“The Better Part”
July 22, 2007 – Luke 10:38-42

The mayor of a small town in Kentucky stopped mowing his lawn in 2005. He has put up a sign on his property that reads: “There are more important things in life than tall grass.”

He said that he has several reasons for not cutting the grass, one of which is his wife’s death from cancer. That loss caused him to reflect on the priorities of life. He enjoys just sitting in the evenings and observing the wild flowers, squirrels, and birds that are now coming to his yard. A member of the city council remarked, “If he likes it like that, it’s fine. I kind of feel like maybe he is right. Maybe there are more important things than mowing grass.” (Our Daily Bread)

It’s hard to argue with logic like that isn’t it?

Personally I like mowing grass, for me it’s a time to reflect and think, to enjoy the outdoors, and get some work done at the same time. Not that I’ve had to mow a lawn for a few years. And no, I’m not advertising a lawn mowing service. For others, like the mayor it’s a chore one would rather not have to do.

How do we look at the tasks we encounter every day? Are they things we look forward to? Or are they things we put off until we can’t avoid them anymore? Are there things in our lives we used to love doing, we couldn’t wait every day to do it, but now is just something we just feel obligated to do because we feel we have to? When we experience this, do we wonder where the passion went? The same thing happens in the church doesn’t it? We used to love the work we do, but for some reason the drive went away. Serving God is something we used to enjoy, but somewhere it became work. What could have happened to make it turn out this way?

Last week we looked at the story of the Good Samaritan and how we might gain eternal life by loving God with all our hearts, souls, strength and minds, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This week we learn how we get the strength to carry that mission on in our lives.

Martha and Mary is a part of the Bible that can be used in many ways. Some of those ways are hurtful, used to “put women in their place within the church!” But that is not what this passage is about. This passage can be used to lift up women in the church. To show how Jesus loves and uses all people to further his ministry.

It is often assumed that Martha is working in the kitchen, the traditional role of women century after century. But, in reality we aren’t sure of this. The text says Martha is distracted by many tasks, other translations read she was distracted by “serving” or “preparations”. It could be in the kitchen, but the word used is the Greek word diakonein, which means “to serve”, a verb form of the noun diakonia, which is “service”. Diakonia is often used in the Bible as ministry service. We have diaconal ministers in our churches, we are also probably familiar with the term deacons used in other denominations.

How all this translates into Martha’s work, it still could mean she’s serving Christ, but maybe she’s getting ready for some other ministry. Preaching, outreach, who knows? Either way, it is important work that needs to be done. Work she is frustrated with because her sister Mary is letting her do it alone. Mary seems quite content to just sit at Jesus’ feet. Martha’s frustration bubbles up in the question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me”

First thing to note is how Jesus is addressed in the question… she calls him ‘Lord’. Martha recognizes Jesus’ authority and divinity by addressing him as ‘Lord’. We should also note her immediate response of “Tell her then to help me.” This means Jesus showed her he did indeed care. Jesus’ response however, shows he cared differently than how Martha expected.

“Martha, Martha…” Jesus gently rebukes her. “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Now, this is the part where it gets sticky at times. People have used this to teach that women need not worry about ministry or serving in the church. This is where some people have said that women only sit and be quiet. This is where I say they are wrong. Martha is so preoccupied with whatever it is she is doing, she is missing out on the opportunity to sit and listen to Jesus, who sits in her own home! She is so busy she doesn’t take time to sit and be with Jesus.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should, because many of us do it. We get so caught up in work, ministry, service, life, we forget to stop and be with God. Even those of us in ministry struggle with this. We spend a lot of time preparing for worship, going to meetings, visiting,
and when there’s a funeral, it gets even busier. We spend a lot of time in manager mode. Making sure things are in order, planning, checking in on things, the business end of the church. When those tasks occupy more and more time for a minister, the spiritual aspect of the ministry suffers. We spend less time in prayer, less time studying, and less time in intentional time with God.

We all end up like Martha at some time, whether we mean to or not. It’s not a bad thing to be like her. It shows we care for the work we do, and how serving God is important to us. But if we don’t spend time with God in prayer and study then how do we know if we are doing the right things? Do we know why we’re doing the things we do? Where do we get our strength and direction to do what we do?

Spending time in prayer helps us more than you may know. It helps us centre ourselves on God. It helps us think clearly in ways God would like us to think about our days. It also opens us up to new things around us, new opportunities for ministry.

We don’t have the opportunity Mary had. We don’t get to sit at the feet of our Saviour and listen to him teach. Unfortunately Jesus doesn’t walk into our living room and sit down. If he did, well then it would be a much easier task to be a listener wouldn’t it? Instead we have to find time in our busy lives to pray and read scripture. Which is hard to do, isn’t it? We have to compete with work, hobbies, television, computers, shopping, all things which do a really good job at keeping us busy, including the church!

We don’t have to be Martha all the time. We also don’t want to be Mary all the time either. If all we do is sit and listen, then when does the work get done? What we need to take away from this morning is… we need to be both Martha and Mary. We need to sit and listen to God, we need to connect with the one in whose name we serve. We also need to get out and serve. God has much to do in the world. All it takes is a skim of the newspaper to see it.

There are a lot of people out there who need to experience God in their lives. Including ourselves. We can’t expect to go charging out into the world and solve all it’s problems, especially on our own. God knows what we can do, and how we can do little works to help people using the gifts we have. The only way for us to know what to do, is to sit and listen. To find some time in our busy lives to sit with God, in prayer, reading scripture, finding some way to connect. Even if we start small, it’s a start.

Jesus said to Martha “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” When we spend time with God, it is a gift, and one we cannot lose.