Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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 away from her.”
~ Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
In our scripture reading today, we heard about two sisters, Mary and Martha. I didn’t have a sister growing up, but I have watched my two daughters grow over the years and even though they were raised in the same house by the same parents, they are two very different people, and they each have different gifts and challenges that make them who they are. Looking at Mary and Martha, we find that their personality traits are very different too. While Martha is a “do-er” and a server, Mary is more of a “be-er” and a listener. Martha is the one that is running around making sure that everything is in order, while her sister Mary is the one simply sitting at the feet of Jesus.
The tough part about today’s scripture reading is that we think it calls us to choose a side. Are you are” Mary” or a “Martha?” Several books have been written about this struggle: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Mary, Martha & Me: Seeking the One Thing That is Needful, and Having a Mary Home in a Martha Way to name a few. But I have to say that I have learned over the years that we all have a little Mary and a little Martha in each of us, and that’s okay.
Today we are remembering and honoring the one-year anniversary of Betty Grant’s passing. For those of you that were not blessed to know Betty, she was an amazing lady! Here in Oldtown, she sang in our choir and served as a deacon. She taught Sunday School and CCD for many years. She worked on church suppers and fairs and yard sales. Let’s just say she was a “church lady” extraordinaire! She was totally devoted to our church family, and Betty proudly claimed the “Martha” title. She would actually write letters to me all the time that started, “Dear Mary,” and were signed, “Martha.” Betty was a detail-oriented person. She took care of everything that needed taking care of, and she always wanted to make sure that things ran smoothly.
Actually, this past year, there were many times that we thought about Betty, often when we forgot the things that she always took care of! And many times, we heard her advice in the backs of our minds. Betty always made sure that there was communion bread and juice for communion Sundays. She organized the waitstaff and reserved tables at our suppers. She made sure that people listed the ingredients on items made for our bake table, in case of allergies. She made sure that there was enough creamer for our coffee hour each week. She always ordered the palms for Palm Sunday and made sure that the candles were ready for our Christmas Eve service. She was always visiting people in the hospital, writing notes and calling to check up on people. And though I didn’t realize it until after she was gone, she checked in on me almost every day just to see how I was doing and if I need anything. Betty was the face of hospitality here in Oldtown and also at Dyer-Lake Funeral Home. She was always the first person to greet a visitor, and she had a special way about her that helped people feel welcomed. It was just her nature to be friendly and caring.
If we are remembering and honoring Betty today and we’re talking about the Mary and Martha story, you might be wondering why it says “Godspeed” on the cover of the bulletin this morning. You may have noticed several other mistakes in the bulletin, especially in the Oldtown Message, and you may be wondering if I had the wrong cover on the wrong week, but let me assure you I do not. “Godspeed,” as defined in the dictionary, means “blessing” or “wishing someone well on a journey.” And I guess we could be wishing Betty, “Godspeed,” but I actually want to take a few minutes to look at the word “Godspeed” a little bit differently this morning.
When I was out in Grand Rapids in January, I attended a workshop titled “Godspeed.” It was about a young new minister who was called to serve a parish in a little village in Scotland. The minister was from the United States. He was a husband and father of three young kids and he was used to having a very busy schedule. Though he believed that he was being sent to Scotland to serve the people and to open their hearts and minds to the Gospel, he quickly learned that he was the one being served and taught. Over time, he learned to live life at God’s Speed. The villagers taught him to slow down and to truly listen to the people
around him. They taught him the importance of being present to each moment, and how to minister to others while also allowing them to minister to you. He quickly learned that, by running through life to get to get to the next thing, we miss life altogether. The more time he spent in that little village in Scotland, the more he learned to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and the sacred in the simple, just like we discussed last week.
When I heard the “Godspeed” story, I couldn’t help but think of Betty. She was always present to everyone, and she had an amazing ability to listen. Sure, she always had a list of to-dos, but she would put that list down in a second to listen to someone who needed to talk.
Friends, if we think about Jesus for just a minute, Jesus’ ministry all happened within a small area. He shared stories as he walked along the road, going from place to place. He shared meals in people’s homes, like in today’s story of Mary and Martha. Jesus wasn’t in a hurry to get places. Obviously, he didn’t drive a car; he walked. He took his time, and he taught by his own example, spending time and making relationships with the people around him.
So friends, if we want to move at God’s speed, we need to walk like Jesus. We need to spend time with others like Jesus did. And it’s not only the time we spend with others; it’s also the time we spend with God. If we walk with God and listen for God’s still speaking voice, we get to know God and God gets to know us.
Speaking of time, though Betty was always busy, it didn’t shorten her phone messages any. As many of you know, she would be cut off time after time on voicemails, but she would never get upset. She just called back time after time and started talking with the same breath on which she had been cut off the message before, just like her letters. There were no “quick notes” for Betty. If she wrote you a letter, it averaged four pages!
Friends, though Betty always claimed the “Martha” in her, she was also definitely a “Mary.” Betty knew what it was like to live Godspeed. She took time in prayer every day, and it wasn’t just a quick, “Help me Jesus!” prayer. No, she prayed not only for her family and for those on our prayer list, but also for the people of our church. She had long lists of the people that she would pray for, and she took her prayer time very seriously. She was always looking for the movement of the Holy Spirit in her life and every week, she would also ask what the scripture was for the next Sunday so that she could read and reflect on it during the week as she got ready for worship. Betty’s favorite stories were the story of Mary and Martha that we heard today, and the story of Jesus resting in the back of the boat during the storm, which coincidentally we will be hearing next week.
Having worked at the funeral home for so long, and having been a woman who knew what she wanted, Betty prearranged everything for her funeral, including the hymns and the scripture for her service (which was an absolute gift to her family, and to her pastor!). As you may remember from last year, I was surprised by the scripture she had chosen. It’s wasn’t about Mary and Martha, or about Jesus resting in the back of the boat, but rather it was a reading from the book of Matthew that talks about “not worrying about your life. What you’ll eat or what you’ll drink or about your body and what you’ll wear.” And the choice of scripture didn’t come from Betty’s “Martha” side that worried about getting things done. It came from her “Mary” side that wanted to assure all of us that all we need to do is slow down and believe in God, trusting that everything is going to be okay.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, take a deep breath and slow down! Believe in God, trusting that everything is going to be okay. Try moving at God’s speed. Pay attention to the people and places around you. Be a good listener, and don’t worry about your life. Know that things might not always go as you plan them, but that through it all, you’re never alone.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!