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Too Busy For Jesus

Category Articles
Date May 14, 2004

(Note: What follows is not a sermon manuscript or transcript, but notes made in preparation for preaching.)

Gospel Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

We live in an age of busyness:

Families: Work, school, housekeeping, shopping, and cooking, soccer, baseball, music lessons, youth group, church committees, and, of course, a little time has to be found for things like homework and meals. Families often live at a feverish pace.

Retirees: When I was a young minister I went up to a recently retired minister in my Presbytery and asked him if he were staying busy, and he replied, “Bill, I think I’m busier now than I was when I was before I retired.” I hear retirees now say that it is a good thing they don’t have a job, else they would not be able to get everything done.

There are few of us who are not affected by the culture of busyness, of activity piled upon activity. How often do we sit down as families at the dinner table, eat a home cooked meal, and talk about the day? How often do we find we must miss one important thing in favour of one we judge to be more important? How often do we feel that we are going very hard and very fast but not getting much of anywhere?

Besides the toll this busyness takes on our families and ourselves, there is the danger that we, as Christians, can become too busy for Jesus. We see an illustration of that in a visit that Jesus made to His old friends, Martha and Mary.

I. Mary

Martha and Mary lived in the village of Bethany not far from Jerusalem.

In addition to Martha and Mary the household included their brother Lazarus.

The family was apparently a rather well-to-do family.

The family enjoyed a rather close relationship with Jesus – they were His friends, He was welcome there. Perhaps this was one of the few places where Jesus could always receive a warm welcome and caring hospitality, where He could feel at home among friends

Mary was the younger of the two sisters.

When Jesus came to their home, as so often happened, people came and Jesus taught – when this opportunity came Mary took full advantage of it – she was in the room where Jesus was – she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

Notice her posture – I think it speaks of several things:

First of devotion – she was close to the place where Jesus was sitting and listening with rapt attention.

Second of submission – she was sitting at his feet awaiting what He would say, as a servant girl might sit at the feet of her master.

Then notice her action – it was the action of listening to Jesus’ teaching – His words were living and essential words and she needed to hear them – she would let nothing keep her from or distract her from listening to His word.

This is the picture of true discipleship – devotion and submission to Jesus and giving attention to His Word – those who have other things to do, or who do not give heed to the Word are not disciples – those who do are.

How do we sit at Jesus feet today? Primarily in public worship. Here, we, as Mary did, gather with other disciples to hear Jesus’ Word. Special promises are made concerning the public, corporate worship – that here Jesus will meet with us and here He will give us His grace – when we listen to the reading and preaching of the Word and when we rightly celebrate the sacraments, Jesus is here with us, not physically but by the Holy Spirit. And the Reformed confessions with great unanimity teach that it is the preaching of the Word primarily that we hear the voice of Jesus and receive converting, sanctifying, and preserving grace. We may sing the hymn, “Blessed Jesus, at thy word, we are gathered all to hear Thee” – that is a hymn about our gathering in worship to hear the preaching of the Word of God.

II. Martha

Martha was evidently the older sister and apparently the head of the household, so when visitors came it was her responsibility to entertain – she would make all the arrangements to extend hospitality, she was a good hostess.

She cared especially about Jesus – she wanted to serve Him, so, when He made this visit, she made herself busy making preparations to serve Him a good meal – this is commendable – would that more Christians had Martha’s devotion to service and were willing to work hard and do their best for Jesus.

But there was something not so commendable about her service – she became “distracted by her much serving” – Jesus was in her house teaching, and she was so busy and so distracted with what she was doing that she could not bring herself to go in and take advantage of this opportunity to hear Him. You know what it is like to have a distracted mind – you are so intent on this one thing or group of things that you find you cannot engage in conversation with another person, and when you try to go to sleep at night, these things crowd into your mind and refuse to let you sleep.

When do we make Martha’s mistake? When are we distracted?

(1)When we are so busy we cannot set aside the Lord’s Day.
(2)When, on the Lord’s Day, we cannot make space to begin and close the day in worship.
(3)When in worship our minds are not able to concentrate on the acts of worship and particularly to listen to the Word of God – when our minds are far off.

Then, in addition to being distracted, Martha became irritable – she was evidently irritated with her little sister, but also with Jesus.

One can almost see her looking into the room, trying to catch Mary’s eye, to use her hands and mouthed words to say, “Come on, there’s lot’s of work to do, I’m never going to get all this done by myself, I need your help. Why don’t you see that?”

And, she spoke in her frustration to Jesus, “Lord don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” How could Jesus Himself be so unaware of what was going on and of what was required to show Him hospitality and so insensitive to the pressures on Martha? Wasn’t it evident to Him that she needed Mary’s help? And she knew the solution: “Tell her to help me.” Tell Mary to get up off the floor and come into the kitchen where there is work to be done if we are going to have this meal and have it on time.

Are you ever so busy and distracted that you are irritated with those who are able to sit and Jesus’ feet and listen to His teaching?

III. Jesus

What did Jesus do? He did not grant Martha’s request – rather He showed her a better way.

He spoke with sensitivity and sympathy to Martha – she was wrong but this was not the time to roll out the cannons and fire a broadside at her. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.” Look at your condition – you are upset – you are troubled – you are flying around full of anxiety over this meal when what is good and what matters is your hospitality to me, but that does not require your being so worked up – perhaps we could learn from that in what is required to show hospitality to fellow Christians – the house does not have to be perfect and the meal elaborate.

Martha, one thing is necessary and that is what Mary has chosen – sitting at my feet to receive my word – devotion, submission, listening to Jesus – this is what is essential.

This will not be taken away
Not now by sending her to the kitchen
Not ever for my Word abides

This is not cloak for laziness, or endorsement of the contemplative life over the active life, but it is a call to recognize what is ever and always life’s first priority, sitting at Jesus feet, listening to His Word.

William Smith
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Huntsville, Alabama.

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