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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Sister Act – Mary and Martha

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost


As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”


“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42


I suppose in some ways, we’re all alike. But in many ways we’re all very different – which is good, because if everyone were alike, this would be an awfully boring world! We’re even very different than our brothers or sisters. I know some of your brothers and sisters, and most are very different from you. And people who know my brother and me say we look a lot alike – but we’re as different as we can be!


Marilyn Vos Savant, who has the Sunday article, “Ask Marilyn” and the highest I.Q. in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records had a person ask her, “Why are two people, who were born and raised by the same parents, so different?” And she answered, “The amazing thing is not that we’re different, but in some ways we might be similar!”


The two sisters in our Gospel lesson, Martha and Mary, were certainly different. Martha was the doer – the mother hen. Can’t you just see her? Wiping her hands on her apron and brushing her hair back out of her eyes, rushing around making sure that everyone’s taken care of and the house is spic and span.


And then there’s Mary. More calm and cool. Maybe more of a dreamer than a doer. While Martha scurries about getting the house in order and the meal prepared, Mary plunks herself down at the Lord’s feet in rapt attention, completely oblivious to Martha’s rushing around, and completely absorbed in what Jesus has to say. She’s never met anyone like Jesus before. Such wisdom! Such power! Mary is swept up by His words. And Martha? Martha wishes Mary was swept up with the chores that have to be done!


All her life Martha’s been doing while her sister’s been dreaming. Oh, Martha loved Mary all right – she just wished that Mary would do her share. There was a lot to be done that day: vegetables to chop, fruit to be washed, tables to be set – and Mary was acting like she was company!


Martha even complained about her to Jesus: “Lord,” she said, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Which sounds to me like a little criticism of Jesus, too!)


We know that Jesus loved and admired both of these women. So I’m sure He was smiling when He said, “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.” Jesus had wise advice for Martha – and wise advice for us as well, and that’s to choose what is better, like Mary did.


Now Max Lucado is right on target when he writes: “Every church needs a Martha. Change that. Every church needs a hundred Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready, they keep the pace for the church. Because of Marthas the church budgets get balanced, church buildings get repaired and cleaned, babies get bounced on loving knees in the nursery… Yes, the Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They keep going and going and going.”


So Martha wanted to be the perfect hostess, and that’s all well and good. But the Lord was in her home! He only had a short time to spend there, and Martha had the opportunity to soak up words that would enrich the rest of her life! Sure, the needs of her guests were important, but this wasn’t the time to fix a 7-course meal. Mary would have called Domino’s for pizza! 😊 It’s not smart to be “worried and upset about many things” and have our priorities out of order.


We need to learn from Mary’s example. We need to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. We need to be faithful in daily reading His Word, meditating on it, and talking back to Him in prayer. Time spent in Jesus’ company helps us sort out the rest of our priorities. And the harder life gets, the more essential it is to spend time with Him!


The Bible is full of messages that offer help and healing and repair for our needy souls. Too often, when things go wrong in life, God is the last person we turn to. We go everywhere else first for help: psychologists, psychiatrists, advisers and friends – or take a bunch of pills. We consult God’s Word as a last resort, when we should have run to Him at the first symptoms of trouble.


God is the master mechanic, who knows the creatures He has made. Bent, broken, weak, or run-down parts are no problem for Him.


I remember when I first was on the road selling for Standard Oil. Where was I going to sell another hundred tires? Where was I going to sell another ten barrels of motor oil? The pressure was constant. Even if you made your quota, they wanted you to sell more to make up for someone who wasn’t making his. And I’d lie awake for hours, “worried and upset” like Martha.


I remember when I had my own business, and I worried about how I could pay my bills and get merchandise, or where and how I could sell more, or how could I collect what was owed to me.


But I discovered that spending time in God’s Word, sitting at Jesus’ feet if you will, changed my outlook on all those things I was worried and upset about. The Psalms are great! They say there’s a Psalm for every (p)sigh. David wrote a lot of them when he had his life to worry about, with King Saul and the army chasing after him. I never had anything that bad!


Some of us, including all you mothers, have jobs that are never finished – and never done to everyone’s satisfaction. I remember what Pastor Scherer told me to do when I went to bed at night: “Thank the Lord for the things you did today; ask Him to forgive you for the things you didn’t do; and go to sleep!”


The Bible is the book of God’s heart. It’s the book He wants us to read, study, believe and obey. Sure, we’ll still get “worried and upset about many things.” But when we do – and before we do – we need to learn from Mary’s part of the Sister Act. She positioned herself so she could look into the face of Jesus and hang on His every word.


And we, too, need to set some time aside every day, and also to get involved in Bible study so that our “spiritual food” goes from just “milk” to “meat”.


I know it’s almost too good to be true, but the Creator of the Universe and Redeemer of Mankind wants to spend time with you and me.


We need Marys who can learn from Marthas. We need Marthas who can learn from the Marys of the world. We need the balance between work and prayer, between service and things spiritual, between busyness and attentiveness.


Charles Wesley put it this way: “Faithful to my Lord’s commands I still would choose the better part; serve with careful Martha’s hands and loving Mary’s heart.” Good advice!


Amen

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