Don’t Just sit there … do something! Have you ever noticed we are busy people. Running here and there there are times when we are all caught up in it. How much time in a week is spent shuttling the kids to baseball, soccer, volleyball, hockey. Work demands more and more of our time and energy. Deadlines to meet, quotas to fill, paperwork to get done. The list of household chores grows longer every week. Barely time for a family meal, let alone an evening devotion. Little wonder that our sicknesses are mostly stress related. We are busy people.
Congregations can be busy places too. There is always work to do, and always too few people to do it. Programs to run both new and old; property to be kept up; bills to pay. Sometimes the work piles up so much that it even overshadows worship. Sad, but true. How often have you heard someone say they’ve “been meaning to get to church but it’s just been so busy!” How many times have you used it as an excuse yourself? It should never be. Worship always comes first in the Christian congregation. It’s why God gathers a congregation in the first place, so that we can sit at the feet of Jesus bask in His loving presence and hear His Word.
The problem is that you don’t look terribly busy when you’re listening to God’s Word. What do you do when you come to church? Mostly, you sit and listen. You sing songs. You pray. You kneel and eat a bit of bread and drink a sip of wine. But mostly, you sit and listen to God’s Word. And it drives people crazy there simply not used to it. Think about it, while at church you contribute nothing to the gross national product, do nothing to alleviate the national debt, (or your own). You don’t even solve world hunger or homelessness. By Society’s standards, worship is unproductive. Don’t just sit there … do something.
Little wonder many people mistake worship for a leisure activity, something you do if you have the time and don’t have other plans. And so the infamous line “We’d like to make it to church more often, pastor, but we’re just so busy.” And we teach our children and our friends and our neighbours to say the same thing every time we set an example by provide an alternative activity to church on Sunday morning to keep them or us otherwise busy. When our lives become too busy to stop for God and His Word, what we are in effect saying to the world around us is that God’s Word really isn’t, or worse yet, God himself isn’t.
What do I mean by that? The Word of God can only be truly the Word of God in our lives when we take it seriously. That might sound pretty basic, but it is a basic first step to discovering what power God’s Word can really have in our lives. The Word of God can’t be a Lamp to guide our feet if it we don’t read it. If our Bible sits on the bedside table or the bookshelf unopened how can it possibly make a difference?
Why am I making such a fuss over something so basic to our Christian faith? I dare say that most people in our country have heard of the Bible, but the percentage of people who have actually read any part of the Bible would be very small indeed. The number of people who read their Bibles at least once a week would even be less. Once we could assume that most people knew some basic stories from the Bible like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, or events in Jesus’ life. Today when we talk to people about the Bible, we can’t assume anything.
It’s a sad fact that even among those who attend church regularly there is little regular Bible reading. This fact comes out quite clearly in the latest published survey by the Barna group. The findings were sad. A cross-sample of Christians from all denominations showed that the personal beliefs of only 43% agreed with the most basic of Bible teachings. Things like is the whole Bible really the word of God? ls there a real creature called satan? Was Jesus sinless? 57% of Christians need to read their Bibles. 100% of Christians need to be reading it more than they are.
The only time many people hear God’s Word from the Bible is at worship services on Sundays, that is of course, if they come to church every Sunday. God has given us his Word to make a powerful and lasting difference in our life. To not read it is like baking a cake just to look at, or buying clothes you never intend to wear.
What is it that prevents us from making the Bible a greater part of our lives? The first thing most people say is that the stress and pace of modern life leaves little time for any reading anything, let alone the Bible. This is nothing new. We heard the story about Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha. In this morning’s Gospel, Martha was the busy one, frantically running around the house, sweeping the floors, fluffing the pillows, setting the table, stirring the pots, baking the bread. All of it important work, no doubt. After all, this was Jesus coming to her house. Who wouldn’t put out a special effort? Meanwhile, sister Mary sat on the floor at Jesus’ feet, quietly taking in His word.
Then the pots on the stove start boiling over. The bread is burning in the oven. A pottery bowl crashes to the floor. The cat hops on the table and eats the floral arrangement. And Martha comes storming through the kitchen door with fire in her eyes and steam coming out of her ears. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve by myself?” “Here I am working my fingers to the bone, while you and my lazy sister kibitz on the couch.” She’s angry, not only with Mary but with Jesus. And she wants Him to lay down the law. “Tell her to not just to sit there, but to do something.”
Instead He speaks a word to busy Martha. “Martha, Martha. Look at you. You are anxious and worried about many things. And for what? I didn’t come to your house to be served. I came to serve you, to be with you and your sister. You’ve been so busy, we‘ve barely had time to visit. Why don’t you pull up a seat next to Mary over here by my feet and just rest for awhile. Your sister has chosen the good portion, the one thing she (and you) need the most, and I’m not about to take that from her.”
Luke, the gospel writer, recorded this event immediately after the Good Samaritan for a very good reason. Life, especially the Christian life, is busy. Busy as our faith and love lead us to serve God and others everyday of our lives. Jesus isn’t upset about the fact that Martha is busy. But he is saying that there is a time for being busy and a time for listening to God, reading his Word, giving the Spirit the opportunity to increase our faith and love for even greater works of service to others. To recharge our batteries, so to speak. And the one must always come before the other.
Stephen Covey wrote this. “People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society — if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.” (First Things First, p. 33). We can become so preoccupied with all the things that make up our lives, even committees and service toward others in the church, that we squeeze out of our daily program the one and only thing we truly need: a time to spend listening to God in His Word and talking with Him in prayer.
The one thing needful is the gift that Jesus has come to bring. It is the gift of Himself, through the glorious presence of His words and actions. His love. His forgiveness. His strength. His care. His time. It’s a gift you saw being given to Sophie when God promised that from this day forward she would be His child, she would bear His name, she will receive His inheritance. His love and forgiveness, care and strength in her life forever more. And what does He require from her before He will make that commitment? Nothing! It‘s the same gift he gave to each and every one of you too. In the church we call these gifts the Word and Sacraments. The gift of God’s Word, the Bible; the gift of His name in Baptism; and the gift of His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.
And these gifts of God are the one thing needed to turn our hectic, frazzled, turbulent lives around. The Word and the Sacraments are the one thing needed to bring peace and rest. The one thing that doesn’t just fill up life, but grants new and abundant life! The one thing that can bring hope and healing to anyone in any situation. The one thing that can never be taken from us. But the one thing we are sometimes too busy to want.
The issue presented in our Gospel reading is pretty simple. Are we to first serve the Lord or be served by Him? Must we prove ourselves worthy before God will love us? Accept us? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding NO. The proper approach to life, faith, and even worship is very different. Mary has the right understanding. Lead by Her God—given faith, she sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from Him. Instead of trying to serve Him first, she allows Jesus first to serve her with all of His gifts. What God want s most from us is just some of our time. Time enough to give us His heavenly gifts each day; the gifts of God’s Word and Sacraments. After receiving these gifts will there be plenty of time to express our joy in response. So don’t just do something … sit there!