Team Mary vs Team Martha


Traditional Sermon Pentecost 6

I want to begin by asking you all a question – Are you more like Mary or more like Martha?  If you had to pick a team, whose team would you be on?  Would you choose team Mary because you may be more of a contemplative student of Jesus – basking in the words of the scriptures – listening to the rabbi and pondering his words in your heart?  The prayerful disciple, the one who diligently studies scripture to see how God is speaking to you.

Maybe you are team Martha and resonate more with this sister– the one who actively works on behalf of the Gospel – the one who doesn’t sit idly by and wait for someone else to do the work. The one who serves Jesus through physical action; the disciple who walks the walk doesn’t just talk the talk, the one who practices radical hospitality.

Which leads to the question – what team would Jesus root for?  Do you think that Jesus would be a die-hard fan of team Mary, after all, Jesus did sort of rebuke Martha for not being more like Mary?

I think Jesus is being unfair to Martha, after all Jesus, you just entered her home and were treated like king – if it was up to Mary, you and your whole posse wouldn’t have food to eat, a place to sleep or room to teach. (Did you forget your treatment in Samaria?)  Someone had to step up and do it!  Martha was just doing what was expected of her – but then again, so was Mary.

But what if they were both right?  If we look at this story as right behavior vs wrong behavior, I believe we are missing the point.  This story is only 7 sentences – a relatively short exchange between Jesus, Mary and Martha.  We can choose to condemn Martha for not giving enough attention to Jesus, but is her service and hospitality  condemnation worthy? 

Of course, the Gospel tells us that Martha was distracted.  Yes, that can be a problem when we get distracted and move away from Jesus; and sometimes we need that reminder to put Christ at the center of everything we do.

Unfortunately, this story can demonize Martha as if there is only one way to serve Jesus.  However, I contend we are no different today. We tend to choose sides, political sides, theological sides, ideological sides. We have become polarized in our belief systems.  And of course, our side is right! 

No longer do we see value in both sides of an argument.  No longer do we agree to disagree.  We draw lines in the sand; refusing to engage with what we call “the other side”.

If we are pro-life, that means the other side is pro-abortion.  If we believe in helping migrants seek asylum then we are for open borders.  We set up camps of those who read the Bible as literal fact vs those who view the Bible as the inspired word of God.  We demonize those for whom we disagree – if you are a republican then you are racist, if you are a democrat than you must be a socialist.  We live in a “if you’re not for us you’re against us society.” It’s all black and white. And what is worse, we choose media outlets that reinforce our beliefs.  We can get so enmeshed in our beliefs that we become blind to the fact that all people are children of God and as we heard in last week’s Gospel – they are also our neighbors for whom we are called to be in relationship.  Let me repeat that last sentence – we are called to be in relationship with all of our neighbors – even with those for whom we would rather not!

While Jesus was rebuking Martha, it wasn’t for cleaning, and cooking.  It was because she lost sight of why she was performing these duties. She may have been more interested in being seen as the perfect hostess as opposed to being a disciple.   If we continue this story, there may have been a time when Mary was asked to step up as well. 

This Gospel reading isn’t about right or wrong, it isn’t about either or – it is about both.  There are not separate teams – As Christians, there is only one team – team Jesus.

We need to start with what we have in common – we are all disciples of Christ and we all need to act as such.  How we live out our discipleship will look different.  We are all given gifts in which to further the kingdom of God – Maybe Mary was given the gift of discernment and study while Martha was given the gifts of artistry and hospitality. 

The Holy Spirit gifts all of us and we are to use these gifts to further the kingdom of God here on earth.  This will look different from person to person.  We don’t need to look any further than our own parish. 

Let’s use the metaphor of a football team.  Jesus is the coach who directs us how to behave.  We are all members of the team and each one of us a different position.  No one team member is more important than the other.  All are necessary for a successful game.  No different with our ministries here at St. Peter’s.   If we only focused on worship, we would exclude outreach and educational ministries.  If we worried more about Sunday School to the detriment of property, than we wouldn’t have a building in which to worship, teach and perform outreach.  We can’t win with everyone focused only on their ministry.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t perform our ministries well; the problem arises when we become distracted from our mission – when we act for the sake of ourselves rather then for the sake of Jesus.  Sometimes we need that reminder from Jesus that brings us back into focus.  This is where it is important to worship, study scriptures.   But if we only came to worship and only studied scriptures, then how do we reach out to those for whom Christ calls us to?  I believe it is important to look at everything we do and say through a Gospel Lens – using that old adage – What would Jesus do?

Make no mistake, this isn’t about works, it is about being freed to serve Jesus, because of His life, death and resurrection We do not have to work for our salvation, but it doesn’t dismiss us from following and serving our Savior.  We do this because God loves us and out of gratitude for that love.

Unfortunately, churches can also get caught in the us vs them mentality.  We don’t have to look any further than our own founder, Martin Luther.  As Luther aged, he began a campaign of hatred towards the Jews.  He became frustrated when they refused to convert to Christianity.   He wrote a book entitled “The Jews and Their Lies”.  Listen to a few excerpts:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?  First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. 

This is not a proud moment in Lutheran history. This was not a proud moment in our history period since anti-Semitism was rampant for 2000 years.  I would also contend we are not living in a proud moment in our own country where racism and cruelty has run rampant and where we refuse to work together and would rather live in an us vs them society.  It’s about putting ourselves first and our neighbors last.  As Christians, we are to call out bad behavior; repent for our actions and forgive those who confess their sins.

Unfortunately, fellow Christians, we are not exempt from falling into the us vs them mentality.  We were and continue to be a broken people.  But we are fortunate that we have a God of Grace.  We need to continually be called back to team Jesus.

Last week “In the story of the Good Samaritan we heard that disciples were called to ‘go and do.’ In the story of Martha and Mary we see that disciples are called to ‘sit and listen.”

When we have “both/and” in mind, we start to realize that faith is seasonal. There are times for doing and times for listening. There are times for practicing and times for learning. However we choose to describe the discipleship expressed by Mary and Martha, if we are honest, we have been both, we need to be both, for different reasons, and we also realize that there is a lot of possibility in between.

As Lutherans we boldly live in the grey areas of life.  We can agree to disagree, we can serve God in different ways, but we are all called to love each other because of Jesus Christ.  Loving each other means not demonizing those for whom you disagree; loving each other means understanding that are all given different gifts in which to serve the Lord.  Loving each other means listening to the other side, regardless of our beliefs. Loving each other may also mean pointing out when we stray from Jesus and need a gentle reminder of what it means to love our neighbors and to put Jesus at the center of everything we do and say. 

I am closing with a quote by Dietrich  Bonhoeffer from his book, Life Together:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.

 This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.

…Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

 “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

This gospel is a great reminder that we are called to listen- not just to Jesus, but to others as well.  Listen first then act accordingly as a disciple of Jesus.  And as Jesus said to Martha, choose the better part or choose the only team that is worth living for – team Jesus!  Amen.

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Sister Dottie Almoney

Director of Education & Outreach

Our youth grow into faithful disciples through education, fellowship and service. I am also excited about the new social ministries in which we are partnering with other Manheim Township churches, such as Lydia’s Closet and Homes for Hope.

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