Martha or Mary?

While he was Dean of Duke Divinity School, L. Gregory Jones and his eleven-year-old son “were driving home from soccer practice. [He] was talking with his son...about his team and the drills they had done that evening. [The Dean] did not anticipate the turn [their] conversation was about to take.

“‘What does Divinity School do anyway?’ [the son] asked....

“[Jones] told [his son] that a Divinity school is a place where people go to learn how to become ministers. [He] mentioned the name of some ministers [his son] knew, then added ‘They came to divinity school so that they could study the Bible, learn how to preach and lead worship, and develop the skills necessary to be ministers of a congregation.’

“‘Oh, ’he replied. [The Dean] thought this had settled the matter. But then [his son] spoke again. ‘Dad,’ he asked, ‘Don’t you think a divinity school ought to spend more time learning about God?’”[1]

That story has the same message as this morning’s gospel lesson.[2] Like Martha and Dean Jones, we sometimes become so focused on serving God and doing God’s business that God seems distant. Jesus praised Martha’s sister Mary for doing the one thing that was needful: learning about God.

This morning’s epistle lesson expands on that message, teaching us about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.[3] First, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. We repeat that claim every time we say the Nicene Creed: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.” The image of God in Jesus is spiritual, an image of light and of love.

“A mountain guide, Michael Zanger, once told of leading some men up Mount Shasta. One man was having great difficulty breathing. His face coloring was unusual. Frequent stops for rest did not seem to help. As they continued to climb, his breathing was punctuated by coughing and spitting froth mixed with blood. To make matters worse, a sudden snowstorm confined them to hastily erected tents. Michael thought the man might die of heart failure.

As he lay there, Michael revealed that they could call for rescuers because he had a cell phone. The man showed interest. “‘Would you make a personal call for me?’ the man asked.

“Michael thought to himself, ‘This man thinks he’s critical, and he wants to speak to his loved ones one last time,’ so he said, ‘Yes.’

“‘Well,’ said the man, ‘Would you call my broker in San Francisco and ask what the value of my stock is today?’”[4]

To see God, make spending time with Jesus a daily priority.

Second, remember that church in all of its programs, events and relationships should be about Jesus. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, once summarized the history of the Church this way:

In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship to the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Later it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. Finally, it moved to the United States, where it became an enterprise. We’ve got far too many churches and so few fellowships.[5]

Too often, small congregations are either tight-knit, closed groups bound together by love but unable to welcome new people or simply a group of persons who gather on Sundays with no real ties. The challenge is to be family, a loving family who welcomes and invites newcomers to belong. Our love for one another and for others embodies Christ and reveals God to us.

Third, Jesus reveals God to us by reconciling us to God and to one another, filling us with peace. Two weeks ago, I briefly attended the Thursday evening centering prayer group that meets in Monteiro Chapel. Then, I stepped out into the courtyard to attend an event organized by our School’s Development office. Alumni, parents, children and faculty were celebrating the best of Holy Nativity School. Among those attending were individuals supporting and opposed to recent changes in the School’s administration. People experienced reconciliation and found peace in their love for one another.

Together, our centering prayer group and School represent Martha and Mary. We do not have to choose between them. Life has seasons. In one season, you may be like Martha, seeing Jesus by actively serving and loving. In another season you may be like Mary, looking at Jesus to delve deeper into the mystery of God. And in some seasons, you may be part-Martha and part-Mary. But always, seek reconciliation with God and your neighbor that you may savor the peace that is beyond all understanding. AMEN.

Sermon preached at the Church of the Holy Nativity, Honolulu, HI

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2019

[1] L. Gregory Jones, “One that matters,” The Christian Century, 20-27 May 1998, p.544. Changed from first person to third person.
[2] Luke 10:38-42
[3] Colossians 1:15-28
[4] Gary Anderson in Eileen h. Wilmoth, 365 Devotions (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1993).
[5] Quoted by Harry N. Wendt, Address to the Chicago Synod Assembly, ELCA, 14 June 1997.


Brad said…
Appreciate your words. I happened to listen to a podcast just this morning on Mary & Martha that I really enjoyed. It's over at - I see that the particular episode is not posted here yet, but it was in my podcast feed. It is titled "It doesn't mean what you think it means".

Popular posts from this blog

Post-election blues

Why won't Trump release his tax returns?

Mass murder in Orlando