Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - 7/22/07

One of the things you learn as a pastor in the UP is that when you’re visiting someone and they say, “Pastor, can I get you a cup of coffee?” you’re often in for more than coffee.  In fact, even if I arrive unannounced, I am frequently amazed at how quickly a spread of food can materialize after the disclaimer, “I don’t have much to go with it.  If I’d known you were coming I would have had more,” and I’m thinking, “I know that.  That’s why I didn’t tell you I was coming.”  It’s not that I don’t like it; I do.  But if you’ve ever wondered why there are lots of overweight pastors, well with all the good food and sweets that come your way it’s easy to gain weight unless you do something silly like run 5 miles every morning at 6 o’clock.

It’s all part of UP hospitality and having been other places I can tell you that it’s not like this everywhere.  I’m not saying this is the only place that it happens but food hospitality in the UP is almost an art form.  There’s lots of Martha’s out there doing what they do, making it look easy although I know it’s not, from making coffee for the pastor, funeral lunches, graduation parties, strawberry socials, just about any church activity (they don’t call us knife and fork Lutherans for nothing); it’s all part of UP hospitality and it’s the Martha’s (mostly) that make it happen.

Because of that, I would think that there are lots of women out there who can identify with Martha and her frustration with her sister Mary and with Jesus in today’s gospel.  “Lord, don’t you care that I’m out there putting a nice meal together for you and Mary is just sitting here?”  Only to be told by Jesus, “You’ve got it all wrong sweetheart; you’re busy being busy, but Mary, by sitting here with me, has chosen the better part.” 

It’s a somewhat surprising response on Jesus’ part considering that there is something of a theology of hospitality that extends through the Bible starting with stories like today’s first lesson where Abraham and Sarah show gracious hospitality to the mysterious visitors who show up to see them.  In Jesus’ commissioning of the 12 and the 70 that we heard about a couple of weeks ago, he tells his followers to look for and depend on the hospitality of  others as they head out.   From ancient culture to modern culture, hospitality has to be considered a good thing, failure to be hospitable a bad thing; Jesus told his followers if they weren’t received hospitably to shake the dust from their feet and move on.  Was he now dismissing all that?  Just from a practical standpoint wouldn’t he welcome Martha’s hospitality?  After all he was single, homeless and on the road.  Logic tells you that he would have welcomed a nice, home cooked free meal.

I don’t think that Jesus was rejecting the efforts of all you Martha’s out there.  I don’t think he was dismissing your efforts any more than he was dismissing those who take family responsibilities seriously when in the lesson we had not long ago he said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  To me it’s another example of him saying that as good and as important as the family is, as good and as important as hospitality is, there is still something that is more important.  In that regard, Mary had it right.  She put spending time with Jesus and listening to Jesus first.  “But she’s not doing anything!”  Martha protests and in our time where work and busyness are admired, we might protest even louder.

A key verse here is Jesus’ response to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”  Instead of Martha, Martha though, plug in your own name.  Think about the things that are distractions for you, the things that keep you too busy for Jesus.  There might be some bad things on your list, but I’ll bet there are more good things that are distractions for you because after all, you’re good people.  What kinds of things distract you so you sometimes don’t have time for worship?  Or maybe you have time for worship because after all here you are, but you don’t have time for prayer and devotions and Bible study, time for sitting at Jesus’ feet as it were.   Many of us get distracted with being busy and if you think pastors are better about this than others, think again. 

Jesus’ rebuke of Martha points out another way that Christianity is countercultural, actually it’s a way that any religious practice is countercultural.  To the outsider or the skeptical, practice of a religion appears to be a waste of time.  The guy who stays at home on Sunday morning and mows his lawn or cleans his garage, at least he got something done.  Even the guy who spent the morning at the golf course, at least he got some exercise.  After an hour of worship though, what have you accomplished?

What you have accomplished, like what Mary accomplished is nothing…except the opportunity to hear again the promises of God, to experience again the closeness of Jesus in Holy Communion.  Now, for all of us here this morning that’s a pretty big except; but it does highlight the challenge of faith in a world that values busyness and getting things done.  Nurturing a relationship with God in worship and prayer and devotion has no utilitarian value.  In that sense it’s true; nothing gets done in worship.  Worship isn’t productive and I think even the church itself gets nervous about it.

So efforts are made to make faith and the church more useful.  Some churches wind up focusing heavily on social programs, justice issues which is certainly important and in line with the teachings of Jesus but on the other hand there are lots of agencies out there that do the same thing, often better than churches do it because that’s what they’re organized to do.  Some churches become self help centers, an assortment of self help therapy groups, one for singles, another for couples, one for divorced people, one for those who are grieving, etc. all of which is again good, and can certainly be done in the proper spirit, but how much of it is a distraction, an effort to make the church “useful,” another product to advertise and sell and consume? 

How much of it is a distraction from what the church is really organized to do which is…to be a place to worship God, to hear again the promises of God and to experience the closeness of Jesus in Holy Communion despite the fact that from a practical, utilitarian point of view, attending church is useless; nothing is accomplished.

There is much that is good about productivity and busyness.  In fact, with proper perspective it is part of a healthy life of faith.  In other words, in the context of today’s lesson, we need, the church needs the Martha’s and their male counterparts doing all the things they do…if the busyness is not an escape and distraction from what is most important, if time is taken to sit with Jesus to hear the message of  promise which is the gospel. 

That’s the better part that Mary chose; and actually it’s not accurate to say that the product of that better part is nothing, because the product is hope, a hope that all the busyness and practical productivity of the world will never provide. 

The whole story of the Bible, especially the story of Jesus is a story of hope and promise and new life in the face of circumstances that often seem to preclude all those things, a world and sometimes a church that is preoccupied with guilt and fear.  But taking time to sit with Jesus, we are invited into a relationship that always comes back to hope and the promise that God will act.  It’s not a promise that everything will be forever rosy and trouble free.  But it’s a promise that whatever comes, good or bad, Jesus will enter into it with you.  That’s the relationship Jesus offers.  He welcomes and looks for our acts of hospitality too.  But the relationship he offers always comes first.  That’s the better part that Mary chose, the better part for all of us.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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