Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s[l] feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10 v38-42
In the service on July 17th, I didn’t quite finish my sermon in full due to someone being poorly, and some of you have asked me about the book I was quoting from. So I thought I’d share some of what I was going to say here. The story of Mary and Martha certainly provokes interesting debate and plenty of self reflection…. I wonder which of them you most identify with?
In the story, it’s not just an issue that Martha was busy being hospitable (there’s nothing wrong with being hospitable and showing love and care through service, it’s an important part of the Christian life). What does Jesus actually say to her? He says…
‘Martha, Martha. You are worried and distracted by many things.’
‘Worried and distracted’. Wow – that’s a pretty good definition of many of us in today’s world isn’t it? I find myself worried and distracted quite often. We live in an ever-busier age which feels geared towards making us feel worried and distracted.
In his book ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ American pastor John Mark Comer addresses this subject. He is a very talented church leader and communicator and when he planted a church in Portland USA as the age of 23 it grew very fast – by over 1,000 people per year for 7 consecutive years.
Soon the church was multisite with several more campuses around the city with a thriving set of ministries emanating from it. But, in the midst of it all John Mark says he was losing his soul. He was so busy, with endless meetings, endless demands, endless emails.
In the introduction to his book he describes the day he realised things had to change. It was a Sunday at 10pm and he was travelling back home in an Uber, head slumped against the glass after preaching at 6 separate services. He was emotionally, physically, spiritually drained. He went home and with that dead-tired-but-still-wired feeling found himself watching a terrible movie on the sofa while his family were all in bed…
‘The thing is I feel like a ghost. Half Alive, Half Dead. More numb than anything else. Flat, one dimensional. Emotionally I live with an undercurrent of nonstop anxiety that rarely goes away, and a tinge of sadness, but mostly I just feel blaaah spiritually… empty. It’s like my soul is hollow.
My life is so fast. And I like fast. I’m type A. Driven. A get-crap-done kind of guy. But we’re well past that now. I work six days a week early to late, and it’s still not enough time to get it all done. Worse, I feel hurried. Like I’m tearing through each day, so busy with life that I’m missing out on the moment. And what is life but a series of moments? Anybody feel the same? I can’t be the only one”
John Mark was a Martha – constantly rushing, constantly busy – all in the service of Jesus – but getting burned out in the process. Worried and distracted.
The rest of his book ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ is based on his experience of very purposefully changing his lifestyle, leaving his megachurch to return to a simpler ministry, creating space for family, for sabbath rest, to return to being a human being rather than a ‘human doing’.
Later he writes:
‘Sound great right? Utopian even? Hardly. I feel more like a drug addict coming off meth. Who am I without the mega? A queue of people who want to meet with me? A late-night email flurry? A life of speed isn’t easy to walk away from. But in time, I detox. Feel my soul open up. There are no fireworks in the sky. Change is slow, gradual, and intermittent. Some days I nail it; others I slip back into hurry. But for the first time in years, I’m moving toward maturity, one inch at a time. Becoming more like Jesus. And more like my best self.
Even better: I feel God again. I feel my own soul.”
Psalm 46 says, “Be Still and Know that I am God!” Such simple words, but actually oh-so-difficult to put into practise!
We can all feel like Martha – we can all be like John Mark Comer a lot of the time. Endlessly distracted, endlessly worried and anxious, endlessly busy. Jesus calls us to simply sit at his feet. We need to make sure we are fed before we go and feed others. We need to prioritise being in his presence.
How do we do that? We begin by being still and knowing that he is God. Whatever else happens in your day- take a moment to be still and know that God is God – and you are not. That’s a start. God can work with that.
It won’t mean there aren’t things to do, work and service that need to happen. But let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s take time to sit at the feet of Jesus, to have our soul restored and allow Jesus to lead us.