Scripture: Col 1:15-23, Luke 10:38-42
Title: Better Thing?
**Sermons are meant to be heard, so listen to it here**
Today we hear about a pair of sisters, Mary and Martha.
How many of you have at least one sibling?
How many of you are older? Younger? Middle? Onlys?
I am the middle child. I have an older sister and a younger brother. (pic)
My siblings and I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the woods by Collegeville, MN and we were pretty far away from any neighbors.
Yes, it sounds idyllic now, but as a kid, my only playmates were my siblings, which wasn’t always my favorite thing.
I could often be heard to say to my oldest sister – “I don’t need a mother, I already have one”
And whenever my little brother and I would fight, I’d storm off, only to realize that he was the only one within miles that I could play with so I’d have to come back and ask if he wanted to play.
And yes, there was a fair amount of sibling rivalry.
If my sister did it, I did NOT want to do anything close.
She played tennis.
I did theater. (again, a shock I’m sure)
She was in band, I picked up the violin.
She played piano concertos, I learned pop tunes.
So I find myself able to relate to the Gospel text today in a unique way.
The sibling rivalry between Martha and Mary is apparent, and Jesus doesn’t seem to make it any better.
Which is frustrating, upon first read.
Therefore, I have a confession to make:
I haven’t always loved this story.
Partly because it makes me feel uncomfortable, but mostly because I know that I’m the Martha in the story.
Oh I’d like to imagine I’m Mary, taking time to just sit and be still with Jesus, but in the real world, one where I have a job and a family and a house, I’m Martha.
Feeling kind of chaotic.
And yes, seeing people sitting calmly doing the opposite things as me makes me want to tear my hair out.
Don’t they have anything to do?!
Yeah. I’m totally Martha.
And Martha gets scolded. By Jesus.
So I’ve always disliked this story because I don’t want to get scolded.
And I feel guilty after reading it because I’m know I’m not Mary.
I’m not a good sitter.
I don’t like being still.
Also, side note, why is it Martha that gets in trouble?
I mean, someone has to make sure that food is made and things get done.
And Jesus doesn’t say those things aren’t good, but that what Mary is doing is better.
I’ve disliked this story because I don’t like that it has been used as a reason to not serve.
Jesus said I’m SUPPOSED to sit here. He said it’s better.
I’ve disliked this story because it creates competition between women – and let me tell you, we lady types are doing just fine competing with each other on our own. We don’t need words like “better” being thrown around by Jesus to make it worse. Even though almost every Bible translation uses the word “better” here – this sentence in the Greek says “Mary has chosen the good part.”
So what is this story about if it’s not comparative?
Because let’s be honest, this is the way we’ve read it for so long.
If it’s not about contemplation being better than service than what is Jesus trying to say?
I’m not alone in being frustrated with this story in Luke – commentary after commentary from professors and scholars this week spoke to this same thing.
It cannot be simplified to a story of comparison.
This story is about more than “better.”
So it begins with Jesus coming to visit the home of Martha. And Martha is doing “womanly” things, like taking care of the house and making food and serving.
It’s what’s expected of her.
Martha does exactly what she’s supposed to do.
But not Mary.
She dares to do something radical in this story.
She dares to break the convention – what is expected of her, and sit at the feet of Jesus instead.
That is not her place.
That is not where she’s supposed to be.
That is a place reserved for disciples, the closest followers of Jesus, and definitely not a woman.
But when Mary is called out for daring to do something different, daring to step out of the box she has been placed in, and called out by her SISTER, Jesus says that it’s good.
She chose the good part.
So if this text isn’t about one thing being better, maybe it’s really about seeing ourselves as something more.
Maybe, just maybe, this text is reminding us that we don’t have to continue to stay where the world has told us we need to be.
Maybe, just maybe, we can see ourselves as God sees us.
Children of God.
Worthy of a seat at the feet of Jesus.
One of the things that Jesus says to Martha is that she is distracted by many things, and that she really needs only one thing.
Luther Seminary Professor of Preaching Karoline Lewis wrote of the story of Mary and Martha this week and said that our problem is “An inherent, systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love. The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That not all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.”
Our Martha qualities – the running around, the constant motion, the busyness, the falling in line with who we’ve been told we are – those are all distractions. Distractions from being able to sit at the feet of Jesus – and believing that we are allowed to be there. Those are the many things.
But there is something else – the ONE thing. The belief that we are and always will be beloved children of God – made in God’s image. Worthy of the place of honor at the feet of Jesus.
What if we lived and acted and served out of the ONE thing, instead of our worries and distractions about many things?
My confession stands true.
I’m a Martha.
I make judgments all the time.
It’s pretty easy to do in this day and age.
I can look at someone and think they aren’t doing as much as me, they don’t care like I do, they don’t understand as well as me, they don’t know as much as me.
And it’s not true.
I run around and take on expectations and try to be everything to everyone and forget that it’s not what I do that makes me worthy but who I am.
This is the one thing.
Mary dared to believe that she was worthy of a place at the feet of Jesus.
She dared to step away from the place society told her she had to be, to step away from the things her culture told her she needed to do.
She dared to see herself as more.
She believed it was who she was that was the most important thing.
It was the ONE thing.
So the question for us today is can we do the same?
Can we stop the running around and the distractions and the going and the doing and being who we’re expected to be?
Can we see ourselves as more? As who we really are?
And – here’s the kicker – can we do the same for others?
Can we see others as more than our preconceived expectations and judgments?
Can we recognize the divine in each and every person around us? Can we see them as children of God too?
Jesus tells us today that there is need of only one thing:
To sit confidently in our identity as children of God.
And then Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the good part.
She has broken out.
She has seen herself as something else – as a disciple as a child of God, and that can never be taken away from her.
Once we break out of the way things are and the way we’ve seen ourselves, we can never go back.
Oh the world will try to drag you back and place new labels and expectations and judgments on you, but who you are in God can never be taken away.