He Won’t Be Distracted

This sermon was preached on July 21st, 2019. The assigned Gospel Lection was Luke 10:38-42.

When I was in Seminary, I dreaded the week before finals. Not because I didn’t want to study, though I didn’t, but because every year there would be an event where the entire school gathered together in the chapel. We weren’t there to worship, but to celebrate. It was the end of the year, the perfect time to honor students and faculty alike. It was the awards ceremony, that time where specific students and specific teachers are paraded in front of everyone, chosen by some group for an honor.

Every spring would come and I would be sure I was going to receive an award. I was a good student. I was active in a variety of ways. I was personable. I felt like I earned an award. But every awards ceremony would come, and every awards ceremony would go and I would be left empty-handed muttering to myself. “She doesn’t deserve that award. He doesn’t even go to chapel. I know I get better grades than her…” You name it, I said it. I don’t know why I placed so much on external gratification, but I did, and not even in seminary. I’ve dealt with this all my life, and I still do. I long for some award, some scholarship, or some achievement, something to tell me I’ve made it, that I’ve arrived, that I am enough.

David Zahl writes about this idea of “enough” in his book Seculosity. I’m going to quote him here: “Our religion is that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness. Listen carefully and you’ll hear that word enough everywhere, especially when it comes to the anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion, and division that plague our moment to such tragic proportions. You’ll hear about people scrambling to be successful enough, happy enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, influential enough, desired enough, charitable enough, woke enough, good enough. We believe instinctively that, were we to reach some benchmark in our minds, then value, vindication, and love would be ours—that if we got enough, we would be enough.[1]

We desperately want to be enough, so we create systems (or buy into ones other people set up in the world) to help us feel good about ourselves. We self-justify in order to placate what we feel is an inadequacy in ourselves. We use different things in our lives to fill a God-shaped hole, convincing ourselves that if we just get the right promotion, lose enough weight, find the right romantic partner, or even our kid gets into the right school, then we will be enough. Then the annoying voice in the back of your head who continually berates you will finally pipe down and you can have some well-deserved rest. Because you would have done it. You would have worked your way into enoughness or righteousness.

At least, that’s how it was for Martha.

It’s an interesting and pretty well known story. People often say they are either a Martha or a Mary, they are a doer or a thinker. They like to keep busy or they like to slow down. They like action or they like contemplation. It’s an either or, you’re a Martha or you’re a Mary.

But perpetuating this dichotomy not only misses the fact that most of us have elements of both within, it also misses what’s really going on in the story. It’s reading the text only at the surface level, swimming in the shallow end of the theological pool if you will. If you dive a little bit deeper into the text, that theme of enoughness will come to the forefront and you’ll see how Jesus tackles it head on with the intrepid disciple named Martha.

First things first though, Martha acts exactly how Jesus hoped people he and his disciples met along the road would act. She sees them enter her village and invites them into her home. She’s the head of the household, an oddity in a male-dominated world, and so she takes it upon herself to be one of those women Luke describes in chapter 8 as providing for them out of their resources (8:3). This is the exact situation Jesus hoped for when he sent the seventy out to visit those villages he wasn’t able to get to; Martha modeled how one shows hospitality.

But there’s a problem, Martha doesn’t live by herself; her sister Mary stays with Martha in the house too. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but when Jesus shows up, all bets are off. Like the typical younger sibling (I can say this because I’m the youngest in my family), Mary shirks her household responsibilities. She does what she wants, not what she is supposed to do. Typical younger sibling.

And what she wants to do is sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he’s saying. She wants to meditate on his teaching. She wants to hear his words, which are indeed God’s Word, the very thing he embodies. The Greek word we translate as “saying” is the word logos. This is a famous word. Actually it is the Word (with a capital W). John’s Gospel begins like this: in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God (John 1:1) or in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, and meditated on the Word of God. She was doing something women weren’t supposed to do. She was acting as a disciple, throwing away her former identity to rest in the presence of Christ.

Martha notices. Maybe Martha is ashamed of her sister shirking her duties as a responsible host. Maybe Martha is jealous, knowing that Mary is probably right but can’t bring herself to break out of her own personal rat race. Maybe Martha is simply frustrated because there is a lot to do and she only has two hands. Maybe Martha is distracted and worried about how her little sister will tarnish Martha’s image.

I think it’s a combination of all of these, all these different variations different variations on the same theme: Mary is making a mockery of Martha’s way of life. Mary is calling into question all Martha’s ever been. It culminates in Martha’s selfish inquiry of Jesus: Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me. Lord, do you not care she’s making me look bad? Do you not care this isn’t going to go well if she doesn’t help? Do you not care I’m at my wits end making this fancy dinner? Do you not care?

Martha presumes to tell Jesus what to do. How often do we do this? Frustrated by how things are going, we resort to tell Jesus how to change things in our life. We presume to know better than him, to know his way of winning through losing, hope through sacrifice, life through death, salvation through faith isn’t really good enough. It doesn’t make sense, so we push it aside and try to earn our way into Christ’s good graces: working our selves ragged trying to prove we are enough.

Jesus responds with compassion. I imagine him slightly shaking his head back and forth like a disappointed parent or teacher: Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing only. You are being pulled in many different ways, all stretching you to the point of breaking. It’s all for naught. You don’t need to do all those things, they won’t get you anything. They won’t make you happy. They won’t make you satisfied. They won’t make you any better than you are now.

Jesus then points at the younger sibling, “Look at Mary. Here she is resting at my feet. She’s not distracted like you. She’s not worried like you. She’s not running some rat-race trying to prove her worth to me. She’s not working herself ragged trying to be good enough. No, she is simply resting with me, resting with the one who gives life, hope, and worth. She knows she’s good enough because I give her my worth. Come, Martha, sit down and rest. Choose the better part, it’s not going to be taken from Mary and it won’t from you either because nothing can take away what I give you. Know you are enough.”

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

So what is it for you? What keeps you up at night, thinking about if you just get “there,” you’ll be happy, feel satisfied, or bask in being enough? For me it’s awards and achievements, external gratification telling me I am good enough, that my work is important, that people notice. Is it being the perfect parent or grandparent? Is it a particular job you’ve longed for? Is it a long hoped for weight that if you achieve it, all of life will fall into your hands? Is it a boat that will guide you to joy on the lake?

Jesus still shakes his head, “Christian, Christian, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Trust me. Come sit at my feet. Come rest. I’ve taken care of all of it for you. In my death, resurrection, and ascension, the Cross, you have hope. In taking on your sin I gave you my righteousness, my enoughness. You are fine. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to work and work and work. You just have to trust I’ve done this for you. So come, sit down, take a load off, have a piece of bread and wine. Welcome to the party, we’ve been waiting for you.”

Thanks be to God. AMEN.

[1] David Zahl, Seculosity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019) p. XIV

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