Ordinary Heroes: Mary & Martha

November 20, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

View, print or save PDF: sermon-11-20-16-ordinaryheroes-maryandmartha

(Ordinary Heroes Sermon Series)

“Ordinary Heroes: Mary and Martha”

November 20, 2016

Rev. Melanie Homan

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”


The Preschool here at the church has traditions around big events. Every election day, the kids have their own election and they vote to decide which type of pizza is the best kind of pizza.  Here’s what happened this year:   (show video)

And then the next day they all celebrated by eating the winning pizza. If only our election process resulted in a pizza party!!!  But the results and consequences are far more reaching than that.  If you weren’t here last Sunday, you can find both audio and pdf versions of my sermon on the church website.  I also put print copies out in the commons.  Last week I contemplated a faith response to the election, and would encourage you to read or listen to it.

We will have plenty of opportunities moving forward to consider how our faith informs our actions and public life. But for today, I needed a break, a moment to pause and to breathe.  So I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to just be a preschooler.  They’ve actually started doing that in some places – adults can now pay to go to “preschool” in New York City – where they have story time, nap time, and craft time.  I get why it exists!

This past week, the preschoolers had a visit from Farmer Nelson, who brought in “Tom the turkey” to show all of the kids. They also crammed into the Fireside room to watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving cartoon.  Have any of you seen it?  While it seems like everyone has seen the Charlie Brown Christmas, and many people have seen “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” at Halloween, The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was new to me.  I didn’t know about it until I came here, and discovered the preschool tradition that revolves around this show.

Charlie Brown and his sister Sally are planning to go to their grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, “when Charlie Brown gets a phone call from Peppermint Patty, who invites herself over to Charlie Brown’s house for the holiday dinner.” Patty then invites Marcie and Franklin over as well, and Charlie Brown has no idea what to do because the only thing he knows how to make is ‘cold cereal and maybe toast’.

His friend Linus tells him not to worry – “he should just plan for two dinners – one for Patty and her friends, and the second one at his grandmother’s home.” Snoopy and Woodstock set up a ping pong table and chairs in the backyard, and they set the ‘table’.  They all work together and when the guests arrive, they head to the backyard for their feast.  “Each place setting includes an ice cream sundae.  Snoopy serves up the food, throwing the plates to each guest Frisbee-style.  Each person gets two slices of buttered toast, and a handful each of pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans.”

And then Charlie Brown’s guests get mad. This is no “meal”!  They embarrass and shame Charlie Brown, and he leaves dejected.  The kids finally begin to realize what they’ve done, and they apologize to Charlie Brown for inviting themselves over and criticizing his meal.  In the end, everything is okay, because Charlie’s grandma invites them all to her house, and they know that they are all going to get the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie, that they’ve expected.  In the end, everything is okay.

At the preschool, after the kids finished watching the cartoon, they all made their way to the Reception room, where parents and teachers were ready to serve them a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving feast. The smell of buttered toast wafted throughout the whole building and you know – it doesn’t smell as good a roast turkey, but it does smell really good.  They ate their feast of buttered toast, pretzels, popcorn, and jelly beans.

I was thinking about the Charlie Brown feast, the preschool feast, and all of the Thanksgiving feasting that are about to happen this coming week. And then I was thinking about Mary and Martha and Jesus and these four verses of scripture.  I always feel bad for Martha when I read this passage, because she is just trying to do the right thing.  Hospitality.  For a traveling culture, it’s one of the most important things that you offered people.  And Martha is just trying to do what is expected.  Provide a warm, hospitable space for travellers, welcome them into your home, feed them, provide them a place to rest.  And there’s Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him and not helping at all.

On more than one occasion, I’ve said to Brennon, “God is still speaking today. God is still doing miracles today.  For how else can you explain the miraculous way that all that food for the Thanksgiving feast ends up in our fridge?  And how it gets cooked and on the table, just when you’re starting to feel hungry from all the effort that goes into watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade with the kids.  All that cheering that goes into watching football – it tires a person out and makes them hungry.  It’s a miracle, the way all your favorite food arrives on the table.  It’s a miracle, same as the miracles of Christmas, that presents just sort of show up under the tree, and appetizers and wine are set out for snacking.  It’s a miracle, the way birthday parties happen and people show up and play games and eat cake.  God is at work among us!!!”

