Over-worked. Over-stressed. Over-needed. Over-scheduled. We are expected to live a certain kind of lifestyle, own the right things, have it all together. At some point, it’s just too much. We get overwhelmed. How do we step back from these demands? How do we ground ourselves in something other than society’s expectations? Starting with this sermon, we are taking a step back and see what the Bible tells us about living an authentic life centered on Christ’s love. Today’s story is about Mary and Martha. Are we too busy to hear God?
SCRIPTURE – Luke 10:38-42 – 38 Now as they went on their way, he 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.”
Overwhelmed Sermon Series
#1 – Crazy Busy
January 15, 2017
There’s an award that’s given out in baseball each year for the most outstanding relief pitcher. Even though her fastball isn’t quite 90 miles an hour, I’d like to nominate Trish Standifur to receive that award this year. I appreciate her willingness to bring a powerful word last week when I succumbed to the Crud that’s going around. She is definitely our MVP – Most Valuable Preacher.
As I was listening to her excellent sermon on our website, I was struck by something I heard in the scripture passage she read about the Wise Men. It said that when the Wise Men saw that the star they had been following stopped over Jesus’ house, “they were overwhelmed with joy.” The word “overwhelmed” jumped out at me, since I was preparing to preach a sermon series about being overwhelmed. Because when I think about being overwhelmed, it’s not joy that comes to mind.
Now that we’re a few weeks past the miracle of Christmas, are you still overwhelmed by the joy of the season? Or are you overwhelmed by other things – post-Christmas credit card bills; health issues brought on by the winter season; a schedule that pulls you in 10 different directions; the challenges of aging relatives or wayward children – or just children in general; the increasing violence and conflict in our world. There are a lot of things that overwhelm us, but they do not produce joy in us.
In this sermon series, we hope to address some of those things and how scripture calls us to respond to them. The old cliché is that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but I disagree with that for two reasons. First, I don’t think God gives us things – like cancer or broken transmissions or the Crud – and asks us to handle them; and second, sometimes we DO have to deal with more than we can handle. Sometimes I pray to just be whelmed. Not underwhelmed, not overwhelmed. I just want to be whelmed. But even the word “whelmed” means “to be submerged or buried,” so it looks like there’s no winning with any of the “whelmed” choices.
Speaking of words, remember when the default answer to “How are you?” used to be “Fine. I’m fine.” Simple. To the point. No disclosure, but also no intrinsic value. “I’m fine.” But the usage of “fine” has been replaced. Not many people say “fine” anymore. Instead, the answer is, “Busy! I’m busy.” And if you’re really busy, you’re “crazy busy.”
A read an article recently that says being busy is a sickness, because it takes a physical, mental, and spiritual toll on us. We say we’re busy like it’s an albatross around our necks – “Ugh, I’m so busy!” – but if we’re honest with ourselves, we wear it more like a badge of honor. Because to be busy means you are needed, you have responsibility, you are the kind of person who gets things done. No one responds to “How are you?” with “I’m lazy.” It looks good to be busy.
Maybe that’s what fueled Martha’s actions in our scripture today. I have a bumper sticker on my filing cabinet at home that feeds into this approach to spirituality. It says, “Jesus is coming; look busy!” That was certainly Martha’s approach because Jesus really WAS coming, not for Judgment Day, but for supper. And he was bringing his disciples with him. That means that on very short notice, Martha had to prepare a meal for at least 14 guests, making sure to extend the proper hospitality that was the law of the land in those days. Oh, and by the way, one of your guests is the Son of God, so try not to burn the pot roast.
What do you cook for Jesus and his entourage? Martha wasn’t about to serve the Messiah peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified; do you think it was OK to serve him boiled hotdogs and Kraft Mac N Cheese on paper plates? There was a feast to be cooked, fine china to be dusted off, sweeping and mopping and straightening to be done. Somebody’s gotta do it. Martha is crazy busy!
Martha probably expected her sister Mary to follow her, to lend a hand, to at least offer to hang up the disciples’ tunics or get them a drink. But when Martha peeks out from the kitchen, wondering where Mary is and why she hasn’t started setting the table, there’s Mary, sitting at teacher’s feet, which was a spot of learning exclusively reserved for male students like the disciples.
Can you understand Martha’s reaction? Can you feel her anger? Not only is Mary acting like a man, but there’s all that work still to be done, and Mary has yet to stir a pot. If you’ve ever been the only one cleaning up after a big meal, you know what Martha felt. No one likes to be left holding the dishtowel. So Martha boldly approaches Jesus and states her case: “Lord, don’t you care that I’m doing all the work by myself? Tell Mary to help me!”
