Martha means “master.”
Head of the household.
And like her name implies, Martha was in charge.
She made sure that everything was handled.
- When her brother Lazarus died, she was the first one to run out to Jesus on the road and scold him for not getting there sooner.
- She was also the first of the sisters to recognize Jesus as the messiah in the Gospel of John.
- And so it makes sense that Martha, the one in charge, is also the one in the kitchen, making preparations and making sure everything is in order.
And yet Martha gets bad press in a lot of sermons about this text.
And so I want to be clear here that hard work and Martha’s work in particular is not something Jesus is condemning here.
We all need Marthas in our lives.
Those people who are behind the scenes, making sure every detail is attended to.
People like our Ministry Team Lead for Hospitality, Jill Crawey and her team, including folks like Carol St. John, people who have stepped up in such a big way this past month to offer hospitality at 4 memorial services as well as at today’s Thanks for Giving meal.
You’ll see some of the work they’ve put in today, but a lot of it is things that happen behind the scenes.
I also think about Roberta Glaser and the team she’s developing to help us manage memorial services even better.
This past month, she made sure flowers were arranged, families were cared for, and ushers were called and in place.
And we can’t leave out Meg and Dorenda and Linda and… me too, who juggled logistics to make sure every service was equally meaningful and well-put-together.
And it wasn’t just memorial services where our Martha sides showed up this month.
I think about Marge, for example. Wow!
- In addition to running a beautiful Generosity Campaign, she worked with Sammy to organize the boxes for the East Mountain Food Pantry. She calculated exactly how many potatoes and yams each family got, did the shopping, and then put printed forms on every box, so that the volunteers like me who showed up knew exactly what to do.
And then there are all of you who weren’t necessarily “in charge,” but who put in countless hours. Shopping, setting up, carrying food, serving, driving leftovers to Casa Q, winterizing our garden, or setting up our Cornucopia, among other things.
And it’s not just here at church where our Martha sides show up.
There are many of us who are hosting a large number of guests, maybe not here at the church, but in our homes.
I know one person here today who’s welcoming over 20 guests, not just for Thanksgiving dinner, but for 8 meals. And she’s doing all the shopping!
Whether it’s our job or calling or a volunteer position, these tasks and events involve a LOT of work.
And a attention to detail.
And that was Martha. It was her gift. The hard work and the attention to detail.
She made sure that everything was in order for Jesus’ arrival.
And I want to be clear, Jesus, in this text is not condemning the Martha’s of the world. In fact, Jesus praises Martha over and over in the Bible, saying how much he loves her.
And…in that spirit of love, Jesus also encourages Martha, and he encourages the Marth in all of us to keep perspective when faced with enormous tasks such as these.
I believe that here, he’s encouraging Martha not to stop working, but rather to relax, to breath, and to keep things simple.
This year, at Church of the Good Shepherd, there are some places we’re doing better at this than others.
For example, our Council decided to cater our Thanks for Giving meal this year.
The Council used to not only donate the turkeys but also cook them.
Knowing how much our Council works (and if you don’t, I’ll tell you that at least two of them volunteered over 40 hours last week), can you imagine, during this busy season, giving them yet another task?
I’ll confess that in that past, when we had the Council cook the turkeys, there was also some variation in the quality of the cooking…
Everyone has their gifts. Not everyone’s gift is cooking.
So this year, the Council is keeping it simple.
They’re hosting a beautiful meal, but they’re not fussing, at least not as much, in the kitchen.
Jill Crawley is still there, and if there’s someone you’re looking to thank or shower with gifts this holiday season, she’s a great person to consider!
Because even keeping it simple, someone still has to be in charge. And that’s Jill. She’s our celebrated Martha today.
Thankfully…she also has a crew of volunteers that is helping her.
And…my hope is, that they’re not so busy and distracted with all of their serving responsibilities that they forget to enjoy and get to know one another.
The Amplified Bible translates today’s text to say that Martha was not only busy but DISTRACTED with all of her serving responsibilities.
In the Message translation, Jesus says to Martha, “You’re fussing over far too much.”
Jesus pleads with her, “Martha, Relax a little. Keep it simple. I don’t need a feast for a king. What’s important is not what we eat or how beautiful it is, but who we are with.”
Keep it simple. And focus on the people, not the fuss.
Whether we’re hosting a meal (or 8), sharing time with guests, or putting together a memorial service, it’s important to remember that simple can still be meaningful.
At this point in my career, I’ve done over 150 weddings and funerals. And at just as many pot lucks, if not more. And no one has once said “I wish the linen had been ironed better.”
No one has once said, “I wish the hour devours at the service had been made from scratch.”
No one has once said, “I wish the bride had worn a more expensive dress.”
You know what people remember?
The couple getting married. Or the stories about the person who’s passed from this life. Or the people they shared those moments with.
In our text today, Jesus tells Mary that what she’s getting sitting at Jesus’ feet is something that will never be taken away from her.
Those stories, those intimate conversations, those moments of laughter – those are what stay with us.
I don’t remember what I ate at Thanksgiving in 1985. But I do remember singing along while my great grandfather played the piano.
I don’t remember whether the pie was any good at the Christmas pot luck in 2008. But I do remember talking to the 85-year-old member of my congregation who’d just gotten her first tattoo and wanted everyone to see it.
At our memorial services this month, I heard over and over again that people just wished they’d spent a little bit more time getting to know the person they were celebrating.
We learned amazing things about people at those services – like how Carl rescued dying service members from the front lines in WWII, how Jim McElhaney wrote love-note comic strips and left them for his wife Penny when he went out of town, how Wayne traveled the world and loved to sing Amazing Grace at the top of his lungs while riding his horse. And how Orp, was a clown. Okay, lots of us guessed that one.
But those stories made me wonder, what depths of one another’s lives are we missing?
What insights does that person sitting next to us have to share that we haven’t heard yet?
And what do we have the opportunity to learn and appreciate while we’re still here together?
Now, I certainly don’t want people to stop cooking or volunteering, but I do hope that we work to keep things in perspective, and when we can, keep things simple, fuss a little less, so that even those of us working behind the scenes can take a moment to sit, listen, and enjoy one another.
This church is full of extraordinary people.
For example – did you know that Jenny Sanchez, in addition to leading our justice ministry and working in our garden, is also a phenomenal Latin dancer? Or that Michael Tucker, our Vice Moderator, is also a writer and videographer and one of the few Americans to try his hand at writing in the Japanese genre of interactive online visual novels.
How many of us know that Sky, our Ministry Team Lead for Administration, is also a 3rd-generation blacksmith who’s forges steel swords in his garage.
Or that Karen Bash, our former moderator, is running for elected office.
And Dorenda, our accomplished pianist, also has the cutest puppy you’ll ever meet.
Of course, listening and sharing is a two-way street. In order for us to get to know one another, we also have to be willing to fill the role of Jesus, sharing our own stories and letting people know a little bit more about who we are.
Trust me, people want to know!
So many of us think that our lives are uninteresting. Or we’ve been taught to be humble and keep our accomplishments to ourselves.
But I’ve also never done a memorial service for anyone of any age where people didn’t have something in their lives that people valued, that was cause for celebration.
When we share who we are and what we do and what we care about, it brings us closer to one another.
So my challenge to us today and in this seasons of generosity and is to give thanks for the Marthas in our lives, and to also
Keep it simple. Share with one another. And focus on the people, not the fuss.