Mealtime with Mary and Martha
Luke 10:38-42

There are lots of traps and pitfalls as we read and interpret this story of two sisters who have very different roles to play in a scene that has been played out thousands of times around the world in probably every household throughout time.  The risk is that we could take sides, we could pass judgement on Martha or on Mary, but it is not for us to judge, we are much better off trying to learn from them and their interaction with the Son of God who has come to their place for a meal. 

We can also be easily confused by reading this text in isolation, we can think that Jesus’ rebuke to Martha rules out serving others, so I think it’s important to remember that it in Luke’s gospel this text follows immediately after last week’s text, the parable of the Good Samaritan and you will recall that from that we learned about how to love our neighbours and how to serve them in response to the love that Jesus has shown us.  So last week the text was talking about serving and this week we shift to a lesson about listening and learning by sitting at Jesus feet.

I think that we learn from this that there is a time for serving and there is a time for listening and learning, and being served by Jesus.  These two things can’t be split, they are both necessary and as we heard Jesus say, Mary had chosen the better thing, for her at this time.  Perhaps she needed to do some learning and growing to enable her to serve better.

Yesterday here at Lilydale there was a Spirituality day being held, there were people coming to sit and learn from a spiritual director and there were also those who were here to prepare food and drinks for them to enable them to be able to sit and learn.  Each group of people had a role to play in the day, they were all feeling called to serve and be served in their own way in the way that was better for them at this time.

Mary and Martha both started out that day with Jesus at the centre of what they were doing; he was the object of their devotion.  Martha had invited Jesus into her home, she was the host and Jesus the guest she wanted him to be there and she wanted to serve him.  Mary was showing devotion by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening intently, so much that she drew the attention of her sister for not helping out with the preparations.  Martha’s only downfall was being distracted and judging her sister instead of continuing with her service.

Have you noticed your lives can be a constant switching between Martha and Mary modes?  I think we more often become Martha, where we are running around worrying about getting things done.  We’ve become attached to our digital organisers, our iPhone’s, or our calendars, we are accessible and in demand nearly 24 hours a day.  These things are helpful but can demand our attention even when we are trying to have some quiet downtime with our families or with God, Mary times, where we can retreat, sit and quietly listen and be served.

At shedmen on Friday night after the lovely meal and hearing God’s word during devotion time and listening to our speaker talk about pivotal points in his faith journey I was talking to one of the guys about some of the pivotal points in my own journey.  I realised that many of them had come at times when I had been on retreat.  On those days I had begun with worship, Bible readings and prayer, I had then listened and allowed God to respond.  On one of those days I even fell asleep and woke up with a sense of peace that has remained with me since.  It reminded me of the importance of making time in the busy schedule that we all have, to stop and deliberately spend time with God, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening.

The start of yesterday’s session was to practice a breath prayer, of sitting comfortably and breathing in the life giving air that is around us and praying as we did so and allowing God in.  I was only able to stay and be a part of that for about five minutes because my calendar was calling and I had other commitments I had to get to.  That five minutes prepared me for the events of the rest of the day, several things came up that made life interesting and I was prepared for them because of my time of prayer.  It was God serving me through it.

Luther was famously quoted as saying that he was too busy not to pray.  The busier he was, the more time he felt that he needed to devote to prayer.  He needed to spend time with God so that he could serve other people.  I think this is what we learn from today’s gospel reading, especially following last week’s reading where we learn to serve others.  We can’t physically do that unless God has first served us and prepared us.  We need to make time to read God’s Word and to pray, to be prepared and to be served so that we can serve.

I know that over the next six weeks or so at Outer Eastern Lutheran Church the calendar is busy, but in that busy schedule there are opportunities to both sit at Jesus’ feet and listen and also opportunities to serve.  August is Short Course month at Good Shepherd Lutheran Primary School, they are opportunities to learn and for others who have gifts to share them with other people.

We are holding Step-Up to Communion classes, the first of those has at the centre of it a meal that we share together, to help us discuss and realise that Jesus is the host of the meal that we share together when we come to Holy Communion.  Once again learning and serving go cheek by jowl.

It’s also going to be hospitality month, there is lots of information coming out next week to explain everything that will be happening around that.  There will be opportunities for those of you who like to serve, to be Marthas to invite people to meals and to prepare things for them to come and share, to show our love for our neighbour and get to know people better over a meal.  Some will be doing the preparing and others will be able to simply go and be served by another.  And I’m hoping that in the midst of all that there will be an opportunity for some devotional time, to share God’s word and discuss it together. 

We will be giving you and reminding you of the faith five, a tool that is used in our Head to the Heart ministry that we are encouraging you all to get to know.  This is where we share our highs and lows, the things that are affecting us in our lives, we read some Scripture, talk about how that fits in with our lives, we then pray together and then bless each other as well.

I’d like you to take these opportunities as you need to in your life at the moment, according to where you are.  You might be the sort of person who loves to entertain and loves to invite people to your home but you are frazzled at the moment and would be better served by going to someone else’s place for a change.  It is a time of discernment, of figuring out where you are at and what you need to be doing right now.

For Mary it was her time to sit and listen and learn, for Martha it was to prepare a meal and serve it.  I think the worst mistake we can make with this text is to say one or the other was right, it is not for us to judge, it is only for Jesus to judge.  And we have been judged right before God and we live it in already.  Christ came and made us right before God and will again return to judge the living and the dead, but that judgement has already been made through his love for us.

When we make the time to read God’s word and pray to God for his guidance in response to his word, we can do so with joy, because we’ve heard it, we have taken the time to read it and experience it and be served by it.

I’d like to encourage you all to go to your calendars, regular or electronic and mark out some time to deliberately sit at the feet of Jesus and be served by him.  To read his word and pray and then sit and listen.  Know that it will be difficult, the last thing the devil wants is one of God’s children spending time with him, he wants to destroy the very relationship you are working on.  Don’t set yourself too big a task, start small and work at it slowly, but make the time somewhere, let God prepare you to serve others and to rejoice in the forgiveness that he has won for us.  Amen.