Rev. Shayna Watson

As hearers of this story of Martha, Mary, and Jesus, we are tempted to see ourselves in the sibling characters of Martha and Mary. Some of us are Martha, always staying busy, fussing over what needs to be done, and worrying about what is left undone. Some of us are Mary, curious, interested in what is happening, or sometimes being still in the presence of a new and exciting experience.

Martha, (mind you this is the same Martha that told Jesus “If you were here my brother/Lazarus would not have died-Martha has no problem telling Jesus what is on her mind), triangulates Jesus into her family dynamic, wanting him to advocate on her behalf, to command Mary “to help her” with preparations, which the text noted, “Martha was distracted by.” In other words, Martha is implicitly, maybe even, subconsciously, attempting to pull Mary into her “distractions,” into her worry, and into her anxiety. Martha asked Jesus “if he cared that Mary was not helping her.” Jesus does not dismiss, nor minimize Martha’s efforts or frustrations. Nor does Jesus say that he doesn’t care. Jesus actually supports Martha’s getting things done, acknowledging that her work is appropriate and necessary. However, in Jesus’ affirmation of Martha, he gives her advice. His advice is important and I believe that it is important for us today, he says “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, maybe only one thing…Mary chose the better half.” Jesus did not say that Mary was better, but rather, her choice was better. In Jesus’ wisdom, he provides direction to help reduce Martha’s worry, suggesting that by reducing her various tasks, that perhaps she will reduce her worry. How does that sound for advice? I am certain that many of us can relate. Even now, many of us are carrying multiple items, when we only need to carry one- at least for now.

I believe that we embody the spirit of both Martha and Mary. We are distracted by many things: current events, school, work, family, church, and even our wellbeing. What would our lives look like if we only focused on a few aspects at a time, or just one? In our distractions, what are we distracted from? Are we avoiding difficult conversations, hard decisions? Are we uncomfortable being still to listen to the voice of God?

There are times when Jesus calls us to get things done and to labor with one another. Jesus also calls us to appreciate rest and listening. The story of Martha and Mary helps us to see the importance of labor and rest, while yet, recognizing that sometimes the better choice is to rest, be still and listen to the voice of God. Jesus helps us to know when to move from labor to rest.

When we labor at work, we grow tired, burned out, overworked and feel underappreciated.
When we labor with health systems- struggling to stay on top of our health, health, health insurance, and medication because our bodies are weathered from years of toil, and at times, without reward.
When we labor in our families, we sometimes grow sick with worry about our children, their safety, and if others will love them as much as we do.
Maybe it’s time to take a moment of rest.

To rest in the grace of God.
To rest in the mercy of God.
To rest and listen to the voice of God, the lessons of Jesus Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Worry is laborious, because worry fuels our fear of the unknown. Worry fuels anxiety. Worry has an energy about it that impacts physically, emotionally and spiritually. We labor to offset our worries, to satisfy our anxieties, and by doing so we think we are taking control of the situation, but sometimes, we find out that we have no control at all. Moving from labor to rest, ushers us into surrender, relying on the mercy and grace of God. Sometimes the chips will have to fall where they may and and the only choice we will have is leaving it in the hands of God, have faith that all will be well, even if we don’t agree with the process or with the outcome. That is challenging.

Pick a worry, any worry, there are many kinds of worry in the deck, and some we might be too embarrassed to mention. The point is, is that the things we worry about will surely live to see another day, but will you?

According to Dr. Marwa Azab, “anxiety is excessive worry or concern.” She goes on to note that an “anxious brain,” can perceive a benign/good situation as threatening. An excessively worried brain can also impact our memory, inhibiting memories of safety and security- allowing in negative thoughts about our surroundings, relationships, and ourselves. Anxious brains puts us in the state of the “3Fs”: Fight, flight, or freeze. Fight, translates to overly aggressive and overly confrontational behavior, and excessive defensive; Flight, we simply want to run from the situation; and freeze, we just stay still-not moving forward or backward, indifference. I believe we have these responses when we watch the news, or in our personal life’s struggle. Are these worries “distracting” us from what’s really important? Sometimes these entities gives us things to worry about.

It’s hard sometimes to quiet the noises in our heads and our environments. Are you able to reduce the many things that you worry about down to a few things or one? Can we invoke the spirit of Mary and simply rest at the feet of God and listen?

May God help us to move from labor to rest when the times call for it. To allow us to rest in Divine mercy, grace. May our faith grow stronger during times of discord and when our faith wanes, may our family, friends, and community surround us with the strength we need to carry on.

This sermon was preached by the Rev. Shayna Watson at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral on July 21, 2019. The celebration was for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, and the texts for the day were: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42.