The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, July 18, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is Luke 10:38-42.
We are in our second week of the Essentials series.  During this series our goal is to look at a few things that are extremely important in our Christian faith.  Without these things in our lives, we have to stop and seriously examine if we truly following Christ or if we are simply living life as a good person, and those are two very different things.  Being a follower of Christ is about more than being a good person and getting into heaven.  Being a follower of Christ is about proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and recognizing that by his life, death and resurrection, we can have a restored relationship with our Creator.  And as a result of this new life, there are things that should flow from us so that we may be light to a world surrounded by darkness.
Last week, we looked at the story of the Good Samaritan and saw that one essential of the Christian faith is the need to help others.  The lawyer who is talking with Jesus in the passage correctly understands the need to love God and neighbor, but what he doesn’t understand is that our neighbor is not just those who we like, those who are deserving of our help, and those who are just like us.  
According to what Jesus says, our neighbor is anybody who is in need.  If we start to differentiate between those who are deserving of our help and those who are not, then we are missing the point of the parable.  We need to stop focusing on the false fences that we have built and starting looking at everyone we come across as our neighbor.
This week we move into a second essential.  Our passage comes right after the parable of the Good Samaritan.  There is some kind of flow between these two passages.  There is a connection between the two that provides us with an important contrast in the Christian faith.  In fact, if we aren’t careful, we are going to think that these two contradict each other instead of work together in harmony.  While the passage is very short, the message is one that we can’t miss.  
It’s a very simple story.  Jesus is traveling and stops at a village to see Mary and Martha.  Now Luke doesn’t tell us this, but Mary and Martha are the sisters of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.  They live in the village of Bethany, which is a couple miles outside of Jerusalem.  Martha welcomes Jesus into the house and then sets off taking care of things around the house.  It likely that the disciples were going to come back and they were all going to have supper together, watch the game on TV, play a little Yahtzee.  You know, just a relaxing evening at home.
Martha is worried because her house isn’t all that presentable, and now she has to make dinner for this party.  So she is rushing around trying to vacuum, do the dishes and prepare supper.  Mary, meanwhile, is just sitting listening to Jesus.  Surely, she’s picking up her feet when Martha comes around with the vacuum cleaner, but other than that, she’s just sitting around, doing nothing to help get the house ready.  And Martha is not happy about her lack of help.
So, Martha does what any mature adult would do.  She tells on Mary.  She goes up to Jesus and says, “Don’t you care that I’m doing all the work around here?  Tell Mary to get up and help me with this.”  So, Jesus looks at Mary and tells her to stop loafing and get to work.  Wait a minute, no, that’s not what happened.  Jesus tells Martha to calm down, and maybe take a little lesson from Mary.  You see, what’s going on here is that Martha is so concerned with the doing that she’s neglecting the being.  What we see in this passage is the need to prioritize and to balance the being and the doing in our Christian faith.
That may sound contradictory coming on the heels of a story all about, you guessed it, doing because the Good Samaritan is about doing good for those in need who are all around us.  At the end of the story, Jesus even says, “Go and do likewise.”  Aren’t we supposed to assume, then, that our faith is about doing things for others?  No, we shouldn’t assume that because in order for our faith to be more holistic, we can’t be so caught up in the doing that we forget to just be in the presence of Christ.
Luke tells us that Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching.  This would be a very odd, counter-cultural thing for Mary to be doing.  Essentially, she has taken the posture of a disciple in this story, a role traditionally reserved for men.  It would have been unheard of for a rabbi to have a female disciple, but that is exactly what Mary is in this passage.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ goes against our cultural norms.  When I think about some of the values that are taught by our society, I can’t help but think that individualism is highly regarded.  We like to say that we are able to do things on our own.  We are proud of our accomplishments.  We celebrate the individual.  
I remember a few years back when the Pistons and the Spurs were playing in the NBA Finals, people complained because both teams were really all about team play.  Tim Duncan was probably the biggest star in that series, but he is a very unassuming star, especially in a league where we have a one hour special centered around where one guy is going to play next season.  People said that the series between the Pistons and the Spurs was boring; that there was no interest in these two teams precisely because there were no flashy stars on the court.  This is the type of society that we live in.  This is not the type of society that values discipleship.
Discipleship is about being a part of something far greater than ourselves.  Discipleship is about laying aside our wants and preferences.  Discipleship is about submission to another.  We are called to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We become disciples by learning from Jesus through the reading of the Word, through time in prayer, through fellowship with other believers.  There’s no MVD award – Most Valuable Disciple – because we are all on equal ground at the foot of the cross.
