First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a
1The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10aThen one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”
Psalm: Psalm 15
1Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
Who may abide upon your holy hill?
2Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right,
who speak the truth from their heart;
3they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends;
they do not cast discredit upon a neighbor.
4In their sight the wicked are rejected, but they honor those who fear the Lord. They have sworn upon their health and do not take back their word.
5They do not give their money in hope of gain, nor do they take bribes against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be overthrown.
Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
15[Christ Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
24I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
38Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What are some of the things you enjoyed at birthday parties when you were a child or that you enjoy now? (Group share)
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
True confessions! I have a sister who is two years and one day younger than me. My birthday was on the 11th and she was born on the 12th. We had birthdays together. My mother dressed us like twins, perhaps in different colors of the same dress for she was a blonde with long straight hair to her waist and I was a brunette with short curly hair, during an era when long blonde hair was the surfer look. Did I mention how jealous I always was and I had a bad case of comparison-itis. I could play the “Woe is Me” song for hours convincing myself and everyone else that my parents loved my gifted, beautiful, flawless sister more than me. Now I have children and am hopefully more mature. But I bring my life to the text today. I desperately want to defend responsible Martha whom I feel often gets a bad rap and put in contrast to Mary. Maybe you identify with Mary. And perhaps you too struggle with a sister or a sibling or a friend or a colleague. You can name the person who challenges your sense of self worth and the value of your life. Our culture plays the game, comparing presidential leadership styles, debating which country is “great-er” and of course all our athletic comparison of teams. So let us see what this text brings to our hearts and souls today. Are Mary and Martha competing or complementing?
First let’s make sure we see our reading in its context. We are on the journey of Pentecost. We are reflecting on who our God is but also who we are to our God. We are going through a three week series of Luke 10 for our texts. After challenging us in Luke 9 to stay focused on God’s task for us and not on distractions of life, Luke opens with the followers being sent to surrounding towns by twos to prepare the way for Jesus. We are sent people. Last week we pondered the Good Samaritan parable and who is our neighbors and whom we might be sent to. Luke follows this with Mary and Martha, two sisters living out their relationship with Jesus in very different ways. They welcome Jesus into their home, the place they live. They are an example of the receivers of those sent.
Our text opens with Martha welcoming Jesus into her home. We do not know if she was a widow hence having a home nor do we hear about brother Lazarus at this point. Her sister Mary, possibly younger, was present. This home is going to become an important launching point for Jesus and his disciples when he is in the Jerusalem area. It is in this home that Jesus spends his last week. It was as close to “home base” in the gospels as any place Jesus visited. In the Gospel of John we learn that at one point, Martha’s brother Lazarus became sick and died. We are told, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5)” Jesus loved Martha.
Welcoming guests is a big thing. In Kenya you would be required to kill a goat. At the last Supper it is noteworthy that the welcoming ritual of washing feet was assumed by Jesus. Perhaps we would take a guest’s coat to hang up or lay on a bed. Offering drinks is almost mandatory. And don’t forget to have nice music playing in the background! A Kenyan friend visited the United States and returned with tales about us funny Americans. We could drive up to a machine and money came out (an ATM). We could drive up to a window and food was handed out (McDonalds). He was taken into restaurants and told to choose what he wanted to eat. In Kenya you eat what the hostess serves! He never ate in an American home on his trip but always in restaurants. Does that tell us something about the social pressure that Martha may have been feeling by inviting Jesus into her home? And I would guess it was Jesus & Co she welcomed.
In the next sentence after we read that Martha opened her home to Jesus, we read that Mary, her sister, is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. We know this scene. While I put the finishing touches on the food, my husband might be host to the company. The Master of Ceremonies handles the upfront official, public presence at the gathering but there is always someone in charge of the kitchen, the DJ, the mechanics. Welcoming is complicated.
