M & M: Sister Act.
Every time that I listen to this story from the Gospel according to Luke, quite frankly… I get a little annoyed and irritated. And I do so because I sometimes like quite many women feel that my middle name should be or could be MARTHA. The busy bee, the planer, the organizer and the one who as a busy bee often stands in the kitchen behind the doors, making annoyed noise with the pots and pans while the party is going on in the living room. And honestly, I would much rather have the middle name of Mary: the quiet, the listener, the one who has chosen the better part.
But do we always choose our parts in life? Do we always choose if we are the busy bodies and the complainer or if we are the relaxed and attentive balanced person…?
And I do know that some of the best moments spent are the moments reading good books, studying the Bible, digging into the newest research, having meaningful conversations and listening to a great lecture or sermon.
But is this strictly the better part….? What about all the necessary stuff that needs to be done, what about all the chores, all the lunches and dinners to be served, all the chairs to be moved, all the tables to be decorated, all the things that need to be done in order to get it to work ?
I remember my dean in Denmark told me when I was installed as a pastor in my first call, that there was nothing more pitiful than a busy pastor…. Many many times after these words were said to me in a good meaning to focus on the better part, the important bigger issues….. , many many times after reading and re-reading the Gospel about Martha and Mary again and again…. Often I have thought: how easy for him to say! He was a man. He was a was male pastor and the exaptation to him and his kind of business and his chores were different simply because of his gender and his generation.
Women and most female pastors tend to try to combine the roles of Martha and Mary in their professional and private lives…. And thus are busy!
Some months ago I saw a headline on a Danish webpage about Education and Communication and the headline was: “The Danish Church – one of the most dangerous jobs according to statistics is to be a female pastor.”
According to the scary statistic numbers most Danish male pastors can rejoice in the fact that the average life expectancy is 81 while the average life expectancy for female pastors are 68, which is the totally opposite world of static is in general. This small article raised the question with a wonderful twinkle in the eye: is it because there is often a lot of trouble with female pastors and their councils? or is it because male pastors often have a very busy supportive bee wife named Martha at their side… and well female pastors often have an independent busy man who had enough in his own job. Or is the explanation that female pastors truly are busy, are involved and really burn their candles up … and then all the fingers would suddenly be pointing at the lazy male pastors, wouldn’t it … who thinks that there is nothing more pathetic and pitiful that a busy pastor.
I am not complaining… cause I actually like being a busy bee, I like to plan and organize and I like to get things done… but I also cherish moments of silence, reading, listening, praying and contemplating as they are the fuel we all need.
I like to try to combine the two M’s in my professional and private life, and I do think most of us do. And we should try to make an effort to make time and room for both attitudes.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her!”
This was our Lord Jesus Christ’s answer to Martha as she exhausted complained and asked if it was too much to ask her sister to help? Lord, tell her to help me…. And what would Jesus answer be? He surely loved and valued both sister equally, Mary the sitter and Martha the worker.
Every church needs a Martha. Or Several Martha’s as we are blessed to have here. Sleeves rolled up and ready. Because of Martha’s, the church budgets get balanced, church building get repaired and cleaned, lunches are prepared, flowers are sent and sick visited. You don’t appreciate Martha’s until a Martha is missing. The Church Martha’s are the energizer bunnies of the church. They keep going going and going….
How would a church like ours survive and thrive if not for the many Martha’s and Marvin’s who are ushers, who make lunches, who help at Summer Camp, who collect and counts money, who does the dishes, who repairs the broken chair, who raises the flags or who makes beautiful quilts for the homeless? The church could not exist without the Martha’s and Marvin’s, the men and women who are responsible, hardworking and dedicated doers and workers.
The same is true in a family and household. We need responsible people to do the work: to cook, to clean, to pay the bills, to raise the kids and love the spouse. Households could not survive without Martha’s and Marvin’s. Nor can offices, Schools. Business, Governments, so what is wrong with being a Martha or a Marvin: a responsible, get it done kind of person? I do not think it is pitiful or pathetic… I think itis necessary and real.
And yet our Lord Jesus Christ said: Martha Martha you worry too much, you get so easily distracted, sit down and listen……”
And Martha looks at her sister Mary, sighs and see her sitting at the feet of Jesus, looking into the eyes of their master, listening to his words and teachings, feeling loved, affirmed and blessed. Whereas Martha feel stressed, scurried, worried, distracted… and resentful.
I do think that some of us might recognize that resentful attitude when we silently suffer in our busy mode and quietly think: why is it always me, where are the others, why does he never help or why does she always leave early? Resentful judgement and comparison… that is what many Martha’s and Marvin’s are very good at. And exactly that distracts and brings us away from the better part.
Jesus did not criticize Martha for being a responsible worker, but he criticizes and pointed out for her that she was too busy, too distracted, too worried, too involved listen, to sit and absorb, to quietly listen.
So Jesus taught in an unforgettable way that listening precedes action, that we need to listen first and the do. Listening and then doing. Jesus said clearly: Be hearers and doers of the word…. Listen, carefully, he said.
I have always wished that Martha would have asked Mary instead of asking the Lord. Asked her sister to please help her get ready so they could sit down together and listen….
Martha might have become the symbol of the modern busy world with no time for listening and community. But at the same time Mary might have become the symbol of the careless individual with no commitment or care for the brothers and sisters to join her.
The Gospel tells us that human relationship and love begins with listening. Christian faith begins with listening. Listening is the pipeline through which human relations and divine relations flows a d grows.
Charles Wesley wrote in a hymn:
Lo, I come with joy to do the masters blessed will
Him in outward works pursue,
and serve his pleasure still
Faithful to my Lord’s commands,
I willchoose the better part,
Serve with careful Martha’s hands
And loving Mary’s heart.
Look at Christ welcoming us to the altar. Look at Christ welcoming us to come to church, sit down for an hour or so to listen, to pray, to sing and to congregate… and to come to his feet and kneel at the table to feel the divine love flow from him to us and through us.
To give us strength to serve with careful Martha’s hands
And to love and listen with Mary’s heart.
That is the main thing, the one thing, the one love that can never be taken away from us because it constantly flows from God to and through us. And then we can serve with hands and hearts, with voices and with open ears. And combine and include both Martha’s and Mary’s, Marvin’s and Matthew’s. Amen