Sunday, February 22, 2015

Learning From Martha

For ten years starting in 1968 Christian Life Magazine published a list compiled by Elmer Towns, who was a Sunday School Guru, listing the top 100 Sunday Schools in America.   

In 1974 the largest Sunday School in the US and assumedly in the world was First Baptist Church in Hammond Indiana with an average weekly attendance of 11,303, in Sunday School.  They had 165 buses operating, reported 8,040 baptisms that year and had an income of almost 3 million dollars.

Sunday school conferences were the norm for Pastors who wanted to see their churches grow and churches that didn’t offer Sunday School programs were considered to be weak and ineffectual and maybe even not Christian…

But twenty years later that was changing.  In 1994 when Cornerstone was in the planning stages we made the conscious decision to not have Sunday School.   Part of it was practical, we didn’t have any Sunday School teachers and we would have had to pony up more cash to rent our facilities for a longer period of time.  But it went beyond the practical.  In the two previous churches I had pastored we had offered Sunday School and I had watched the commitment of both students and teachers waning.  

It takes a lot of commitment to make Sunday School happen, teachers who have to commit to prepare lessons every week, often for 52 weeks a year, year after year.  Parents who had to commit to bring their kids to Sunday School.  It was a constant struggle to recruit teachers and students and keep them motivated. 

And so twenty years ago when we launched it was without a Sunday School program, instead we were committed to providing a high quality children’s program.  And for the first 14 years that was run by Angela and for the last six years Pastor Marilyn taken the lead and it has worked.

And there are folks who still call our programs Sunday School, but they really aren’t.

And in churches everywhere there were staples with the Sunday School programs.  There was the opening session where they played games that helped them memorize scripture and sang songs to help them learn bible stories.  And then the kids went to their classrooms where they would learn the stories from the bible, often from Flannel graphs.  And all the kids and often the adults would be learning the same things each week just presented at a level appropriate for their age level.

Flannel Graph Story of Mary and Martha.

She was a little steamed, actually she was a lot ticked and who could blame her.  Sure she had been the one who had invited the company over, but it wasn’t just her home, I mean her sister could do a little bit to help out.  Instead she just sat there staring up at their guest as if it was the first time she’d ever seen the man, when the truth was they had practically grown up together.  And so she walked a little louder, actually it was pretty close to stomping, and banged the pots a little more than necessary, actually a lot more than necessary and she sighed a lot and not little sighs either, these we full blown asthmatic sighs that were not to be missed.  And yet they were missed, their guest continued to teach and her sister sat mesmerized, hanging on every word that he said.  And Martha was a little steamed, actually she was a lot ticked and who could blame her.

We read the story earlier in the service.  Mary and Martha were the sisters of Jesus’ good friend Lazarus and it would appear from different gospel accounts that Jesus spent a fair amount of time at their home.  On this specific occasion Jesus was travelling past on one of his journeys and Martha invited him to come and stay with her family.  When Jesus arrived he sat down and began to speak, we don’t know if he was teaching, or if he was telling them of his journey or just shooting the breeze.  Whatever it was Mary was soon entranced with his words and sat at his feet hanging on to every word.  If you ever saw the CBS mini-series “Jesus” you might remember they actually portrayed Mary as having a crush on Jesus, and it could have happened.  He was a likeable type of guy who obviously was well respected, had a trade and came from a good family.  A girl could do worse than Jesus. 

But the story really isn’t about Mary at all; it’s about her sister, Martha.  It had been Martha who had invited Jesus into her home and she was bound and determined that everything would be perfect for Jesus.  And so she began to fuss around, cleaning up and getting supper ready.  At first it wasn’t bad but the longer she worked the more she began to resent the fact that her sister was just sitting there, doing nothing.  And finally she couldn’t stand it any longer, in Australia they would say that she spit the dummy or got her knickers in a knot, and she blurted out, “excuse me, doesn’t anybody think this might be more than a little unfair, me playing Cinderella, while her highness sits on her duff and does nothing.”  Or something to that effect.

And Jesus responded by saying “Martha, don’t sweat the little stuff, and this is all little stuff.  Right now Mary has discovered what is really important, and I’m not going to put a damper on that.”

I wonder what Martha’s response was?  It’s not recorded but somehow I don’t think she said “Oh I’m sorry Lord, I didn’t realize.”  What can we learn from Martha in this story? 

Let’s go back and look at the story, Luke 10:38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  

We Can Learn to be Like Martha.  For better or worse Martha had a servant’s heart.  Years ago a friend of mine, actually the engineer who designed our building referred to engineers as “The Sons of Martha” and that comes from a poem that Kipling wrote in it he

The Sons of Mary seldom bother,
for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

We have talked in the past about spiritual gifts, that is to say the gifts that are given to each believer for the building up of the Kingdom.

