Spring into Giving: “Working Overtime”
April 19, 2015 Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers
We are at a point in our life (lives) that we need to evaluate how we serve people. Last week we talked about the necessity to give in the spirit of love and giving. This week we are going to look at the way in which we serve people in the form of Christian stewardship through action and contemplation in everyday life.
We live in a world that has become obsessed with service!! How much service can we do in order to make things better? How much service can we provide in order that people are better taken care of? How much service can we initiate in order to meet our own needs? As well as the needs of others? These are all great questions that we seem to ask in our lives, but how do they fit into the everyday practice of Christianity?
One of the great problems, I believe, in the American culture and in American Protestant Christianity, is that we have miss-interpreted and exchanged the words “good and service”. We have tried for centuries to be “good” Christians. We have tried to be the people who did the right thing at the right time, for the right reason. Now this is not a new problem by any means. It is a struggle that has plagued us for a life time of Christianity yet it is one that we have to deal with daily. With a pivotal daily statement- How do we show Christian love through valid Christian service? How do we act as good Christian stewards?
We have one of the best examples this morning in our Gospel lesson when Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. Jesus enters the home and as the story progresses Martha begins to do the tasks that are quote “necessary”. While Mary, becoming the contemplative, sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to what he has to say. This would have been all well and good if Martha hadn’t raised the question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” Martha was concerned that the “work” be completed (i.e. the good stuff) rather than being in the presence of Christ and listening to His teachings. This is a story that tells us more about what “not” to do that what “to” do. Sometimes we need that instruction especially in a society that is so busy such as Martha was, in her “little society”.
But here’s the thing about the Christian life, it must be both active and contemplative. It must be both Mary and Martha. Not only should we take time to pause and listen to the Master’s teaching like Mary, we must also be active in serving in Jesus’ name like Martha. “Action and contemplation are of course both important. Without the first, you wouldn’t eat, without the second you wouldn’t worship.” Without contemplation, we would never be strengthened and empowered to do God’s work in the world, and if we are not active in the world like Martha, people in our neighborhoods, communities, and around the world would never know the love and grace of Jesus Christ!! Certainly some of us tend one way or another; we prefer worship or we prefer service, and we are probably all called to some unique balance between these two aspects of the Christian life. Therefore, the point in this wonderful story of Jesus being in the house of
Mary and Martha is not about how we should value one aspect of the Christian life over another. No, we should both worship and serve!! And when we think about this story of Mary and Martha, we should see that its meaning goes far beyond a simple debate about action and contemplation in the Christian life. The story of Martha and Mary is a radical gospel story!!!
To even better understand the radical nature of this servant text, we have to understand that the customs of Jesus’ time were hard at work in this story. For Jesus and the Disciples to enter the home of Mary and Martha, was for them to be radical in its own way. For most likely, the women were at home doing what was required of them. Taking care of the tasks that were central to the upkeep of the home.
You see, in that culture, as in many parts of the world to this day, houses were divided into male “space” and female “space”. Mary had crossed the very important boundary within the house and the culture. The living room or den was where the men would meet. The kitchen belonged to the women. Only in the married bedroom would male and female mix. For a woman to settle down comfortably among men was scandalous!! Who did Mary really think she was? Only a shameless woman would have behaved that way. Martha was worried and embarrassed by her sister’s actions. So when Martha took her concerns to Jesus he didn’t act out of anger but rather lovingly and graciously, freeing Martha from any embarrassment because he knew what Martha had set out to do, that which was required of her.
But to remember the context of this story is also to remember that Jesus is the Truth! The wonderful thing about this story of Mary and Martha is that we see how many times, the Truth goes against the grain of the way we view the world. It doesn’t have to be this way! The Truth is that there are no boundaries in Christ! No one person is any more important than any other person. To sit at the feet of a teacher was decidedly male role. But Mary countered that and sat quietly at the feet of the teacher, and Jesus had continued teaching as if this was the most natural thing in the world. Again, to be reminded that if one sat at a person’s feet, meant that you were their student and were going to take with you what they taught!! To sit at the feet of the rabbi meant that you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. THERE WAS NO THOUGHT OF LEARNING SIMPLY FOR LEARNING’S SAKE! Mary had taken her place as a would-be-teacher and preacher of the Kingdom of God!! And Jesus affirms her right to do so! This is the boundary- breaking call of Jesus!!
The story of Mary and Martha isn’t about being busy or being still. It’s about following Jesus wherever he lead, and being willing to go with him, even when it defies all expectations, even when it destroys all boundaries, even when it ignores all customs. We must remember that Jesus didn’t come into this world to uphold the status quo. Christ came to establish a new kingdom, and being His disciple’s means participating in this world-changing work, wherever it may take us!!
On my 30th birthday, Susan had planned for us to get together with some friends for dinner. Time came to leave and she wouldn’t tell me exactly where we were going, she just said I would love it!! All well and good until we got into the car and she said there is one stipulation, you have to blind-folded before we leave. I reluctantly agreed and I could feel the car back out of the driveway. We drove and drove and drove, I had no idea where we were going. I thought about all my favorite restaurants but I thought surely, we must be close. What a short drive I thought we were taking, became an hour long adventure. Finally, we pulled up and parked. She told me I couldn’t take off the blindfold until I had been helped from the car. When I got out of the car and friend came up behind me and removed my blindfold, I stood looking at the very house I had left over an hour ago. But with 100 friends on the porch singing Happy Birthday!!
That’s how it is being a Disciple of Christ, we are not exactly sure where we are all the time!! Though we might have an idea of the end destination, that day when God reigns on earth as in heaven, we cannot know exactly how Christ will lead us there. But whatever path Christ may put us on, our task is to “go and serve”. For Mary and Martha, that meant sitting at the feet of the teacher, in order to become a teacher, in order to become a teacher of others. For Mary and Martha, that meant stepping across the gender boundaries of 1st Century Palestine. Where is your teacher calling you to go?
We cannot know where Christ may call us, and there will be times when surely Christ will beckon us to unexpected and even difficult places. But what we can know from the story of Mary and Martha. Wherever Christ may call us, he will meet us there. He will tell us we are exactly where we need to be, and then he will teach us! And, maybe, just maybe, if we are willing to sit and listen, we may very well find ourselves prepared to share Christ’s amazing grace wherever we are!!!
Let us now prepare to come to the Table of Our Lord and be nourished for the journey forward!! AMEN AND AMEN!!