Balance From the Head or From the Heart
The British Open is being played this weekend in Northern Ireland. While the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were cut early in the weekend, not so for a rookie golfer from Scotland and his weekend playing partner from the US. You would expect that playing in the British Open would be one of the highlights of their young lives, but their contentious play has almost resulted in fisticuffs. Rookie, Robert MacIntyre only 22 from Oban, Scotland has only played professional golf for 6 years as the sport in which he excelled was in playing shinty. Now, in his first major he is tied for 29th on one of the world’s best courses. His playing partner, Kyle Stanley, from the US is struggling and not doing well, currently tied for 54th. In addition to his poor scores so far, Stanley has hit several shots into the crowd, even hitting the mother of his playing partner’s caddie. While you would expect professionals at this level would be ecstatic to play at the British Open, the Scottish rookie has chastised his American counterpart and their banter has turned into quite the kerfuffle at a major tournament. Golf etiquette dictates that a player that hits a ball into the crowd yells, “Fore” to warn those in danger. Stanley, however, has been silent each time his errant ball disrupts play. Rookie MacArthur has raised the ire of his playing partner, chastising him for NOT yelling “Fore” when it would be prudent. Stanley’s comeback was that others were yelling on his behalf and to do so was overkill. Conflict and confusion reigns at one of the world’s most prestigious events. Sometimes it is essential to tell the truth, even when it may be uncomfortable!
A similar conflict arises centuries ago at one of the most well-known festivals. In a small village 11 miles south of Jerusalem, Amos, the itinerate preacher, prophet, sheepherder and arborist of sycamore trees shows up at the festival. The festival was supposed to be nothing but celebrative. The times were good. There was political stability, crops were productive, and the wine flowed. The wealthy enjoyed their profit margins, which continued to grow. Amos, however, knew the rest of the story. Amos the preacher knew the underlying truth that while wealth and prosperity flowed on one side of the tracks, poverty and injustice were rampant on the other. While a robust defense of a religious expression could be observed from the wealthy, Amos appeared at the summer festival to tell them the truth that their religious observances were hypocritical, and their worship was more for a profit margin than an expression of true faith. Amos was called to agitate the abusers whose primary goal was in maintaining an ugly theology. Amos’ courageous words would have been difficult to hear because they revealed the truth about a people whose distorted religious practices only indicated a cover-up of the underlying abuse of people who in no way could defend themselves. Their “religious” expressions were meant to cover their acts of overcharging the poor to the degree that when their debt was so great, they would be forced to sell themselves as indentured servants to pay off exorbitant sums. Amos came to warn them their celebrations would soon be occasions for lamentation and grief. There comes a time to tell the truth and Amos took the risk to say that your worship of God must not be disconnected with the way in which we treat one another, and in fact, they are one in the same. What must we do to peel back the masks of injustice that often hides behind a false morality in order to recognize and honour a God who wants all of us – heart, mind, body and soul.
This is the crux of the story from Luke regarding Mary and Martha – sisters who were ready to pick up clubs and duke it out like two golfers at the British Open.
