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Monday, 4 November 2013

Are you a Mary or a Martha? Does it matter?

Mary & Martha... Luke 10:38-42

I preached on this at church on Sunday and I thought I would share it here too.
Mary and Martha was the topic I was given to look at because we are following a series this year at Saint Stephen's, looking at different bible characters.
My first thought about these 2 ladies was this... they were both very much loved by God. In this story 2 very different personalities are being shown. Mary to me represents a free spirit who is spontaneous and willing to challenge conventions and society, unafraid of what those around her think (perhaps in today’s society she might be an activist standing up for people who don’t have a voice, or the friend who never turns up on time because she/he got side tracked by something exciting on the way). Martha in contrast is task orientated and a ‘doer’ who is servant-hearted and has a gift for hospitality - although perhaps she is a bit controlling or even a 'busy body' (She might be the CEO of the company, or the busy mother who never let any ball drop and still turns up to the parents evening with something baked from scratch and looking neat as a pin).
Regardless...both of these women are loved entirely and wholly by God. Both of them have a role in the Kingdom of heaven. Just as a father might have 2 daughters who seem opposites in their personality type yet could never say which one he loves or appreciates more (perhaps not unlike my own dad)– so too does Jesus value and love these two women equally and abundantly.


We are all very different people. Some of us are more like Mary and some are more like Martha. But God loves us all the same.

Last year on my internship at King's we each took a personality test called the Myrrs Briggs test which is widely used and you might have heard of. It assesses qualities such as how extroverted you are, and whether you are organised or spontaneous for example. My best friend Mim and I came out as the very opposite on this second point, and this was very true of us. I would wake her up 5 minutes before we left for work with her packed lunch and breakfast ready, and she would try and coax me into spontaneous trips to the woods on our Saturdays off. She was spontaneous and I was a control freak. What we came to realise was the benefits of each other’s personalities and we learned a lot from one another. She definitely became a slightly more organised and measured person, and I learned to let go considerably. We were different, but we were equally as needed and valuable to our team. We are both women who God loves fully not despite our different qualities, but because of them. He created us with different traits to play different roles in His Kingdom, both an absolute necessity. There is just no favouritism with God when it comes to His children. This doesn't fit in with our western world view. We work on class, status, wealth… we have a hierarchy (I’ve worked in a prison and even there, there is a hierarchy). We are constantly comparing ourselves to our neighbours, secretly hoping that we are just that little bit better or more holy or more valuable than they are. We would never admit this of course, but the superiority and relief that we all feel when our earthly position is just that little bit above the person in front of us, is what we humanly crave. We try to get as far away from the feeling of worthlessness as possible; a feeling that comes so easily when we appear not to measure up. But in Gods Kingdom this hierarchy of comparison does not and will not exist (Yippee).
We need to transform our communities starting with our churches, by showing them that we see ourselves no higher or lower than they are. We are no more or less gifted, we are no more or less beautiful, and we are no more and no less valuable than any other person in our lives, or out there in the world. To me, once I have gotten over the worldly view of injustice in that truth, I find it entirely freeing. Mary and Martha, you and I, are every bit as loved as the other.


I use Psalm 139:14 a lot with my young people because I love the truth it speaks. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us. Wonderfully made by God.

Just because God loves us and accepts us and created us as we are, does not however mean that God does not correct us when we are off track, or notice when we are and we can see that in this story of Mary and Martha. In fact that is part of His love and the love we show to others, and it shows a real relationship. E.g. If someone I don’t know comes to correct me on something I’ve done, I take that a lot less kindly and seriously than if someone I know loves me, knows me and is for me, comes and rebukes me. It takes someone who loves you completely, to rebuke you in love. As we might lovingly correct our children, God lovingly corrects us His children and those we love.
I want you to contemplate for a moment why you attend your church (if you do), or maybe why you are reading this blog? Is it to listen to God, to worship Him, to sit at His feet and hear what He has to say to you? Or do you attend church in order to be busy? Are you reading this out of boredom?  Do you attend church because that’s just what you do on a Sunday, because it’s your job, to please your other half, to look good, or to find value for yourself in serving others? Why is it that you attend church and/or participate in "church culture"?
There is so much in life to be distracted by. We have kids to look after, jobs to fulfil, partners to attend to, church events to organise and attend, things to worry about, tears to cry, facebook friends to stalk, tweets to send, blogs to write... In Martha’s case she had Jesus to entertain and to feed. Surely most of these things we do are all legitimate things to be distracted by and are at least not negative in themselves – particularly feeding Jesus. They are good things that we do. They are – but not at the expense of sitting at the feet of Jesus, searching for what He has to say to you, and seeking His relevance for your life. If you won’t take time out to sit and listen, you’ll never hear.
Details are hard to let go of. Feeling like we need to get stuff perfect is for some of us a big challenge to let go of and it seems like this was true for poor Martha trying to get it all right and to please Jesus in the only way she knew how. I understand that. But details that get in the way of our true relationship with Jesus are not worth anything. Mary discovered the one thing worth worrying about – Jesus. She realised that what He had to tell her and what He could reveal to her, was in that moment, all she needed to be concerned about. All you need to be concerned about right now as you read this, is what Jesus is teaching you when you sit at His feet, read His word, and focus on only Him.

