Message for Sunday 21 July 2019: “Martha Martha”

Today’s message covers Jesus’ visit with two sisters, Mary and Martha, each of whom had a different approach to hosting (Luke 10:38-42). The story of the sisters stimulates a discussion about how distractions and priorities can undermine spiritual health.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Once inside, Jesus sat down while Mary absorbed Jesus’ words. Meanwhile, Martha was busy playing hostess. Frustrated, Martha came and asked Jesus to tell Mary to get busy with domestic chores. One reason Martha was preoccupied with hosting relates to Middle Eastern social norms, which even today impose great responsibility upon hosts and hostesses to ensure that guests are safe, welcome and comfortable. However, Martha was so focused on protocol and propriety that she missed a rare opportunity of communing with Jesus.

Jesus responded to Martha by citing her faulty thinking. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things . . .” (Luke 10:41b). Jesus was emphasizing how Mary was making the best choice by listening and visiting rather than cooking or cleaning. Jesus called attention to how Martha was distracted by her household duties. Jesus’ response reveals that there was nothing critically importance in Martha’s tasks. Sadly, Martha preferred business as usual over the unique opportunity to be with Jesus.

Have you ever been distracted to the point of missing a more important matter? This situation can occur in churches as much as anywhere else. I’ve spoken with many long-time members who have done marvelous things for their congregations yet still lack something. To cite just one case I’ve encountered, let me introduce “Buford,” a man who had been a member for sixty-five years and who was a pillar of his church. Whenever something needed attention, Buford was there moving tables, fixing pipes, arranging contractor visits, unplugging the bathroom sink—you name it. One day Buford came to me dejected, asking for pastoral care because, as he put it “I’m feeling discouraged.” After a couple meetings it was clear that Buford had busied himself for a very long time while neglecting his relationship with God.

The temptation is that even when serving the church people find it easy to forget their spiritual health. No one would look at Buford and say that he was doing anything wrong. Outwardly, it all seemed fine. After all, maintaining the church physical structure was a necessary part of property management and good financial stewardship. Yet the greatest thing for Buford was missing: connecting with God for the most satisfying life. Buford had given of himself selflessly for a worthy cause but in doing so he focused on church chores at the likely expense of a richer spirituality.

Avoiding spiritual awareness can be deliberate or unconscious. Either way, even well-intentioned church work can be used as a poor substitute for spirituality. Buford and Martha exemplify how even decent or legitimate activities can become distractions. It’s not that Martha and Buford were doing anything wrong, but it is easy to be consumed by diverse life commitments. God wants the best for us, and this means helping us balance competing responsibilities and knowing when to slow down and shift attention.

Another problem of being too busy is that people can confuse activity with effectiveness. Working long hours is great to pay the bills but what’s the cost to your spiritual health?  Salaries and hourly wages help amass wealth but how effective is it at enhancing spirituality? You may be affirmed and recognized in your work and everything seems normal on the outside but you suffer on the inside. Careers and earning money are necessary but achieving work/life balance and spiritual health remain ongoing challenges.

Perhaps you, like Martha or Buford, are worried and lack fulfillment. It is easy to get buried in duties and yet become derailed from a greater calling. People become absorbed in taking care of transient crises which have no eternal significance. Folks can lose sight of the essential things, such as receiving and sharing God’s love and truth in a deliberate manner.

God deserves more from you than a checklist of completed tasks and accomplishments. It is ultimately unsatisfying to elevate duty above a transforming relationship with God. Claim God’s promises. Draw close to God, God will draw close to you (James 4:8). There are many people like Martha and Buford who busy themselves in roles and jobs while simultaneously neglecting their spirituality. You needn’t let this happen to you.

Americans are the busiest people who’ve ever walked the planet but this has not translated into a more satisfying life. Living such a fast-paced existence often comes at the expense of spirituality. No amount of running around substitutes for closeness with God. Take time to prioritize and you’ll be less likely to miss even the subtle blessings surrounding you.

Develop self-disciple and better manage your over-scheduled day. Find ways to create a peaceful oasis wherein you can draw strength from the Almighty. Welcome God into your hearth and home without competing for title of world’s best host or hostess. The world won’t come to an end if you don’t take care of every little thing. Invite God over for a visit and lighten your load of cares. What you will gain from intimacy with God will far outweigh the world’s chores.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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