In God’s Presence
By Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder
Message on Luke 10:38-42 and Col. 1:15-23
July 21, 2019
Main message: When we spend time with God and come to know better God’s love we can find the strength to live out of love, allow others to grow spiritually even if it is different from where we are at, and counter destructive cultural norms.
We all have probably heard the brief account of Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel as a reminder to slow down from our busy lives and spend more time with God. Other than getting this obvious reminder, I look at the story wanting Luke to have given greater detail about what was going on. When studying the context of Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary there is much more to learn than what is obvious, so I have developed an extended version to help us see the ‘more’ of this story.
Before reading my extended version, it is important to know that by this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus had faced challenges and talked about the suffering, death and resurrection he will experience. He told his followers they will also be challenged and need to be grounded in their faith to live as he was teaching them. Just before going to Martha’s home Jesus was challenged and responded to the question “who is my neighbor?” by giving the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this he summed up the greatest commandment and radically redefined neighbors as including people who would normally be outside of social acceptance. We move from Jesus countering social norms through storytelling, to his visit with Martha and Mary.
Extended Version of Luke 19:38-42 by Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder: (with verses from the NRSV translation)
Now as Jesus and the disciples went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Andrew protested saying, “But Lord is it proper for us to go into a woman’s home?” Philip worriedly looked around to make sure no one important was watching them. Jesus simply rolled his eyes and ignored Andrew, so they went in and were welcomed by the delicious smells of a home baked meal. Simon took a deep breath, then whispered to Andrew, “Hey we may get some flak for this, but it sure smells good and aren’t you hungry?”
Martha had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. Many of the disciples were appalled by this, and James kept giving Mary the look that says “You don’t belong here.” Jesus was teaching about God’s love. John was soaking it up, but was irritated when Jesus kept looking at Mary and seemed to be ignoring him. Matthew said, “Lord you have already talked about this. You’re getting redundant.” Thomas said, “I agree, but that’s not what I struggle with. I can’t get past my doubts about God working in that way.” Jesus ignored his disciples and kept teaching.
But Martha became frustrated, as she was distracted by her many tasks. After all – who would prepare the food, set the table and clean up? She had heard Jesus was an important man, the group was quite large and there were social expectations she had to live up to. So Martha went to Jesus 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.” A flicker of worry crossed Mary’s brow, while Martha stood waiting for support.
But the Lord surprised everyone and answered her saying, “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.” Mary heartily responded, “Yes! Someone finally gets it!”
Yes, I do take quite a bit of license in the extended version, but think it is fair to indicate Jesus’ visit was far more radical than Luke lets on in his description. For example, the audacity of Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet among the disciples in a very patriarchal world was either scandalous or inspiring depending on your perspective. She was expected to serve and avoid intimate interaction with men she was not married to. Despite this Mary took a risk to settle among the disciples so she could listen to God speak through Jesus. As we can see from Martha’s response, she was not pleased with Mary’s choice.
Martha was busy fulfilling her role as hostess by serving many guests including Jesus, whose reputation for performing miracles and teachings must have preceded him. The author of Luke informed us it was Martha’s home Jesus visited and this in itself is quite extraordinary. Women were not typically the owner or head of a household. Martha in all her busyness was responding to the pressures placed on her by society and her own personal needs for approval. We even get a glimpse of family dysfunction when she requested Jesus to order her sister to help with the work, rather than talking directly to Mary herself.
To everyone’s surprise, Jesus chastised Martha for her anxiety, rather than rebuking Mary for sitting among the disciples. It is easy to relate to Martha in this story. After all we do to receive approval from others and the busyness we fill our lives with, it really is not hard to see how we could respond to Jesus the same way Martha did. Perhaps to some of the disciples’ chagrin, Jesus clearly showed eating dinner was not the most important thing on his mind. From his interaction with Martha and Mary, Jesus provided a number of insights on what living our faith looks like. The following are three of the lessons relevant for life in today’s world.