Depending on who you talk to the list include things like, prophecy, speaking in unknown languages, healing, teaching and leadership.  And right in the middle of all of that is the gift of hospitality, or entertaining.  A very valid gift and a very important gift.  It is referred to in scriptures like 1 Peter 4:9-10 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. As well as Romans 12:13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

And Hebrews 13:2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

Do you remember that last scripture from the King James, it says: Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. When I first heard that I wondered who would want to entertain angels in underwear.  Talk about strange mind pictures.

So we need to be like Martha in the sense that she knew what her giftedness was, and she was willing to put it to use.  She was one of those people whose home was always open.  As believers one of the most frustrating things in life can be trying to do things that we not gifted for, it goes back to the trying to put square pegs in round holes. 

Now sometimes we can fill a temporary need, and that’s valid.  But for the most part our place of service ought to be where we are spiritually gifted.  When we find where that is, and then we exercise that gift we not only feel fulfilled we are fulfilled.

Mary Lou Retton  said  As simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of the talents we've been given.

But spiritual gifts are more than simply talents, they are gifts given to Christians from the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of seeing the Kingdom of God grow.  And every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, and most of us have several, some stronger, some not nearly as evident.  That’s part of why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

But how do you find out what your gift is?  One of the easiest ways is to take a spiritual gift inventory, it’s like a personality test except it helps us to identify our spiritual giftedness.  If you interested let me know and I’ll get a copy to you.  But many of us know what our giftedness is, because that’s where we feel comfortable.

One of the easiest ways to determine that is by asking two questions:  1) Do I enjoy this? and 2) Do I do it well?  The first question can only be answered by you; the second question may have to be answered honestly by someone else.  Notice that I said honestly. 

Not like the train wrecks who get panned on American Idol then tell the judges: “But all my friends say I can sing.”  And I can only think of a couple of explanations for that
1) Nobody in their life knows anything about music. And maybe there are some bizarre little communities out there where horrific singing is something to be admired and praised. I've never heard a hint of such a community and as strange as it may seem it be it can't be as strange as the only other alternative and that is

2) People who say they love these folks would lie to them about their singing abilities setting them up for ridicule and humiliation.  And they would probably defend their actions by saying they didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

For the church to function at its optimum level every believer has to be exercising his or her spiritual gifts.  Paul uses the analogy of the body time and time again to describe the church, and for a body to operate the way it was designed each element does the work that it was designed to do.  The nose smells, the eyes see, the ears hear. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and we are told that often if one part doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to that other parts take up the load.  And so a blind person may have a heightened sense of hearing or smell to help offset the disability of not being able to see. 

But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be and it’s not nearly as effective.  In the same way when some believers don’t use their spiritual gifts to help the kingdom grow then the gap will have to be filled by someone else, perhaps someone who isn’t gifted there but is willing to help carry the load.  But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be and it’s not nearly as effective. Think about what happens when things get mixed up and your nose runs and your feet smell.

If Cornerstone is going to be everything that God intends Cornerstone to be.  And if we are going to impact the people that God wants us to impact.  And if we are going to do all that God intends for us to do it will be when “We” not “Me” does it. 

We’ve been here before but everyone here, everyone here has an ability, a gift, a “something” that they could and should contribute to the Kingdom, and often as Christ followers we do it through the local church.

Do you ever stop and think about how many people are volunteering on a typical Sunday morning to make all this seem seamless.  So that adults and children can be lead into God’s throne room?  This morning there are 35 people who will be involved in some way today between the two services.  From nursery to greeting to making coffee and cleaning up afterwards to children’s ministry and platform ministry and in the sound booth.  That doesn’t include anyone who draws a salary.

And there is something you could be doing and something you should be doing and if you are honest than you know that there is someplace at Cornerstone that you can serve. 

And so the good is that Martha knew her spiritual gift and was willing to put it to work.  But like everything in life, balance is a wonder thing.  Luke 10:39-40 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing.  And it is while Martha is exercising her spiritual gift that the wheels kind of come off the wagon.

Martha had at least an elementary grasp of who Jesus was because she called him Lord.  If she didn’t recognize him as the Son of God or the Messiah she at least identified him as being a teacher or a Rabbi, and we don’t have to look too far through the gospels to discover that Martha and her siblings were friends of Christ.  So, I wonder why she invited him to their house? 

Was it just to eat or had she invited him to come so she could enjoy his company and to hear what he had to say.  I would suspect that it was that the latter.  I mean if she just wanted to provide him with a meal she could have given him five deanari and sent him to McMalaci’s or someplace. 

But as so often happens the good soon eclipses the best.  And so in an attempt to be the best hostess that she can be, to provide the cleanest possible house, and to make the best meal she can, she neglects the very reason she’s doing it.  Have you ever done that, invited company over and by the time the evenings over, the dishes are done, the kitchen’s cleaned up you realize that you didn’t get to spend any time with your company.