It’s very tempting in this passage to want to cast Mary as the good guy and Martha as the bad guy. But to do so does a grave injustice to Martha and all those like her. She was Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart was Martha Stewart. Martha is the patron saint of multitasking, and this world simply would not exist without her spiritual brothers and sisters. She gets the job done, and the world needs men and women and boys and girls who get the job done. The world would come to a grinding halt without responsible people like Martha. Right now, you Martha types are making out your grocery lists in the margins of the bulletin. Can you feel the pressure Martha feels? Meals to be made, a house to be cleaned, people to take care of, shopping to do. Who has time to sit still? What’s wrong with being a Martha? Why is Jesus so critical of her?
He is not, as I read it, criticizing Martha for being busy. He’s not saying to her that such work doesn’t have to be done; obviously it does. You can’t have a pitch-in supper unless someone pitches in. You can’t have a clean kitchen unless someone cleans. I believe under normal circumstances Jesus would applaud Martha’s efforts, lift her up as a shining example of hospitality, someone who walks the walk of a servant faith.
But these aren’t normal circumstances. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s on his way to die on the cross. He may never be with Mary and Martha again. Mary recognized the significance of Jesus’ visit to her house, and she put her own agendas aside to make sure she spent time with him. The dishes would still be there after dinner; Jesus wouldn’t. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, would Martha regret that she didn’t get all the leftovers put away, or would she regret that she hadn’t spent more time with Jesus? According to Jesus, she doesn’t choose wisely. She makes the mistake of thinking that Jesus can wait. We are called to be both hearers and doers of the word. Martha was all do and no hear, and there are spiritual consequences for this.
Remember the line from the psalm we read? “Be still and know that I am God.” The implied antithesis is, “Don’t be still and forget that I am God.” Jesus says, “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” The Message translation says, “You’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.” The more we do without grounding ourselves at the feet of Jesus, the more we get distracted. The more we forget. The more church becomes just one among many options. The more we stop seeing the least of these around us. The more we become all do and no hear.
My friend Danny told me the story about an archaeologist who hired some native tribesmen to lead him to a dig site deep in the mountains. After they’d been moving for a while, the tribesmen stopped and insisted they could go no further. After sitting still for a while, the archaeologist got angry and impatient. “C’mon, we have things to do!” But the tribesmen didn’t move. Finally, without warning, they all picked up their gear and continued walking. The archaeologist caught up to the tribe leader and asked why they had stopped for so long. He said, “We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.”
Have we outrun our souls? Has our busyness caused us to stray from the path that keeps us centered and grounded in God? Martha had so much to do, so many responsibilities, she missed the opportunity that was right in front of her. She was getting herself worked up over nothing, when in reality, as Jesus tells her, “there is need of only one thing.”
That is easy to say but so hard to do today in a world where “busy” is the new “fine,” and there’s simply too much going on to sit still. We want to say to Jesus, “One thing? But there are so MANY things!” My Apple Watch has an app on it called “Breathe.” Through little pulses, the watch will lead you through a breathing exercise for whatever time you set. Twice a day I get a pop-up reminder on my phone from that App to breathe. And twice a day I cancel that reminder, because who has time to breathe? “Next time,” I think. “Next time it pops up, I’ll breathe.” But not now, because right now, there are things to be done. Breathing can wait.
You see, that’s the problem with Martha. In her mind, Jesus could wait. And we’re even more susceptible to that rationalization. For Martha, Jesus was on his way to the cross, so her time with him was limited. But for us, he’s already died, come back, and gone to Heaven. We’re told now that Jesus is always with us, so where’s the urgency to spend time with him? Jesus can wait. “As soon as I get my things done, then I’ll spend time with Jesus.” Of course, the problem is that either we’re so tired when we finish that Jesus gets our leftovers instead of full attention, or, which is more likely, we never get to our time with Jesus at all. There are so many things! And our souls are left panting, out of breath, trying to catch up to us.
Being still in our crazy busy world today is as much about our spirituality as it is our mobility. It’s important to physically be still, but it’s also important to let our soul rest, to ground it in an emailed daily devotion or a brief prayer of thanks or a good cup of coffee with a trusted friend. You may only have time for five minutes of stillness today, but that’s enough. What are you doing to be still, to remind yourself that you are not the only one bearing this yoke of responsibility, to be reminded that before you are all these roles you play, you are a loved and beloved child of God? We have to let our souls catch up.
Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” What’s the one thing? I can’t answer that for you. Your one thing may not be my one thing. It could be starting a journal, or investing in a relationship, or silencing the technology around you. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it involves slowing down, sitting still, and listening. Do we have time for that? Do we have time to breathe? Or are we just too crazy busy? “Let me finish what I’ve got to do, Jesus, then I’ll be with you.” There are so many things! Be still and remember that God is God and you are not and there are indeed so many things, but really, there is one thing. Be still.