Sermon 08-25-19: “Mary and Martha”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42

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Many of you, I hope, will come to the parsonage tonight for our August birthday social, the first of many that we’ll be having. If you have a birthday in August, you and your family are invited to join us at 6:30. Refreshments will be served. 

I would be lying, however, if I said that Lisa and I were not slightly apprehensive about having company at our house. We have recently moved, obviously. We’ve had many boxes to unpack—and while we’re going to try to fake you out and make you think that we’ve finished unpacking boxes, we haven’t, really. Lisa and I both have full-time jobs, and and heaven knows yours truly has not been incredibly helpful to that process. And we have a new puppy—and heaven knows he has not been helpful to the process!

My point is, it’s stressful to have company at your house—under the best of circumstances it’s stressful.

And wouldn’t it be awkward for our guests tonight if Lisa and I let the stress of trying to make everything seem perfect boil over for all our guests to see? Not that that’s going to happen tonight! It’s going to be fun, I promise… but what if…? Haven’t you been in that situation before? You’re at a party—and the husband and wife or family starts arguing in front of you… Or maybe you’re the hosts of the party, and you start arguing? Or an argument is just below the surface—and there’s so much tension! It’s awkward.

Now suppose that this very awkward moment were included in what is by far the best-selling book of all-time, for all the world to read about—so that literally billions of people can judge you? Because that’s exactly what has happened to poor Martha over the past two-thousand years!

One preacher, Chuck Swindoll, imagines Dr. Luke interviewing the two sisters after they had grown old—and the two of them laughing about this event—happily sharing this memory with him in the hopes that we future disciples might learn something from their example.

So I’m going to be critical of Martha in this sermon, but in doing so I’m really being critical of myself. Because I’m a lot like her, and maybe you are, too. So with all that in mind, if you have your Bibles—and you should—turn with me to Luke 10:38-42, which I’ll read now… 

[Read Luke 10:38-42.]

I want you to first notice the story that immediately precedes today’s episode involving Mary and Martha—the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke is very careful about piecing his gospel together in part based on theme. So Luke wants us to know that the story immediately preceding today’s text is connected somehow to this episode. 

Let’s look for a connection. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious people—a priest and a Levite—pass him by. Only the Samaritan, a hated enemy of this injured man, stops and helps—but that’s putting it mildly! At great personal risk to his life and his safety—at great personal expense—the Samaritan cares for the victim!

To say the least, I am not like the Good Samaritan! Even when I stop to help a homeless person, or a panhandler, for example, or even someone who stops by the church looking for help paying a light bill, I often feel judgmental and resentful—like, oh my goodness, this is so inconvenient for me! I often feel like a sucker. Like I really don’t believe whatever hard-luck story they’re telling me. And I often feel superior to them! 

So what’s the point of the parable? “Go be like the Good Samaritan”? I hope not, because I fall far short of that kind of sacrificial love! Of course I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be like the Good Samaritan, but I don’t think that’s the main point. After all, what’s the biggest difference between the Good Samaritan on the one hand, and the priest and Levite on the other? 

“Well, duh, Pastor Brent… the main difference is that the Samaritan stopped to help, and the priest and the Levite didn’t.”

But not so fast! Look at verse 33. What happens to the Good Samaritan before he even lifts a finger to help the injured victim on the side of the road? Right: “when he saw him, he had compassion.” Compassion came first. What is compassion? It’s a condition of the heart. It’s something you either possess or you don’t. The Samaritan had compassion; the others didn’t—or at least they didn’t have enough to overcome their fear for their own safety to stop and help!

Speaking of compassion, something happened to me just last week. I was alone at the parsonage—sitting on the sofa, writing up my little one-minute sermonettes, which I’ve been preaching on WNEG—and also those one-minute videos Cavonna has been putting on social media. I try to prepare three or four at a time and record them all at once. And as Rick Gillian well knows, it takes a long time to condense what I want to say into a 60-second clip. So I was working on that, and my little puppy, Ringo, walked over and laid down on top of my feet. And I thought, “He always wants to make physical contact with me. No matter where I am in the house, he wants to be near me—or near Lisa or one of the kids—laying on them, leaning on them. And I looked down at this little dog, who’s really struggling with bladder control issues, who is constantly teething and trying to chew up everything, and he looks up at me with his sad little eyes, and I think, “He’s so needy! He’s so defenseless in this world! He’s so helpless! I need to protect him! I need to care for him! I would do anything to take care of him! I love him!” And I promise it was like this little switch turned on within my heart for the first time!

And I think that switch is compassion. And I think that’s what happened to the Good Samaritan, and if so, well… no wonder he risked so much and spent so much in order to help this man! But this change in heart happened first!

See, Jesus wants us to know that our ultimate problem isn’t what we do or fail to do, it’s what’s in here—in our hearts. And I’m telling you, my heart needs to be healed… And Martha’s heart does as well!

In verse 40, Martha says to Jesus, “Tell my sister to help me!” In other words, “Would you please do me a favor, Lord, and fix my sister. I’m doing just fine, of course, but she needs your help!” But notice how Jesus responds: In verse 41, he says to her—gently, lovingly, yet firmly—“Martha, Martha”… That’s a very warm and affectionate way to address her, by the way. He loves Martha a great deal! The New Living Translation says, “My dear Martha”—that’s a good way to put it… But it’s as if Jesus were saying, “My dear Martha, instead of asking me to fix your sister, let me fix your heart instead. It’s okay. You can admit that you have a problem. Let me fix you.”

