“This is God’s house.”
When I was younger my mom would tell me that when I was messing around during church.
My Sunday School teacher said it when my friends and I were sliding our church shoes on the carpet so we could shock each other.
The deacons talked about the church being God’s house while they were standing out in the parking lot smoking cigarettes during Sunday School.
The message was clear. This is no ordinary building. God lives here. So take your hat off and quit running in hall.
In Luke 10:38-42, things are switched around a little bit. Instead of people going to God’s house, God comes to theirs.
Mary and Martha were two sisters that spent a lot of time with Jesus. Luke used them to emphasize the counter-cultural aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In a culture where women were largely rejected, Jesus moves towards them. He comes to their house.
When Jesus comes in, he apparently begins teaching. Mary was all ears. The Bible says that she sat down in front of Jesus and listened to what he had to say.
While Mary sat and listened, her sister Martha was doing anything but that. The Bible says that she was distracted or drawn away. Martha was not in a building that some people refer to as God’s house. She was at home and God was in her house. But she was too busy to notice.
I can relate. When I have a message on my phone a little light in the upper right hand corner blinks. By the time this blinking reaches my eyes and then my brain, it is saying to me, “Answer me. This is very important. I’m probably going to change your life forever. Do it now. Now!”
So I listen to my phone and see what all the blinking is for. What is it that can’t wait? How will my life change? I must find out. This is going to be great!
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Suckered again. And again.
There’s a lot that can be said for our technological advances but one thing is certain. We are probably the most distracted people who have ever lived. Some of us can’t even watch a movie without checking Facebook updates. We are so distracted that we have distractions to pull us away from our distractions.
Martha was not drawn away from Jesus because of her smart phone. But what was it? It must have been something bad. Was she manufacturing and selling some first century version of methamphetamine for the kids in the neighborhood? Maybe she was conspiring with Judas on the best way to sell Jesus out.
The Bible says that she was distracted with “much serving.” This woman was serving Jesus, not in a spiritual sense but in the most literal sense possible. Again, this was God in her house. Can we really blame her? Who wouldn’t put forth a little extra effort in entertaining such a guest? Well, apparently Mary.
Martha was furious. I probably would be too. You know that feeling you get when you’re working hard and the people that are supposed to be working hard with you are instead playing solitaire or Minesweeper. It makes you mad. It makes you self-righteous.
I guess their parents just didn’t raise them to have a good work ethic like me.
It’s hard to find good workers like me these days.
Martha was no different.
“Um, excuse me Jesus, could you please say something to Mary? I’m doing all of this work and she’s just sitting there. I’m beginning to wonder if you even care about all of the things that I’m doing. You know this is for you, right?”
Jesus’ response is shocking.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (41-42).
For all of her work in serving Jesus, Martha was missing Jesus.
Sure, we can miss him because we can’t put our phone down or because we have 12 fantasy sports leagues. But we can also miss him in the same way that Martha did. We can miss him because we’re busy doing good, honest work that we have managed to convince ourselves is “the Lord’s work.”
I’ve been in plenty of meetings that were allegedly in “God’s house” and meant to address “God’s business” that were really nothing more than Seinfeld meetings. Seinfeld was a show about nothing. A Seinfeld meeting is a meeting about nothing.
The remedy certainly isn’t to pursue a life of laziness or to bail out on any type of commitment to the church. Instead, Christians have to remember that the things they do, no matter how noble those things are, are not an end in themselves. This is what Martha forgot. She acted as though the act of service was her main objective and it left her flustered, self-righteous and anxious.
Mary was different. She remembered that every act of worship and service and listening begins and ends with Jesus. We may call it worship or service but if it takes us away from the one we are supposed to be worshiping or serving, we’re missing the point. When I love serving Jesus more than I actually love Jesus, I have forgotten the one thing that is necessary, the good portion that cannot be taken away.
The call of Christ is not a casting call for the best and busiest performers. Instead, it is a call to sit at his feet and listen. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen so that we then can really be about the business of serving him.