“When Work Gets In the Way”
The Fifth Wednesday of Lent March 25, 2020
Tonight’s Lenten service was built around the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10: 38-42. Rather than a meditation and prayer, I thought I’d share some of what was already prepared for the bulletin, and we could talk about this story and its theme tonight. Watch for a Zoom link later today but, for now, let’s dive in!
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
There are far more Marthas than Marys gathered here tonight, holy God. Not that we share the same name, of course. What we do share is the same attitude toward work and working. We’re much like the Martha in tonight’s scripture— running constantly, doing our job, keeping up around the house, and making sure that everything’s in place if company comes. It’s hard to catch a breath sometimes, let alone to, as Mary did, “sit at your feet,” reading and studying scripture, praying, attending worship, and being active in our own family of faith. May we, with Martha, choose what Jesus called “the better part,” prioritizing our lives, our time, and our goals around the call of Christ rather than the latest to do list from work or message on our cellphone. Amen.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you created the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.Psalm 90
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
Tune: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
Faith’s long path lies stretched before us, trod by many pilgrim feet. Some ways tempt, both flat and easy, promising a journey sweet. Others branch off, steep and narrow, challenging and walked by few. Blazed by prophets and cross-bearers, it is these God calls us to.
Martha and her sister Mary both were good friends of the Lord. When he stopped by for a visit, Martha, busy, felt ignored. She asked Jesus to have Mary leave her place at Jesus’ feet. Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, busyness your life won’t complete.”
God of ending and of beginning, God who walks with us today, Guide us through life’s hills and valleys, bide with us along the way. When our lives are prone to wander, drawn by evil’s false allure, Call us, claim us, redirect us, bring us back to pathways sure.
Luke 10:38-42 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
38 Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Commentary, Luke 10:38-42
Poor Martha. She has been held up as the bad example in millions of sermons, ridiculed as a tattletale, a worrywart, the kind of hostess no one really enjoys visiting because anxiety poisons her hospitality….
As far as Jesus’ own culture was concerned, Martha was in the right. She knew how to serve itinerant rabbis, how to treat guests with honor. She knew that her place was back in the kitchen. The apostles probably expected Jesus to rebuke Mary because she was breaking the rules.
It was the custom for a Jewish man to pray every morning, thanking God he was not born a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. A common saying of the time was that it was better for the Torah to be burned than to be put into the hands of a woman. So for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet, just as any student of a great rabbi would, was scandalous. For Jesus to commend her was incredible. And for Jesus to speak to Martha in the way that he did was less correction than it was an invitation….
Martha was encouraged to…feast on the same fellowship Mary enjoyed with Jesus. Our Lord commended Mary’s daring to exercise the freedom he brings. Breaking with customs and risking her sister’s disapproval, she delighted in Jesus’ words and presence.
The “one thing needful” is desiring Christ above all else: security, popularity, and conventions. We are offered the same freedom when Christ invites us to his table today. Do we dare taste and see that the Lord is good?
Mary, Martha, and Me (and You)
Here are a few articles, written from several different viewpoints, on the relationship between our work and who we are.
Questions, We’ve Got Questions
Now, with as much of all that as you cared to digest under your spiritual belt, let’s look at a few questions I’d like us to consider. Of course, please feel free to add your own tonight!
- Reading through the passage, I think all of us immediately identify with either Mary or Martha. Which one of them are you most like? How has that kind of attitude toward life and work shaped who you are?
- The story of Mary and Martha comes just after the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel. Both are to be read together. To the lawyer, Jesus says, “Go and do,” but Jesus praises Mary for sitting and listening. The life of faith takes both. Are they balanced in your life? If not, which one usually ends up taking priority?
- The article from the gentwenty website says we generally define each other by what we do, as opposed to who we are. Do you agree? What was your reaction to the author’s five reasons work doesn’t us?
- Minda Zetlin’s article in Inc. encourages people to find their “center.” What’s yours?
- At the heart of the book of James lies the writers assertion that, “Faith without works is dead.” Do you agree? Are people are to tell that you’re a person of faith by the way you live your life? What actions help them do so? What actions don’t?
- Do you feel guilty taking time off? Why?
- How has what some are now calling the “COVID Sabbatical” changed the place that work has in your life? Are enjoying the new normal or are you stressed to max and can’t WAIT to get back to your usual work routine?