See, I’m coming at this story from a different angle than you might have heard before. If you’re like me, growing up in church, you’ve often heard it said that this story is about two different kinds of people—are you a “Martha” or a “Mary”? It’s one or the other. Mary is the quiet, contemplative, prayerful introvert—a Type B personality. The “Marys” of the world aren’t very practical; they’re very idealistic, perhaps a bit naive. But the “Marthas” of the world—they know how to get things done! “Marthas” are driven, outgoing, results-oriented, action-oriented. They’re the Type A personalities. Both are good and necessary. And you’ve got to have both types in your organization—especially in church.

Raise your hand if you’re a Martha… Raise your hand if you’re a Mary.

With all due respect, I disagree! Luke’s point is not that we have two different types of personalities—either of which is A-okay. His point is that we have two different types of disciples: namely, those who are being faithful to Jesus, like Mary, and those who are being unfaithful, like Martha. So… are you a Martha? Yes, you probably are! And so am I! 

But today’s scripture is telling you—and me—that we all need to change and become more like Mary!

Notice verse 40 again: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Lord, do you not care? 

Well, of course Jesus cares… He cares that Martha is hurting; he cares that she’s frustrated; he cares that she’s not getting the help that she thinks she needs. But does he care that Mary isn’t helping her? Not at all. 

Because let me translate what Martha is really asking Jesus: In so many words, she’s saying, “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m not getting that thing that I care about more than I care about you? Would you please tell my sister to help me get that thing I need more than I need you!”

And what is that thing that Martha thinks she needs so badly? She needs praise… recognition for all her hard work… She needs people to fawn over her and tell her how indispensable she is to Jesus’ ministry… how important she is… how much they love her… She needs her ego to be fed. Oh, how I can relate!

See, I know it seems like Martha is being selfless and humble—look at her, sacrificing time that she would otherwise spend with Jesus in order to do this menial kitchen work. “But someone’s gotta do it, right? Martha is so unselfish!” But who says someone has to do it? Or even if someone does, it sounds like Jesus and the disciples would be happy with peanut butter sandwiches! That doesn’t take long to prepare. Literally the only person in the house who’s judging Mary right now for not working in the kitchen is Martha herself. So who will be left to judge Martha if she, like her sister, also decides to spend time listening to Jesus?

The fact is, Martha doesn’t want to listen to Jesus! Of course, all things being equal, Martha wants what Jesus has to offer her, but not more than she wants whatever satisfaction she’ll receive from people telling her how wonderful the meal was, how beautiful her home is, how unselfish her humble act of service was… If by sitting at Jesus’ feet alongside Mary she could get both her ego fed and Jesus, of course she would do what Mary does! But she can’t get both, so she’s choosing her ego. So while it looks like she’s serving Jesus—preparing this elaborate meal—let’s get real: she’s really serving herself!

What about us? Are we so different?

I saw a tweet recently in which a pastor said, “If you want to hear God speak, read the Bible. If you want to hear him speak audibly, read it out loud.” Someone else said, “If you want to hear God speak in a still, small voice, read your Bible in a whisper.” We have a privilege that these first disciples couldn’t even dream about: the opportunity to hold in our hands approximately 750,000 words of God. We have the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him every day, many times a day! This is often called “having a quiet time.”

A quiet time is talking to Jesus through prayer—and listening to him through his Word. It’s not like reading any other book, either. Jesus meets us here, through the Holy Spirit. At the risk of sounding self-righteous, I have a quiet time every morning. Early in the morning. I could not always say that in my Christian life—even during my 15-year-career as a pastor I couldn’t say that. But I can say that now!

But what I have found is this: whatever problem I happen to be dealing with on that particular morning—and trust me, I have no shortage of “problems I’m dealing with”—it’s like, I find what I need in whatever scripture I’m reading that day. It almost doesn’t matter what part of the Bible I’m reading! Jesus is giving me what I need! He is so faithful!

See, here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned over the past several years that’s helped me: I’ve learned that I don’t need to serve Jesus nearly as much as I need to have Jesus serve me. I don’t need to serve Jesus nearly as much as I need to have Jesus serve me. And you don’t either! As one pastor likes to say, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a ‘Help Wanted’ sign; the gospel is a ‘Help Offered’ sign.”[1] That’s what I need. I need help! How about you?

Mary needs help. That’s why she’s letting Jesus serve her! That’s far more important to her than going into the kitchen so that she can serve Jesus! And I’m not for a moment suggesting that “serving Jesus” is unimportant. But notice this: Mary, the one whose sister thinks she’s being “selfish” by sitting at Jesus’ feet and letting him serve her—instead of getting in the kitchen in order to serve him—Mary is the same one whose humble act of service to Jesus puts everyone else to shame in John chapter 12. Mary spends almost a year’s worth of salary to anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume![2]

She was only able to serve Jesus in this costly way because she first let Jesus serve her! Because she let Jesus heal that heart condition that I spoke about earlier. If Jesus heals us there, “serving him” will take care of itself!

[People who work in church without coming to worship or Bible study…]

In case you’re still not convinced that Jesus wants to serve us, listen to his own words: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45. 

I need Jesus to serve me and heal my heart condition. I have discovered that the more I let Jesus heal my heart, the better I feel, the happier I am, the more joy that I experience in life, the less irritable I am, and—I hope—the easier I am to live with!

Jesus is beckoning to us this morning, “Let me serve you… Let me serve you… I want to help you… I want to heal you.” Jesus wants to serve you! Will you let him?

1. John Piper has said this many times.

2. In John 12:5, while Mary is anointing Jesus’ feet with this expensive perfume, Judas asks, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

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