For Mary to take the position of a disciple was a huge deal in the culture of the time.  For us to take the position of a disciple is also a huge step.  When we submit ourselves to following Christ, we begin to realize that it is no longer about us.  We do not fall into the trap of individualism in our lives.  We begin to focus on others.  We see things differently in this life because we aren’t looking through the same lens as the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Martha was, to use Luke’s words, “distracted by many tasks,” playing up the traditional female role.  Martha was playing into what society said she should be doing at the time.  People were coming over.  She had to get the house ready and prepare to entertain them.  And she was missing out on what was really important.  Look again at what Luke says here.  Martha was “distracted.”  What is a distraction, but something that prevents us from doing what we should be doing in the first place?  A distraction is a diversion of one’s attention.
Do you ever feel distracted?  Do you ever feel like you can’t focus on one particular thing at a time?  Are there always 43 things running through your mind, and you can’t even just sit down and take a breather?  In our society, that’s called, “being productive” or “multitasking.”  I’m not saying that people can’t do a couple of things at the same time, and do them well.  But when we are multitasking, are we really giving anything our full attention, or are we going through life distracted and making excuses for it?
I think we are all distracted from time to time.  Our distractions come both from within and from without.  We have things going through our minds that distract us, and we have things going on around us that distract us.  In the end, it all comes down to priorities.  What are the things that have priority in your life?  Because those are the things that ultimately need your undivided attention.
If we were to sit down right now and talk about all the different things going on in your life, could I see what your priorities were in life, and could you articulate what they are?  If you say that one of your priorities in life is family, but you work 80 hours every week and ignore the kids when they are around, is your family really a priority?  If you say that one of your priorities is your faith, but you never spend time in the Word of God and you rarely come to worship, is your faith really a priority?  Or are you just distracted?  Are you making excuses, or are you making priorities?
When Jesus comes into the house, we automatically see the tension between being and doing.  Martha starts running all over the place.  Mary sits at the feet of Jesus.  Martha busies herself with all sorts of work.  Mary listens to Jesus’ teaching.  Martha gets upset with Mary, but Mary is doing the right thing, according to Jesus.  Does this mean that the work didn’t need to be done?  Not necessarily.  It means that sometimes there is something more important than work that needs to be done.
When we set our priorities, we know when we need to do and when we need to be.  Martha is working like crazy, trying to get everything done.  And there’s nothing wrong with the work that Martha is doing.  It was a matter of hospitality.  She was playing the host and she was doing her responsibilities well.  But at that time, the priority should have been to stop and listen to Jesus, which is exactly what Mary was doing.  
And here’s the kicker in all of this.  Did you notice what Martha said and who she said it to?  She says to Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister is making me do all the work?  Tell her to help me.”  That’s kind of demanding isn’t it?  Kind of presumptuous?  Martha assumes that Jesus would be on her side, and then takes the next step and tells Jesus what to do!  Now, before we get all in a dither about what Martha did, let’s stop to examine our own lives for a second.
Don’t we tell God how we think things should be going sometimes?  Don’t we presume that God is on our side and that He will do whatever we ask?  Those who attended the Bible study last fall may remember this, but too often our prayer life boils down to “Give me, give me, give me, bless me, bless me, bless me.  If you do this, I promise I won’t do that anymore.  Amen.”  That’s no different than what Martha is doing here.  We presume that God is around to do our bidding.  That is a totally pagan approach to our relationship with God.
The pagans believed that there were specific gods for every aspect of life, and that if you did things a certain way and prayed a certain way, then they were bound to do whatever it was that you asked them to do.  Some would call on as many gods as possible just hoping that they’d get the right one to do their bidding.  We would acknowledge that as a ridiculous approach to faith, and yet, we are guilty of it more often than we would like to admit.  We share a lot in common with Martha in this passage, when we should look a lot like Mary instead.
And now the question that y’all have been dreading all morning: Where do you find yourself?  On your normal, average, run of the mill day, are you more like Martha, or are you more like Mary?  Do you make sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his teaching a priority, or do you busy yourself with work that, legitimately, needs to be done, but at the expense of your time with God?
You may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s easy for you to say.  It’s your job.”  Let me tell you, it’s not my job.  My job is to lead this congregation, share the word of God, and perform the duties of a pastor within this community.  My job is not to cultivate my personal spiritual life; that’s something else entirely.  Of course, the ironic thing is, if I don’t cultivate my spiritual life, I will not only fail in my relationship with God, I will fail in my job.  But the same is true for you.  If you don’t cultivate your spiritual life, if you don’t make it a priority, and nobody else can do it for you, you will fail at your relationship with God.  And in light of that failure, any other success in your life is for worthless.
When we look at the story of Mary and Martha, we are looking at a story that helps us shape our priorities.  Yes, there are things that need to be done in this life, but to do them at the expense of listening to Jesus is detrimental to our spiritual health.  If we don’t prioritize Jesus over everything else, then we are setting ourselves up for failure.