Rev. Richard P. Smith
First United Methodist Church Murray, Kentucky
September 18, 2005
“AT THE HOME OF MARY AND MARTHA”
“Jesus came to the village of Bethany, to the home of some friends, where Martha welcomed him and began to
prepare a meal for him. Martha‟s sister was Mary. While Martha went about preparing the meal and setting the
table, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened intently to his teaching.
While Jesus taught, Martha continued with all the preparations that had to be done. As Martha worked, Mary
listened to Jesus. Finally, Martha could take it no longer. She stormed out to where Jesus was and asked of him,
„Lord, doesn‟t it matter to you that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.‟
Jesus replied, „Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But Mary has recognized the main
thing. She has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.‟”
(A Modern Translation)
It’s another interesting story in the life of Jesus. We know that Jesus had many friends and among
those, according to biblical scholars, were two sisters and a brother – Mary, Martha, Lazarus. On this thoccasion, described in the 10 chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus drops by the home of Mary and
Martha as he’s traveling around on his itinerant preaching and teaching ministry. As soon as Jesus enters
the house, Martha goes to work setting the table and getting the meal ready. Mary, her sister, meanwhile
sits at the feet of Jesus as he teaches there in the house. Martha, after a while, fuming because Mary is not
helping her in the kitchen, storms into the room and demands that Jesus make Mary help her with the
meal preparations. That’s our story and let’s learn some things for our own personal spiritual lives from it.
I. MUNDANE EFFORTS FOR THE KINGDOM MATTER
“Jesus came to the village of Bethany, to the home of some friends, where Martha welcomed him and began to
prepare a meal for him” (A Modern Translation)
Martha took on the tedious and mundane task of preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples.
You have to understand that hospitality was one of the key spiritual, religious, and cultural values of that
day and time, in particular for Judaism. When a visitor came your way, it was a spiritual and religious
responsibility to provide for their needs. If they needed shelter, to provide shelter; if they needed clothing,
to provide clothing; if they needed food, to provide food. So Martha willingly takes on the tedious and
mundane task of preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples, an act of faithfulness to the law of
What this story reminds us, by Martha’s example, is that the Kingdom of God is fulfilled as much
by the little things as it is by the big things, as much by the mundane efforts as by the grand and glorious
efforts. The Kingdom of God is advanced not just by the preachers, not just by the missionaries, not just
by the teachers, but also by the little things done, the mundane things done, the behind the scenes things
done every day by countless followers of Christ.
Let me illustrate this truth by a part of our Murray Katrina relief plan. As most of you know, we
are in partnership with other churches, some community agencies, and Murray State University to provide
housing for displaced persons at a house and some apartments being provided by Murray State. Now,
someone is going to have to clean that house and those apartments. Some volunteers are going to have to
go over there and do the tedious work of cleaning and preparing. And you can be certain that none of
those volunteers will be interviewed by the Murray-Ledger Times about this. While others in the
community, including myself, have been interviewed regarding Katrina relief efforts, these volunteers
will not. They will get no front-page attention. But what they will do is absolutely essential to our
ministry of providing safe and comfortable housing for these who have suffered so much.
Don’t ever underestimate what difference little things done for God’s Kingdom can make.
II. JESUS ONCE AGAIN BREAKS DOWN BARRIERS
“Martha‟s sister was Mary. While Martha went about preparing the meal and setting the table, Mary sat at the
feet of Jesus and listened intently to him” (A Modern Translation)
When Jesus invites Mary to his rabbinic teaching session, he is doing something unbelievable in
that day and time. He is allowing, encouraging a woman to come and be a part of the teaching moment.
This was anathema in that day and time. I’m not sure the average one of us can appreciate what this act of allowing Mary, if not inviting Mary and Martha to attend his teaching session, meant. Listen to this
description of the role of women in that day and time and in that religious culture.
“That Jesus would allow or encourage Mary to listen to him as he taught was radical.
Women were openly despised by the Judaism of the time. Women were exempt from the study
of the Torah. Many rabbis actively discouraged women from learning. But Jesus allows,
if not encourages, Mary to listen. He probably invited Martha as well. Amidst the disciples,
amidst the prominent members of the community, there sits Mary; a woman, a lowly woman.
This is an unbelievable scene in that day and time.”
Listen, friends, we follow a Lord, we worship a Master, who unequivocally teaches and models
the truth that our walls must come down, our prejudices must be abandoned, our exclusions must cease.
We follow a Jesus who does not accept our racial prejudices, who does not accept our gender biases, who
does not accept our cultural and socio-economic exclusions. We follow a Lord who calls us to build
bridges and tear down the cultural and religious walls that so clearly permeate our modern world and
You cannot follow Jesus and allow prejudice, bias, and exclusion to be a part of your life!
