Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 9

"Martha and Mary, Two Sides of the Same Coin."

Luke 10:38-42

July 17, 2016

Todays' Gospel is the story of Martha and Mary . . again. Suddenly, I'm thinking that this game of comparing and contrasting the faithful sisters Martha and Mary is counter-productive. So, one listens while the other works. This is not a matter of good and bad. It's not about positive or negative attitudes. Both love the Lord. They are demonstrating this love in different ways. Is there another way to look at this Gospel reading? The words from the epistle of James come to mind.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.[James 1:22]

James seems to be saying something that contradicts what Jesus told Martha. In his epistle to the church James reminds Christians that we are to be active. We are to live the Word in our daily lives. In other words, we are to be like Martha. So, is there some sort of conflict between Jesus and James? Of course not because Scripture does not contradict itself. We can learn beneficially from both.

Maybe, we would better appreciate what the Lord is teaching us if we view this story as the two sides of the same coin. The coin is the Christian life. One side is exemplified by Mary who takes time to listen to the Lord. She learns from Him. She is the hearer of the Word. Martha is the other side of the coin. She puts her faith into practice as she serves the Lord. She is the example of being a doer of the Word.

As a Christian, we are to learn from the examples of both. As James writes, we are to be both hearers and doers of the Word. You cannot be one without the other. The story of Martha and Mary helps us understand the dynamic of the passive and active of the Christian life. First we hear, then we do.

Let's take a closer look at both Martha and Mary. Martha is a welcoming hostess. She joyfully welcomes guests into her home. The most important of all her guests is Jesus. For such a special person everything needs to be the very best. While I would guess her home was neat and well organized, she must have been in a cleaning and cooking frenzy knowing that the Lord was coming for a visit.

Now, Jesus is comfortably seated in her home. This is a precious moment. She yearns to relax in his presence. This why she is asking for help. At this point Jesus admonishes her to set aside her busyness and enjoy the quiet moment with Him. It is important to note that Jesus is NOT criticizing Martha for her serving. His admonition is one of prioritizing.

If you look at the situation from Martha's point of view, maybe you might have a little more empathy with her. She invited Jesus into her home as her guest. She wanted everything to be perfect for him. But, consider this. When she invited Jesus, it wasn't just a matter of putting another plate on the table and another burger on the grill. When she invited Jesus, she also had to feed 12 more. If you've done any meal preparation, you know there's a big difference between one guest and 13.

Because Martha is a Type-A personality, she is naturally active. Like our current Martha Steward, Martha of Bethany was organized and efficient. Unlike the modern Martha, our Martha of Bethany didn't have a staff to do all the prep work and make what she did look simple and easy. She had no refrigeration, no convenient packaging, and no prepared mixes. Everything she did was from scratch. It's no wonder that she wanted to call for reinforcements.

Mary, on the other hand, is more laid back. We would guess that she's not fussy about how the house looks or overly worried about appearances. She wants to enjoy the quiet moment that has Jesus all to herself without a crowd of people. She is eager to hear and learn from Him. Yes, she is a help to her sister but at this moment in the quiet house, alone with Jesus, she wants to only be in His company.

Here's where the conflict of priorities comes into play. Martha wants to get everything ready and prepared before she takes a break. Mary is willing to take a break and worry about everything else later. We've all had that conflict. How can we best organize and prioritize? Jesus helps us by reminding us that blessed are those who hear the word and keep (do) it.

We would do well to remember that Martha wasn't always busy. After Lazarus died, it was Martha who made her wonderful confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to the world. We would do well to remember that Mary wasn't just a hearer of the word. Hearing and experiencing the love of Jesus led her to do. Shortly before His death, it was Mary who anointed His feet with the expensive perfume. It was an act of love on her part. Although we often hear of Martha's busyness, we see that Mary also put her faith into action.

Here, Jesus sets things right for both the sisters and for us. Our first priority is hearing the Word. Faith comes by hearing. Hearing allows us to receive the gifts and blessings of God. In the prayer of the church we are also reminded to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that Word of faith. Blessed are they who hear the word and observe it. After we hear, then we live the Christian life.

Once we hear, we then live out our faith in our daily lives. As the Lord has given us gifts, talents and abilities, we use them to earn a living, support our families and serve the Lord in the church and community. The lesson to be learned is that we are not to be either a Mary or a Martha but we are to be both. Our lives, as Christians, should reflect the attributes of both these faithful women.

Jesus came to help us get our priorities straight. He does this by sending us the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us in our faith in Him as our Savior. The sacrificial love of Jesus from the cross flows to and through us as we daily live the life of faith. During the course of our Christian life, we will at times be both Mary and Martha. By the grace of God, we will be both hearers and doers of the Word. Amen.


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