One score and five years ago, when I was being installed as the new associate pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA, the Rev. Dr. Don Heinz gave me explicit instructions in his
Absorb it, Brian.
You’re not a therapist or a psychologist or a management trainee or a professor or a do-gooder or the chair of the Rotary or even a baseball player dressed in clergy robes.
You’re being installed to be nothing—except God’s prophetic mouthpiece, which is everything.
Go up to Jerusalem, Brian, and listen in on God’s thoughts and plans and to get your
Don’t ever stand before us without first having gone up to Jerusalem.
Don’t ever call God from your cell phone and say, “I was absent from the last meeting of the heavenly council, did I miss anything?”
Don’t stand before the people, as Moses knew, without a complexion sunburned by the recent presence of God.
Demonstrate the depth you gained in God’s presence.
I have failed at this many times over and, as a result, cheated the church.
I suspect many of you will say kind things about me today, so let me fill in some of the
rest of the story.
For every time I have accepted an interruption during prayer, I confess my sin to you.
For every time I have answered the phone during sermon preparation, I confess my sin to you.
For every time I have delayed study of the Word for administrative duties or another visit or
anything else, I confess my sin to you.
For every council and committee meeting I have attended with no time for Scripture and shared silence on the agenda, I confess my sin to you.
For every decision made in haste and urgency instead of prayerful discernment and deliberation, I confess my sin to you.
For every time I prioritized someone else’s agenda over God’s, I confess my sin to you.
I have occasionally marveled that God has not already sent me to rot in hell, much less continues allowing me to keep serving as a pastor; such mercy is too wonderful for me to understand.
Yet Jesus is gentle with Martha and with me.
He says her name twice, I presume, because she doesn’t hear it the first time.
He sees into our souls and names what’s wrong with us without rejecting us.
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.
The word “distracted,” Pastor Brian Stoffregen points out, ” is perispaomai in Greek, a word
used only here in the NT.
Perhaps most literally this word means "to be pulled from all directions" -- spaomai = "to be
pulled" + peri = "from around.”
This doesn’t happen only to pastors, of course, but I know I am guilty of it.
Yet there is more to the story.
I have also been guilty of ignoring people in need by hiding at the feet of Jesus.
This episode with the two sisters is part two of yet another Lukan double story.
Part one, which we heard last week, is often called The Good Samaritan.
In that one, the clergy have more important things to do than help a wounded traveler.
Luke places these stories together very intentionally to shine their light upon one another:
listening without action is just as doomed as action without listening.
There is a beautiful balance to the Christian life: love and listen to God peacefully; love
neighbor actively and generously.
My friend Pastor Doug Hill often repeats the formula that transformation equals experience plus reflection; we are not changed by mission trips or by Bible studies unless we are doing
both together and connecting the dots.
An earlier Christian version of this is ora et labora: pray and work.
If we only work, we run the Martha risk of trying to pull Jesus into our agenda instead of letting him pull us into his.
Why did God let that happen?
Why won’t Jesus tell so-and-so what I need them to hear?
Why doesn’t God prevent things that I didn’t approve, or bend other people to my will?
Why doesn’t Jesus recognize that I’m right?
Perhaps another reason these two stories get paired is their unbalanced repetition: Martha has the same problem the lawyer does.
Jesus does not affirm either’s certainties; he undermines both of their worlds.
Samaritans are scumbags, not neighbors.
And women are servants, not students.
Mary was out of line and out of her lane sitting with the disciples, a section reserved in that culture for men.
Martha, who was feminist enough to own a house apparently, was still confined by the social expectations of hospitality and the female role in providing it to see that Mary was
prison-breaking from established norms … because that’s what disciples of Jesus do.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her, Jesus promises.
Mary was hearing, and participating in, the kingdom of God, a bizarro world where
Samaritans are heroes, women are leaders, anyone can be anything God calls them to be; and as the angel once told Jesus’ mama, nothing will be impossible with God.
Perhaps it is easier to be pulled in every direction than to be pulled in this one.
Perhaps it is easier to keep working hard in the same familiar way than to stop and listen and dare to sit at the feet of the crazy master who ends up kneeling at our feet and washing them like a piddling, painfully lowly slave.
Perhaps it is easier to stay busy than to stay open, to keep trucking down the road and running the kitchen and managing the church than it is to risk encounters with dangerous
characters like the man beaten and left for dead on the side of the road … or the other one
in the story he told.