Rev. Nick Reed
Worried and Distracted By Many Things
TEAM MARTHA OR TEAM MARY
This text causes people to take sides. Team Martha or Team Mary? So many people relate to Martha the doer, the one who is seen as loving a good list and serving through action and tasks. So many people also relate to Mary, the one who finds peace not through actions, but active listening, study, and contemplation. She sits at Jesus’ feet listening and holding on to every teaching, reflecting on his words of devotion and love.
It’s a big day for the two sisters. Their teacher and friend Jesus is coming over to their family home. Martha is working hard, busy trying to be a good host for Jesus. She is living out her faith through hospitality. Her faith tradition tells her hospitality towards guests is important. Her faith tradition’s scripture tells her Abraham was a good host to three guests, so she is working hard to do the same. The lists, the preparations, the tasks to make the occasion special and meaningful is beginning to take its toll.
Mary, however, is not worried about the lists, the tasks, the preparations; she is sitting at Jesus’ feet soaking in every word. It is clear that the two sisters are not on the same page about this special day.
Martha is frustrated her sister is not joining her. So frustrated she goes to Jesus, not her sister, but their special guest, to get his opinion on the hospitality situation. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Jesus' words did not bring the vindication she was looking for. Instead his words brought the answer of what Jesus was looking for! “Martha, Martha, you are are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing.”
This is the point in the text where we can get lost in the weeds and think Team Martha is wrong in their approach of being list makers and task doers; and team Mary is right in theirs of contemplation and listening. Jesus is not vindicating one form of devotion to Jesus over another but making it known that focus on him is the main priority of faithful living.
Jesus is not on Team Martha or Team Mary. He is more concerned that Martha is so worried and distracted by the tasks of serving that she has lost focus on her intent to serve the Lord. Mary, on the other hand, has chosen not to be distracted or worried but is focused on The One Thing -- Jesus.
THE OTHER WAY AROUND
It easily could have been the other way. Martha could have focused on Christ through her service, and Mary gotten distracted as she sat at Jesus’ feet. The action of service is an important part of the Gospel of Luke. Throughout the Gospel after healings by Jesus, people got up and served others in response to Christ’s compassion and mercy. One can serve the Lord with purpose, without the weight of distractions. Just like one can sit at the feet of a teacher, but her mind is so distracted by other thoughts that she isn't really listening.
WORRIED AND DISTRACTED
Let’s be honest. We can all relate to the worry and distraction that Martha is feeling. There are lots of things to worry about and be distracted about in this world that draws our attention away. Whether it’s worries and distractions at home, in our work place, school, or in our community or nation, we live in a worried and distracted world. For Christians, the worried and distracted world can make it really hard to maintain the focus of our heart, mind, and actions on being a follower of Christ. I have mentioned this quote before to some of you -- in his book The End of Words, Duke University preaching professor Richard Lischer raises this question in our worried and distracted world, “The average American is subjected to approximately six thousand messages per day. Why should one of them called Gospel stand out? What is one message among so many?”
It's a sad reminder that the world around us can become so overwhelming with other distractions, worries, and fears that we could easily lose our focus on THE One Thing that is the cornerstone of our life and faith as followers of Christ. The one thing is the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
FOCUS ON CHRIST
When our heart and mind are centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the distractions and worries that are in our life won’t overwhelm us. When we are focused on Jesus Christ, love will guide our heart and actions as we interact with the world. When we are focused on Jesus Christ, compassion and justice surrounds us.
SHALLOWS OF CHURCH
One of my favorite things about a community of faith is that there are so many people who have different gifts to share. Everyone has their own form of devotion to love and serve God. Some of us are like Martha and want to serve with our actions and all our energy. Some of us are like Mary and want to sit and study and focus all our energy on contemplating our faith. All are great when their purpose is centered on God.
These forms of devotion put us in a place where our faith and our focus on Christ is deeply convicted. However, even the church can run the risk of dwelling in a place where the worries and distractions of being “the best church” cause us to have a shallow focus on Christ. Decisions will be made without a hint of the Gospel.
Kathy and I have a friend who is a pastor, and he shared with us about a time a youth fundraiser dinner lost focus on the gospel. The church had been planning a spaghetti dinner to raise money for the youth to go to Montreat. During the planning process, a verbal and almost physical fight broke out in the kitchen between parents over which spaghetti sauce was better and which should be used for the meal. Adults were fighting over a church meal like toddlers. I am sure they both felt a desire to serve by making the best meal possible, but clearly they lost focus on THE One Thing.
Churches all over can find themselves in similar situations. Churches focused on maintaining the way things have always been choose the institution of church over mission of the church. Worship wars and schisms break out over the color of worship bulletins, pulpit placement, stained glass windows, and the paint color of the sanctuary. We could easily replace the word Martha in the story and hear Jesus saying, “Church, church, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
SHALLOWS OF WORLD
The world around us can run this same risk of dwelling in the shallows of life and faith. There is a world full of issues outside of these church wall: poverty, addiction, depression, racism, border security, healthcare, and the list goes on and on. It is easy as Christians to get worried and distracted and overwhelmed especially when there are 6000 messages a day telling us how to respond to a broken world. As Christians if we are not careful, all the worry and distraction of these issues and messages may cause us to lose our focus on Christ. In those moments when we lose focus, we can run the risk of preaching one thing and practicing another. We could easily replace the word Martha in the story and hear Jesus saying, “Christian, christian, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” This is a reminder to us that our calling as Christians is to let the Good News of Gospel be the ONE THING that tell us how to respond to a world in desperate need of love.
When we find ourselves in the shallows of life and faith and worried and distracted, may we seek humility to focus on the ONE thing, Jesus Christ. Our humble service and humble listening will lead us to a focus on Christ, a focus centered towards love and devotion.
As the things of this world cause worry and bring about distractions from the Gospel, may we turn towards scripture to help navigate our focus towards a life where Christ is in the center. In scripture we find our bearings to be servants of God and servants to one another. In scripture we read about various forms of devotion to God, various gifts that people can give to God and share with one another. Actively listening with humility to God’s Word like Mary will lead us to a life centered and focused on Christ.
This week our nation has been in a full debate for how we are to treat neighbors who are different from one another. For a week there have been many different messages surrounding us. Some of the many messages that surround us might be filled with worry and fear…the Good News is the Gospel message is filled with love. The passage before today’s text is the Parable of the Good Samaritan and was preached just last week, and it is one of numerous scripture passages that Christians can humbly listen to and be led to action and service towards our neighbors. The message of the Gospel proclaims to Jesus’ followers to humbly choose actions of love, mercy, and empathy towards their neighbor. Actively serving others with humility like the Samaritan, like Martha was intending to do will lead to a life centered and focused on Christ.
As worries and distractions attempt to consume us we can also remember along with Scripture that Worship is a time and place to focus our life and faith on Christ. When we are overwhelmed, worried, and distracted by the things of this world may our worship of God bring us comfort, peace, and newly found purpose in this world. Here in this space as we worship God, we are able to center ourselves back and connect with God who is the source of our peace and energy for our purpose in this world. May we find comfort and assurance that God’s presence of love and faithfulness that has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ is always present to center us back to our calling and purpose to love and serve God and to love and serve all of God’s creation. Amen.