Sermon: Lord, Make Her Help   (a narrative sermon from the point of view of Martha)

Scriptures: Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 10: 38-41

Preached: July 21, 2019 at Nottingham Presbyterian Church by Rev. Merritt N. Schatz


          My name is Martha. You have heard some of my story just now, but I would like to share a little more with you.

Some people just do not understand what it takes to run a household, to fix a feast. Like my brother Lazarus. I love my brother, I really do! But sometimes… You know, one afternoon Lazarus came home and told me that he had invited Jesus to dinner… that night! Now I am always delighted to see Jesus. However, I also know that where Jesus goes at least twelve of his followers go with him. It is no small thing to host thirteen extra people! I like to have time to think through the menu, clean the house a bit, and think about who sits next to whom –with those disciples seating can be a bit tricky!

          Oh, well. Of course, I said yes. Who wouldn’t want Jesus in their home? So I made a mad dash to the market before it closed, and asked Mary, my sister, to sweep the floor and set the table. It didn’t seem like too much to ask.

          I got home from the market, bags full of fresh vegetables, fruits and meat, ready to cook a fine meal. I found the guests had already arrived. Jesus was sitting in the big room, with his disciples all around and Lazaur was with them. Who should be sitting right there with them but Mary!

          I glanced in the dining room and, no, the table had not been set. At least the floor didn’t look too bad. But there should have been a nice centerpiece and the glasses and good silverware should have been put out.

          Nevermind. This was typical of Mary. I got to work on the supper. But the longer I worker the madder I got. I began chopping the vegetables with heavy whacks, hoping that Mary would hear them and realize that she should be in the kitchen helping me. Who knows what Jesus and the disciples thought? I wasn’t even thinking of them. I put the meat on to cook and began tidying up as well. Really! How could anyone miss that I was being left alone to do all the work? Who did Mary think she was anyway – a woman sitting among men listening to a teacher?

          Finally I could take it no longer. I dusted off my apron. Flinging my dish towel over my shoulder, I went to stand in the doorway. I waited, not especially patiently, until there was a pause in the conversation. Then I blurted out, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Then I glared at Mary so she would know just how mad I was that she had put me in this position of begging for help.

          Jesus just looked at me. He didn’t seem embarrassed that he had not noticed that I was doing all the work. He didn’t seem angry that Mary wasn’t helping. In fact, if I hadn’t been so upset, I might have seen that he was a little amused. Jesus just gently said, “Martha, Martha, you have been worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

          To say I was shocked would be a massive understatement! Stunned, I turned away so he wouldn’t see my tears of frustration, and marched back to the kitchen. So he doesn’t care. I am nothing. All this work is for nothing! Well, just see how they would feel if they have nothing for dinner – just how unnecessary will my work appear then?

          I sat on the stool in the kitchen and pouted. Let the dinner cook itself. It was mostly put together anyway. Now that the knife wasn’t whacking and the pots weren’t clanging, Jesus’ voice came through from the other room. Despite myself, I began to listen.

          Jesus was talking about the love of God for all people – all kinds of people: men and women, rich and poor, weak and strong, even Samaritans and lepers! He talked about how we have all wandered away from God, following our own ways, trying to make ourselves be somebody by our own skills and pride. In the process we have wandered away from God and from one another. Jesus said that God was calling us back, calling us to live close to God and to one another by living in God’s love.

          I thought about Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. Beautiful Mary had always been a bit of a wild one, seeking love and approval in all the wrong places. I suppose I had always resented her beauty, and been frustrated by her willful ways and her confidence in living life her own way. I prided myself that I was the responsible one, the dependable one. Could it be that she was not as confident as I thought she was? Could my judgment of her been less about her actions than by my own need to be more righteous than she? What was she looking for? Had she found it at the feet of Jesus? Jesus seemed to think so.

For the first time I asked myself this question. What was I looking for – was I seeking approval and love through my many actions, through my kindness which came with strings and expectations attached? Was I acting to earn love rather than living out of the love I received from God? What was so necessary about the things I was stressing over?

I began to cry again, this time more quietly. Jesus was still in the other room, but it seemed as if he was right next to me, whispering in my ear. ‘Martha, Martha, let go of the things that are worrying and upsetting you. Feel the love of God surrounding you. Know that you are beloved by God, just as you are. Let God work within you. Do not be discouraged. You do matter. I do care. I care about both you and Mary about all people. I care enough not to let you struggle, any of you, with wondering about God’s love for you. That is why I am here.

The murmuring from the room next door continued, but peace came into my heart. I wiped my face, washed my hands, and got back to work on dinner. It really is not my nature to sit still for very long. But I found that my heart was now filled with a joy that had not been there. This time I was working to show love, not earn it.

The Messiah, the one who is the image of the invisible God, the one in whom the fullness of God dwells, this one had come to reconcile me with God, with my brother, and with my sister, and with all people. What an amazing thing to grasp! Serving dinner to this Servant of God, Son of God, was a privilege not an obligation! And suddenly I understood that serving others was a way of serving Jesus. I felt like I could fix dinner for hundreds not just thirteen additional people.

Imagine, I was allowed to call Jesus friend, even brother. I did not get struck by lightening for scolding him! Oh, how I cringe when I think of what I said! Do you not care? How little I understood even then how much Jesus cares!

Jesus forgave me. He offered me another chance. It was not the last time he had to forgive me and give me another chance. Months later, when my brother Lazarus was ill and died, Jesus came too late to save him – or so I thought. I may not have said Jesus didn’t care in so many words, but I did chide him. “If only you had been here, my brother would have lived.” Jesus told me to have more faith. With confidence I declared, “I do have faith. I know that you are the Messiah. I know Lazarus would rise in the resurrection. But that I am hurting now. I want my brother back now!” Jesus revealed to me was that I still didn’t know exactly my faith meant. I know this doesn’t happen for everyone, but Jesus raised my brother from the dead that day. Jesus not only gave Lazarus a new chance, Jesus gave me yet another new chance at this new life as well. But I learned something even more important. Whether the raising from the dead comes within hours, or takes decades, Jesus walks with us through our grief, all the way.

And then, not too long after that, Jesus himself was killed on the cross. I was so discouraged, devastated – until I heard him whispering again, ‘Trust me, love me, know that there is new life!’ God raised Jesus from the dead and gave new life to him, to me, to the whole world!

Just when I think I know it all, Jesus makes me think – and live – again!

And Mary, what about Mary? Well, she still isn’t too much help in the kitchen. However, she has her own way of serving Jesus. She is a different person: more caring, more loving, more grateful. Many people now know about Jesus because of her teaching. I am different too. Now I sit and listen as she tells me what Jesus told her. Even though we are very different, we need each other. We remind each other that God loves each of us, and that God gives different gifts to each of us so that we might help one another.

We still get frustrated with one another. But now we just turn to each other, point our fingers at one another and say, “Lord, help her!” We know we are each really thinking, “Help her to be more like me, to think like me, to act like me!” Then, as we burst out laughing together, as we remember how absurd this is, how much we would lose if we didn’t have our differences. We wrap our arms around each other and we cry out together, “Lord, help us! Change us! Use us!”

Are there people you are tempted to dismiss as unworthy of your time or care? Maybe they have hurt you, or you just fear that they might hurt you; maybe they are just different and you don’t know how to deal with the differences. Let God open your heart. Know the joy of seeing others as Christ sees them. Know the peace of serving others, and letting them serve you, as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Look for the gifts within others, instead of looking for faults in the differences. It will not always be easy, but oh the blessings you will find!

Lord, help us! Change us! Use us! Help all of us!


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