Christ Lutheran Community Church
July 21, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Mary, Martha and Roy"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Genesis 18:1-10a, Psalm 15, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
If you are someone who enjoys watching the Phillies play baseball, you probably know Roy Halladay. Roy Halladay was a pitcher for the Phillies between 2010 and 2013 and he was no doubt one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. While he was pitching for the Phillies, he became one of only twenty players in history to pitch a perfect game, a game with no hits, no walks, and no errors. And in the same year, he became one of only two players in history to pitch a no-hitter during the post-season. In addition to being a great pitcher, Halladay had a connection with the Lutheran Church during his time in Philadelphia: he was a supporter of the Welcome Church, which is a ministry by and for homeless people here in Southeast Pennsylvania. Injuries forced Halladay to retire from baseball in 2013 and he died tragically in a plane crash in November 2017.
People who loved Roy Halladay have been thinking a lot about him this week for two reasons: first of all, he is being inducted this afternoon into the baseball hall of fame; second – on a sadder note – he was featured in an article in Sports Illustrated this week that described the years after Halladay’s retirement and lifted up the very real possibility that his death was a suicide. Apparently, Halladay had been struggling with depression and anxiety. He felt like he could never live up to people’s expectations of him. After all, once you’ve pitched a perfect game, how do you keep proving yourself? There’s really no place to go, but down. It was painful to read about Halladay’s final years and discover that he had been carrying such a burden. Why couldn’t he just relax into his retirement and enjoy his accomplishments?
Roy Halladay’s anxiety about whether he could live up to his reputation came to mind as I meditated on Martha and her anxiety about all the work she had to do. But before talking about that, I want to go back to last week’s Gospel reading.
Last week, we heard about a lawyer who came to Jesus and asked, “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered the man, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” Apparently, the man was looking for a loophole, because he then asked Jesus, “Well, who’s my neighbor?” So, Jesus answered that question by telling the story that we all know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. I won’t retell the whole parable, but the gist of it is that the Samaritan makes himself a neighbor to a man who had fallen victim to thieves by caring for the man and showing him mercy. And then our Gospel reading last week ended with Jesus telling the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” If you want to inherit eternal life, go and be a neighbor to people to people in need.
If that were the only description of eternal life that we had in the Bible, we would rightly conclude that eternal life is all about doing. “Do this and you will live,” Jesus said to the lawyer. But today’s Gospel reading takes almost the opposite approach. Martha is all about doing. She is busy making herself a neighbor to Jesus, trying to show him hospitality. But in the process of doing all this, she becomes resentful of her sister, Mary, who seems not to be doing anything. She’s just sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. Martha is resentful of her sister for not helping to do the work and she’s even resentful of Jesus. You can hear it in her voice when she says to him, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all this work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Martha is anxious about all the work she has to do and this anxiety drives a wedge between her and her sister and Jesus.
I really think the story of the Good Samaritan and the story of Mary and Martha need to be read together because they are kind of like opposite sides of the same coin. The coin is eternal life and eternal life is loving relationships with God and with our neighbor. The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that loving our neighbor involves work. The Good Samaritan demonstrates his love for his neighbor by bandaging his wounds and taking him to the inn and paying for his care. Loving our neighbor is hard work. But the story of Mary and Martha tells us that it’s not all about work. Work can even get in the way of the loving relationships that are the basis for eternal life. The story of Mary and Martha tells us that the most important thing is not to work, but to listen to the voice of God speaking in our lives.
When Lutherans read the Bible, we read it through the lens of law/gospel. Law tells us what we must do in order to inherit eternal life. Gospel tells us what God has done so that might inherit eternal life. The story of the Good Samaritan is easy to read as law. It tells us what we must do. “Go and show mercy to your neighbor,” Jesus says to the lawyer. But the problem with law is we never know if we’ve done enough. There is always another hurting neighbor to help. So, the law can leave us in a state of perpetual anxiety about whether we have done enough to measure up to God’s standard. Martha was anxious about all the work she had to do. Roy Halladay was anxious about whether he would ever be able to live up to his reputation as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.
The Gospel, not the law, is what gives rest to anxious souls. The Gospel tells us that God is intent on entering our world in Jesus Christ and suffusing it with divine love. God’s love for you is independent of what you have or have not done with your life. That’s why we baptize babies who haven’t done anything with their lives. When we rest in the love and the forgiveness and the mercy that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, then we can begin to do what God calls us to do. We can love and serve our neighbor without being worried and distracted by the many things that we have to do.
Inn this congregation, there is so much to do. We have a hundredth anniversary to celebrate and there’s lots to do around that. We have the ministries of the Upper Darby Community Outreach Corporation to support. We have children and adults to educate. Hungry neighbors to feed. Injustice to fight. It can be so overwhelming and sometimes I hear members of our congregation echoing the words of Martha saying, “Lord do you not care that my sister – or my brother – has left me to do all this work by myself.” When we are feeling that way, it’s time to rest in the Gospel… to remember that it is God’s work that we are doing – not our own – and God is the giver of life.
Christ Lutheran Community Church