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Mary and Martha
a sermon based on Luke 10:38-42
by DPS guest preacher, Rev. Heather McCance

I sometimes wonder whether Jesus' word to Martha might not apply better to the vast majority of people in the Western world today: You are worried and distracted by many things. We certainly are. There's all the things we do on a daily basis: our jobs, our volunteer commitments, getting the kids to school and hockey and ballet and soccer and Scouts and piano, getting meals on the table, trying to keep the house looking reasonably presentable, keeping touch with friends and family who are increasingly spread further and further apart. There is just so much to be done.

Martha would have understood the pace of today's world, I think. She was a doer, the eldest daughter, the one who had always been responsible for so much within the family, and so much more now that the parents of the small family are absent. When Jesus arrives at her home, she wants to put on the best supper she can. She works and slaves to make everything perfect, a sort of first century Martha Stewart (hmm, I wonder if there's something in the name?).

Have you ever been invited to a party and then seen nothing of your hosts once you have arrived because they are so busy with preparations? I have. My response is to get up and help, so that the tasks may be done more quickly and so that we can spend more time together. Because, after all, when I go to a friend's house for dinner, I go for the company, not for the food or the setting.

Jesus did not get up to help Martha. I don't think that that was because he did not want to do "woman's work", he certainly went against cultural expectations on a number of other occasions. Getting up to help Martha would not have given him the chance to say the things he thought she needed to hear.

When I was first learning about Jesus, I remember getting very angry at him for what he said to Martha. As an eldest daughter myself, I perhaps over-identified with her. 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? 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.

In the busyness of our lives, Jesus' words speak strongly. We, too, are worried and distracted by many things. And how often do we take the time to sit down and simply enjoy being with Jesus? Apparently a new age book store has recently opened in town. I have not been in it yet, but some of you have told me about it. I have been in similar stores before; books from authors from every spiritual tradition, crystals of every kind, eagle feathers and dream catchers from the native spiritual traditions, music with waves crashing underneath, homeopathic remedies, and candles and incense everywhere. All sorts of ways of trying to reach out into the realm of the ultimate, into presence with God.

And so at the same time as we are so busy with the hectic pace of life, there seems to be a growing interest in spiritual things. I suspect that there's a connection between being busy and a spiritual hunger.

Take time to simply become more connected with God. We all try. We come here as many Sunday mornings as we are able, to connect with God. We join small groups, to learn from the Bible and to learn about growing closer to God by growing closer to one another. We say prayers in the morning as we begin our day. We say grace before meals, even if it's only a silent, THANKS, GOD as we begin to eat. We pray as we fall asleep at night. We try to read the Bible. But all too often, those ways of getting closer to God become yet one more thing that needs to be crammed into an already overly full day. And so, it often is the thing that does not get done before we fall asleep.

So what do Jesus’ words, Mary has chosen the better part, mean for us today? How do people who are busy and stressed out and exhausted most of the time learn to simply be with Jesus?

I 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 omelette 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 omelette 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 omelette 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 do that, if you can practice the presence of God in your daily life, you will, with Mary, be choosing the better part.

I am going to close this morning with another quotation from Brother Lawrence.

"People look for ways of learning how to love God. They hope to attain it by I know not how many different practices. They take much trouble to abide in his presence by varied means. Is it not a shorter and more direct was to do everything for the love of God, to make all of the tasks one's lot in life demands to show Him that love and to maintain his presence within the communion of our hearts with his? There is nothing complicated about it. One has only to turn to in honestly and simply." Amen.