Sunday, July 22, 2007

There’s Something About Those Marys

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Mary Magdalene
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Luke 10:38-42

What is it about those Marys in the Scriptures? They’re always just sitting around, just listening to Jesus. Do they ever do anything? If it weren’t for the other Christians around them would anything have gotten done? Surely Jesus doesn’t want us just sitting around listening to His Word all day, does He? Aren’t we called by Him to serve and obey Him?

Has Martha gotten a bum rap, like Doubting Thomas? After all, Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted Jesus’ resurrection—they all did. And what about Sarah in the Old Testament reading? We know so well that she scoffed at the prospect of giving birth at her advanced age. But why do we so often forget that Abraham also laughed when he first heard of it? Why is Martha singled out for her desire to be a good hostess to none other than the Son of God? When you invite people into your home there’s a lot of work to do: preparing, cleaning, making things nice, cooking, setting up, making your guest comfortable. Shouldn’t this most have been the case when Jesus—God Himself—was coming into the home of an individual? What kind of servant of Christ would Martha have been if she had just left everything alone and sat on her rump like her sister Mary who was through with getting things ready?

Last week we heard from Jesus: Go and do likewise. Be a neighbor to those in need. Have compassion on those who are in dire straits. Today the one who is praised is the one who is doing nothing. Mary is sitting down on the floor and just soaking in the teaching of Jesus. What about all that needed to be done to be a good host to Jesus? He doesn’t seem to care about that much at all.

But the one who does is the one who is taken aback by Jesus’ response to her. Jesus, I’m doing all the work here, Martha appeals to Him. You can almost see her pleading with Jesus through gritted teeth to tell Mary to help out.

But Jesus never tells Mary not to help. And Jesus doesn’t even tell Martha not to serve so graciously. What He chides Martha for is all the baggage she has brought to her serving. She’s worried. Distracted.

She was glad when Jesus came. She welcomed Him in. But she’s got a lot on her mind. Like all the stuff that needs to get done. Like why her lazy sister isn’t helping out. Like why Jesus doesn’t seem to care one bit about everything she’s doing for Him.

Some aren’t worriers. I envy you. How you go through life without worrying is amazing to me. I’m sure you’re wondering how in the world people go through life worrying. Well, when you worry, it feeds upon itself. You know you shouldn’t worry. You know it doesn’t do any good. That, in fact, it can actually make things worse. But you do it. You hate it. But it grows and grows to where your situation ends up being worse than what it started out to be. Those of us who worry can identify with Martha. How is all the stuff going to get done? Especially with my lazy sister in there leaving it all to me.

How often in my life am I worried and distracted? It’s easy enough to be busy. To do those things we have to do. We gotta get the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons while hoping to have enough time to run some of those errands we haven’t had time to do yet. Keeping the house clean and orderly is enough to keep us busy much of the time. We have appointments and people who ask favors of us. And if we’re going to take seriously Jesus’ call to serve others we don’t have to look far to find people in need of our help.

But are we so worried and distracted in our lives that we really are not serving Jesus after all? Was Martha really serving Jesus, or was she just serving herself? Was she concerned about what Jesus needed or what she herself needed? She was sure Jesus would side with her and tell Mary to get off her duff and help out so that they both could have time to sit and visit. She was not so busy to be distracted by the thought that Mary wasn’t pulling her weight around the house. She was so consumed with what had to be done that she didn’t even see that there is something even more important than the pressing needs of the moment.

Like all of us, she was reluctant to simply sit down and be awash in the eternal Words of Jesus. Who has time to sit down and read the Bible every day? There’s way too much stuff to do. How can I plan to set aside one hour a week for Bible Study when the things I already promised to do are piling up and time marches on whether they get done or not? How can I be expected to focus entirely on the proclaimed Word of God in the sermon when I have so many things to plan for for the rest of the day? And with so much rustling and distractions going on?

We get bored with the same old confession of sins week after week rather than honestly confronting the fact that it is true, we are unworthy of God’s feast of compassion. We sing the hymns but don’t pay attention because we don’t like the tune or it’s too slow and end up missing out on the rich message of God’s love and grace for us.

We’re uncomfortable simply sitting and listening. We’re unwilling to walk into this building and leave everything in our lives at the front door and be awash in God’s light and illumination. To absorb the riches of His grace He gives us in the absolution, in the hearing of His Word, in the hearing of the proclamation of His Word, in the beautiful words of the liturgy, in the body and blood of Christ in His Supper.

