This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this weekend. The Spiritual Gift of the Week is “Service.” The gospel reading is Luke 10:38-42.
There was a church called St. John’s by the Gas Pump. And St. John’s by the Gas Pump made shoofly pies. It was something they did every year. It was a fundraiser, and a great time of fellowship for everyone who came out to bake. But over time, the group of bakers dwindled. Some died, some got tired of it, some moved away. It wasn’t as easy to get new help as it once was. Until one year, when only one woman came out to bake. We’ll call her Martha. Why not.
Martha was frustrated. Shoofly pies were important to her. This was a major part of how she contributed to her church. It meant a lot to her to come out and share this time with her friends and family. It meant a lot to her to train younger women and men in the ancient art of the shoofly. But now she couldn’t do it. She was so frustrated and upset. Nobody supported this ministry anymore. It felt like nobody supported her. She was alone. Things weren’t the way they used to be. And so she went to the pastor.
“Pastor,” she said, “Pastor, don’t you care that everyone has left me to make the pies all by myself? Tell other people to help me!” And the pastor said this to her: “Martha, Martha,” he said. “You are worried and distracted by your pie-making. That’s not what’s really important at church. Why don’t you forget about the pies, and just come to worship, and also my weekly Bible study? That’s what’s really important here, after all.”
Martha was disappointed and hurt. She didn’t really expect that the pastor would help, but she certainly didn’t expect that response. She felt unimportant, like everything she’d worked for was not only gone, but had been worthless all along.
Do you see why I called her Martha? This is more or less what Jesus does to Martha in today’s story! She’s working hard to do what she was supposed to do…providing hospitality for her guest, and then Jesus tells her, “Forget it Martha. Just sit down and listen to me. All this stuff you’ve been focused on? It doesn’t matter. You’ve been wasting your time.”
I can certainly see how Martha could take it that way. But I actually don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying.
After all, this is the same Jesus who made it clear in last Sunday’s story of the Good Samaritan that we are to do things to help one another.
This is the same Jesus who compared the kingdom of God to a woman kneading bread.
The same Jesus who cried out that the Pharisees were neglecting justice and the love of God.
The same Jesus who did good works of healing and teaching, even on the Sabbath day.
I don’t think Jesus was telling Martha, or us, not to do things. I don’t think Jesus was telling Martha, or us, that our daily work is useless or unimportant.
Besides, we don’t need Jesus to tell us that. We tell that to ourselves all the time. Don’t we? Don’t you sometimes think that what you do isn’t important? That nobody notices? That nobody cares? Don’t you sometimes feel like you’re just wasting your time, spinning your wheels? While someone else is doing the important work? While someone else is doing the things that matter? While someone else is making all the decisions?
I wonder if that’s how Martha felt. I wonder if we’re all Martha.
Martha, Martha, you are so worried and distracted by so many things. You are worried and distracted by the voices that tell you that you’re unimportant. The voices that tell you that you don’t make a difference. The voices that tell you that you don’t matter.
Martha, Martha, you are so worried and distracted by the tragedies that surround us. By a world in which black men are killed so easily, and police are killed so easily. By a world that tries to divide itself into those who care about the lives of African Americans, and those who support our law enforcement. A world that tells us you can’t do both. By a world so full of anger and hatred. Where it seems there is no room for people of goodwill. Where there is no room for healthy disagreement. A world in which you could never make a difference.
Martha, Martha, you are so worried and distracted by so many things. There is need of just one thing. Christ. The Christ at whose feet Mary sat, listening. The Christ whom Martha was also serving, just as well, but who forgot that. Sometimes serving Christ means doing the dishes. Sometimes serving Christ means cutting the grass. Sometimes serving Christ means painting, or vacuuming, or photocopying, or unclogging the toilet. That is just as important as playing the organ, just as important as preaching the gospel. That’s why we’re looking at twenty Spiritual Gifts this summer…because I am not the only one here who is called by God. All of us are, called to different things. And what you are called to do, whether it’s Service or something else, is so important.
Remember that. You are called to the things you do, the places you go, the relationships you inhabit. When we are worried and distracted, we forget that. We forget that God has placed us where we are to take care of one another, to build up one another, to serve our neighbor. Martha, Martha, your sister Mary listened to Jesus. You listen to him too! Listen to Jesus telling you that you are God’s child! Listen to Jesus telling you that you are an important part of God’s story! Listen to Jesus telling you that through you God will change the world!
It can take time to really hear that. Take the time you need. Listen to scripture. Listen to the words spoken to you in Holy Communion: this is my body and blood, given for you. Listen to the words spoken in the rite of Healing: in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
And then do the things you have to do. Do the things you’re called to do. Take the kids to soccer practice, because God calls you to raise them well. Take out the trash, because God calls you to provide a home that is safe. Go to your job that may not feel like a calling, because God may be calling you to be a sign to your co-workers that they are loved. Read the news that is so terrible, because God may be calling you to be a sign of hope for black people, whose lives do matter. God may be calling you to be a sign of hope for police officers, whose lives do matter. God may be calling you to be a sign that there is hope for our nation. That there is always hope, because God is here. God is here. God is here. And one way or another, you are called to proclaim that through your actions.
I know it’s so hard to remember that. Martha, Martha, we are so distracted. There is need of only one thing: God. And God is here. Amen.