The last few weeks have been, well, crazy. I think that is the holiest way you can describe what it is like to move from one state to another, deal with movers, and to make new friends with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
It feels like these last few weeks have been a case of constantly going from one thing to the next. A series of events of making sure Noah is getting enrolled in school and has the proper therapies. A series of trying to figure out what is going on and where things are. A series of learning all I can about the church and meeting as many of you as I can.
I want to thank you for how you have made us feel welcome, the stories that you have shared, and the information you have provided. They have all been welcome and appreciated. I want to be honest with you. It is easy to feel like my head spinning around like it was on a swivel. It is easy to get overwhelmed by everything.
Do you ever feel that way? Do ever feel so overwhelmed by life that, at times, you’re not sure which way is up? Even when what you are doing is good and necessary, do you ever feel so caught up in life, in busyness, in craziness, that you’re not sure what is going on and feel distracted by trying to get it all done?
Now, do we ever feel like that in the church? Do we ever feel overwhelmed in the church? I’ve been thinking about my previous churches I have had the pleasure of serving. Each of these congregations have done some amazing things, but they all held in common a sense of anxiety and nervousness. Anxiety about the future, of trying to hold on, or of trying to make sense of the world. They all seemed to be caught up in busyness to a point it distracted them from the main thing.
I don’t know about you, but when I am overwhelmed, I am not able to accomplish the things that I want to do with all of my focus. Can you imagine how much more than statement is true for a community of 60, 70, 80, 90, or even 100 people?
I wonder if this is how Christ desires for us to share life together. Is there a better way for us to live that is absent of the anxiety that often consumes us? A way that leads us to discipleship in Christ that forms who we are, what we claim, and we do in response to our love of God.
These questions come to us as we look at our passage from Luke 10:38-42. It comes immediately after the story of the Good Samaritan. If you remember from last week, we talked about how Jesus called those who seek to follow him into an active life of meeting the needs of those around them. Now, we see Jesus interacting with Martha and Mary as they are gathered for a party.
The passage doesn’t give much in context to who these women are or their connection to Jesus. What we gather, especially from John, is that along with their brother, Lazarus, they were among the disciples of Jesus. We often think of disciples as only the 12 who Jesus spent the majority of his time with or even the three – Peter, James, and John – that served as Jesus’ inner circle. There was, also, a group of 70 or more who followed Jesus, his teachings, and sought to support him.
Martha and Mary were among the disciples, which was a counter-cultural statement in Jesus’ time, because women were not encouraged to be followers of teachers. Jesus was surrounded, throughout his ministry, by various women who were as much a part of his discipleship ministry as the 12 Apostles. They are disciples.
The focus of the story isn’t, necessarily, on the right place for Mary. Luke’s entire gospel places women at the center of the story of Christ, and so for Luke it is a settled question of whether women are disciples. They are. The question, here though, is about how Martha and Mary respond to their life in Christ.
Martha is a doer. She is the host of a feast for Jesus and his disciples. Think about what is involved when you host a party or a get-together. Each Advent, we host an open house at the parsonage. Right after Thanksgiving, Abbi will spend hours upon hours baking everything from brownies to pepperoni rolls. When it gets down to the final hours of preparation, I know that I don’t need to joke around with her, because it won’t be good for me. Abbi is in full game mode and wants to make sure everything is right.
This is similar to what is going on with Martha. She is consumed by everything that she has to do. She is trying to throw a party to honor Jesus, but is running behind and needs help. She is entirely focused upon this work. More than that, she is distracted by everything she has do. To the point that she is not paying any attention to Jesus and the others who are in the house. She is consumed by what has to get done.
It’s not that Martha was consumed by bad things. In fact, what she was doing was a good and honorable thing. She was preparing a feast for the Lord. The struggle, for Martha, was that she allowed what she had to do to keep her from what was most important.
Think about that in our spiritual lives and, even, the life of the church. A lot of times we put our focus on good things or we are concerned about important matters we need to deal with. We want to be about doing things for the kingdom of God that are important and necessary. What happens, though, when all we think about are doing things? What happens when all we are concerned about are the questions that face us in the church? We get overwhelmed and begin to feel pulled in various directions. We get distracted.
When we are distracted in our faith and in the church, it leads to spiritual stagnation. I define spiritual stagnation as what happens when we are merely concerned with just showing up. It happens when we take the focus of being a spiritual disciple of Jesus Christ and are more concerned with being consumers of religious goods and services. Spiritual stagnation, when it builds up over time, leads to the period we find ourselves in now where worship participation is voluntary to spiritual growth, discipleship something only for those who have the time, and ministry only done by the paid professionals.
There has to be a better way. In fact, Jesus points to a better way when Martha confronts him about where Mary is at during the preparation. Instead of being in the kitchen with Martha helping her prepare the feast, Mary is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, which was reserved for those who were being taught by a teacher. While Martha was focused on everything that needed to be done, Mary was focused on Jesus and his very presence.
Martha wanted Jesus to send Mary away and to get him to help her. Jesus wouldn’t budge. In fact, he commends Mary for where she is and says she has chosen a “better way.” Before we describe this “better way” is it is important to note what Jesus does not do. He doesn’t condemn what Martha is doing. Only how she allowed her distractions to keep her from seeing what was most important.
That better way Mary sought was to be a life-long disciple of Jesus. Mary had chosen the posture of a disciple who was willing to be transformed and shaped by the very words and desires that Jesus expressed and inhibited. She had chosen the path of worship, growing, and serving, as opposed to a life focused entirely upon serving without focusing on worship and growing.
The better way of Christ is the life of discipleship where we are called to be disciples who daily transformed in Christ’s image and are sent out to be the hands and feet of Christ.
We cannot miss this. Disciples are doers, but the life of sharing the love of Christ by our words, actions, and deeds comes out of a life of worship, study, communion with other believers, parting in the elements of communion, and prayer. These are what John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, called the means of grace. The spiritual practices that enable us to take on the means of mercy, both in our individual and corporate lives, to do good, to care for those in need, and to seek justice. Without a life of discipleship, our work in our lives and the church only touches the surface of what is possible.
We need to claim the better way. If we seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then we have to avoid the temptation to be consumed by anxiety or distractions. We have to be intentional about growing in our love of God, learning about Scripture in relationship with one another, and serving our fellow brother and sister throughout the community and world. We will remain stagnant in our lives and in the church if we are not intentional about discipleship.
No follower of Christ is exempt from needing to be part of this better way of discipleship. No disciple of Jesus Christ is made or flourishes apart from the love and support of other believers. And hear me when I say this: Sunday morning worship is not enough. Every follower of Christ needs to be in a discipleship group that focuses on love, learning, and serving.
I’ve experienced this in my own life. When I lived in North Carolina, I was bouncing around in my faith during some personal trials that I was undertaking. I was still going to church, but only on Sunday mornings and barley anything beyond that. It wasn’t until I participated in a small group for prayer, study, and accountability that my faith prospered and I began to see more of what Christ desired for me in my life. Without that small group, without a group yearning to be people who sought a better way through the distractions, I would not be here today.
We all need to be in a discipleship making group. There are no exceptions to this. In the coming weeks, you will hear information about a Bible Study and fellowship opportunity that I am beginning. There are Sunday Schools across the church. There are other opportunities that are here.
Discipleship as a life-long growth in Christ is the better way. If you want to grow in your faith and be renewed and transformed, if you want to see the church renewed and transformed, then seek the better way apart from distractions that is found at the feet of Christ.