If you talk with most Pastors you will find that preaching on special events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are some of the most difficult sermons to preach. On the one hand, you don’t want to be trite or present yourself as an expert on parenting when parenting issues are different depending on your home and the personality of your children. On the other hand you do want to present some basic principles to help in this area where we all are looking for guidance.
Over the years, I have used Mother’s Day to highlight a number of different mothers in the Bible so we could learn from their victories and their mistakes. This morning I take you to passage about two sisters, Mary and Martha. There is no evidence in the Bible that either one of them had children or even a husband. This of course doesn’t mean that they hadn’t been married, or didn’t have children, just that these relationships are not mentioned. Some suggest that since we are told that Martha “opened her home” Martha was a widow and her brother and sister lived with her.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. a Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:38-42]
From this simple passage I want to make a few observations and then draw some life principles from those observations. It is not really a Mother’s Day sermon, but the lessons we draw are essential for mothers and fathers to grasp.
MARTHA DID A GOOD THING
Sometimes when we read this passage Martha comes across as a villain. But that is an unfortunate conclusion. Don’t miss the facts, Martha was doing good.
She welcomed Christ. Jesus came to Bethany and Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. The text doesn’t tell us whether she also welcomed the disciples. But that is also a possibility. And you can be certain, that wherever Jesus went, he drew a crowd.
Martha knew that it would take a lot of food to feed this group and yet she welcomed the Savior and those who were with him into her home. She demonstrated the gift of hospitality.
She sought to honor and serve Christ. Martha was not lazy. She was not sloppy. Martha saw a need and worked to meet that need. She knew that people would be hungry. She wanted to be a good host. She was going all-out to make their visit pleasant. Remember, Martha couldn’t just call up the local grocery store and order some rolls and cold cuts. She couldn’t call up Dominos and have some pizza’s delivered. She couldn’t just pick up a few loaves of bread, she would have to make it herself. She was working hard to honor the Lord in her service.
Imagine if you had a celebrity staying in your home. Perhaps Julia Roberts or Mel Gibson, or Billy Graham, or Charles Colson stayed at your home overnight. Imagine how diligently you would prepare so you could be the best host possible. Imagine what it would be like if people knew about their visit (and people in La Harpe would know) people would look for all kinds of excuses to stop by and visit. In fact, you would want to invite some of your friends over to the house so they could meet this famous person. It would be a very demanding situation for a hostess.
Do not think of Martha as a bad person. What she was trying to do was good. She was trying to give her best to the Lord.
MARTHA MISSED THE BEST THING
Look at what we are told about Martha. First, we are told she was distracted. The Greek word for distracted literally means, “drawn around”. Today we would say that she was “tied up in knots”. She was so wrapped up in the details of her job as hostess that she couldn’t see anything else. She had tunnel vision.
Martha was so wrapped up in the details of entertaining that she had no time to enjoy her guest. The Savior of the world was in her living room but she spent all her time in the kitchen. He was dispensing the words of life but she was wrapped up in keeping the wine glasses filled. The superficial things were keeping her from the important things.
She was disturbed. In the midst of Jesus’ teaching Martha expresses her frustration to the teacher. I’m sure she was frazzled. Surely she could have used a hand in the kitchen. The burden was great.
I can imagine Martha doing the kind of thing I would do. Maybe she sighed a lot . . .and loudly. Perhaps she slammed a few dishes and a few cupboard doors. I’d bet she was grumbling to herself and beginning to really feel sorry for herself. She tried to send some not-so-subtle messages that she needed help and was feeling overwhelmed. The messages were not getting through. Finally, she’s had enough. She storms out of the kitchen area and says,
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
The Greek wording indicates a “stepping up to or bursting in or upon Jesus. It is an explosive act” In other words, Martha blows up. She loses his cool. She storms into the room where Jesus was teaching and vents her frustration. We have all been in that situation on one side or the other.
When the stress of life begins to get the better of us, we strike out at those around us. Martha is mad at Mary and seems to even be mad at Jesus. She is feeling under-appreciated and overwhelmed with all that needs to be done.
MARY CHOOSES THE BETTER THING
In this awkward situation Jesus take the time to teach Martha some important truths. He says with compassion, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What is it that Jesus is saying to Martha? There are a couple of different interpretations. One view says that Jesus was telling Martha, “You’re trying to put together a feast when really all we need is a little simple nourishment (one thing).” It may be that Jesus was telling Martha to simplify. All they needed was a little bread . . . not a feast.
Another way of looking at the passage sees Jesus saying to Martha, “Martha you are missing the thing that is most important. You are so wrapped up in the details of serving that you are missing the real reason I am here . . . to provide instruction that will lead you to eternity.”
