Monday, March 11, 2024
Sermon Audio
Full Service Audio

Worship & Serve
By Rev. Lorraine Diaz
Sunday, March 10, 2024
Reading: Luke 10:38-42

You’ve heard it said that “there’s one in every family;” you know what I mean: that one person who says inappropriate things at the worst possible moment; who creates drama (ideally with themselves as the star) at every family gathering; who makes things difficult for everyone; who you love dearly, but not because they make it easy for you. After 23 years of ministry and hundreds of weddings and funerals, I promise you, it’s true: there really is one in every family… and if you’re not sure who it is in your family, it might be you!

This scripture reading from Luke is one of those passages that makes us think about our families, and how they can sometimes get under our skin. I have a sister, and I love her dearly. She has wonderful qualities that I wish I had. My brother and I were very close and very much alike, but my sister and I have had our ups and downs over the years because we’re just very different people. We have different lifestyles, different outlooks on life and the world, different ways of thinking about things, and different ways of doing things.

So, this passage hits a nerve for me, although not in a clearcut way. I can’t say one of us is just like Martha and one of us is just like Mary. In some ways I’m like Mary and she’s like Martha. In some ways I’m like Martha and she’s like Mary. But it’s definitely one of those passages you can insert yourself into when you read it. You can picture yourself there, in the room, watching this scene unfold between Jesus and the two sisters.

In the Bible, we read that Jesus spent much of his time walking from village to village, teaching and healing and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. In this passage from the gospel of Luke, he comes to the village where Martha and Mary lived with their brother Lazarus, the village of Bethany – not too far from Jerusalem – and it says that Martha – probably the older sister – “opened her home to him.” HER home. It’s significant that the home is not described as the home of Lazarus. It’s Martha’s home, which tells us she carries a certain authority.

In so many other Bible stories, we read of people rejecting Jesus. They would never have allowed Him to set foot inside their homes. We read of people driving him out of their villages; we read that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” So, Martha’s a special person, kind and brave, who opens her door to the one so many others rejected. She was clearly a very hospitable person, so we shouldn’t be surprised that upon inviting Him into her home she sets to the work of making His stay as good and as comfortable as possible. There was no Uber Eats or Pusateri’s home delivery to call in a pinch. It was all up to her!

One would think that this was the clear and right thing to do, attend to a special visitor in her home with great attention, right? She set to work: Fussing, cooking, cleaning, probably fetching water, and baking bread; maybe even slaughtering an animal to serve him. She wants to give her very best to this important person in her home, which is the only correct thing to do, right? Any one of us would have done the same thing.

So, when she sees that her sister, Mary, is not lifting a finger, is just sitting there, listening to the conversation, she becomes resentful. Resentment is the death blow to relationships, and it eats away at our souls. Martha is resentful because she sees her way as the only correct way of doing things, and does not see it as an option, a choice that is hers to make.

A lot of us are the same: we don’t think we have a choice when it comes to balancing our responsibilities with nurturing our relationship with Jesus. Maybe we take our faith life a little for granted. I’m just as guilty as the next person. I sometimes have early morning meetings and so I think I just don’t have time in the morning to pray or read the Bible. What? Get up a half hour early? Skip breakfast for once? (don’t skip breakfast if you have health issues.)

On one hand, inviting Jesus into our lives, into our homes, like Martha did, is the important first step to having a relationship with Him. We cannot have a relationship with Jesus without first inviting Him in. But then we also have to think about and discern how we will respond to his presence.

It’s easy to be like Martha and think that attending to Jesus is done through activity or busy work. It’s true, one of the ways we express our commitment to following Christ is through service: volunteering to help with the ministries and projects of our church; helping to care for other members (especially the children and those who are elderly or ill); caring for this physical space we have consecrated to the glory of God for worship; visiting and praying with other members of the community, sitting on committees, and making other active contributions of service.

Active service is a vital part of our Christian life. In the well-known story of the Good Samaritan, for example, Jesus explained that being “religious” was not good enough when it comes to our relationship with God; that serving and attending to the needs of others is very important. In the book, Spiritual Pathways, which several of us studied together last spring, we learn that physical activity, service, and social activism are some of the very valid ways that some individuals experience the presence of God most deeply.

