In the place where Jesus stayed
Martha toiled while Mary prayed.
This had Martha slamming doors
Jesus said,"the choice was yours!"
Mary, so demure and sweet,
Seated at the master's feet
Praying with the Holy One,...
(That Martha had got the dishes done.)
Well, I’m not sure that that is what Mary was praying for, but it’s possible! Two sisters, two different ways of approaching the world. And each of us in this room may identify with one sister or the other more strongly.
Okay, I’ll admit it.
I’m a Martha. I’m all about making a list and getting things done and checking them off the list. I just love checking things off a list. Sometimes I’ll even add little things to the list just so I can cross them off. I like the structure of projects that have a start, middle and end, with definable tasks. It feels safe, right?
That’s why this past week has been so interesting.
It was the week of finishing the installation of the new computer in the office, as well as upgrading my own laptop so all the devices could talk to one another. Just the perfect set of projects to make up a list for. And Dell and Microsoft played right into my desire for doing something with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. They had lists for me to follow.
Now, their lists had to fit into the normal structure of the week here at church. That included preparing the bulletin and announcements, the meetings, including the Vestry meeting, and preparation of the sermon. And I knew that the week would also include visits to see the N family in the hospital, as Z recovers from his injuries. Still, I felt it was all under control.
You know that old saying? The one that goes “You make plans and God laughs?” Well, God laughed. I came into the office on Monday to get Lucy’s new computer up and running. I had done some preliminary work on it last week, but there was more to be done. So this was the first item on the list. But then the phone rang, and another issue needed attention. Some of the processes that needed to occur to get the computer going took much longer than I expected, so I had to leave the computer chugging along, doing its thing, while I went downtown to MCV. I didn’t get home until later in the evening than I had originally planned, but I felt we were well on the way to getting the computer going.
When I came into the office on Tuesday morning, the process of transferring files was done, so it was time to move out the old computer and move in the new one. I had a moment of panic when I thought the printer didn’t have the proper kind of connector for the new computer. Still, after crawling around underneath the desk to get the old computer unhooked and the new one hooked up, I was feeling pretty good about things. Then Lucy tried to get onto her email.
Lucy’s email wasn’t working.
God laughed. A rip-roaring snort.
The glitch turned out to be a relatively minor one, but it required most of Tuesday morning and part of the afternoon for Paul D to untangle it for us.
In the meantime, I was thinking about how the things on my mental list weren’t getting checked off. I was frustrated and annoyed with myself.
God shook his head, slowly, from side to side, and made that little “tsk-tsk” noise.
Now a smart person would stop and say, “This is a good time to stop, and catch my breath, and talk to God.”
But I’m a Martha, with my mental checklists and my calendar and my ridiculous expectations of myself. So I kept pushing along, and got through the issues with Lucy’s computer, and with my own laptop, and prepared for the monthly Vestry meeting to be held on Tuesday night. I felt pretty good about it all. After all, I had checked more items of the list, hadn’t I? And they were all important things, weren’t they? So I plowed ahead. And the phone rang, and it was my eldest stepson, who asked if the family might stop over at our place on their way to the beach. “When?” I asked. “Ummmm…..tonight,” he said. So I took a deep breath, and because I really love my stepson and his wife and family, and because I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I’d like, I said, “Of course!” So between the afternoon’s work and the Vestry meeting, before my Tuesday workout at the gym, I ran home and made beds and straightened up the house, feeling just a teensy bit frazzled, but happily anticipating their arrival. And after the workout I cooked dinner for Doug, gulped down a bit of it, and came over to church for the Vestry meeting.
And God was saying, “Hey, you, over here! I’m still here. Want to talk about it?”
But I was too busy checking things off the list. So we had the Vestry meeting, and then I ran to Martin’s to pick up a couple of things I thought we might need for breakfast, and I came home to finish straightening up, and I sat down on the couch, exhausted, but knowing that I needed to stay awake until Matt and Jenny and the kids got here. And in my mind, I was thinking of the things that we had talked about in the Vestry meeting and what I needed to tend to over the next few days. And I was constructing yet another list.
As I was sitting there on the living room couch, mulling over the list, in all my Martha-like obsession with getting it all done, there was a loud CLAP of thunder. I jumped a bit – after all, it’s been quite some time since we’ve last had that kind of storm around here – and then the rains came. And I knew that Matt and his family would be driving through a storm, tired after getting the little ones all ready for the trip. And I worried, because that’s what mothers do.
And I sat there, and I prayed. Finally, I stopped with the lists and the doing and the fixing, and I just sat there and prayed. “Dear God, keep them safe as they drive down through the storm.”
And God said, “I was wondering when you’d get around to that.”
Here’s the heart of this story in today’s gospel, about the diligent Martha and the dreamy Mary. God waits for us to invite him in. If we are so busy doing and listing and fixing and fussing, we may find we don’t leave ourselves time to welcome God into our hearts.
This is not to say that God requires those Marthas among us to stop doing everything that we are so very good at doing (and which, frankly, we secretly enjoy doing) and do nothing more than pray. The Marys may be called to that, and God bless them for that. It takes a special person to be a Mary, to simply sit and study and pray. But we Marthas, we are called to something different, to the doing and the fixing. But even in the midst of the work, we still must stop and invite God in, talk with God, pray, ponder. We must sit still long enough to hear God’s words and feel God’s presence in the midst of the work.
The lists will still be there. The tasks to be done will still remain. But if we can find a way to reframe them so that they are not merely work, but something that we offer to God, then these tasks are transformed into sacramental work, and they and we are twice blessed.
Whether we are Marthas or Marys, our lives are so full of the things that keep us from talking to God. So let’s not wait for the clap of thunder. Let’s make the time and the space to stop, sit still, and meditate on the one who guides our life and our work and our prayer. We will be twice blessed.