38 While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. 40 By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
41 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. 42 One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, Common English Bible).
This morning we begin a new sermon series that will carry us through mid-September. I titled this sermon series “On the Spiritual Trail.” In recent years opinion polls have shown a restlessness Among Americans when it comes to their spiritual lives. Everything else was just cluttered many have gone so far as to say that they are not religious but our spiritual. At least a part of this has come as a consequence of some very public church scandals of the past. There are also the very public squabbles that have gone on in the Church like our own on-going debate over issues regarding human sexuality.
There are many who feel like they were hurt by the church and say they won’t go back I had a conversation some time ago with one person who was exactly that way. Some of this is an unwillingness to be part of the church. There could be a host of other reasons why some would choose to be what they call spiritual and strive to escape the religious.
All too often we Christians are looking in other places as well as other faiths trying to find meaning for our lives. As a pastor and a Christian spiritual director, I find this more than a little disturbing. We need to live out and demonstrate for people around us that the Church of Jesus Christ is not so much of what we see around us. People need to know that the Church is filled with fallen men and women who are on the road to find the real source of complete spiritual truth and that is in Jesus Christ and the primary place where that spiritual truth is taught and received is the church. We need those in the world around us to learn that meaning for their lives can be found here. During the next few weeks, we will look at some of this and hopefully, as a result, we will strengthen our own faith, our own spirituality. The truth is, we are spiritual, but we are also faithful. We should never forget the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Today we began with an Inner-turmoil that is shared to some degree by most everyone in the church. Everyone finds themselves on one side of this or the other period, perhaps at different times, it is both.
Once Upon a time there was a man who belonged to a congregation. This man never did anything but sit period time and again when the church would gather for some service project or another, he showed up. Then everyone who showed up would go to work, everyone that is except the one man? He just sat and seemed to watch others do all the work one day many who were working got tired of working while he just sat and watched. They went to the pastor to ask if he would please say something to the man. The new pastor, equally tired of seeing everyone in the church work but this one man went to him an asked as diplomatically as he could, “ when we have a church work day everyone comes up here and pitches in an gets the job done. You, on the other hand, just sit there and watch we’ve all been wondering, what are you doing?” the man replied, “Well I’m thinking.” “thinking?” the preacher asked. “What are you thinking about?” Jesus asked “Well,” the man replied, “I’m thinking about working.”
As I think about it, it would seem to me, that the world is filled with two kinds of people. I know that there are also hybrids around, but basically there are two and we’re probably all hybrids to some degree. On the one hand you have your doers. These are the people who are always doing whatever work needs to be done. They are always there, usually doing their part and more. Then, on the other hand, there are the thinkers. They are trying to think their way through some project or another. It isn’t that they aren’t interested in doing the work, they just want to think about it for a while before they actually engage in the work.
There is nothing wrong with either group. They are both important. But I want you to know, they often frustrate the daylights out of each other. Doers usually think they or their group are the only ones who ever do any of the work. They find that very disturbing. The thinkers get upset with the doers because they seem to jump in without thinking their way through a problem.
I am not much of a fan of reality television. I have watched many of the shows at least once. For most, once or twice is enough. I do not remember when I last watched Survivor or Big Brother. There is a new show on CBS I have enjoyed watching. It is Tough as Nails. The participants are divided into two teams. They participate in a set of team competitions but they also participate in individual competitions and each episode a participant is eliminated from the individual competition but unlike most of the other reality shows, even when you are eliminated from the individual competition, you remain in the team competition. It is interesting to watch because overall in the show, one team “Savage Crew,” talks quite a bit about planning but until the last couple of weeks, they rarely follow their plans and thus far have lost the majority of the team competitions. Then after the fact they talk about how they didn’t follow the plan and how they must plan and follow the plan next time. All these folks, by the nature of their day-to-day work, are doers, but “Savage Crew” has seemed to stay focused that way.
The other team “Dirty Hands” has found a way to exercise their inner-thinker and as a result has seemed to communicate better and follow their plan better. It isn’t that one team works harder than the other. Savage Crew has no organization and they hit the work and more often than not, thus far, they fail. “Dirty Hands” sometimes seems slower, but they are methodical, organized, and persistent. It has paid off for them, at least until the last two weeks. Savage Crew seems now to have gotten their act together.
As a society we tend to place, at least in our speaking, a great deal of importance on the value of education, and rightly so. We tend to pay those who have an education more. We tend to pay, at least as a general rule, teachers being the notable exception, those who think better than those who do. Without question, with only a few exceptions, those who work with their minds are generally better compensated for their work than those who make a living with their backs.
Here is the rub. Doers do not understand why thinkers are better paid than doers. When I was in the Navy, we enlisted guys, did not understand why officers were paid better when we did all the work. Or, at least that is what we thought. The same rules apply to engineers and those who build what the engineers design. There are other fields as well. In the movie The Secret of My Success, the mail room guys, the doers, were constantly complaining about the suits upstairs, the thinkers, only in this case, as the movie unfolds, they are actually right. The idea parallels real life. We appreciate the thinkers until we find ourselves on the other end of the stick as a doer.
