3/28/22 Devotional from Ed
March 28, 2022
Note: This is the sermon preached at the congregational retreat worship service on 3/27. It is written in narrative style.
Text: Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. he had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Hal and Will have been looking forward to coming to this church retreat for a long time. They heard some of their church friends were coming, they’re excited to eat something different for breakfast, grateful to have a chance to do something different this weekend.
I wish their dad had gotten to the same frame of mind earlier. Other than preparing for the worship service today, it didn’t shift to the front of my thoughts until we physically got into the car on Friday. Elizabeth was in Portland this week, so my actions were very basic this week: Get the children to school, take them to practices, make sure Hal is wearing the right thing for his play on Thursday night, filling out a reading log for Will, just doing whatever it took to make sure I kept our children and Jack Basset alive. My mind was focused on the busy, the tasks at hand.
I was having a Martha week.
Jesus would not say any of those things are unimportant, but here’s where I think Jesus would push back on some of the others decisions I made: beds have to be made, clothes have to be put in drawers, kitchen needs to be straight, dog toys put up, make sure you’re keeping up with your exercise, make sure you’re doing your part to avoid frustration. I cannot stand clutter - it causes me anxiety, and if something is not put away, I get fussy.
I even have this weird thing that if we leave the house for any sort of vacation, the bathrooms and kitchen must be completely clean. So, guess what we did before coming up here...
Having clean bathrooms and a clean kitchen are important, obviously, but as Ellen Skidmore would rightfully point out to me, I’m sure I’d hear the same from Jesus, those things are really about my anxieties. When we first got married, I think Elizabeth would get somewhat frustrated with my desire to clean before leaving, but I would always say, “What if a robber gets into our house? Don’t we want to leave a good impression?”
Jesus would probably say, “The robber is probably more interested in other things, Ed. And all of those tasks will all be there when you get back, Ed. Do you really need to do that right now? It’s OK to let those things go if they distract your thoughts from what’s really important.”
Just the other day, at the small group meeting at my house, the house with a clean bathroom before the men got there, the small group that is discussing Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Montreat’s Ten Thousand Villages store was mentioned by Steve Etheredge.
We really don’t enjoy shopping for things at all, but Elizabeth and I have gone into the store when we’ve been at Montreat, and I agree with Steve that there are some neat things in there. And I didn’t regret spending time in the store as soon as I learned this: Part of the proceeds from the items sold go to developing countries, countries full of villages, no doubt, that are a lot less complicated than many of the villages in our country.
So, a question I’d like to ask is, which village do you prefer in your country? The state capital, the place with all of the restaurants, 3 rivers, a world-class zoo, good schools, a village full of diversity due to a large army base and a major research university? The village that is home to your church?
Or, do you prefer the village of Montreat, NC? The place where you have to go to Black Mountain for restaurants? The place with no movie theaters? No grocery stores? Just a couple of stores?
Objectively speaking, it would be hard for me to pick Montreat. Yes, it’s nice to get away to Montreat, but Columbia is home. My family is there. My work is there, my house is close to work, I know my way around, I have my routine, I know the best restaurants, my church is there, my comforts seem to be there. A small mountain town is great and all, but for longer than a couple of days?
I don’t know about that...
But are most of my reasons to pick Columbia “Martha reasons?” Am I comfortable in Columbia because I have things to do? Martha is clearly task-oriented and cannot be content until all things are checked off. Maybe she had clothes to put away, cooking to do, cleaning to do, basic pickup stuff to get the house in order, her house, her comfortable house, we don’t know exactly what the tasks are.
And we don’t even know if Mary lives at this house. Maybe she’s thinking, “Well, it’s not my responsibility. I don’t even live here. Cleaning up is Martha’s job. We just know that Mary is listening to what Jesus says while Martha is taking care of all of the tasks that all of us are familiar with.
We also know that Martha knew exactly who Jesus is when she calls him, “Lord.” So, Martha is not off in the distance just thinking, “Mary, you do you. You can listen to whomever you want. If this guy sounds good to you, go ahead. But, by calling him, “Lord,” Martha clearly knows Jesus, the long awaited messiah, is in her home, and she is still choosing to focus on the tasks at hand.
Why do you think we sometimes do the same? Let Jesus, the good book, the good word, be in another room, stay in another room, while we satisfy our checklist and then get even busier? Who is this really about? Is it really about Jesus? Who are we serving?
Just like Jesus, we’re guests right now in someone else’s house. We don’t own Montreat. We’ve all come to a place that is not home, and we’ve all come to hopefully refocus and strengthen our desire to lean into God’s calling for each of us.
But, if you’re like me, you’ll leave here and start thinking about the things we have to do once we get back to our Martha house. We have a whole bunch of tasks left to do once we walk into the house – the clothes aren’t going to wash themselves, definitely won’t fold themselves, and my least favorite task, unloading the dishwasher, still needs to happen. Plus, there’s some cleaning to do. Don't forget we’ll sprinkle in checking our phones at least 15 times hourly to see if we’ve missed something.
But I don’t think it’s fair to Jesus to leave us with the wrong impression. Jesus, while he wasn’t too much worried about his clothes or things being straight, I don’t think he’d say to you and me that those things are unimportant.
What I do think he’d say, however, is “Ed, actually I’m going to call you Martha today, it’s OK to simplify in order to refocus, Martha. Don’t do all of those other things and lose focus on me.”
Jesus didn’t interrupt Martha from doing all of her tasks. I don’t picture Martha’s house to be all that big. I would imagine Jesus was well aware of the things Martha was doing...I imagine it a lot like our house...there are toys, dog toys, legos, balls, all to be picked up.
What happened is Martha let the tasks overtake her thoughts. And she made it worse - Instead of doing the tasks and then going to listen to Jesus, who she publicly calls, “Lord,” she chooses instead to fuss. That’s where another disconnect happens. Martha carried her frustration, maybe it was anger, to Jesus, and her frustration spilled over.
In that moment, Martha chose to stay in her own village of busyness and distraction.
So, what’s going to happen once we all get in our cars and head down I-26? Which village are we going to be entering? Will we leave the Mary village and head to the Martha village? Or will we choose to reside (or maybe finally move to) the Mary village?
I mentioned earlier that a small group is meeting at my house to discuss Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water. Rohr writes of the connection between Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Step program and the Gospel, saying, “We are all spiritually powerless...and not just those physically addicted to a substance, which is why I address this book to everyone. Alcoholics just have their powerlessness visible for all to see. The rest of us disguise it in different ways, and overcompensate for our more hidden and subtle addictions and attachments, especially our addiction to our way of thinking.”
The first step, Rohr writes, is the hardest as “letting go,” “powerlessness,” is the most denied step.
What can you let go of in your Martha village? What can be dropped as you move to your Mary village? Rohr talks about facing your shadow side, the side you don’t want people to see, and boxing with it.
In our Scripture this morning, what is Martha’s shadow side? Is it control? A need to be needed? Anger? Resentment? All of these things? Rohr gives us this stinging quote, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.”
Our goal as we leave here is to get to those real issues that are keeping us from following that better way. May it be so.
Prayer: Holy God, even as we wrestle with our tendencies to be a "Martha," grant us the humility and perseverance to be a "Mary" this week and beyond. Amen.
Work Cited: Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. 2012.