III. SOMETIMES OUR BUSYNESS IS A PROBLEM
“While Jesus taught in the courtyard, Martha continued with all the preparations that had to be done. As she
worked, Mary listened to Jesus. Finally, Martha could take it no longer. She stormed out to where Jesus was and
asked of Jesus, „Lord, doesn‟t it matter at all to you that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her
to help me.‟”
The problem with Martha, as previously noted, is not her willingness to prepare the meal; it’s the fact that she lets herself get consumed with this responsibility and this task. Jesus challenges Martha not
because she’s focusing on the meal and its preparations, but rather because in being so busy with the meal
she misses what is much more important, a chance to learn and grow spiritually.
If ever there’s a message for modern day folks it is here. Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha,
you are worried and upset about many things.” In essence, Jesus is saying, even as he appreciates her preparations for the meal, “Martha, you’re letting the routines, the demands, the responsibilities get to you;
you’re letting things get out of hand. You need to slow down and smell the roses, grab this moment, let
go of some of that obsession with work and responsibility and demand.” This is a message for most of us,
isn’t it? We become so busy with all the things going in our lives that we miss some of the things that
Let me be specific. Some of you husbands and wives are so busy you’re missing special moments
with your spouse. Some of you parents are so busy you’re missing special moments with your children.
Some of you friends are so busy you’re missing special moments with friends. And most importantly,
some of you are so busy you’re missing special moments with God.
One poet sums up our need to slow down and experience the special moments of life in these
Slow me down, Lord!
Ease the pounding of my heart
By the quieting of my mind.
Steady my harried pace
With a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Amidst the confusions of my day,
The calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves
With the soothing music
Of the singing streams
That live in my memory.
Help me to know
The magical power of sleep,
Teach me the art
Of taking minute vacations
Of slowing down
To look at a flower;
To chat with an old friend
Or make a new one;
To pat a stray dog;
To watch a spider build a web;
To smile at a child;
Or to read a few lines from a good book.
Remind me each day
That the race is not always to the swift;
That there is more to life
Than increasing its speed.
Let me look upward
Into the branches of the towering oak
And know that it grew great and strong
Because it grew slowly and well.
Slow me down, Lord
IV. WE MUST NOT NEGLECT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But Mary has recognized the main thing.
She has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”
We’ve all heard the statement, “Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.” In essence, that’s what
Jesus told Martha. Though he appreciated her home making efforts, she had lost sight of the main thing.
What is the main thing? Pure and simple, it’s commitment to Jesus Christ; it’s time with Jesus.
I read recently about a conversation a pastor had with a couple wanting to know more about his
church. The conversation went something like this:
o “Pastor, can you tell us what your church has to offer us?”
o “Well, certainly we have many fine programs and activities and ministry opportunities, but our best
gift is an opportunity to go deeper with Jesus Christ through worship and service.”
o “Okay, but what we need to know is what you offer us as husband and wife and our children that
some other church doesn’t offer. In other words, why should we choose this church? Why should
we come here?”
o “Well, again, we have much to offer all ages and I can give you some literature, but we always
want to emphasize the opportunities we provide to serve Christ faithfully and energetically.”
o “Preacher, we’re going to be quite blunt. We visited a church that has a bowling alley, a new youth
building, has a cafeteria for meals after church, takes the kids to the beaches in Florida, on ski trips,
and to theme parks on a regular basis. Can you offer what that church has to offer our family?”
o [Responded as kindly as he could] “Sounds to me like you’ve found the church you need and want.
Nice to have met you.”
You see, he knew this was not a match.
We here at FUMC want to provide programs and ministries and activities that touch people’s lives
and reach people. But, it’s not about entertainment; it’s not about making or keeping you or others happy;
it’s not about filling every emotional and physical need you or others have. I’m proud of CLC gym and
the recreation programs we offer therein; I’m proud of our children and youth facilities; I’m proud of our
programs for older adults; but, friends, in the end our space and all our programs have to be about
bringing people into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing else ultimately matters.
We must keep the main thing the main thing here at First United Methodist Church and the main
thing must always be guiding each other toward true commitment to Jesus Christ.
So Jesus stopped by the home of Mary and Martha. While Martha worked in the kitchen, Mary
listened to Jesus. After Martha came storming into the living room and demanded that Jesus reprimand
Mary, Jesus challenged Martha to be aware of what she was missing. Again, we learn four things from
this story for our own lives.
I. MUNDATE EFFORTS FOR THE KINGDOM MATTER
It’s not just the work of the preachers and the teachers and the missionaries that help bring in the
Kingdom, it’s the little, mundane, behind-the-scenes things you are willing to do as well.
II. JESUS ONCE AGAIN BREAKS DOWN BARRIERS When Jesus welcomed Mary into the inner teaching circle, we discover again that we worship a Lord
who has no place for our racial prejudices, our gender biases, and our cultural and socio-economic
II. SOMETIMES OUR BUSYNESS IS A PROBLEM Unfortunately, we get so busy we miss out on the special moments and experiences and relationships
that really make life worth living.
III. WE MUST NOT NEGLECT THE MAIN THING The Church exists solely for the purpose of relating persons to Jesus Christ; nothing else we provide
or do can be the main thing.