There was a couple in our church in Australia who had this hospitality thing down pat, if you stopped there to say hello or to pick up your kids there was a pretty good chance that you would end up staying for a meal.  Nothing fancy, just put some more water in the soup, but they were some of the best times we had.  We have known other people who wouldn’t think of having you in there house unless everything was perfect, nothing could be out of place and the meal, it had to be a five star event, which inevitably meant that you never got invited to their house, or if you did you didn’t get to visit they were way too busy getting ready for you to actually have anytime for you.

We Can Learn to Not be Like Martha.   You see,   Martha got so caught up in serving Jesus that she didn’t take the time to know Jesus.  And that doesn’t just happen when we are beating around the kitchen.  We can take course after course, read book after book, go to seminar after seminar and never take the time to actually sit at Jesus feet and build a relationship with Him.  And to be truthful Jesus probably would have preferred a tuna sandwich and Martha’s company to the fancy meal she was so busy preparing.

What is it that distracts you from getting to know Jesus better?  What keeps you from having the relationship with Jesus that you would really like to have?  What would it take for you to slow down and sit at His feet and listen to what he has to say?

But that wasn’t the worst part of the story.

And so Martha is busy being the hostess with the mostess and before long she notices that she’s doing all the work, which knowing Martha was what she wanted but she wanted it on her terms.  You understand there’s a difference between doing everything after someone has offered to help and you’ve turned them down, and doing everything and nobodies even offered.  And it would appear that Mary hadn’t even offered, she just plopped down at Jesus feet and became engrossed in what he was saying. 

The text tells us that Mary wasn’t helping but neither was Lazarus, or any of the disciples.  Sometimes we overwork our volunteers because nobody else steps up to the plate.  And maybe they offered and Martha turned them down, after all it was her house and her kitchen, but maybe they were content to just sit back and enjoy the service they were getting and it didn’t even cross their minds that they could help out.

And that goes back to the Sunday morning thing, we come in take a bulletin from a greeter, drop the kids off in Nursery or Jr. Church, come out and grab a coffee and then we go in and enjoy the worship, without ever thinking “I wonder how I could help out.”

And Martha was not in the least bit impressed.  But she couldn’t really lash out at Peter and James and John and the other nine so she lashed out at her sister.

Luke 10:40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”   And this is where things got nasty. 

It was here that Martha spit the dummy.  If you close your eyes you can almost picture her standing there, a tea towel over one shoulder, a smudge of flour on her nose and her hands on her hips.  She’s not a happy camper. 

What should have been a great time for everyone suddenly became very awkward, Martha’s little tiff was in front of everyone.  There are a couple of warnings here for us.  First:  Martha Insisted That Mary Share Her Spiritual Gift.  I mean after all if she had the gift of hospitality than everyone should the gift of hospitality.  But that isn’t the way it works, but often we can get caught up in thinking that.  Especially with gifts like mercy, or intersession, that is the gift of prayer or the gift of helps. 

We kind of feel like: if I can pray for four hours than everyone ought to be able to pray for four hours.  And if there’s nothing I love more than doing hospital calls then everyone should feel that way.  When I was in Truro I had a retired gentleman in my church who worked as my lay assistant helping with visitation.  And it was nothing for Don to visit 4 or 5 hundred people during the year, yes that’s right four or five hundred people, people who were in the hospital or nursing homes or were shut-ins. 

And he did it so well, the gift of mercy was right up at the top of Don’s gift blend. Don lived to call on people, But he never tried to make me feel spiritually inferior because I didn’t have the spiritual gift of mercy in the same way he did.  But on the other hand while he was using his gift blend of mercy and compassion I was using my gift blend of Teaching and Leadership and saw the church grow and move into a building project. 

Secondly Martha allowed herself to be consumed by bitterness.  I’ve said this before you will never, ever be responsible for another believer’s behaviour but you will always be responsible for your own.  Martha wasn’t responsible for what Mary was or wasn’t doing.  But when she allowed envy to rear its head she became responsible for that. 

I don’t think it was so much that Martha wished that Mary would do what she was doing.  I think that Martha was envious of what Mary was doing, but instead of asking herself “Why aren’t I doing that?”  She found it easier to attack Mary, not for what she was doing, I mean how can you condemn a person for listening to Christ, but instead for what she wasn’t doing.   But that wasn’t the issue.

And Jesus recognized that, listen to what he says Luke 10:41-42 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What was the one thing that Mary had discovered that Martha hadn’t?  I don’t know it doesn’t tell us, but somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that it has something to do with his words in Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  What is your primary concern?  And if someone was to define your spiritual walk, where would it end up.  I trust that your desire is to serve him.  To get to know Jesus better and to exercise your spiritual gifts. 

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