Who is Right?
17 July 2016
Let me present to you this hypothetical situation. Let’s pretend that after this morning’s church service, you get into your car and go home. For the sake of my illustration, let’s assume there are other family members who live with you. When you get home, to your shock and amazement, Jesus is waiting outside your front door. He explains that the purpose of his visit is to spend some time with you and the family and share some spiritual truths.
Since it is close to the noon day hour, one family member is given the task to entertain Jesus and make him comfortable while you work fast and furious to prepare lunch. And once the meal is served, Jesus begins to eat and share the many wonderful truths about the Kingdom of God.
While this is going on, you who did the bulk of the food preparation are still on the job. In order to be a good host, there are other things that must be done, but you miss out on what was said.
What happened in my scenario is a lot like what happened in today’s scripture text. Martha was upset with her sister Mary. The issue at hand was the question of service versus personal devotion.
My text is Luke 10:38-42. Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
This story took place in a small village called Bethany, which was about two miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. From what we can gather from the other gospels, Martha, her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus all lived under one roof. There is some speculation that Martha might have been a widow and was the actual head of this household.
Of all the places Jesus had visited in the three years of ministry, this was a place where he could rest and relax and be himself. But it was in verse 40, where we find the first hint of trouble. It seemed in the midst of all the food preparation; Martha reached the boiling point. Martha felt she was doing all the work and her sister did not pull her fair share.
Now in Martha’s defense, perhaps she had done everything to get Mary’s attention. I think we all have certain ways to get a loved one’s attention. We clear our throats, we make attention getting motions. We make certain facial expressions, perhaps kick a leg under the table. But I assume in Martha’s case, none of the things she tried worked, so she went directly to Jesus and complained.
Our Lord’s message to Martha and to all of us is this. Life is a series of choices. There are good choices and there are better. Martha served and worked in the kitchen. That was a good choice. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and that was better.
Down through the ages, many have questioned the fairness of Jesus on this. And it all boils down to the issue of good choices vs better. Again it was service versus devotion. Actually you need both. You can’t run a church without both, but it is knowing when.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church had many duties and responsibilities. In his 50+ years of ministry, he had ridden some 250,000 miles and preached some 40,000 sermons. He had the oversight of thousands of Bible societies and lay preachers
But despite his many responsibilities, he felt his first and foremost duty was devotion. Every day before the sun came up; Wesley had his private time with God. It was the only way he could experience the fresh presence of God. After filling his soul, Wesley was able to serve. For all of us Methodists, Wesley set the standard. Devotion to God then service. It worked for Wesley and it will work for us.
In our scripture text, what Martha did was a good and necessary thing; however in Jesus’ eyes, what Mary did was better. It is commendable to be busy for God, but it is not so noteworthy when we do not spend time with him. The point is that we all need to make time in our relationship with God just as we do with other family members or spouses.
I think my natural inclination is to be like Martha. I find it hard to sit and reflect when lots of things need to get done. Knowing that I am this way, I try to spend the first part of the day in personal devotions; otherwise I would never get around to it. I would find something else to do and before you know it, it is already evening.
Several years ago, we took a three day trip into Canada to get a taste of a real Canadian winter. We drove up to Pittsburg, NH to cross the border. I was a bit nervous knowing that the temperatures would plunge well below zero, and I was afraid our car would not start in the morning.
Fortunately, we were okay. However I noticed at the hotels where we stayed, many of the cars were hooked up to a trickle battery charger, which kept the battery charged and warm; the cars were able to start right up in the morning.
I see a correlation in the spiritual realm. If we do and do and do and do, but neglect the devotional aspect of our spiritual lives, we will eventually gradually grow cold in our relationship with God. However if we stay active in our faith and have personal devotions, which is like having a trickle battery charger, then our faith will remain vibrant and alive; then our service will not seem like a chore.
Like I mentioned before, I have a tendency to be like Martha. Because there is always someone to visit, to call and to email. There is always a newsletter article or sermon to write. But in light of the many ministerial tasks, I need also to be like Mary. If I don’t do that, I will become stagnant in my relationship with God.
So I would encourage all of us to keep the fires of God’s love burning. Don’t just rely on the Sunday morning worship service as your own spiritual connection of the week, but schedule a time for personal devotions. If you have to, put it on your calendar and see what happens.
Prior to my ordination, I met with Bishop Peter Weaver and he gave me a framed inscription of a Covenant Prayer that John Wesley used for his personal devotion. It is in our UMH. Consider this your prayer.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Let me close with this thought. In the Kingdom of God and in the church, we need both sisters. Actually we cannot have one without the other. If we keep the perspective of Mary first, then Martha second, then we won’t become burnt out with our service to the Lord. When we spend time with God and make it a daily habit, it will be a time we can look forward to and it will become the best part of the day and our service will be a joy.