It’s really hard when you want to write about something that you know is a good thing to do but you are not so good at actually doing it yourself. A someone commented yesterday when I delivered this sermon, ‘Physician, heal thyself’! Still, as I said, it acts as a good reminder to me as well as everyone else
Bible Reference: Luke 10:38-42
May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit
I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to say this morning, because I am sure that some people could so obviously accuse me of hypocrisy, quite possibly a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do!’ But I believe there is an important message that needs to be explored and undoubtedly, I need to hear it as much as others might.
But first let me ask a question for you to ponder… when was the last time that you actually spent time doing nothing? Not doing something that you wouldn’t consider work, nor doing something that involves you organising your leisure time, not even setting time aside for prayer or to read a book… but just simply doing nothing but resting.
I guess that this simple kind of resting could go one of two ways. You either fall asleep or you allow yourself to simply bring yourself for those few precious moments into God’s presence. I call them precious moments because so many people nowadays have lives that do not involve seeking any time of rest or relaxation. We are conditioned to wake up and immediately our brains are focussed on what we must achieve that day or over the coming week. We have to plan and organise every single minute of our time, whether that is doing work, or filling our leisure time with activities or for parents of young children making sure that they are involved in stimulating pursuits, because, heaven help us, that they should be bored or have nothing to do!
But what’s wrong with a bit of boredom every now and again? Yes, it can be a state of mind caused by a lack of stimulation that leaves us craving relief, but it’s also acknowledged that without boredom we couldn’t achieve our creative feats. It often gives us time to think, to explore and to rest awhile.
It’s the difference between being a Martha or a Mary… not that I’m suggesting that Mary was bored, having nothing to do… but the two women in our gospel are demonstrating the need to set aside time to simply be with God. It’s also not the case that we need to choose between being a Mary or a Martha, whether we should only be one or the other. Rather that it’s essential to be both. Like Martha we think that the important thing is doing, but Jesus teaches us through Mary’s example that we need to sit, to listen, to learn, to love.
For Mary and Martha, their friendship with Jesus meant that they would have been proud to have this popular man as a guest in their house, together with all of his entourage and followers, and Martha, as the principal hostess would have wanted to make sure that he was comfortable and that his needs were catered for. So she welcomed him into her home and went into the kitchen to prepare a meal for him.
However, her sister Mary did NOT go into the kitchen but instead ‘sat at Jesus feet’, and fair enough when you have guests you do not generally abandon them straight away and all disappear to do other things. But for Martha, it wasn’t okay that her presumably younger sister got to do nothing, while she had to organise and cater for so many.
Luke tells us that Martha ‘was distracted by her many tasks’ and I’m sure we all know how that feels, don’t we! The times when we’ve experience being ‘in over our heads’, when we’ve needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. The times perhaps when we’ve pitched up to help with something and end up doing everything, while others sit around chatting. So Martha’s anger at being abandoned in the kitchen was understandable, and the stress and anxiety spills over into calling out Mary in front of everyone. There was no subtle sidling up to Mary and saying, ‘Mary, I need some help’. instead she rebukes Jesus, her principle guest, whom she had acknowledged as ‘Lord’ and basically orders him to ‘Tell my lazy sister to get into the kitchen to give me a hand’ or words to that effect and meaning.
‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?
Tell her then to help me.’
Now everyone is aware of the tension in the room, but we can still feel sympathy for Martha, and in some ways we want Jesus to appreciate and commend Martha for her hard work and suggest that they both go in there and give her a hand. However, Mary’s focus on her relationship with Jesus was also right and whereas Martha’s anger was disruptive, and Jesus acknowledges that she is ‘anxious and troubled about many things, he points out that Mary has chosen to the one thing that is needed
She had set aside time, in the busiest of situations to spend time with God. What we might call Sabbath rest, when we very deliberately take time to do nothing but make ourselves more aware of God with us. And don’t get confused, this is not just setting aside one day a week to abstain from work, because even that is no longer a day when we rest our minds and our bodies, instead filling it up with alternative tasks; but times, whether it’s a few hours or minutes that we switch off from the everyday normal.
This idea of taking time to step aside, is nothing new. From the very beginning we are given this example of Sabbath rest. After creating the heavens and earth, in whatever way or timescale you believe, God rested. It didn’t mean that God was tired and needed a rest, unlike most of us, because being omnipotent he never tires, but he simply stopped what he was doing, he ceased from his work. It was a message and example that he called the Israelites to follow when he handed down his commandments. They were to remember the Sabbath day and ‘keep it holy’. They were to lay down their work in order to spend time in worship and prayer.
For Jesus himself, there were times that he must have experienced the stress and anxiety caused by overwork. As more and more people came to seek him and listen to his teachings, so the time that he had to take that rest became more and more elusive. Still he recognised the importance of stepping aside if only for a short time. In Mark’s gospel we hear that ‘because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
Who hasn’t skipped a meal because of the workload we’re experiencing, but after resting, it’s so much easier to exit that secret place, go back into the world, and feel re-energized, focused, encouraged and strengthened to continue doing what we’re called to do.
So many mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression can be caused as the saying goes, by ‘too much work and not enough play. And not taking time out may make any existing mental health issues worse. And what’s even more alarming is that even primary school children are showing signs of mental health problems – including anxiety, panic attacks and depression –caused mainly by family problems, pressures of exams and social media, which lead to problems such as self-harming, eating disorders and OCD.
So, when we find ourselves in stressful situations such as a difficult phone call, a crowded train journey home or a looming deadline, we need to give ourselves time to pause and calm down. Imagine what Martha could have done. Instead of stomping into the living room and having a go at Jesus and Mary, she could have gone into her bedroom and closed the door. Martha could have prayed ‘God, I’m so angry. It would be so tempting to take out this anger on Jesus and Mary – but I know that would be wrong. Please drain this anger out of my heart. Help me to feel love for Jesus, my guest, and Mary, my sister.
Better still, Martha could have gone and joined her sister Mary at Jesus’ feet and listened to him speak and be in his presence for a while. Who would have worried that the meal was late when was it was Jesus that was with them
We are such busy people, and we live in such a busy world. It’s easy to miss the important things. The story of Martha and Mary tells us that there is value in sitting – in listening – in learning – in loving. Whether at home or work or school, take a moment to look around and find the blessings in your life. Take a moment to thank God for giving you another day to discover more. Sit at God’s feet for just a moment. Be quiet. Listen. Treasure the moment.
We all live in a Martha world, but take time to be Mary for just a bit. Jesus says that that’s the one thing that’s needed. He says that’s the good part that won’t be taken from us. Give it a try. You will find a blessing! You will find that Jesus was right.
‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Mary and Martha by Vermeer