Busyness is a worldwide problem, but I think particularly for Christians. There is so much to get involved in and we feel as though we must be everything to everyone. But we can’t be and we mustn't try to be. Only God is everything to everyone. We must find instead our part to play. Psalm 85:8 says “I will listen to what the Lord says”. We can’t listen or find our part if we are too busy to hear what He is saying because we are packing every minute with ‘doing stuff for others, living life, or even doing things for God’. Don’t make yourself so busy that you miss out on the amazing things He has for you. This is a lie and a tactic that Satan tells us and uses against us. He makes us so busy that we have no time for dialogue with God and no time to rest in Him. We become tired and weary and soon we wear out completely until we are either of no use, or we decide we don’t want to do it anymore. Don’t let that happen to you. STOP. Busyness is not holiness.

For me it is in Jesus’ response that this story becomes alive. He says that it is Mary that has got it right. The one just sitting listening … not the one trying to work to please Him. If this doesn't sort out the good works vs faith debate on some level, I don’t know what does. It comes back to Psalm 139, we need to remember we are fearfully & wonderfully made and therefore not valued because of what we do, but because of who we are. Faith and attentiveness to your relationship and discipleship journey with Jesus is what He really cares about. To me this says ‘Come as you are’. It’s as though He is saying ‘By all means please do these things, but don’t come trying to please me, working all hours to feed me the best food, serving in churches, doing charity work, working hard in your jobs and home lives, if you are not willing to sit with me first. The way you are is enough and that is how I love you’. Jesus just wants your rest. He wants to be the beginning and end of your day, of all you do, the alpha and omega. Yes God delights in the actions of the Martha’s of the world who work to serve Him diligently and give so much of themselves to him and to others; in fact we would be lost without these beautiful and selfless people. But primarily He wants us to rest in Him and sit in awe and appreciation of Him and what He brings to our lives – and out of this we can then work with His strength, His blessing, and with the right motivation to serve Him in everything we do. In fact if we don’t then sooner or later (if not already if you are a Martha type which a lot of us are) your service will end up being bitter service where you feel unappreciated or you will burn out becoming unwell or overtired. This is because you will cease to serve out of God’s heart because you haven’t allowed yourself to rest and feel it for so long.
Jesus says in Mark 6:31 “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest”. This is a practical human need, and one which will only enhance your work and service. Even Jesus as a human needed this so why would we be any more able than Him to work without rest?
I am on a journey with this and so this sermon is a really important one for me to have had to sit and think about. A phrase which has really spoken to me recently is this – Jesus calls us to “Work out of a place of rest, do not rest out of a place of work”.

  • So will you, and have you, been sitting at Jesus’ feet as you've read this, putting everything else to the back of your mind. 
  • Will you let Jesus speak into your life even if it’s at the expense of burning the dinner or missing Strictly on TV? 
  • Will you prioritise the way Mary did and the way that Jesus calls us to?
  • DO you see the potential and value in yourself & in your neighbour? 
  • Will you follow Psalm 46:10 “Be still & know that I am God”. 

Mary’s maybe you need to look around and encourage the busy bodies who are avoiding the quiet by keeping going, to sit with you and prioritise Jesus. Or maybe you need to lend a hand somewhere so that the Martha’s feel they can take the chance to stop. Maybe we are swaying too much in the Mary personality direction and actually Jesus would have something to say to us then, as He clearly gives us the example of the Proverbs 31 woman who is often working hard and diligently for those around her and the Lord. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything. There is a time for rest and for work.

Martha’s maybe you need to take time out and give yourselves rest in order to redirect your heart back to the real heart of the matter. Jesus. Just take a check on your motivations so that your service can stay focused and remains glad & joyful service rather than worn out and bitter service.

We all need to understand that whatever our personality type, God made us that way for a reason – so your challenge is to find that reason and to rejoice in it.



We are NOT the same... but we are all EQUAL

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