The shadows on Jesus' life were lengthening. Somehow, he knew that his time was running out. He was on his way to Jerusalem where he knew the end would likely come. On the way there was the home of Mary and Martha - two close friends. He made his way to the family area where Mary immediately joined him and Jesus began visiting, as friends would. Martha, like Martha was prone to do immediately began scurrying around to provide for their guest. After all what's a good hostess to do? First were the drinks, then the appetizers, and they couldn't exist on appetizers, Jesus would need a meal and it looked like it would be up to her to prepare and serve it. Don't you hate it when your family appears clueless that you need help - that you seem to be doing all the work? First, she tried clearing her throat, then giving Mary those weighted stares, everything but, "Huh huh, Mary would you join me in the kitchen please?" After all she didn't want to be RUDE! Martha was distracted with being a good hostess. But the good she was trying to do as a hostess was tearing her up inside. She had barely time to speak to Jesus, to see how he was, what he had been up to, what he really needed. But, she knew what he needed and it would be up to her to provide it because that's what she always did. Surely, he could see that she had his interests at heart and if he would just remind Mary of that, then the both of them could get this meal on the table. She had to have been surprised when Jesus used THAT VOICE and even called her twice. "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled.” Sounds just like a good hostess - to be stressed because you want it to go perfectly and you aren't going to breathe until the last guest is gone! But Jesus explained. One thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen correctly. Those of us who are task oriented, who see a job and work till we get it done don't understand those who plant themselves in the living room with unfinished prep work needs to be done. But God needs the Mary’s and the Martha’s of the world. Jesus correction of Martha is not to say that a life of quiet worship and contemplation is the right way to worship God and an active life of service is the wrong way. Not at all. Jesus was on his way to the cross and while that wasn't the focus of this visit he needed companionship. He needed to connect with people who mattered to him and those to whom he mattered. Our #1 need in life is to be connected but our #1 source of stress in life comes from a feeling of isolation - from God, from others, from self.
Martha cooks, prepares, and serves. This house needed several of her, she must have thought. “Why is her sister not helping,” she first wonders and then she speaks her wonder. Her question causes us to ask ourselves, “Am I doing it right?” And then another probing question “Am I doing enough?” Many of us ask that every night. Have I done enough today? Did I do enough to warrant going to bed at 11:00 or do I still need to crank out more?
Martha is in agony over that question as her internal fretting and fuming turns into outward barbs at the next-or the nearest or the most vulnerable – THEY HAVEN’T DONE ENOUGH. Jesus steps in when Martha turns hers toward her favourite sister. “But, Jesus, Mary’s not helping…” And Jesus does what most of us don’t often have the wherewithal to say, “Stop, No, Not here, Not her!” She is doing what I most need right now. Mary has chosen well. She has chosen the highest and the best. This isn’t a passage of Mary vs. Martha. This isn’t a passage with an intent to castigate Martha nor set up Mary as super saint. Rather it serves as a clear pattern for our lives to help us walk back from debilitating stress and move toward greater balance known as peace. Martha was anxious and distracted. Her stress caused her to make some clear choices that were not only unhealthy but destructive. IN what ways do we turn off our “Have I done enough?” to focus on “choosing the best part, as Mary was able to do?” George Fox, a well-known Quaker once said,
“Be sure to carry some quiet around inside thee.” Remember that sometimes God calms the storms. Sometimes the storms rage on, but in their place, God calms His child.
A scene near the end of John Bunyan’s classic novel The Pilgrim’s Progress finds the chief character, Christian, the archetype of a person struggling to lead a life of faith, nearing the end of his symbolic journey. The journey requires him to cross a great river. Desperately afraid, together with his friend, Hopeful, they wade into the waters with trepidation. Christian cries out, “I sink in deep waters, the Billows go over my head, the waves go over me.” But Hopeful replies with what may be the most grace-filled words in all of literature, “Be of good cheer, my Brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good.”
Today, even when life is out of balance, our first goal should be to find a solid place to stand. We need to be able to feel the bottom.
Martha reminds us there is something absolutely essential, about showing one's love of God and neighbor by baking the bread and washing the tea cups, teaching in Church School and serving pancakes one Saturday a month. Martha, preparing the meal is doing a good thing--a necessary thing--but if we try to do this kind of service apart from listening carefully to what God may be saying to us through journaling, prayer, worship and study, then we will end up distracted and worn down. Mary has chosen to listen to the Word. Jesus, the living Word, is present, right in her house, and if she was to love God and love neighbor, to show hospitality to the stranger and welcome those who need to be welcomed, then everything depended on hearing and trusting that word. It’s time to tell the truth about our lack of balance and the debilitating effect it has on our soul, our lives and our relationships. It’s time to consider our own “One needful thing” and restore it to our priorities.