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“Mary and Martha, Lollygaggers and Busy Bodies Alike”

The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
Sunday, July 17, 2016 (Ninth Sunday After Pentecost)
“Mary and Martha, Lollygaggers and Busy Bodies Alike” (Luke 10: 38-42)

For the life of me, I can never quite remember which sister is Martha and which is Mary.  I must refresh my memory every time this morning’s gospel reading appears to see who sits at Jesus’ feet all google-eyed and who grumpily labors away in the sweltering kitchen.

Once I recall who Mary and Martha are, I catch myself wondering which sister I am.  Am I the one who loves sitting in the quiet of this sanctuary, soaking in God’s love, or am I the busy-body who measures her self-worth by how much work she does, albeit for a very good cause?

Are you Mary or are you Martha?  Do you evaluate yourself by how much you do for your church and for those in need or are you satisfied that being a child of God is more than enough for this life and the next?  I presume most of us see-saw back and forth between Mary and Martha, between busy-body and lollygagger.

Those of you who walk into my office will quickly detect that I am puzzled by which sister I am as well.  I have the requisite academic diplomas and church certificates with the fancy gold-embossed seals hanging on the wall as well as the calligraphied proclamations and signed pictures from political dignitaries—is this obnoxious or what?  These mementoes guarantee me that I have kept busy enough to qualify for God’s love and, I am crossing my fingers, that I will qualify for your respect in years to come.

And yet, that other sister—what’s her name again, Lollygagger?—she urges us to do nothing more than hang our baptismal certificates on the wall.  Oh yes, and then she looks at us with tender affection and says, “My dear one, you are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; that knowledge will get you through the best and worst days of your life.  It is the only credential you will ever need.”

I don’t believe the story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s house is meant to force us to choose between which sister is the better one.  In fact, don’t we all hope we have Mary and Martha at Holy Trinity?  Don’t we want people whose greatest delight is gathering for worship, singing and praying, listening and dining on the goodness of God?  Don’t we want members whose hearts beat riotously simply because Jesus loves them so?

It can be so hard for those who simply want to sit at Jesus’ feet.  If you are like that, you can easily end up feeling guilty.  I can’t tell you how many people have come to me and said, “Pastor, I’m a rotten church member. I shouldn’t even call myself a member.  I don’t do anything but attend worship on Sunday morning.”  If you have said this, never forget the sister who does nothing more—or less—than stare into Jesus’s eyes.  According to Jesus, “She has chosen the better part.”  I wonder if Jesus says this so none of us feels guilty when we arrive here on Sunday morning and have no desire or energy to do anything more than sit at his feet.  I wonder if all of us feel like that this morning. We come here, numb again, this time 84 massacred in Nice and 265 known dead in the Turkish coup attempt.  We worry about what is happening to the world God loves so much and for which God gave His only son. We are desperate to hear Jesus’ soothing voice say again, “Have no fear, little flock.”  That’s why we crawled out of bed and showed up here on this hot and muggy morning.

This sitting still even for an hour and ten minutes can drive some of us busy-bodies to utter distraction.  If you are like the sister in the kitchen, rehearsing in the choir, washing the chalices, counting the offering, welcoming visitors, giving generously to this ministry, you catch yourself with your nose out of joint from time-to-time—call it sin if you wish—judging others because they are not working nearly as hard as you.

I must be frank with you, however: I will quickly become disenchanted if we don’t have members willing to break their backs to prepare delicious meals for Jesus and his friends.  You know the type.  She is in this place.  She is the “go to person” we too easily call when we need something done at Holy Trinity.  We ask her to do all sorts of tasks and she is clueless how to say “no.”  She puts out refreshments on Sunday, visits the elderly, delivers flowers to the hospital, helps at the altar, tends to the finances, counts the money.  You ask her or him to do anything and almost everything because the answer is always “yes” and with a smile.  I pray that we will have more and more just like that sister.

And yet, at least this morning, let’s not pay attention to who sits at Jesus’ feet and who is busy in the kitchen.  Maybe it is good that we cannot quite remember who Martha is and who Mary is.  For a time, let us recall what our brother Martin Luther urged us never to forget: the prize does not go to the hardest worker or even to the one who does nothing.  For Luther, work or no work, God loves us all.

Our worship this morning is proof that God does not keep score.  God has invited us all here, those of us pleased as punch just to sit all starry-eyed in Jesus’ presence and those who have ants in our pants and who cannot wait to get back to work because the kingdom of God is so near. God invites us all to this meal which we do not deserve.

Are you Mary or Martha?  It makes no difference.  So, come to the banquet, for all is now ready. The gifts of God for the people of God, for Mary and Martha and you.