The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 17, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 10:38-42
Sermon Title:
“Mary and Martha

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Last Saturday I had gotten home from the Nation Youth Event pre-trip gathering, tried to relax a bit, then brought Collin to a birthday party, then drove down to Marlborough so I could get a good night of sleep before church on Sunday.  Sleeping the parsonage allows me to sleep a bit later in the morning, or at least slowdown in the morning before church.  It is not jumping in for a shower, getting dressed, driving down here, leading worship.  I can get up, have a cup of coffee or two, take a shower, maybe watch the morning news or listen to a bit of NPR, get dressed, and walk over. 

     But it occurred to me on Saturday night how few nights I will be spending in my house in Pembroke this month.  12 nights.  Out of a month with 31 days, I will sleep in my house only 12 nights.  Now some of this is choice.  Last week I did an overnight on the ambulance, which requires me to sleep at the station.  Next week we are having our Bible Camp here at church, so I will sleep here rather than drive back and forth, probably all week.  And then the last week of the month we will be going to Florida for the National Youth Event, which will require one more night on the floor of a church before we fly out very early on Tuesday morning.  Somehow between Cub Scout camp, in June, and a few other nights, this summer I will probably have spent more nights on the floor than any previous summer, or at least any summer in many years.

     I imagine that I am not the only one who is very busy this summer.  For those us with kids, or who had kids, there is the entertainment factor.  I don’t want my kids sitting inside all summer long, so we do play in the yard.  I got out a little pool that I had bought for Glenn when he was 2 or 3, and we set that up for Collin to play in.  Of course it only goes up to his knees, but it gets him outside and keeps him busy.  Or we go someplace.  Glenn is off to Boy Scout camp this morning for a week, Collin did a half day art camp at school last week.  The library has been doing some special things, and PALs, which is our town’s PTA has set up one event a week at the local park. 

     They call this summer vacation.  Maybe my definition of vacation is wrong.  In my mind I see vacation as us bringing our trailer to a campground someplace, setting it up, and then putting out the chairs.  During the day, into the evening, we sit in those chairs.  Maybe take a walk around, but not much more than that.  We don’t cook big meals, that requires too much work for vacation, so lots of hotdogs and hamburgers.  But never seems to happen, when we do go to a campground, there is always much more set up then I remember.  We level the trailer, put out the slide, hook up the electric, water and sewer.  First trip of the season, or unless we have been camping recently, we have to flush out the water system, get the antifreeze out of the lines and sanitize the system.  Although we always spend time putting bedding and food into the trailer, we usually realize that there is something that we forgot, so make at least one trip to a local store.  But after a day at the campground the kids want to do something, so we start to look at what is in the area.  Museums, zoos, parks, events, and then we are off. 

     I imagine that most of us have experienced or are experiencing that this summer.  We are busy, we have people visiting us, we have work, volunteer or paid.  And even when you are not working, at least at my house there are 100 things I need to get done.  Gardens weeded, been painting my house since I moved in, just have two sections left to do, and then the shutters I took off about 4 years ago should go back up.  Lawn could be mowed, bushes trimmed, always something.

     Feels kind of like Martha, doesn’t it.  Always doing, doing, doing.  I think it is important to point out that Martha was doing exactly what was expected of her.  Expectations in that time for hospitality were probably not too different then they are today.  When you invite someone to visit your house, you cook cookies, when they arrive you offer them something to drink.  Martha was the perfect hostess.  She was extending hospitality to her guest, an important guest to be sure.  Knowing that, Jesus’ words seem pretty harsh.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.

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

     The issue wasn’t that Martha was busy doing things, it was that she saw her value in the things she was doing, rather than her value as just being herself, a child of God.  So much of our lives are based on what we do.  When you meet someone knew, what is one of the first questions you ask?  So what do you do for a living?  And that is how many of us spend, or spent much of our lives. 

     Across from my house live a couple that are probably about our age, moved into their house just about the same time we bought ours.  There are many days that I don’t see them.  She has been a teacher the last few years, for a short time in town, but then got a better job a bit further away.  So she is normally gone by the time we leave the house, and often comes in long after we get home.  He works for a concrete company.  I had heard that he was just promoted to a manager of some kind, from being a truck driver.  So he would leave the house long before we got up, and come home long after we ate dinner.  When I talked to his wife she said that she never sees him.  He comes home, sleeps, gets up and leaves for work.  He just told the company that he wants to go back to driving a truck, so he will only be gone from his house 12-14 hours rather than the 16 or more hours a day recently.  I don’t think that is too unusual in today’s world.  Working long, long hours, or working two or more jobs just to make ends meet. 

     I think, as a culture, we have lost the sense of Sabbath.  In its purest form, the idea of Sabbath is a time to put aside work and remember that your identity is not defined by what you do, but rather who you are.  You are a beloved Child of God. 

     I had heard about Sabbath before, but it was not until I went to a conference one year that I really understood it.  This conference happened at a beautiful site on Lake Tahoe.  We had paid pretty good money to get out there, to stay in their really nice facilities, to eat their good food, and to hear and learn from some great people.  And then we were told that one afternoon was Sabbath.  It was planned into the schedule.  During that afternoon, into the evening, there was nothing scheduled.  There were cars and vans going in different directions.  So you were able to go with one of those if you wanted to go someplace.  But it was also appropriate to sit and look at the water.  It was OK to take a nap.  It was OK to go on a walk.  The organizers realized that this was a time of learning but also of refreshment and renewal.  In a world of push, push, push it is important to take time to realize again who you are, which is much more than what you do.

     Really this is what church is supposed to be. A time to stop amid all of our important doing and hear the one needed thing: that we are God’s children, beloved for all time, and that there is nothing we can do that would earn that love and nothing we can do to lose it.

     Unfortunately, in our hyper-busy world even coming to church has become an obligation.  The purpose of this sermon is not to scold people for not choosing the “better part.” Rather, perhaps we can hear Jesus’ words not as rebuke but as invitation -- to Martha and to us -- to come and be refreshed and renewed by God’s word of mercy, grace, and love.

     That is what church is all about. Church should be the place where there is a lull in the constant barrage of voices telling us we aren’t good enough so that we might hear in the quiet “third space” of this sanctuary the promise that God loves and values us for who are. And, when we realize that, often all the things we need to do somehow go better.  All that Martha stuff is still important, but our value is not based on that.

     I am going to do something that perhaps no minister should ever do.  I would like to give you permission to take a Sunday off from church this summer.  Perhaps on some Sundays this summer the thing you need to do will be to spend time with friends, or attend a family reunion, or take a vacation. Church wasn’t intended to be an obligation. Church, at its best, is always an invitation -- an invitation to the kind of richer, deeper life that only comes from believing that you have inherent dignity, worth, and value. If you need to take a Sunday off, do that, but then come back to be reminded again and always of who you are: God’s beloved child, now and forever more.