Sermon on Luke 10:38-42
August 21, 2005
Also preached at Shiloh Lutheran Church, Bethlehem, NC (July 18, 2004)
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Where do you work? What do you do for a living? How many times have we been asked that question? The things we do to make money so that we can survive and have a roof over our heads, a car to drive and gas to make it run, food on our table—we are many times judged according to what our job is. My job is not that different from everyone else’s in many ways. And I am always and will always be characterized by what it is I do, probably more than anybody else because I am “The Preacher.” But, I do many other things besides preach, although preaching is the one thing that gets noticed the most.
I truly love my job. I don’t see it as a job at all, but as a calling or a lifestyle. I never get to clock out. I never get to take a vacation from my work. My work is my life. I was lucky enough in my work to spend some time with the youth in our church going to Carowinds several days ago. I know, you must be thinking, “Poor Preacher…he has to ride roller coasters and eat funnel cakes for his job.”
We met up with a youth group from a Methodist church in Virginia where a colleague of mine at Duke named Nicole is serving. It is a large church with a number of full-time staff and she serves as their associate pastor which carries with it the oversight of the youth group. As we were standing in line for an eternity for one of those new super fast turn-and-flip-and-twist-and-make-your-stomach-do-the-same rides, we got in a conversation with the youth about their future plans and what they wanted to do for jobs when they were older. One boy said that he was going to be a dentist, another said he wanted to be a marine biologist, and one girl said that she wanted to be a veterinarian. One kid asked Nicole, “What do you do for a job?” She said, “I am your minister.” He said, “No, what do you do for your real job?”
We are a culture that believes work is something that fits neatly into a box that includes a time clock, a boss, co-workers, and an office. We like to clearly distinguish work from play, and manual labor from reading or study. We are not alone in our understanding of work as such. Two sisters were hosting Jesus at their home one day. Imagine it, the Son of God was over at their house that day. If Jesus was coming to your house, I imagine you would have it spotless. You would want to make sure every last detail was just right. I am sure you would spare no expense with the meal in terms of time and money. What a huge undertaking that would be to have Jesus as your houseguest.
Well, as Luke tells us in our gospel lesson, Jesus finally shows up to Mary and Martha’s house. They have been working so hard and making sure everything is just perfect. Martha is dashing around the house working the hardest she has ever worked to make sure Jesus’ time in their home was perfect. And, as she moves from place to place and chore to chore, she notices that her sister who is supposed to be helping her is sitting on her lazy butt and probably even insulting Jesus by sitting at his feet and listening to his teachings just like the men. Martha is furious with her lazy sister who has left her with all the work while completely ignoring important proper manners for ladies in their culture.
Martha finally can take no more, and she begs Jesus to say something to her to make Mary help her with the service. And what does Jesus say? He says that he will do no such thing and that Mary has chosen a task just as important as Martha’s, if not more.
Somebody needs to clue Jesus in on some things here. Jesus is telling Martha that her sister’s sitting at Jesus’ feet, the ancient Israelite equivalent of sitting up straight in your desk, is just as important as the many tasks she is trying to juggle. In other words, study is just as important as physical service? Can this be correct? Jesus tells Martha that she is distracted by many tasks. I think that is a bad translation. The Greek word here is diakonos, the same word we get “deacon” from which literally means “service.” Martha is distracted by much service. What Martha is doing is not wrong or inferior to Mary’s sitting at the feet of Jesus. But I think this story does serve as a call to us all to remind us of the importance of being students of Christ.
I think this story is so important for us to hear this last Sunday before school starts back up and only two weeks away from when we begin our church’s new Bible Study. As any college student or former college student will tell you, learning is hard work. Sometimes the things we learn when we look at them with fresh eyes are disturbing. Sometimes the knowledge and insight we gain from study is not something we want to hear, much less something we want to embody.
But I think it is important to keep in mind that sitting at the feet of Jesus is not just hearing his teachings. The same Hebrew word that is translated as work also means worship. Work and worship are indistinguishable in the Hebrew mind and language. If only we could see our whole lives as worship. If everything we did was done with the purpose of showing Christ to others, there might be more people sitting at the feet of Jesus and fewer people shooting one another. The study of God’s word and our actions in the world as followers of Christ should not be mistaken as laziness. There is no harder thing you can do than struggle with God’s word for you.
I hope our students who are getting ready to go back to school remember the example of Mary as they go about their tasks each day. I hope the older students in college remember the importance of sitting at Jesus’ feet like Mary and listening and studying. In that sense, I hope we all see ourselves as lifelong students, even if we no longer attend a school. I was a student for 21 of my 27 years, but the last year I have spent out of school was just as educational as having been in school. When Jesus is your teacher, the whole world is your school; and when you are Christ’s student, the whole world should be able to learn from you. In that context, work becomes so much more than what we do Monday-Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Jesus reminds us that sitting at his feet and studying his teachings is some of the hardest work we can ever do.
I really value the time I spent in line at the roller coaster that day with those young students of Christ. Some of them in that line had no clue about the directions that ride would take them. I am not sure they knew that this ride went backwards and upside down some of the time and twisted you around all the time. I just wish somebody could have warned Mary that when she sat at the feet of Jesus that she was really in line for the craziest roller coaster ever. Sitting at the feet of Jesus puts you in a line for a ride that will turn your whole world upside down. Amen.