“Taking the Yellow Light” – Meals with Jesus Sermon Series
“Taking the Yellow Light”
Psalm 131; Luke 10:38-42
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
January 30, 2022
A few years ago, I was driving to visit a friend who was going through a bit of a rough patch. We were going to hang out for a bit. I had my phone in my right hand, glancing down now and again as I scrolled for a certain number. I needed to call a congregant who I knew was still recovering from something. I was driving a few miles over the speed limit. Nothing crazy, but I was trying to race just a little so I could fit in a quick grocery run and help out with that chore.
Visiting a friend – a good thing.
Calling a congregant – good thing.
Getting the groceries – good thing.
You might even say expected things, too. That’s what friends do. That’s what pastors do. That’s what spouses do.
So I am speeding down the road with good things, expected things. All juggled at the very same time. What could possibly go wrong?
In our passage, Martha is doing “many tasks” we read in verse 40 (also translated “much serving” in some translations). In that culture, hosts were expected to provide food, shelter, amenities, and even protection to any who were traveling along – like Jesus and his disciples.
Martha is doing good things, the expected things…and yes, it means juggling a lot to pull it off.
But Jesus has a word about this. “Martha, Martha” (the repetition of her name is meant to convey genuine compassion).
“Martha, Martha…you are worried and distracted by many things…”
The word for distracted literally means “divided.”
“You are divided by many things…”
“Your attention is divided among many things…”
To be sure, Jesus does not critique hospitality itself. Far from it. If you read the whole of Luke, you will see it is one of the key aspects commended time and again for Jesus-followers. Radical, regular hospitality is huge. The passage right before this one is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan which ends with Jesus exhorting “Go and do” – like really, take care of your neighbor.
Jesus does not critique hospitality. He critiques the attention divided among so many good, expected things – while missing the one thing.
“Martha, Martha, your attention is divided among so many good tasks…”
“Bobby, Bobby your attention is divided among your friend, this congregant, the groceries, the driving…”
Or sometimes… “Church, church, your attention is divided among so much serving…job and family and community and committee and emails and texts and to do lists and helping out and…”
Notice it is not that Martha’s attention is divided among bad things, terrible, sinful things. Jesus is critiquing so many good things, serving things that the one thing is no longer noticed or central.
And perhaps we want to push back and cry out, “What other option is there? Who else is going to care for my ailing parents?
“Who else is going to get the children to school, and then me to work, and then respond to the clients, then cover down on the committee work, and get the minutes finished and…
…and then call the grieving friend and clean the place up and maybe just maybe fit in a brief walk if possible…look, life these days is juggling good things, expected things.”
What could possibly go wrong with our plates full of many good things all at once?
In Luke 10:40 Luke describes Martha as “distracted by many tasks” but in Luke 10:42 Luke goes with a different Greek word for “distracted.”
Luke’s word combines the prefix “peri” (around) with a stem that means “to break.”
Martha was “breaking all-around/on-all-sides…from her many tasks…”
Are any of us breaking-all-around from too many good, expected things?
So, I am driving down that road in Richmond with my friend on my mind, phone in hand scrolling for that number, driving just a bit above the speed limit looking at the clock to see how much time I have to fit in the groceries to help out on the home front and the light turns yellow at the intersection.
As a child, I remember learning “yellow” means slow-down.
I speed up instinctively because I need to get to my friend’s and also to the groceries…and I scroll a bit more quickly because assuming I make the light I have a little less time I might be able to chat with the congregant…and as I speed up the car in front of me decides to do a u-turn. Which I later learned is a perfectly legal choice in Virginia.
I, however, had unconsciously thought he was taking a right turn in my hardly really paying attention mode.
And at this point, my memory is a bit cloudy but basically in my speeding up to get through I found my Honda CR-V hit pretty hard on the back side by the U-turning car and I spun off to the side of the road while he spun off to the other side.
Martha was “distracted (breaking all-around) by many tasks.”
There are plenty of awful things that can and do destroy lives and churches.
But one thing we do not consider as often is the way that many good things can break us.
Many good things all at once divide our attention, divide our energy, divide our time…and divided up so many ways, it does not take much for us to break or be broken.
