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Putting Jesus First Isn't Easy

Martha's jealousy and anger drove her to the point where she was literally yelling at the Lord, and bossing him around. How did she get to this point? What is the point of service to God, family and church, and what can get in our way?

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Good Morning. I got a fun story to start with as we dig into the story of Mary and Martha. It took place in 1956, and Tom Attridge was test piloting the brand new jet they wanted to use for the famous Blue Angels.

Gunning it up to break the sound barrier, he was instructed to test fire his guns at Mach 1, which he did successfully. The test was to make sure the bullet casings flew far enough away from the craft at Mach 1 not to damage the craft. That part worked just fine, however…

He immediately noticed his windshield crack anyway, and that his engine was damaged. This was because he became the first man to actually shoot down his own plane. Tom was flying so fast, he passed through the trajectory of the bullets he had just shot, which shredded his engine, and Tom was forced to make an emergency landing in a field.

It's a great image for Martha, and for any of us when we get consumed with what we’re trying to do that we neglect our own Spiritual condition. (Luther) In our Gospel lesson Martha does something very foolish, and very offensive, but good news, Jesus loves her anyway. Martha hadn’t intended to be offensive, she had good intentions of being a good hostess to Jesus and His disciples. Jesus had been traveling across the land teaching the crowds and stopped by Bethany with his disciples.

Martha generously invited the group into her home to rest. Then she began the daunting task of preparing a meal for them. In Sunday school last week, we talked about how hard ancient travel was.

Ancient cooking was just as complicated compared to today. Remember, she hadn’t expected them, they hadn’t called ahead, and nothing was prepared for such a large group.  And it wasn’t like she could go down to the store and buy something precooked, or order some pizzas. Everything she would make for this group of probably a dozen hungry men would have to be made from scratch.

And while she prepared the meal… Jesus sat down in the next room and continued teaching his disciples. And Martha’s sister Mary is there with Jesus. And she’s excited. She had probably heard him preach before at Jerusalem which was nearby, and NOW… here He is… in her house… and He’s teaching. She’s so excited she just sits right down at Jesus’ feet and listens to Him. And she forgets ALL about Martha…

And the meal                       

And setting the table.

Now Martha doesn’t share Mary’s enthusiasm to sit at Jesus feet, because she knows there’s work to be done. She was supporting Jesus with room and board. So, there’s a lot to do and Mary isn’t doing it.

Let’s take a minute to picture what’s happening with Martha, little by little, getting upset.

First, she starts by making little noises in the kitchen to express her displeasure. She sets a pot down on the table… really hard…and looks to see if Mary noticed. Nope. She bangs some utensils into the wash bucket, and you can see a small frown begins to play at the edge of her lips.

As she clangs around the kitchen glancing into the other room… looking at Mary – just SITTING there – doing nothing. NOTHING!

She steps over to the fire and vigorously she stirs the stew. Too vigorously. Some of it slops over the edge of the pot, and she angrily wipes it up with a cloth. And she burns her hand a little.

One thing leads to another thing. And she gets more and more worked up, because NOTHING is working out for her. Everything’s going wrong. And it’s all Mary’s fault. Mary’s just sitting there and doing nothing. And finally… she has had ALL SHE CAN TAKE!

I wanted to take some time to paint this picture because I think most of us have been here. Martha has let jealously and anger eat her up to the point that She stomps right over into Jesus face and orders him, saying:

Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?

Tell her to help me!

Martha has lost her temper. She’s pitched a fit in front of her guests. But worst of all – she’s forgotten who it is that’s in her house. She’s got so upset about her agenda of how to serve God that she’s begun to treat God like her servant and she tells God what to do, and when to do it. 

The Good News for her, and for us, is that she is not stricken with leprosy or cursed or whatever like we deserve.

Jesus has compassion on Martha. He says to her:

Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Martha was being a servant. She was doing ministry. She was trying to meet the needs of Jesus and His disciples.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? But her service, which she intended for God, left her bitter and angry, both at God and her family!

Let you in on a secret here. A lot of the time when I am angry with someone, especially as it relates to how they are serving, or not serving God – they’re not the problem. I am. Mary here is not the problem, even though she was not doing what Martha expected a good sister to do.

But Good News, like I said. When Martha loses her temper, notice how gentle Jesus is with her. He’s not belittling her ministry.

He’s not questioning her love for Him. He says her name twice. (Martha, Martha) It’s almost like He’s saying: It’s ok. You’ve done good things --- and I appreciate it. BUT Martha, you forgot something, the One Thing. You forgot to put ME FIRST. Mary has understood that. She has understood that it’s not about her.

Jesus has to be put first, before accolades, titles, and credit. 

Now, some folks have believed that Jesus was implying that Martha’s work in the Kitchen was somehow not an important thing, or that Martha should have been sitting down beside Mary instead of working in the kitchen. But that is not what’s happening here.

Notice: Did Jesus ever tell Martha she was wrong for serving? Did He rebuke her for not being in the room listening to Him teach? No.

In fact, the next time we read about Jesus coming to her home she’s doing exactly the same thing.

John 12:1-2 tells us that Martha served Jesus and his disciples a great dinner before he went into Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry. Martha served Jesus with overwhelmingly good hospitality. That’s what she does. That’s HER gift! And she’s good at it, which might be why Jesus shows up there so often to eat.

Martha shows us that it is easy to lose our focus on God, by watching others, and judging the level of how well we think they are serving. Martha’s focus on Mary instead of Jesus led her to Jealousy, wrath, and the ridiculousness of angrily bossing God around. And I call it ridiculous mostly because I know it to be one of my greatest temptations.

The second thing, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this, as it is also a common application, is that it can be very easy for us to mistake busyness for serving God.  It is very easy to replace sitting at Jesus feet… with being busy (and being bossy). 

It’s very easy to live in a whirlwind and end up, as CS Lewis quipped, not doing either what we ought to do, or what we want to do.  So busy and full of activity that we end up not doing anything.

It’s very possible to be so busy that we don’t serve God, our families, or ourselves.  There come times when we need to slow down to reassess, what is most important, what is the One Thing that is important, as Jesus said, and make sure that we make that our first priority.

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