9th Sunday after Pentecost 2016 – Mary and Martha

Sermon Title: 9th Sunday after Pentecost: 2016  Mary and Martha.
Date: 17th July 2016
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-29, Luke 10:38-42

Susanne, Susanne, you are so distracted by many things!

Yes Lord, I know!  Like this morning, trying to write this sermon but finding other ‘little’ things to do instead. You know, when I write sermons it’s like being with you, Lord…so what am I avoiding from this story of Mary and Martha?

Maybe it’s to do with comparisons:  be like Mary!!  Or be like Martha!

If you are a ‘doer’ like Martha, this story can really grate…does this demean what you do!  How annoying is it when you are flat out and you don’t get any help! Same old story. It’s the same few who help and there are those others who could help and don’t!           Sound familiar?

Does this mean that Jesus just wants us to sit and meditate all day long!  Well, who’s going to cook the meal? Who’s going to help in the soup kitchen? Who’s going to…whatever it is.

Sadly the comparison or competition (we could add judgement and expectations) are usually between women and society has done a good job in keeping us competing with each other rather than rising up against the injustice of sexism.

Comparisons is one of my inner challenges:  Compared as a child with my twin sister: Are you the same in every way? Gosh, you have put on more weight than your sister? (Gets me every time!) This set up for Kaye and me some comparisons even with each other. And comparisons with Jonathan:  A bishop once drew in the air with his finger, a linear mark, saying ‘this is Jonathan’s path and parishes will see that he is doing really well.  Then they will see yours Susanne, you were going along ok and then they will see a ‘blip’ when you had children!!

I tell you, I was fuming when I got home!

So you can see, events from our past, our cultural upbringing, influence how we react to people, how we react to the stories Jesus tells.

So is this story about comparisons?

I think in the past, tradition in some places has focused more on separating the two. Are you a Mary or a Martha and saying if you are one or the other, that’s ok.

Is this what this story is about being one or the other?

Or is this story from Jesus, trying to tell us something else?

Maybe it’s not about comparisons, competition, judgement or expectations which we place on ourselves or others or being just a Mary or a Martha.

What is it that this story has to teach us.

As Christians, we have invited Jesus Christ into our lives and we know that God is a God of surprises.  We are challenged to look at how we live our lives and be open to what new possibilities there are of living wholesome lives as God wants each of us to live.

The beginning of our story today said “As they (the disciples and Jesus) were on their way, (it’s always a journey into the unknown with Jesus!) Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”[i]

If we look at this on a spiritual level, her home is not merely her house, her physical dwelling. It is her whole way of thinking and acting. When Jesus enters her ‘life’, the way Martha thinks and acts, she may not expect any change to happen in her life, but having invited Jesus into her ‘home’ she invites change and this may not be what she thought she was inviting!

“She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”[ii]

“In spiritual teaching, sisters symbolize side-by-side realities that are meant to be together. Separating them diminishes both. Therefore, although Christian history is fond of playing Martha and Mary against one another, the real task is to discover their proper relationship.  It is not a matter of which one is more important; it is a matter of how they complement each other.”[iii]

Mary as we know, is seen as the contemplative and Martha as the activist. The doer!

It seems that Martha has disengaged from her inner grounding and has become resentful in her tone and she is ‘distracted by many things’.

She want’s Jesus to make Mary come and help her. To become maybe ‘busy’ like her because that’s what we should be doing when offering hospitality and it seems quite a legitimate request!

What is Jesus to say?  If he responds and tells Mary to go and help her sister, is this just on Martha’s terms? That spending some time with Jesus, listening to what he is saying is less important than doing good deeds?

Martha invited Jesus into her home. Into her life.  This is a time of challenge for Martha.  She is getting frantic with worry. She can see all the things that needs to be done, and there isn’t ever enough time and has not had the time to sit at her guests feet and listen to him.. I can almost hear her say “but I’m doing all this for you!”

I feel embarrassed to admit that I can be so like Martha.

I am doing many things for the ‘church’…for God? For Jesus?  And I get overwhelmed at times and don’t say my prayers or meditate when I know darn well that when I do, I am less anxious and everything still gets done, and if it doesn’t, does that matter.  Who am I doing it all for anyway!

Martha doesn’t need to become Mary and Mary doesn’t need to become Martha.

They are both important ‘sisters’ and they need each other.  If they were only clones of Martha that she wanted when asking Jesus to get Mary to help, then it would diminish her wholeness of being.

Jack Shea is a theologian and story teller, and his spiritual teaching on this passage says this: “the interiorly realized love of God is the energy and creativity of the outer action of loving the neighbour.”[iv]

“The interiorly realized love of God is the energy and creativity of effective action in the world”

This is not dualist thinking as Richard Rohr would point out in his website aptly named “contemplation in action”.  It’s not setting up a competition or having to divide our attention between working at your computer and saying your prayers.

It’s that deeper understanding that God is in all, so when you go outside to take a deep breath, when you look around at the spring flowers starting to pop up, or when you say your prayers in the morning or before going to bed……

It’s remembering…the other word for contemplation is “recollection”…this is what we forget..and we bust ourselves inside out ‘doing’ good works.

I remember my sons doing a subject called ‘Health’ at high school and the areas were physical, emotional, mental and social and I would always tell them to tell the teacher that there is also the spiritual!

Body and soul.. go together.  They are not separate.  It is like Martha and Mary. They are not to be separated.

We have invited Jesus into our ‘home’ and every day we are challenged to relook and reconnect with the divine as we go about our day to day activities and as we make judgements about others and how we try to make sense of our broken world with so many dreadful things we do to each other.

This is an invitation for each of us, like Martha, to see more in ourselves that we think possible, and in turn, to see the same possibilities in others.

“The invitation is to believe that you are who God sees you to be.”[v]

In Richard Rohr’s Friday meditation he writes: the movement to full wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows you to see beyond your own shadow and disguise and to find who you are “chosen in Christ from the beginning of the world” (see Ephesians 1:4ff).  The Zen masters are saying the same thing when they speak of “the face you had before you were born.”  This metaphysical self cannot die and always lives in God; it is your True Self, and is probably what we mean by the soul.”[vi]



So when I now think about my twin sister or my priest husband Jonathan, I try not to go into ‘comparisons’ or judgements because of what others have said.

We need each other and we need to know the ground of our being is God for each and every one of us.  No one is exempt. We are all loved and made in the image of God.

And we don’t need to whip ourselves when we forget whose we are and where we come from.

“As they (the disciples (you and me) and Jesus,) were on their way” on this journey together, with all the mistakes, misunderstandings, comparisons etc, we welcomed Jesus into our homes, into our lives.  Jesus is forgiving. Jesus is love.

I’d like to end by sharing a story told by Susanne Davidson at our group last Wednesday as we discussed this passage. I have her permission.

Susanne was busy in the kitchen, “flapping around” doing something and her father called out to her from his bedroom. “Susie, Susie, come here.” Her father was quite elderly and was resting in bed.  She wanted to say, no I’m too busy, but something stopped her from saying that and to go to her father.  So she went into her father’s bedroom and he was lying flat on the bed and stretching out his hand for her to put hers in his, and he said “come and get some strength”…

How beautiful is that story!

How Christ-like was her father.  Come and get some strength.

The Lord be with you.




[i] Luke 10:38

[ii] Luke 10:39

[iii] The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: John Shea. Page201

[iv] The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: John Shea. Page 203

[v]  No Comparison: Karoline Lewis working preacher website

[vi] Daily Meditations: July 15th 2016 by Richard Rohr cac