What do you do when you have important company coming over to your house? What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming over to your house? Maybe bringing a few of His friends along with Him? Of course, you’d clean, scrub, polish, plan a nice menu, go shopping, maybe bake something for a special dessert. You probably be busy for days before preparing for the big day when Jesus showed up. And when He did, you’d be just as busy as before, stirring pots, making sauces, dressing the salad, warming the bread.
That was Martha. Busy, busy, busy beyond imagination. She was all excited over Jesus coming to her house. What an honor! Jesus the great teacher and healer whom everyone was talking about was coming to her house. Her house! Of all the houses in Bethany, Jesus was coming to her house. Wow!
Now you know what happens when you get whipped into this kind of frenzy, don’t you? I’m sure it’s happened to you. You get so wound up in preparations, you get so absorbed in your seven course meal and fancy dessert, you are so obsessed over how clean the bathrooms are and how scrubbed the floor is, that you actually forget about the guest of honor; You’re busy in the kitchen, and your guests are left to fend for themselves in the living room. And all your plans of hospitality turn into a disaster that would make Martha Steward faint away as though dead. Your best intentions work against you, and you wind up missing you on the company of your guest.
Martha was distracted with much serving. It happens. It’s natural to want to impress your guests, and when your guest is the Lord, even more so. Of course, you would want to do the same for Jesus! He’s …well… Jesus after all! But Martha’s serving turned out to be a distraction to her being with Jesus. While she’s stuck in the kitchen clanging pots and pans, Jesus is sitting in the living room with her sister Mary sitting at His feet, taking in every word.
That’s when the fireworks begin. It’s like a scene straight out of Chef Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. The pasta water is boiling over, the sauce won’t thicken, the roast is in danger of being overcooked, the vegetables are getting soggy, the temperature in the kitchen is rising, and Martha finally snaps. She slams her spoon down on the counter and storms out of the kitchen. And who does she lash out at? Not her sister! No. Her guest! The one she was totally focused on, the reason for all her preparations. She lashes out at Jesus!
“Don’t you care? Don’t you care, Lord, that my sister has left me to serve all alone? Don’t you care that I’m in the kitchen slaving away over a steaming stove while she sits there doe-eyed at your feet doing nothing? Don’t you care that I’m pulling all the weight around here and she does nothing? How about cutting the chit chat and telling her to get her lazy rear end in the ktichen to help me!”
In a way, this real life episode illustrates the point of the parable of the man in the ditch which comes just before. The Law says “love God and love your neighbor.” And yet, the Law cannot produce this love. If you think you can work up love for God and love for neighbor by your doing, you will wind up as frustrated and angry as Martha was with Jesus and her sister. The very guest she loved and wanted to serve became the object of her anger, which spilled over to her sister. If all we had to work with was divine rules and regulations, whether ten commandments or twelve biblical principles or 613 dos and donts of the pharisees, if all we have is the Law, we will wind up hating God and hating our neighbor.
Martha’s problem was not her service, but her lack of freedom. She wanted to please Jesus. She wanted to impress Him with her house and a nice dinner. She wanted to serve Him with her very best. And yet, it all failed. She wound up yelling at Jesus and angry at her sister. She was occupied with many things, when one thing was needful. She was busy preparing a seven course dinner that would have earned her four stars in the Michelin guide, but Jesus would have been content with carryout.
It was not Martha’s service that Jesus wanted. It was Martha. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He came to give, not to get. He came not to be the guest, but to be the host, to lay down His life as a sacrifice for sinful humanity, to offer Himself up for the life of the world, to be the Bread of Life and wine from heaven to bring refreshment, forgiveness, life, and salvation to all. As far as Jesus was concerned, Martha’s house could have been a wreck, she could have laid out cold cuts and sandwich bread, she could have simply offered a loaf of bread and a dried fish. What mattered most to Jesus was that she have communion with Him, that she hear His word.
Jesus doesn’t need our service. He’s the Lord. He has heaven and earth at His beck and call. What can we give God that He does not already have? What can we do for God that He has not already done? Martha is the way of the Law; Mary is the way of the Gospel. Martha is about works, busyness, ultimately frustration; Mary is about faith and freedom, trust in Jesus and freedom to sit at His feet and take in His Word. Martha seeks to be justified by her works of service, and in the end winds up frustrated and angry. Mary is justified by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. She does nothing but be given to; Jesus does everything. He is the one needful thing, for her and for you. You need nothing else but Jesus and His Word.
And yet. Don’t we often find ourselves in Martha’s shoes? Busy with so many things that we have no time fto rest in Jesus? So busy we have no time to hear His Word, to receive His body and blood. Distracted by this, that, and the other thing. Thinking that we must do in order to please God. But if we are to please God at all, there must first be faith. And faith comes by hearing, sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet and being given to.
We need to repent of our busyness. We’ve let many things get ahead of the one important thing. We’ve let many things get between us and Jesus. The symptoms are all there. Frustration, anger, snapping at each other, complaining, griping, pointing the finger, accusing. Tell them to get in the kitchen with me and help. When you sense that in yourself, read the symptoms of busyness and hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Just be quiet for a while and listen. I know it’s hard to do, because we are tuned to being busy. The way of our world is Martha, not Mary. Sit and listen. Jesus is here to give to you. He wants to spend time with you. There’s plenty of opportunity to serve, but what good is our service if it simply burns us out on the Lord and on each other?
I had an interesting Sunday a couple of Sundays ago when I was in Nashville. Our group had arrived late. We were staying in a hotel at the airport. We were getting our rental vehicle the next morning. We’d been up very late the night before. Now mind you, we had just come from a youth conference in Logan, where our youth were. Two divine services and worship three times a day. So here we were on Sunday between conferences. We decided to sleep in as long as possible and then shuttle over to Vanderbilt University, the site of our second conference. Then we went out to brunch.
At brunch, I realized we had just enacted the unbelievers version of Sunday. We slept in and then we went out to brunch with friends. I said to everyone, “I get it! Now I know why it’s hard to sell people on the idea of coming to church on Sunday when you could sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, read the paper, watch TV, and then go and hang with friends. It’s terribly easy to let most anything get between you and Jesus, whether our work or our play.
We live most of our lives under the Law. We have duties to execute, obligations to fulfill, expectations to meet, quotas, goals, you name it. We are busy people, running from one thing to the next at freeway speeds, rarely taking the time to sit still. We even make our play into work. They say that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. This is true. If we are defined solely by our work, we become bored and boring. The story of Mary and Martha would remind us that all work and play and no worship will burn us out in our own busyness, chasing after the wind, as Ecclesiastes says, until we burn out like a candle that’s run out of wick.
You are here this morning to receive. God brought you here. Yes, you drove yourself or were driven by someone. But the Spirit gathered you and drew you to the feet of Jesus. To be given to. To worship is to sit with Mary, to rest in Jesus, to have His Word have its way with you, to participate in His rest. You sometimes hear that worship is work, the “work of the people.” No. Worship is rest. Sabbath. To rest in Jesus and His Word, HIs saving death, HIs life, His glory. It’s a busy world out there. But there is rest and refreshment in Jesus, and in Him strength to do what your calling demands, not in bitterness but in joy, not to please God but in thanksgiving that you are pleasing to God.
There are many things to occupy you; one thing is needful, necessary, indispensable. Be given to, my friends. Be given to.
In the name of Jesus,