The 4th of July holiday usually marks the unofficial halfway point of summer. I know, I know. I can hear the groans already from some and perhaps cheers from others. As we journey through this summer of 2010, I am wondering how you have thought about your holy observance of the Sabbath. Are there any changes you have made so far this summer in order to observe a more meaningful, more faithful Sabbath? Have you tried anything new in your attempt to honor a holy Sabbath rest day? This is not the last you will hear from me about Sabbath. While we are in these three months of summer, I really want us to consider how we remember the Sabbath, the day of rest instituted by God for the purpose of honoring Him and recharging our batteries for the week ahead.
This text from Luke’s Gospel is a wonderful Scripture to consider our honoring of the Sabbath. The story of Mary and Martha follows the parable of the Good Samaritan where we learning about what it means to be a good neighbor and show love to others. In the parable, and I know most if not all of you here are familiar with the story, the Samaritan helps the man who was beaten and robbed when others passed him by on the side of the road. The Samaritan teaches us about giving to others who are in need strictly out of good will, regardless of background or history or how we feel about them.
We enter this story as Jesus comes into a village and is welcomed into the home of Martha. Martha had a sister named Mary. It becomes very clear to us early on that the two of these sisters are very much different from one another. There is a distinct contrast between the two of them. Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to all that the Lord says. Perhaps, Mary is the more reflective one, the one in need of some quiet time in the presence of her Lord. In any case, she is the one who is focused on Jesus – on His words, on His life, on His presence right then and there.
Notice how unlike her sister, Martha, is from Mary in the story. Martha is rushing around the house, preparing food, cleaning house, tending to the physical needs of Jesus. It is no wonder that she gets upset with her sister, Mary, for in her eyes, Mary is not helping her at all. Mary is not being a good hostess. Martha is busy. Martha is focused on Jesus, too, is she not? However, her focus is just taking a different form than her sister’s.
And so, which one of the sisters was right in her actions? According to Jesus, Mary was. Mary had chosen the better thing. Mary had chosen to place herself at Jesus’ feet, humbling herself before Him and listening attentively to all that He had to say. However, I wonder as we think ourselves about Sabbath this summer, how many of us are Mary Sabbath observers? How many of us are quiet and reflective during the time we call Sabbath, listening for the voice of God to speak to us? How many of us put ourselves at the feet of Jesus, in the presence of God? How many observe a Sabbath emulated in Psalm 46, verse 1 – to “Be still and know that I am God?”
Or are your Sabbath’s more like how Martha is acting in our Scripture? Do you spend them running around, being distracted and worried by many things? Do you “fit” church in between everything else on your Sundays or worse yet, is church the first thing to go in our schedules? Not that anyone here does this, but have you ever worked on your “To Do” list or grocery shopping list during the prelude, offering, silent prayer time or (dare I say) sermon? During times of intentional silence in our worship service, do you find it difficult to concentrate? Which one can you relate to more – Mary or Martha?
Now, I am not going to be too quick to praise Mary and condemn Martha for their actions here. Certainly, Jesus knew their hearts and knew that Mary was genuine in her worship of Jesus and Martha was distracted and upset about the wrong things. However, I was thinking this week about this story and reflecting on my own response to God sometimes as it relates to Sabbath. Sure, Mary is sitting there at the Lord’s feet and everything appears to be okay. But, could she easily be thinking, “This is what I know I am supposed to be doing, but I cannot wait for it to be over so that I can get to everything else.” Could her attitude, or ours for that matter, be similar to the first Scripture reading from Amos, which Betsy read? “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?”
We too know that Sabbath rest is what God commands all throughout the Scriptures. But, let us each admit it, there are times when we cannot wait for the service to get over so that we can get to our routines. Also, Mary could look like she is interested but could just be using that time not as an offering to her Lord, but as a way to keep Martha at a distance – off her back. I am not saying that is what is going on here, because as I said, Jesus certainly knows the state of their hearts; however, it could be a possibility for Mary, or even for us.
What about Martha? Is what she is doing so wrong, from a Sabbath point of view? Could Martha be observing her Sabbath in a holy way by serving and doing good for others, the same way that the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches? Think about what Jesus said in Matthew 12. “He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath’” (Matthew 12:9-12). It is lawful to do good. Martha could make the argument that she was just doing good – she was just serving – on the Sabbath.
Think about it in your own life. There are some things that we do that could probably be considered work, but they are relaxing and our time to reflect and recharge, right? For some here today, maybe it is cooking a big meal in the kitchen. Cooking could be considered work, but it relaxes you especially when you think about the joy of gathering around the table with family and friends later in the day. Or for some, cutting the grass, although a chore, is restful. I know that for me, I put my iPod on, start the mower, and have some incredibly close times with God. It is my opportunity to think, to pray, to reflect, and to get away from the world for a moment. And still for others, yardwork – weeding, planting, mulching, watering, pruning – is your way of observing Sabbath, of appreciating God’s creation and how it grows, how it needs to be tended. Much like our own lives. Whatever your Martha Sabbath-moments are, they do indeed relax you, bring you into God’s presence, allow you to recharge, give you your own quiet time.
For each of us, our Sabbath observance and rest will be somewhat different. No two will be exactly alike. We each rest in our own way and experience the presence of God in different places and under different circumstances. No matter whether you observe a Mary Sabbath or a Martha Sabbath or a little of both, there are a few key things to remember and to know. First, are you distracted or worried in your Sabbath observance? Do you come to worship in the right frame of mind or are there things that are keeping you from focusing on being in the presence of God?
Secondly, is the Sabbath something personal for you, or do you consider it a requirement that you check off your list? Do you count the time until Sabbath is done so that you can get to other things? Are you more like the people that Amos talks about? Or, are you truly in the presence of the Lord, either sitting quietly at His feet or serving and doing good as the Lord provides opportunity for you? What kind of Sabbath do you observe? Let us pray…
Loving God, we have so much to learn from both Mary and Martha. In those times when we are distracted from focusing on You, Lord, please give us what we need to remember what is important. During those times when we are simply going through the motions, convict us to feel Your presence and Your love in our hearts. In all times, may we observe a Sabbath that is holy, faithful, meaningful, and restful. Thank You, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.