- Spend time with God. We need to set aside distractions, worries and work to be with God so we can be grounded in knowing God’s love and presence in our lives. Jesus responded to Martha saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is a need of only one thing.” He was reminding her that so much of what she was being distracted by and anxious about was much less significant than knowing God. If we think of it, Jesus could be saying to each of us right now, “Your name, your name, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” That one thing: God. Knowing and being with God. God’s love, God’s vision, God’s hope and God’s will. This is what Jesus was all about.
In fact, just after his encounter with Martha and Mary, Jesus prayed and one of the disciples asked him how to pray, so he gave the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus knew and was trying to teach others: Prayer is vitally important to our faith life and spirituality. Prayer enables us to sit at the feet of Jesus; to be with God up close and personal. In God’s presence something new, something deeper is found. Like Martha we may struggle when others are in a different place than we are spiritually, but this does not mean we should confine them to where we are. This leads us to the second lesson.
- Allow others to grow spiritually and seek spiritual nourishment. Jesus encouraged both Mary and Martha to sit at his feet and listen to the word of God. Clearly, Mary was in a different place spiritually than Martha was at that moment. It is hard to know how Martha responded to Jesus’ suggestion she was letting too many frivolous anxieties distract her from experiencing God’s presence. Was she able to set aside the bruise to her self-esteem and hear his truth or did she become angrier? Did she sit down with them or continue with the chores? How would we respond in her shoes? I hope we would be able to hear the care in Jesus’ words and experience his presence in a new way.
Whether we continue to get caught up in the busyness and expectations or sit down with Jesus, this story reminds us we need to allow people to grow spiritually and seek spiritual nourishment even when we are at a different place than they are. Perhaps there is something we can learn from our own discomfort in the differences and from others’ experiences of the holy. Even if we cannot bring ourselves to experience God in a different way, we need to let others sit at the feet of Jesus without passing negative judgment. Such acceptance may require us to counter judgmental, unhealthy social norms, our third lesson from today’s Scripture.
- We need to challenge destructive social norms and behaviors. Spending time with God and coming to know God’s love as shown by Jesus is not simply for our own well-being. Yes, by spending time with God in prayer and knowing God’s love in Jesus we can know greater love, peace, joy, hope and strength in our lives, but it is not just to be about ourselves. Spiritual growth and nourishment also provides us with the courage to counter destructive, hurtful norms and behaviors in our families, congregation, community and world.
Remember Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan just before his encounter with Martha and Mary. In response to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” he redefined neighbors as including people who may seem to be outside of our religious, geographical, social or cultural circle. Jesus expanded the greatest commandment of love God, love neighbor, and love self to defy the narrow boundaries we tend to limit God’s love to. As we catch a glimmer in his interaction with Martha and Mary, stereotypes feeding into sexism, racism, and other “isms” are challenged and dismantled by Jesus’ walk to the cross, death and resurrection. This lesson encourages us to challenge destructive social norms out of love for God, neighbor and self, not out of self-righteousness. In God’s presence we are strengthened to do “more.”
Next weekend 16 of us from Pilgrim will travel to Guatemala to participate in Common Hope’s work helping children and families. We will share kindness and the resources we have, but we are certainly not in a place to change Guatemalan culture. I am praying it will be a time to be nourished by sitting at the feet of Jesus in a new way, so that we can return with the inspiration and strength to bring about change in our own environment. We will see brokenness and destructive cycles of behavior in Guatemala, but there are many that exist in our own society as well. Can we see them? Do we challenge the destructive behaviors and norms that break down people rather than build them up?
Most often we get overwhelmed by thinking there is so much out of our control from a national or global perspective, but the most important way we can impact the world is by opposing what people around us say or do that seems destructive and does not exemplify God’s love. It can be so hard to do this seemingly simple thing. With all of the social pressures involved, it really is easier to remain silent or follow the crowd. “Your name, your name, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” May we hear Jesus’ caring words and gentle call to let go of what distracts us from God’s work. May we be as audacious as Mary to sit at his feet, spending time with God and allowing others to do so in the ways they feel called. As we spend time in God’s presence we can find the wisdom to see and the courage to challenge destructive social norms and behaviors preventing people from experiencing the fullness of God’s love. All in God’s presence. Amen.