Sunday, July 18, 2010

“Your Choice”

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. She 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."

A Message from the Pastor
Mary and Martha are the two famous sisters of the gospel. Mary and Martha, there is a story about them in each of the four gospels. This story is probably the most well known. Mary is the one who sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha is the one who is going about her many tasks.

While I was a layperson, I took the side of Mary often. I also sided with Martha. As an ordained minister, I have spoken of the virtues of Mary and have spoken well of Martha. Mary is the one who symbolizes listening to Jesus. Mary is the one who symbolizes the worker, the one who gets things done. However, as I have studied the texts, I have come to realize that neither of these is the focal point of the story. I believe there are at least two issues that we can think about.

The first can be considered as we hear what Jesus has to say about Martha. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things,” said Jesus. And when we think about it, we realize that so many times being worried and distracted has to do with our own self-centeredness. We are concerned about what we are doing. Life is all about us, rather than about God. Look at the two sentences that make up the comments of Martha to Jesus. In our translation this morning, those two sentences have twenty-four words. Four of those words are in the first person – me, my, and myself. That’s where Martha is coming from.

In Martha’s actions, there is another consideration of this self-centeredness. It is call triangulation. Triangulation is the emotional dynamics involving three people. One initiates action, but rather than be involved with the one with whom the person has an issue, s/he directs her actions and/or comments to a third person. This is what Martha attempted to do. Jesus wouldn’t go along with it. As a transition pastor, we looked for triangulation, because many times when there was conflict in the congregation, triangulation was used to develop “sides” or to manipulate the issues at hand. Triangulation is another word for manipulation and manipulation is always self-centered.

The “better part,” or the “one thing” that Jesus was talking about was to direct our attention to Jesus. He is the primary consideration. Jesus is the one we are to focus on. This is what Mary was doing. Mary’s priority was Jesus. Mary was focused on Jesus. In fact, Mary and Martha could both be about their many tasks and yet focus on Jesus. That is what Jesus wants.

How do we go about it? How do we make Jesus our priority? There is a book, Power Surge, written by Michael Foss. In the first chapters he talks about membership versus discipleship. In membership, the center of the universe is the member. They are concerned about what’s in it for them. They are concerned about dues. They are focused on themselves as members of the organization. Discipleship is following and focusing on the teacher. In that book, he suggests that there are six marks of discipleship. The first three have to do with our internal development as disciples.

The first is to be in daily prayer. Yes, intercessory prayer is important. We talk to God about those things that concern us. However, prayer is to be in conversation with God – the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sanctifies. We converse. We listen. We meditate.

Another mark is regular worship. We come together as a community of faith to share our faith with one another. We begin by acknowledging our humanness by confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness. Then, we praise and thank God for who God is. Next, we seek the means of grace to be nourished and fed. We seek the word and sacrament. We hear about God and God’s relationship with humanity. We then come to the table to be fed Jesus Christ. We are nourished and strengthened for our human journey.

We also read scripture. Oh yes, we seek to understand what God wishes us to do and not to do. However, that’s not our first priority. The number one reason to read scripture is to find Jesus in all of scripture. Let’s look at the texts for today. There is no problem in finding Jesus in the gospel. The second reading for today is a powerful statement about who Jesus is. The writer of the Letter to the Colossians talks about the body of Christ. He writes about the physical body that suffered death on the cross and the spiritual body, which is the church. But let’s also look at the first reading. Abraham meets the three persons. We Christians believe one is the Father, who creates, the Son, who redeems, and the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies.

There is another issue to consider in this gospel story for today. It has to do with culture. There is the culture of the church that desires to move into the world. There is the culture of the world that moves into the church; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it is not. Martha was part of the culture. She was acting very responsibly. In the culture of the time, the woman’s role was to do the many tasks. She expected Mary to respond in that way. Mary was acting counter-culturally. Women didn’t sit at the feet of the teacher, the Rabbi. That was for men. She was being a disciple. Disciples were men.

So what happens today because of the culture? As both a layperson and an ordained minister, I have often heard this comment, “We need to run this church like a business.” Admittedly, there are traits of the business world that are needed. There is marketing, stewardship, financial responsibility, and administration. All of those are excellent methods for a community of faith. But we are not seeking a net profit; we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s a committee meeting, a council meeting, or a congregational meeting, we need to be about the business of Jesus. I have talked to a few people, both lay and ordained, who have been part of a council or committee where there is more than the normal “book ends” of devotions, a short meditation at the beginning and a prayer a the end. There are twenty to thirty minute Bible studies interspersed with prayer. When good news is reported, there are prayers of thanksgiving. When there are major issues to be resolved, there are prayers of discernment. In fact, at times the members of the group will go into the sanctuary for prayer. What is interesting is that they speak in a way that says that they would like to continue in this experience. Moreover, the meetings, many times, last less than two hours. It’s because their focus is on the better part, the one thing.

Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part, which cannot be taken away from her.” The question is: What part do we choose?

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