As I said before, if we keep in mind that the story of the Good Samaritan teaches us what it means to love our neighbor, we can better understand the meaning of this week’s story about Mary and Martha.
What do I mean by that? Well, first, let’s think about all the wonderful people who work in the kitchen during our fellowship time. Think about what the church would do and be without these folks, if they suddenly decided to take this story at face value and sit down, right when they’re needed to be pouring the coffee and putting out the goodies. What would happen to church dinners and, by extension, the gathering of food items for the food pantry, our work to combat hunger and feed the world? And what about greeting our guests, when we stand by the door, and made sure that everyone has received a warm greeting and a welcome to our worship? Is that what this story of Mary and Martha means, that sitting and listening and praying and learning are more important, more valuable, more holy than cooking the meal or laying out the welcome mat? Probably not.
So, how do we interpret this text especially in light of the Good Samaritan narrative? Well, one way might be to think of these passages as a two-part story; a two-part story that gets to the very heart of faithfulness. In Luke’s version of the gospel, Jesus begins by affirming the Great Commandment as the most important element, the very foundation, the very heart of faith. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, being, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He then follows it with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that teaches us about loving our neighbor. And he then immediately follows that parable with a narrative about two sisters, Mary and Martha, which is a story about loving God.
Do you see Luke’s progression here? But part of the irony in the progression comes when the lawyer asked what he needed to “do” to “inherit eternal life.” But in this little story, Jesus says that all our efforts and deeds are to be balanced, and even nourished, by times of doing absolutely nothing, except sitting and being with God.
What a radically counter-cultural message this is for us! We live in a multi-tasking world that seems to equate busyness with importance; with a long to-do list, which, especially when it’s finally completed, gives us a sense of satisfaction and even security…at least, that is, until we start on a new list of tasks to be completed. For many people, the days are packed with many things, and minds full to overflowing, worried and distracted, like Martha, by many things.
Last week there was a massive power failure in New York City. Time Square went dark, it was eerie to say the least. But as I watched coverage of the black out the next day, I realized that some of the people of New York did something extraordinary: they sat on their porches and front steps, and they walked up and down the streets and they actually talked to one another, about the power failure, about what folks needed; they checked on one another and we got to know one another better; a couple of citizens even directed traffic because the stop light were out. In other words, they made room and time for community.
What if we were to create such a community with God? What if we stopped spent some time being with God, abiding with God, what if we were to spend some of our valuable time tending our relationship with God, listening to the quiet voice of God speaking to us, deep within our hearts?
Now, in our congregation, I’ve has some visitors express surprise at how much time we spend in silence; our centering time and in silent reflection during the pastoral prayer. One woman said to me, “that’s my favorite part of your service; it’s the only quiet time I got in this whole week, and I wish it would have lasted even longer.” The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen once wrote that our lives, while full, are often unfulfilled. “Our occupations and preoccupations,” he said, “fill our external and internal lives to the brim. They prevent the Spirit of God from breathing freely in us and thus renewing our lives.”
Friends, making room for the Spirit of God to breathe freely in us renews our spirits, and our lives as well, when we walk out the door of our church. Now, I realize that we, and by we, I mean “I”, do a lot of talking in church, we have a very “word” centered style of worship. That’s why worship on Sunday morning should only be a part of our relationship with God. We must also cultivate a daily routine of faithful listening. We simply can’t hear God speaking if we don’t regularly stop and just sit and listen, faithfully, like Mary at the feet of Jesus. Not sporadically, or randomly, or when there’s nothing else to do: But faithfully listen.
How indeed can the Still-Speaking God get a word in edgewise over the beepers, smart phones, texts and tweets, social media and even old-fashioned television and radio messages that bombard us 24/7? How can we tend to our internal lives like careful gardeners who spend time nurturing new growth, pulling weeds when necessary, and gently showering the thirsty green plants with refreshing water? It has to be intentional. We must find balance. We have to create a time and a space in the midst of doing the work of justice and peace to simple be in the presence of the Divine.
As we continue our worship service today, I invite you to “faithfully listen” to the words of our Hymn of Response. “You are the seed,” the composer writes, “you are the seed that will grow a new sprout.” May each of us, as we go from this place today, find that balance between faith and works, between doing and being, between faithfully listening and faithfully serving. May we indeed be that seed that grows a new sprout.
Amen and the people of God said, Amen