The 9th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 11C (7/21/2013)

Lessons:Genesis 18:1-10a Psalm 15 (1) Colossians 1:15-28 St. Luke 10:38-42

Semicontinuous Series: Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 52 (8) Colossians 1:15-28 St. Luke 10:38-42

Prayer of the Day: Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

38 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. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

St. Luke 10:38-42. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Worried and Distracted by Many Things

This morning, 14 of us from Saint Peter spent a few hours at the Foodbank of the Rockies; a local hunger organization that provides food for more than 350,000 people annually. That’s 88,000 meals each day, distributed through over 1,000 hunger relief partner agencies. It was an extraordinary experience. This organization is focused, effective, well organized, and truly making a difference in the lives of Coloradans who struggle to put a healthy meal on the table. They invite volunteers to join them in this work each day, and we were grateful to work with them for the morning.

And we worked hard! Along with a group of Methodists from Evergreen, we were assigned to the assembly line. We put together empty boxes, placed them on a conveyer belt, filled them with a few days worth of food, recycled the original cases, and loaded the completed boxes onto pallets. By the time lunch rolled around our team was tired and ready for a break.

It felt good to work hard, especially since we were convinced that our efforts would make a difference for hungry families. Hard work has played a large role in the development of our country over the years — and in the development of our faith tradition. The “Protestant Work Ethic” is the notion (first identified as such by Max Weber in 1905) that one sign of a person’s Christian faith is their determination to work hard at what God has called them to do.

Yet in this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus commends Mary, whose docile presence at his feet is in stark contrast to her hardworking sister, Martha, who is slaving away in the kitchen. When Martha complains, Jesus notes that she is “worried and distracted by many things” — and he declares that what Mary is gaining by sitting at his feet and listening “will not be taken away from her.”

Some have reflected on this story and concluded that, as Ecclesiastes would have it, there is a time to work and a time to sit and listen, and Martha is confused about what time it is. In reality, it is not Martha’s hard work that Jesus criticizes, or her timing. It is the fact that her hard work is causing her to be worried and distracted. She has lost sight of why she is working hard. She can only see that there is much to do, and her sister Mary is not doing it: a grateful heart, replaced by envy and anxiety.

Hard work — even filling boxes with food, and compactors with recyclable materials — can be a deeply faithful experience. What makes it rich, though, is a mindfulness about what we are doing, and who has called us to this doing. Mary sits attentively at the feet of Jesus, experiencing the presence of something powerfully sacred. Martha serves Jesus in her own way, yet is so distracted by her many tasks that she loses sight of why her hard work is a sacred endeavor.

There is much that needs to be done by God’s people today. We are surrounded by people who are hungry and thirsty, strangers who are in need of welcome, neighbors who lack for clothing, prisoners who live in isolation… Knowing this, Jesus calls us to the hard work of caring for our brothers and sisters in this human family. And he teaches us that the character of our caring is as important as the fact that we do it. We dare not be so focused on the task at hand that we become distracted and anxious, and unable to see the presence of Christ in the ones we serve, and the sacred opportunities that come our way.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Jesus describe Martha as worried and distracted?
  2. What might he prefer she be focusing her efforts on, instead?
  3. How is Mary an example of what Jesus would prefer Martha be doing?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What work has God called me to do?
  2. How might my focused efforts be a sign of the faith that calls me to this work?
  3. What do I need to do, so that I don’t lose sight of why I am engaged in this work?