As I have thought about it, I cannot help but think, where would we be without doers. There is a great deal of work to be done in this world and it is the doers that will get most of it done. I grew up in the home of oduor. My father worked for TxDot. He built roads. He worked and he worked hard. Up until he died, he always liked building things. And when there was something that needed to be done at, he was gonna jump in and find a way to get the work done. Usually he did not think too long before he got started.
But, just like the doers, thinkers are just as vital. If my father was going to build Rd, someone sitting in an office somewhere had to design said Rd. Without the work of a thinker, my father’s work would have been difficult at best to accomplish. Thinkers are just as important to the functioning of the world as doers.
The long and short of all this is, it takes both. Our world could not function without having some that are doers and others that are thinkers.
In our lesson this morning, we find just such a pair. Martha was a doer. Martha had company in the house and as anyone knows who’s ever had guests, with guests comes work to be done. When Jesus and his party arrived, the scripture says his followers, and from that we can assume at least the 12 at minimum. If you add Jesus, Mary, and Martha, that’s now 15 people and there may have been, there likely were more. There were meals to prepare, and dishes to wash. With so many people sitting there it was a big job. And Martha wanted, perhaps it would be better if I said Martha needed, some help and there was her sister Mary, not doing a blessed thing but sitting there listening to Jesus. You know, that had to make Martha more than just a little bit mad. She probably wanted to sit down and listen to Jesus too, but somebody had to get the work done, if they were ever going to feed all this crew. Martha continued her work. The more she worked, the more she watched her sister sitting there seeming to do nothing, the angrier she got.
For her part, as Mary sat there, she wasn’t doing anything. She was sitting and listening to the teachings of Jesus. Mary was a thinker. As she sat and listened, she processed the information, she was thinking about what Jesus was saying and what it meant to her life. I don’t think Mary was intentionally neglecting her sister; it is just that what Jesus was saying was more important than washing dishes and the like all that would be there later, Jesus would eventually move on. For Mary, nothing was more important to her then that moment.
Martha couldn’t stand it anymore. I can picture her in my mind as she walks from the kitchen straight to the place for Jesus is sitting and looks at him look him in the eye and saying to him, and I guess too I guess to Mary as well , “ Jesus with all these people, I need help. Tell my sister to get up and get in the kitchen and help me.
Jesus gives her an answer and it is an important answer for us today as it was for Martha so many years ago. “Martha,” Jesus said “you are upset about many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better path.”
Obviously, Martha didn’t hear what she wanted to hear. When we are in Martha’s place, we don’t want to hear that either. But we need to understand that nowhere did Jesus condemn Martha or what she was doing.
Martha’s work was important. The work had to be done by all the Martha’s who were sitting around the table that day, even if Martha remained the only doer. Martha’s are, or at least should be, important to all of us. The work done by all the Martha’s; the doers of the real world, are vital to our church and our society. Where would Jesus and his followers have been without the work of Martha? I think it can be summed up in one word, hungry!
Jesus’s point simply was, there is a time and place for everything. Mary had chosen what was tremendously important at the time. She wasn’t just sitting there. She wasn’t just thinking about working. Mary was receiving the lessons that were important for eternity, while Martha was focused on the here and now.
As I think about this lesson and other lessons where people went about doing things to make a living and provide for their family, I can’t think of a single time when Jesus condemns their work. We always must remember the importance of getting work done. Without it, everything in our world from the streets we drive on to the cars we drive, and even the church building itself would crumble and fall and there would be no one to build another without the Martha’s, the doers of the world.
If we are seeking to find our way on the spiritual trail, then I think we need a balance in our lives. We do have to be about working, but God also gave us a brain and we should spend time thinking. And, if we are to be the whole person our creator intends us to be, then we have to spend some time in the temporal world, the world of Martha’s focus, and sometime in the spiritual world, the world of Mary’s focus.
If we are seeking the spiritual trail, we also must have priorities in our lives. We must know the many things that make demands on our time period from family and friends to work to our spiritual lives, everything takes time. Some things even rob our time. We need to remember Jesus’ words to Martha, that Mary had chosen the most important thing. That doesn’t deny the importance of other things, it simply says to stop and remember what is most important. It says that we all need to get our priorities straight and make sure our focus is first and foremost on God who gives us life then everything else will fall into place.
Though there is nothing wrong with working, or with thinking, they are both particularly good and right things for us to do, there probably is something wrong with just thinking about working. As Christians I think we are called to be people of faith and people of action. We are called to be people who work, think, study, listen, teach, pray, and so many other things. We need to lead a life of balance. And, the through it all, we will grow spiritually if we keep ourselves focused on God, placing him as primary in our lives.
Next Sunday we will continue our series as we look at the tension between religion and spirituality .
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved