By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 22, 2007
Read: Luke 10:38-42
What time is it? And where are you?
Those are considered to be two of the most asked questions in our day. What time is it? And where are you? I’m going to come back to those questions in a little bit.
The story of Martha and Mary is an often familiar one, one that is written about frequently when it comes to prayer life. I believe it’s used so often, because it’s a situation that seems to be present for most of us at many points throughout our lifetimes. But, to say that this only has to do with busyness or action versus quiet reflection or prayer time is to miss the overall value of this lesson.
Just prior to entering this village and visiting with Martha and Mary, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in which he indicated that doing or action was important. And now, he seems to say the opposite….or does he?
I know I have sometimes become annoyed when I read this passage, because someone does need to do the work. And, recall that hospitality is very important in Jesus’ day and age. It is one of the most important acts. Hospitality to the stranger.
I perhaps over-identified with Martha. I heard Jesus saying that Martha’s work wasn’t important, or as good as, Mary’s just sitting there. I thought to myself, Sure he says that now. Wait an hour or so until he’s hungry, and see who catches it then for not having everything ready!
But as I read Jesus’ words today, I don’t think that that’s what he’s saying at all. He doesn’t tell Martha that her work is unimportant. Rather, he tells her not be worried and distracted by it. Distracted from what, is the question? Well, from enjoying simply being with Jesus, from enjoying his company and listening to him. Of course there needs to be someone to cook supper and set the table and clean up afterwards. But that is only part, and the better part is the company. The better part is the relationship. A relationship with Jesus.
In 1989, Randy Quinn was asked by the Navy to help lead a class for Navy Reserve Chaplains and Religious Program Specialists (what other services call Chaplain’s Assistants). The purpose of the class was to help prepare these men and women to provide religious ministry to and with Marines. One of the assistants in the class was a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant.
He explains, “One day we had a group of people going down a dusty trail to our training site when we crossed a shallow creek. In mid-stream, the Gunny had them stop. In formation, he had them get down and do pushups in the river. (The water was only wrist deep at that point.) Afterwards I asked him about it. “Why did we do that?” I asked. “Just making memories, sir,” was his response. “Making memories.”
Fifteen years later, I spoke with someone who remembered their “Marine Corps Baptism.” Gunny Fanning knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. 15 years later those memories are still alive because he didn’t lose sight of the forest while looking at the trees. Neither did Jesus. Neither did Mary.”
I like to think that had Martha not forgotten her purpose that at the end of the meal Jesus would have joined her in the kitchen and helped with the dishes. I like to think that had she kept her focus Jesus may have made a powerful sermon illustration out of her wonderful hospitality. I don’t know what would have happened. But I do know the next time I find myself in Martha’s role I will try to remember why I am serving.
A woman I know of used to begin each day by writing the letters PPG in her wrist, right next to her watch. Whenever anyone asked, she explained that it stood for “Practice the Presence of God,” and she wrote it there because every time she glanced at her watch, she would see it. She had recently read a collection of writings by a Seventeenth century monk named Brother Lawrence, the book is titled The Practice of the Presence of God.
Brother Lawrence was a typical monk. He was very busy. He was assigned a certain number of tasks every day that he had to do towards the life of his community. And he was finding it harder and harder to connect the things that happened at chapel every day, the singing and the readings from Scripture and the prayers, with the busyness of the rest of his life.
But his writings show that he slowly learned that he could do any task, however small, and do it in the presence of God. He wrote, “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God. When it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and worship my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise happier than a king. When I can do nothing else, it is enough to have picked up a straw from the floor for the love of God….Offer Him your heart from time to time, in the midst of your busyness, even every moment if you can. Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules or particular forms of devotion; but act with a general confidence in God with love and humility.”
I think that if Martha had been able to turn her little omelet in the pan and been fully present to Jesus at the same time, she would have been fine. But she wasn’t; instead, she worried about how the omelet was going to turn out, and was beginning to resent her sister’s lack of help.
We are so blessed. We have a God who came to us and became one of us, who understands the pressures that we feel, who understands the physical needs, the emotional worries, the hassles, the joys and sorrows of being human. And it was as one of us that he invited Martha, and us, to keep the better part, being in the light of his presence.
We all have things that have to get done every day. God knows that. But it is all too easy to forget God and God’s love as we do the things we do. Jesus doesn’t say to give up doing those things. He says, take some thought for God in your life, every day. Pray in the morning and evening, sure, read God’s word, wonderful. But above all, remember God in all the things you do. If you can we can do that, if we can practice the presence of God in our daily life, we will, with Mary, be choosing the better part.
What time is it? And where are you? The “better” answers are NOW and HERE. Be present and alive to the presence of God in your life no matter where you are and what you are doing. The better part is a relationship with Jesus Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Amen.
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