The following is adapted from Pastor Mike’s July 21st sermon titled “The One Thing.”
A story, a problem and an answer
In Luke 10:38-42 we are introduced once again to Mary and Martha, two female followers of Jesus who appear elsewhere in the gospels.
From other gospel examples we know Martha as an outspoken leader and doer. Indeed she even has the audacity to tell Jesus what to do. (Outside Lazarus’ tomb she told Christ he should not remove the burial stone for the smell of Lazarus’ body.)
In this story we see an even fuller picture of Martha and find that in many ways she is living the idealistic modem life of busyness and accomplishment. She is productive, she is goal oriented, she is charging around and in charge. She is her own person.
Martha looks at her sister, who is breaking the cultural norms in two ways she is not helping around the house, and she is at Jesus’ feet’ learning alongside the men. Martha becomes indignant and self-righteous that her sister will not help with all the work around the house. Likewise, we too probably see Mary and want justice.
What we find though is that there is a deeper problem. Martha becomes discontent in her work because others are not pulling their weight. There rises up some emptiness, some longing, some unhappiness within her. She becomes judgmental and accusing. The King James Version explains that she becomes “cumbered with much serving.” She begs Jesus to put Mary in her place, make her get to work.
Jesus response to her is unexpected and simple. “Martha you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed.” The word worry literally indicates that Martha is “torn to pieces about many things” and rather than controlling her world her emotions have become controlled by her world.
This is a not uncommon place for type-A people to find themselves.
I get and read Fortune Magazine. I like studying and reading about the business world. An article at some point in the past explained the workings of a Colorado-based recovery center for CEO’s. A resort for the burned out: people who over-inflate their work and their ability to control their lives and who often undervalue themselves.
Jesus response here is important and unlocks a truth for us today. He points Martha to one thing that is far more important than the many.
So what is the one thing?
While our lectionary breaks up scripture for the sake of easy reading. If we were to continue on in the gospel of Luke we would find ourselves in chapter 11 which begins with a very clear and valuable discussion of the one thing Jesus may have been pointing to.
In Ch.11 Jesus prays. He teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer and he answers questions about the meaning and purpose of prayer. It seems that prayer is something missing from Martha’s life. And it is not that prayer itself is necessarily the goal, but it is a means to an end. Prayer builds our relationship with God. As Mary is sitting at Jesus feet she was being sustained by her relationship with Christ. Prayer is also something that has the power to teach and instruct, to help us re-center and reconnect with our Lord when we get lost.
From this story and problem I think there are four things prayer is able to do for the Christian life.
1. Prayer can be the one thing, because it reminds us of the one thing. Prayer makes us slow down and step back from the problems of our lives. It helps us remember the vantage point we should have when looking at the world. We have a God who has created us. Who has claimed us as his own. A God who does give us jobs to do, but who also provides in abundance. Prayer helps us to re-center priorities. It keeps us from getting swallowed up by our responsibilities.
2. Prayer teaches us to ask God to fill our needs and emptiness.
What we have in this story is really a prayer that goes unanswered. If you look back to Martha in the story you see that she has a prayer for Jesus. She says, “make Mary help me get all these things done.”
Do you think Martha really needs a cleaner house? Do you think that getting a little more done this afternoon will really fill in whatever void or emptiness she is feeling?
No, as Martha prays to Jesus she is asking for something, but he does not give it to her because it is not what, in that moment, she needs. This is what prayer does, it becomes God’s vessel for teaching us, through our prayers, our wants, desires and pains, God does answer and often teaches as he does.
3. Prayer builds our relationship with god. Anytime, anywhere, in any circumstance. Prayer is the vessel for connecting us with our heavenly father, for being reminded of who we are and whose we are. Our relationship with Him is built and strengthen just as our relationships with others, regular time and communication is a necessary means for staying connected and intimate.
4. Prayer changes the way we see ourselves.
Prayer teaches us to value what God values. Jesus did not die because you or I rose to the top of our field. Because we became the bureau chief, or the director of our department, or the head of some initiative. He did not come and die because you because you made partner as an attorney, or because of any of the other achievements we might gain in our lives. Jesus did not die to save us because of our accomplishments. Jesus died because he loves every one of us- beyond and above and separate from our work. He sees us as his created person whom he loves just as any parent would love a child. His value is in you and I – Martha needs to hear that and know that and we need to hear that and be reminded of that. And Prayer, as it re-centers us, works on our heart bringing us back into this sort of mindset.