If we think about it, there are stories in the Bible of welcoming gone wrong. A guest takes a spot at the table that belongs to a more important person and has to be asked to move. There is a story about a guy who arrived at the feast dressed wrong and got thrown out. Elisha blinds the army and leads them to Samaria where their eyes are opened in the presence of the enemy. A welcoming feast was prepared. There was one story when a delegation from King David was suspected of being spies and their beards are shorn and clothing cut off. I suspect we all want to hear when we are welcomed into heaven, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into your Father’s delight.” Welcoming is mechanics and welcoming is relationship. Welcoming done right makes people feel loved, and welcoming done poorly can destroy relationship.
Perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on how we make people feel welcome at Bethany. We might consider if we think that welcoming is really the usher’s job. We might reflect on coming to church on a day when everything is wrong in our life and if we feel we have to put on the brave face before entering. I am very aware now of entering with a husband coping with Parkinson’s Disease and who can barely walk so arriving a few minutes late, I feel, creates an awkward moment for all. I will choose YouTube church where my shortcomings are not visible. May we always be aware of welcoming as an important aspect of relationship.
From this text and from Acts we see the church grow and develop organizational structure around welcoming – around Word and Service. We welcome people into the social relationships of church and its ministries and we welcome people into spiritual relationship with God. We designate roles like Pastor and Diaconal, kitchen ministries and music ministries, youth and adult ministries, and perhaps outreach and educational. I would suggest that ultimately the question is not that people have different gifts, talents and arenas of service but whether we see these arenas as competing or complementary.
Our text shares that Martha is “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” I think a case could be made that Mary was distracted also. If an important person like the Bishop or a celebrity were to visit our church or home today, our attention would be drawn to that visitor and we would be positioning ourselves for a good view or at least so we could listen. I am guilty as charged. A US President visited Minneapolis at an old school five blocks from our house. We drove around for an hour trying to figure out how to get past all the security protocol just so we could catch a glimpse of an important person in our neighborhood. We were defeated. But Mary succeeded and broke protocol and placed herself at the feet of Jesus to listen.
So being distracted may not be wrong but the more real question is where the distraction is leading us. Martha is not rejoicing in her arena of service but is drawn into comparing herself with Mary. She complains to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Ooops, mouth in motion. Jesus does not speak to her about her welcoming him but about the things that are distracting her and bringing worry. Again we hear Jesus saying, “Focus!”
The evil one would have us focus on trivial issues. Our eyes may be distracted by the large, popular church with lots of programs. We may think the choir gets too much praise and not the kitchen crew that worked so hard. We won’t mention the snarky personal gossips that eat a church up. I think Jesus is challenging us to not look at how another is doing the job given them but to ask ourselves if we are serving God with all our heart, all our strength, and all our might and are we loving our neighbor as ourselves. Are we worrying about God’s glory or our glory? Pride, get thou behind me! God is an audience of one we play to.
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” We have choices. This is not an issue of right or wrong. This is not an issue of Jesus loving one sister more than the other. Each sister made a choice how to welcome their visitor. John tells us that Mary was the sister who poured perfume over Jesus and wiped him with her hair. We often categorize Mary as the “artistic” and Martha as the “pragmatic” sister but each is gifted differently and each chooses how to live out her gift in relationship to God. We are all part of one body and we complement each other so that God is glorified.
By grace we are saved, not by the works we do. God does not love the pastor more than the little old person who can no longer serve or sing or usher. All are cherished. The lost lamb was as important as the 99. The balloons, the cake, the games, the presents and the guest of honor are all part of the wonderfulness of a birthday party.
So our text today asks us three important questions to chew on around our lunch tables.
- How are we welcoming God into our lives and welcoming others into relationship with God this week?
- What is distracting us from feeling his love and approval?
- And finally what choices am I making this week? Are they drawing me into worry or are they bringing me closer to a God who loves and enjoys me as I am?
There is need of only one thing.
choose the better part,
which will not be taken away from you.
And the people of God said “AMEN!”