Yes! God is at work among us!  But so is Martha.  Martha is at work, along with all of the people who work behind the scenes to make our treasured family moments happen.  Martha’s work is important.  And so is ours.

In our Hebrew scriptures, we learn how important it is for Abraham to welcome strangers into his home. When he does, it turns out to be angels that he is welcoming, and because of his hospitality to them, he reaps blessing after blessing after blessing. But come on. What did Abraham do to provide the hospitality?  Not much.  He provided the welcome.  But Sarah and their servants were the ones who made it happen.  Hospitality doesn’t happen without help.

Hospitality doesn’t happen without help. And Martha knows that all too well.  Jesus did not travel alone.  He travelled with the disciples “and many others”.  So when Jesus shows up at Mary and Martha’s house, they aren’t offering hospitality to one person, they’re offering it to everyone who was with Jesus, too.  And Martha is breaking her back trying to provide them the welcome they deserve, a welcome that honors God.  And Mary is no help.  That Mary.  And then Jesus has the nerve to say that Mary did the “better thing” by sitting and listening and learning from him.  If I was Martha, my blood would have been boiling.  I would have been mad.  Maybe filled with resentment.

Here’s what we know from scripture:

  1. God values hospitality and welcoming the stranger into our midst. It’s reinforced from the time of Abraham on.
  2. The work of hospitality doesn’t happen on its own. It requires people and hard work.
  3. The parable that Jesus tells right before this interaction with Mary and Martha – is the story of the Good Samaritan. The whole point of that parable is the importance of action. Of doing the hard work of caring for others. That loving God means loving others. Actions are an important part of faith.
  4. It’s immediately followed with this passage where Mary is not acting. She is sitting. Listening. Learning.

Here’s what I take from that.

  1. Doing is important. Listening is important. We don’t get to pick. We need to find a way for there to be space for both in our lives.
  2. As important as the “doing” work of faith and hospitality is, if it puts us in a place of resentment or exhaustion, it is no longer helpful. It needs to be balanced with the work of listening. Of resting and pausing. Of creating space for the still, small voice of God to be heard in our lives. We need that. We need to create space in our lives for listening to God, to Jesus, so that when we are rested and ready, we can offer that hospitality from a place of joy instead of burden.

You could say I’m just projecting this onto Jesus, but I can’t help but feel that Jesus would say to Martha, “If throwing together the turkey, the sweet potatoes, the corn bread, the homemade pies – if that is causing you resentment and exhaustion and anger instead of joy and love – then it would be better to sit at my feet, rest awhile, listen to my words of peace, and serve buttered toast, pretzels, popcorn, and jelly beans instead.” Jelly beans can be a source of hospitality as much as cranberries.  Take care of yourself while you try to take care of others.  That’s the order.  Care for yourself so you can care for others by making space for God.

Remember that, as you gather this week with family and friends. And if you are lucky enough to be one of the people watching the parade and the football instead of mashing the potatoes, remember that you are being served.  That you are being given the gift of hospitality and it is a holy gift you receive.  Be thankful for it.  Say words of thanks out loud for it.  And if you are the person mashing potatoes – may you do so from a place of love because you’ve found other ways to rest in God first.  And it’s okay if you just can’t do it.  It’s okay to go out for a meal.  Take out and delivery are amazing things.  So are jelly beans and popcorn.  Just thank whoever the workers are, because there is always someone who is making it possible.

Doing and hearing are both important in the life of faith. Mary and Martha – we need both.  And in the coming weeks, months, and years, we are going to need to remember the importance of both – the necessity of grounding ourselves in God, listening for God – as well as action.  Action that cares for the least, the lost, and the left out without bitterness or resentment.

May you find rest in God this week. May you find joy in offering hospitality this week.  And in all things, may you offer thanks and praise to God.