Amos 8: 1-12
Thank you all for being here today, especially in the extreme heat! Today feels a little like preaching to the choir because you all are very devoted to come out in this weather!
Our Gospel reading from today is the familiar story of Martha and Mary. It is one that I have always identified with someone else in the story based on where I am in my life. Right now I identify with Martha.
I was recently reading an article about housework and it was saying that couples today are trying to be more equitable in how they divide up the housework but inevitability the person who does the dishes does three times as much work as the person who doesn’t. That’s because dishes need to be done at least three times a day, even if you do them once a day you still have dishes for three meals plus snacks.
Well, I am the person who does the dishes in my house and one day when I was feeling overwhelmed my husband said, “why don’t you stop cleaning and rest” and since I was overwhelmed and a little grouchy I said, “because I don’t live in a world where this gets done. If I want clean dishes I have to do them.” Now of course my husband does a lot around the house but this time when I read the story I feel for Martha because in this moment she was doing all of the work and she wasn’t being appreciated for it.
It seems like we often focus on who was doing right when we read and study this passage but maybe the intentions matter more because it’s not that Martha was doing anything wrong. It’s that she was driving herself to anxiety and distraction.
Martha’s work is needed. Just two Sundays ago we heard Jesus tell his disciples to enter towns and relay the hospitality of others. Jesus and his disciples counted on people like Martha in order to be successful. What Martha was doing was right and needed and necessary but she was doing it for the wrong reasons. She was doing it out of obligation rather than for the glory of God. This now is a story about what happens when we do the right things for the wrong reasons.
When we do things because we feel obligated to do them, because we want to “do good” rather than because we have discerned God’s mission and are working to further that then we find ourselves doing what is good and not what is best. This notion isn’t only found in people it is also found in institutions and churches aren’t immune. In church worlds especially, we’re prone to filling up our time with activities that feel like nice things to do that seem fitting for good people to do. But this story tells us that must stop and ask, “Are they what God is calling us to? Are they our mission, or are they worries and distractions?”
One of the things that Mary and Martha help teach us is the difference between “mission” and “doing good.” It’s a tricky distinction because again, on the surface, it’s all good work: Martha’s hospitality came from her gifts and her dedication to welcome and what could possibly be wrong with that?
But what if Martha’s service that day was more about her own frustration that she felt her sister was lazy, or that she was always left with all the work, or that if she didn’t do things, no one else would do them? What if Martha was burrowing into her aggravation and tasks as a way of hiding her heart from Christ?
Martha needed to examine her heart because if she was providing hospitality out her love for Christ rather than her need to “do good” she would not have cared that Mary didnt. This process of examining why we do what we do is needed in our lives and we should strive to do things that further the mission of God based on our own individual calls and gifts. In order to help us reflect and discern let us consider the characteristics between doing good and mission.
Doing Good: Is more about our own feelings than about serving others’ needs (for example, sending aid packages full of milk powder to countries where most people are lactose-intolerant). It is driven by self-justification and can easily be weaponized as proof of being better or more deserving than someone else just like we saw Martha do to Mary. Doing Good is often easy, familiar, comfortable, and routine. In the end it doesn’t really transform or heal others by God’s love.
Mission, on the other hand: comes from listening to God and our neighbors for the needs of the world around us. It always requires us to grow into new skills or strengths. It is never entirely comfortable or familiar and it deepens relationships with God and neighbors. In the end it transforms and heals others through the love of God.
It is easier for us to be like Martha than Mary because following God’s mission for us is scary and will put us in situations that are outside of our comfort zone and yet Jesus tells us that this is the better part and it is a gift that will not be taken from us. Let us set out to do the work that is best and not just good.