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Sunday Message for 17 July 2022: “Martha Martha”

The scripture basis for today’s message is Luke 10:38-42.

Today’s message covers Jesus’ visit with two sisters, Mary and Martha, each of whom had a different approach to hosting. 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 socializing 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 and 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 they tell me that something is missing. To cite just one case I’ve encountered, let me introduce “Buford,” a man who had been a member for fifty-years and who was a pillar of his church. Whenever something needed attention, Buford was there moving tables, fixing pipes, arranging contractor visits, unclogging 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 lag in 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 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 expense of his spirituality.

Avoiding spiritual self-care can be a huge problem. Even well-intentioned church work can be used as a poor substitute for nurturing your personal spirituality. Buford and Martha exemplify how even 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 balancing 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 add to your bank account but what about your spiritual savings?  You may be affirmed and recognized at church and in your work—everything seems normal—but you suffer on the inside. Careers and earning money are necessary but achieving work/life balance and spiritual health needn’t be neglected in the process.

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.

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 the Almighty. 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. Don’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.  Surveys reveal just how unhappy people are. Living a fast-paced existence often comes at the expense of other life areas. 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-discipline to better manage your over-scheduled day. Find ways to create a peaceful oasis wherein you can draw strength. 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 nitpicking matter. Invite God over for a visit and lighten your load. What you will gain from divine intimacy will far outweigh your chores.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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