visitors.
If you think about it though, this passage applies to much more than just meals.
In our daily lives how often do we get caught up in the details and miss what is important? Those of us who are parents may be spending all our times shuttling our children from activity to activity when what is most important to them is one-on-one interaction with their parents. When our children get older do you think that they will treasure their dance classes and ball practice or the times when Mommy or Daddy read to them or the whole family played Mousetrap together? Think about your own childhood memories. Which do you remember best? One that sticks out for me was a weekend we went camping and didn’t see another person the entire time.
Many of us are overworked. Back in the 1950’s it was envisioned that the average work week would be 30 hours, instead in the 1990’s many people were working 50 to 60 hours a week with some doing as many as 80. But what are we missing out on with this sort of schedule? Is it really worth it to make extra money to buy things and not be able to enjoy them or worse yet to not enjoy our life at all? You may remember the Mac Davis song from the Seventies "Stop and Smell the Roses". In it we heard that "the way to heaven is a rough and rocky road" if we don’t stop and smell the roses along the way.
The scripture also applies to our relationship to the church. When we joined Meadowbrook every one of us pledged to participate in its ministries by our prayers, presence, gifts and service. But do we? This pledge was made to God with the congregation as witnesses. As every new member is brought into the church we renew that pledge. Many of us however walk out of church on Sunday morning and get so busy that we forget all about it until next Sunday. We don’t pray for the church and its members if we pray at all. Sometimes we are too busy sleeping to attend church on Sunday morning. Special events such as potluck dinners, youth carwashes, the parking lot sale and talent show are poorly attended. Several years ago we had a Sunday night worship service that many people wanted, yet the greatest attendance was ten people. You’ll notice that we do not have it any more. So many of us are too busy during the summers to remember that church expenses continue even when we are not here that the finance committee is not sure how we are going to pay our operating expenses such as bills and salaries, let alone apportionments. Many have agreed to serve on committees but have never been to a meeting. What is so important that we cannot honor our pledge?