God visited Abraham in our Old Testament reading. What do Abraham and Sarah do? They are compelled to serve the three visitors, God in pre-incarnate form. But what does God do? No, Abraham. No, Sarah. You will receive. I will give. I will serve you. I will give you a son. It won’t be through anything you accomplish, though. You scoff at the prospect, but I will bring it about. Because that’s what God does. He serves us.

There’s always good old Peter for an example. Jesus assumes the role of the lowly slave to wash the disciples’ feet. Are you crazy Jesus?, we can hear Peter challenging Him. He was good at that. Distracted often from what Jesus was teaching him; “No I will wash Your feet. There’s no way I’ll let you wash my feet. I need to wash Yours! You’re the Master, I’m the servant.” Nope. Jesus nailed him. “You’ll be doing no serving. If you try it you have no part in Me. You see, I came not to be served but to serve.”

And what about that poor sap we heard about last week: “Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life? We really think that we’re not like these people? Then why do we focus so much on what we must do? Why are we so distracted when it comes to worship and the Word of God? Why are we so concerned about worship that’s not meaningful and doesn’t speak to us? Why not just sit and listen and take it all in?

Scripture gives us example after example of the Marthas. When Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things”, just insert your own name in there. Well, it’s already taken care of with one of you. J We’re really the Marthas, aren’t we? The Abrahams and Sarahs. The Peters and the religious leaders trying to gain their way to heaven.

There’s something about those Marys. Those Marys that do something that the rest of us don’t. And that’s, well, nothing. That’s realizing that there’s a lot going on. A lot of important stuff. But that there’s one thing needful. One thing that’s more important than all the rest.

Let’s have no illusions that those Marys were somehow holier than the rest. They were indeed sinful like the rest of us. They themselves at times fell into the trap of the Marthas and the rest of us. But why did God the Holy Spirit inspire the Gospel writers to present them the way they are presented? Because they are a picture of the Church. The Church is the Church when it is at rest. When it is sitting at the feet of Jesus. The work of the Church is being in the Word. Listening to the Word. Being filled by the Word. Being equipped by Jesus through His Word to serve Him.

Zechariah, well, let’s just say he didn’t learn much from the child thing of Abraham and Sarah. He scoffed at Gabriel’s message that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a child. But there was something about Mary. “Let it be to me according to your word,” she said to Gabriel. Did she understand how the Holy Spirit would bring about pregnancy in her without being married? Not a chance. But she didn’t worry about it. She didn’t get distracted from the Word of God to her. She humbly sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His Word spoken through the angel Gabriel. This is a wonderful picture of the Church accomplishing the highest worship to her Lord that she can: hearing His Word and taking it as that, believing it against all that appears needs to be accomplished.

There was something about that other Mary, too; the one whose day is actually commemorated today—Mary Magdalene. If there ever was a person who was not able to serve Jesus it was her. Hindered by seven demons, Jesus cast them out of her. She was the recipient of a lavish gift. What had consumed her life was now gone. Jesus filled her life up with His rich grace and mercy. When all, including her, gave up hope in the dead Jesus, she was once again blessed by Him. What did she go to His tomb to do? To serve Him one last time. Anoint His body with oil. She, like everyone else, had become distracted from the promises Jesus had made to them. But here Jesus was outside the tomb and coming to her to do what He had come to do for everyone: serve her. What a glorious picture of the Church—being the recipient of the Lord Himself in all His grace and glory, just as He continues to come to us today in His Body that was given on the cross and His blood that was shed on the cross. What else could she now do but rejoice and tell the others!

And there’s something about that Mary we’ve met today. That lazy bum. She doesn’t even bother to welcome Jesus into her home. Not one care about the meal coming out right or the dusting having gotten done. But she’s sure ready to sit down and do nothing! This is really nothing else than a blessed picture of God’s true love: His Holy Church, His Bride. Mary was in the position exactly of Mary the mother of Christ and Mary Magdalene.

That is the position we all really need to be in. Sitting. Doing nothing. Hearing. Absorbing. Taking in. Not worrying. Not succumbing to the distractions. Hanging on every word we hear in worship. Receiving it for what it is: the life-giving nourishment we need to be forgiven and sustained in new life to all eternity. Amen.


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