So, service is important, but there is also a need to be quiet and listen, and worship, and nurture your souls, even for those whose instinct is to be active. In the letter of James, for example, we read that “faith without works is dead,” but this story in Luke points to the reality that works without faith is actually self-serving. It’s self-righteousness. According to what Jesus says in this passage from Luke and other parts of the gospels, I feel confident saying that our very first priority in life as Christians is to sit at Jesus’ feet: to know Him; to listen to Him; to worship Him; to talk with Him; to love Him; to spend time with Him, not saying or doing anything, not striving, not trying to prove our worth to Him…just soaking in his wisdom and his love for us.

How do we do that now, when Jesus is not physically walking from village to village, and dropping in to our homes? Well, He is always present in our homes, so we do it through prayer and Bible study, through worship, and through quiet reflection on His presence. How do we listen to Jesus? By immersing ourselves in scripture, and hearing the Bible being taught. Active service, then, flows out of our time sitting at Jesus’ feet; it becomes our response to the relationship we have with Jesus.

When the Word of God is being read or taught, what a gift it is to be able to soak that in, listen for what God wants to say to our hearts, what He wants to speak into the situations of our lives. If we are busy with activities, distractions, other conversations, and these are not grounded in the Word of God, then we don’t really have a relationship with Jesus, and our activity – even if it is church-related activity – is self-serving, not God-serving.

Now, I get that for some people, sitting quietly to pray and read the Bible just doesn’t work for your personality. Within 30 seconds your mind has wandered off to all the things that need to get done, and within two minutes you’re back on your feet getting them done. I get it. I often do my most heartfelt praying when I’m running or walking. For others, activities that you do almost automatically – like washing dishes or knitting – are conducive to praying. While doing any of these activities, you can pop in your earbuds and listen to an audio Bible or a devotional, such as those found on the YouVersion Bible app. Also, for those who find it hard to get themselves motivated, or who aren’t confident in their ability to understand the Bible, we have such a variety of Bible and faith studies in this church where you can learn alongside others who are also on the journey.

God knows that we’re all individual, that’s why there are so many ways that we can spend time sitting at Jesus’ feet, but it’s up to us to make it a priority. Nobody has ever drifted into a deeper relationship with God without being intentional about it.

Jesus, in this passage from Luke, identifies clearly for us what our top priority in life is. He says, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Now, he doesn’t condemn Martha for her act of service. What he’s really doing is inviting Martha to set aside her resentment and come and sit at his feet too. Many of us feel guilty if we’re not busy all the time. Even if you think of yourself as like Martha – someone who takes their responsibility seriously; someone who has to be working, who loves to serve – take a deep breath right now, close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so, and picture yourself sitting at Jesus’ feet. The room is warm; your muscles let go of the tension you’re holding onto; there’s nowhere you have to be; nothing to be done that can’t wait. You’re just listening. What does His voice sound like? What is he saying to you? Imagine Jesus saying your name and inviting you to come and sit at his feet.

The thing is, once Martha’s work is done, it’s done, but she will have missed out on a special opportunity to be with Jesus. For Mary, being with Jesus – listening to him and knowing him, while she has that precious opportunity – was her top priority, and once she was filled with His wisdom and love, she would carry that with her in her heart throughout her days, and it would direct all her activities. 

A number of us are coming up to our final session of The Bible Course this coming Wednesday. In one of the sessions, Andrew Ollerton (the host of the course) tells the story of two men who were chopping wood. They began together at 9:00 and they both finished at 5:00 each day. The only difference was that one man worked straight through, and the other would stop each day at 1:00 and return at 2:00. To the frustration of the first man, the man who took the break consistently chopped more wood, despite taking a one-hour break. Finally, he addressed the issue, asking how it was that he was able to chop more wood despite taking a break, to which the second man replied that during that hour, he went home to sharpen his axe.

It is a tremendous gift that we have, to be able to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, our saviour, our teacher, and our friend. This is how we sharpen our axe, to enable ourselves to complete all the tasks and responsibilities in our lives with more strength and intention. When we immerse ourselves in His word, He alone fills our lives with meaning, and without Him, none of the million responsibilities we have or activities we engage in have any meaning, even if they are well intentioned, even if they are done in or for the church. When we have the opportunity to hear His word, that should be our priority. Everything else can wait.

The blessing we have been given is to be in communion with God. Our opportunity is now. Take every opportunity you get to sit at the feet of Jesus. Amen.