And how often this can happen in the church where there are always good, serving, caring, hospitable things to be doing; expected things, even.
And one of the tell-tail signs that we are being distracted, divided, broken by “many things” is… bitterness.
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
It is tiring her – and she is frustrated that no one is helping. What is Mary doing? Where are the other members in the family? The church? Where is the help?
Good things are killing her and so the painful irony is that Martha is actually offering no hospitality – not really.
How is it hospitable if you have the perfect setting, perfect food, perfect music…but a tired, bitter host calling your sister out in front of the crowd?
How is hospitable if you have a perfect setting or ambiance or meal or program…but tired, strained, breaking-all-around people?
Martha has a plan to fix things of course: “Tell her (Mary) then to help me!”
“Jesus, the way to fix the fact that I am bitter because have so many things I am supposed to do is that you provide me with help, with people, with resources, with strength to do all the things I need to do. Get the people around here to pitch in. Get the people out there to show up and pitch in.”
I have yet to serve a church where I haven’t felt and someone hasn’t said, “if we just had “x” amount of people more on this committee. “X” amount more members to pull this off. We need more people.”
But Jesus does not respond with giving Martha Mary or more energy or more people or more resources or a strategic, organized plan for how to better multitask the heavy lift of hosting.
You see, if the root issue is that our hearts are distracted, divided, breaking…then Jesus has no interest in assisting us in any further travel on that particular road.
He will not equip us for further dividing ourselves even better. Too dangerous.
- I did not make it to my friend’s place that night and offer a hospitable listening ear.
- I did not call that congregant that night and offer hospitable empathy.
- I did not get the groceries and offer a hospitable dinner.
Even the good we pursue is crushed to nothing under the strain of a divided heart. Jesus wants nothing to do with further this.
Instead, to the overwhelmed and divided and breaking apart…Jesus invites a wholly other perspective on reality.
“Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.”
And notably, the one needful thing is not even on Martha’s plate.
“ Mary has chosen the better part.”
And what has Mary chosen? Verse 39: (She) sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”
She “sat” – she stopped moving. Multi-this and that-ing. Her body stopped and settled.
And she “listened.”
It is a posture of humility. Of attentiveness. Of presence. A posture seeking to receive learning and nourishment and life.
And again, Jesus is not implying hospitality is not needful. It is essential. But… Jesus knows the heart of hospitality is not about how well the table is set.
It is about the presence of the host.
How full of life and love and joy and warmth is the host?
How present is the host?
How is the heart of the host?
Everything else about hospitality is secondary detail.
Mary is situated before Jesus that she might receive his teaching, his nourishment, his love…
In making this posture central, there is this sense that somehow the many tasks will work out or change or shift or lighten…
…that somehow if we attend first to the “one thing” – the other good and vital things will work out in ways we could not have asked or imagined, such is God’s ultimate faithfulness.
It is my sense that two years into this pandemic the church around the world and certainly in North America has been deeply strained – and not everyone has come back and not everyone will come back like it used to be.
And so there remains so much good to do that we have always done but then with not all the same people and resources. And we are tempted to think that the way to tackle this is to try harder, get even more efficient, double and triple down on recruiting volunteers…
…but what if the invitation is to drop our hands and knees and just let go?
What if the overwhelming amount of good to do here or out there is actually a chance to return to the One good thing we truly do hold central as the people of God?
To be sure, I do imagine a lot of us cannot fathom what it would look like to slow, to let go, to attend to Jesus like Mary. To pray or share in lingering conversation with another in the body of Christ or take a walk in the presence of God walking through God’s hospitality of creation…
There’s no time for that…
And here’s the good news.
Did you catch whose house Jesus enters? It is Martha’s house. Distracted, attention divided, breaking-all-around with many tasks Martha. Into her home, Jesus makes his way. And really, he starts act like the host.
We may gather this morning overextended or tired or distracted or juggling or frenzied or…we may be far from anything one might call “holy” or “centered” or “faithful” or “joyful.” And yet Jesus finds his way into the center of house. Our mess does not scare him or turn him away. He is here. He is the host come to teach, shape, give, fill.
Take this worship service as your yellow light…and receive it like a child.