In Matthew 6 Jesus says something similar. He asks us why we worry about things like food and clothing. God can take care of those things. Instead of worrying about these kinds of things Jesus tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33). In other words, pursue the important things and the other things will fall into place.
Mary has understood this. Instead of running around in the kitchen, she sits right at the feet of Jesus and listens. Nothing else was important to Mary when Jesus was talking. It’s a great picture of a life of focus.
I hope you have already begun to sense some of the appropriate lessons from this passage for Mothers, dads and for all everyone else. Life is filled with distractions. The standard of living has been raised so that both parents work full time jobs. Our kids are involved in sports, music, dance, church, and academic events. It is easy to be running all the time. It’s easy to find yourself living the Martha kind of life.
Life is filled with choices. There are lots of good things that can occupy our attention. Sometimes these good things can get in the way of the best things. In all our activity we may miss out on a real relationship with our children and those who are around us. In our activity it is easy to neglect our own spiritual growth and the imparting of that spiritual life to those around us. To guard against this in our lives there are several principles we can draw.
First, the best things must be the first things. Steven Covey, the management expert tells a very popular story,
I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks to you think we can get in the jar? He asked.
After we made our guess, her said, “Okay. Let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar . . . then another . . .then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. The he asked “Is that jar full?
Everybody looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. The he grinned and said once more. “Is the jar full?”
By this time we were on to him. “Probably not,” we said.
“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked at us and said, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” we all roared.
He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”
Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”
“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in? [Covey, First Things First p. 88-89]
It’s a great story with a powerful point. When we plan our day, when we plan our weeks, and as we plan our lives, we must put the important things, the big things first. We must take time to ask ourselves what is really important. I suspect your list of important things might look something like this,
Developing a genuine, deep, and vital walk with God
Keeping physically fit
Maintaining financial solvency
Building good relationships
Enjoying your family
Sharing Christ with those around me
Maintaining mental sharpness
Building good memories in the lives of others
But do you see the problem with all of these things? They are quiet issues. They don’t scream for attention and if we are not deliberate about these areas of our lives we will find our lives cluttered with gravel, sand and water and there will be no room left for the rocks.
Second, when the best things are put first, the good things are more rewarding. We can enjoy the extra things of life much more fully when the first things have been dealt with. When we feel that we are reaching our deepest goals we will enjoy the journey. When we have addressed the best things, the other things won’t be near as stressful. In fact, I believe that as we address the most important things of life we find that we have more time for the other things. Pastor J. Vernon McGee wrote,
My frustrated, confused friend, are you at that corner of life where you do not know which way to turn? Then, for goodness sake, sit down. Sit at Jesus’ feet. Look in His Word and see what He has to say. It will help you with your housework. It will make you a better dishwasher. It will help you sweep the floors cleaner. You will dig a better ditch, mow a better lawn, and study your lesson better. Your work at the office will be easier, and you will be able to drive your car better. Just take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. Mary chose the best part.
Third, The Best things are the things that will be important in the end. It’s often been said that at the end of our lives few people wish they had attended more meetings or worked more hours. Few people will wish they had cooked bigger dinners or thrown more elaborate parties. Few people will wish they had run themselves more ragged. Few will wish that they had accumulated more stuff (in fact, at the end of your life you can be pretty sure that your children will wish you had accumulated less stuff). The things that will matter at that time will be the faith we have cultivated and the time we have spent with those we love. We will wish we had talked more and run less. We will wish that we had used our time focused on the best things.
In an effort to avoid these kinds of regrets here are some suggestions (I need to listen just as much as you do.)
1. Take time to plan for the important and best things of life. Sit down at the beginning of your week and put the most important things on your calendar. Make an appointment with God, with your family, and set aside time for the things that matter most. Plan for those things you want to learn. Plan time for exercise.
2. Work at living more simply. Focus on contentment rather than achievement. Work to free your life from some of the things that enslave you.
3. Work to have you finances reflect your values. Invest in people rather than stuff. Give God priority in your giving. Invest in treasures in Heaven rather than just treasures on earth.
4. Turn off the TV regularly and limit your time on the Internet. At first you won’t know what to do with this “dead” time. Use this time to build relationships. In other words, talk to each other. Use these quiet times to study and grow. Fill your mind with the information that you want to learn rather than with what television executives want you to learn.
5. Memorize Scripture. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it takes rugged discipline. And Yes, it pays enormous dividends as you hide God’s Word in your heart.
Do you get the idea? This is a real lifestyle choice. It is going to mean saying no to some things so that you can say yes to better things.
I believe Martha changed. When we see her next at the death (and soon to be resurrection of Lazarus) she seems more focused. She greets Jesus and listens to Him. She expresses her faith even in a very trying time. I think Martha learned her lessons from the kitchen. And I pray that we will learn those lessons too.