Deacon Jerry Franzen Cathedral 7/18/10
Genesis 18: 1-10a Colossians 1: 24 - 28 Luke 10: 38-42
Last week the Good Samaritan, today Martha and Mary,
two familiar stories, very different, yet connected.
The Good Samaritan is the prime example of Christianity in action,
stepping up, going out of his way to help
while others passed by the injured person, did nothing.
Today we have Martha trying to be that disciple of action,
while her seemingly lazy sister, Mary,
just makes herself comfortable at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice, and, in the words of my students,
Jesus told Martha to “chill.”
We all know of Marthas and Marys.
The Marthas get things done in a timely fashion
and in good order.
They are the ones rushing around, filling in where necessary.
Volunteer organizations depend on Marthas,
Parishes can function to their fullest extent only because of Marthas.
In a suburb of Chicago,
there is the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Peace.
At one time there were so many things going on in that parish,
that some called it the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Motion.
Undoubtedly this parish has more than its fair share of Marthas.
And we all know of the Marys.
They are distinguished by their inaction, often labeled as lazy.
Who did Jesus seem to side with
when Martha challenged him to correct Mary’s behavior?
It was Mary.
Jesus said that she had chosen the better part.
How do we understand this – where do we fit in this story?
I thought that we were to be like Martha, looking out for others,
trying to do what is needed,
using the gifts and talents God has given each of us.
Obviously that’s not the whole answer.
What is Jesus teaching us here?
This story of Martha and Mary
reminds me of one of my experiences of Work Camp.
For a number of years St. Paul and St. Henry Parishes’
youth ministry programs sponsored a summer activity
called “Work Camp.”
Adults and high school youth from these parishes went to the Prestonsburg, KY neighborhood to serve the needy.
I was fortunate to participate in this activity five times.
The group was spread out over about seven work sites.
We painted houses, built porches and wheelchair ramps, replaced roofs, laid carpet, installed windows, repaired floors, installed bathrooms. You name it we did it.
Incidentally, we worked out of St. Martha’s parish facilities in Prestonsburg.
On the surface it was five days of being in the role of Martha.
But there was a totally different element below the surface.
We were each there to grow.
We, adults and students alike, learned that we could do things
we never thought that we were capable of doing.
We learned from each other.
We also learned from the people we served;
we learned about their ways of life in Appalacia,
and about their impressions of us and our impressions of them.
At the various work sites there was always a certain tension
between the desire to serve and the need to learn.
“Don’t stop to talk to the owner of the house, we have work to do.
Don’t let that tenager measure the board;
have an adult do it so it is done correctly the first time.
Here, I know how to do that; let me do it”
As a work crew leader,
at times I was far too focused on getting the project done;
it was the Martha in me.
On the last day the whole group visited each of the work sites.
One year I was fortunate enough to visit the site of the house of Ocie Puckett.
The whole group managed to drive back to the end of the “holler” where she lived.
There was Ocie in the one dress that she owned,
so happy to see all of us.
She invited us all in to see the handiwork of the repairs to her house,
and to get a drink of water from her well.
And, as we did at each site each day,
we prayed with the owner before we left.
This was no minor event with Ocie.
She got down on her knees in the mud and led the prayer.
She prayed for everybody, her neighbors, the group gathered, the soul of her departed husband, the prisoners in jail, etc.
I seemed that no one was left out.
It was an experience of “sitting at the feet of Jesus” - for me to learn.
Tension between serving and learning.
That is the essence of today’s Gospel.
Martha’s desire to serve the Lord,
and Mary’s desire to learn from the Lord.
And Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part.
Why? Because service without the proper reflection,
service without the frame of faith
is just rushing around doing things.
On a very practical level, one might put it this way:
You cannot provide for another’s needs,
unless you have learned of their difficulties –
unless you have listened to them.
It’s a matter of “first things first.”
A doctor cannot diagnose and prescribe treatment
without having listened
to the patient’s symptoms and complaints.
In a way, Jesus was telling Martha
that she could not serve him well,
unless she had listened to what it was
that he really wanted her to do.
The same is true for each of us.
We must first listen and continually listen to God,
to the words of Sacred Scripture,
to discern what it is that God wants us to do.
At each Sunday liturgy we sit at the feet of Jesus,
to learn how to serve him.
It is the time for us to discern whether
God is telling us to make some major changes
in the ways that we serve him.
Maybe God is calling you to a vocation to the priesthood,
diaconate or the religious life.
Maybe God is telling you
that you would be a valuable volunteer
at one of the social service agencies.
Maybe God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone,
do something totally beyond your perceived abilities.
But it doesn’t end here at this liturgy.
God came to Martha and Mary in the person of Jesus.
God also comes to us in the persons around us also,
and we must listen to God through them.
We all know that listening to another person can be difficult.
We often hear without really listening.
Our listening must be active listening, listening with learning.
Listening for God’s message in what others say
requires even more attention,
because we must discern that it truly is God
speaking to us through others.
The tension between serving and learning,
between acting and listening
is also a tension between giving and receiving.
Receiving is more difficult; it makes one beholden to the giver.
It cuts away our independence and validates our dependence.
Giving is power in recognizing the need of another.
The Marthas of the world can be so busy
doing good and necessary things
that they don’t realize how frequently and deeply
they themselves stand in need.
Jesus reminds us that rather than be distracted with much service
and be anxious and troubled about many things,
we would do well to stop and listen.
Eventually I realized that my Work Camp experience
was a lesson in stopping and listening,
a lesson in receiving rather than giving.
What we do here today -
our prayers, aloud and private, our singing on or off key -
our postures of standing, sitting and kneeling -
our reading, preaching and presiding -
our gathering as a community, our receiving Jesus within us-
these things are not what we do for Jesus,
to make him comfortable, to entertain him.
We do all of these things,
because they are our way of “sitting at the feet of Jesus.”
to receive from him the means of grace and the hope of glory.