Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
If you asked most pastors what their favorite time of the church year is, it would probably be any time other than during Christmas or Easter. If you asked these same pastor’s if they prefer to do weddings or funerals most would say funerals. Both answers you might not suspect. After all, the holidays are full of pageantry and worship and weddings are definitely more fun than funerals.
It’s true, the holidays are awesome, and weddings are a true blessing but, for more pastors, they cherish more the calm than the storm. During the holidays, it’s hard to find time to escape the busyness of it all and just take a breath. Weddings are great but they all come with brides who have imagined this day their whole life and want everything just right. In weddings, the Christian pastor is sometimes just a necessary part of the puzzle, though that is less and less true everyday now that you can legally become a pastor of a made-up religion anytime you want over the internet (picture from themonestary.org)
What it all comes down to is stress. That’s why so many pastor’s burn-out. Here are some statistics from the New York Times from an article published a few years ago:
“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”
23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
70% don’t have any close friends.
75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
90% work more than 50 hours a week.
94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.
No, I’m not feeling burned out in case you are wondering and I’m not telling you this looking for sympathy. There are many jobs that would see similar statistics. Stress and anxiety are prevalent in all our lives. It’s one of the devil’s greatest tools.
In our Gospel lesson we find that stress and anxiety are nothing new. Martha had loads of it and it caused her to do things in anger that probably betrayed her true nature. She didn’t start out that way though. At first she was only stressed because she had to get the house in order in time for the Master’s visit. We’ve all felt that.
Cheryl is so much better than she used to be. There was a time she would clean for hours because the cable guy was coming inside the house. She’s still a neat freak but she has been able to let that go more.
Martha was a lot like Cheryl. She had a mission and she was bound and determined to answer the call and she would need help from Mary to accomplish her goal. Yes, at first everything was working perfectly, and then Jesus arrives and everything goes to pot.
I think that before Jesus came, Martha was frantic but under control. Here and in other parts of Scripture, we get to know Martha’s true character. She cleaned and prepared food for Jesus because of her love for Him, it was her way of honoring him and His disciples.
And Jesus loved her in return, it tells us so in John 11:5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” She’s even first on this list. And because of this mutual admiration, Martha wanted everything just right.
Mary, however, is not like Martha. I imagine Mary as the care-free one, the more artistic one with a vivid imagination and a passion to learn. She has a love for Jesus also. It was her who anointed Him with costly oil and wiped Him clean with her own hair. Martha would have never done this, think of the mess it would have made and you just know that every piece of clothing that oil touches is going to be ruined.
Two sisters who are very different. One who is organized and task oriented and another who is care-free and passionate. To Mary, Jesus was a hero. Her imagination runs wild at His teaching, and she can’t wait to learn more. She worships Jesus with an uncommon passion and now… here He is….. in her house! What a great opportunity to grasp even more of His wisdom. She probably didn’t get a lot of chances to hear Him speak so we can imagine how excited she must have been to have Him in her own house. And in all the excitement…Mary forgets Martha.
Martha doesn’t share this same enthusiasm, she has a job to do and that is foremost on her mind. It’s not that she wasn’t excited that Jesus was coming over for a visit.
To the contrary, that’s why she’s so frantic to get everything done, that’s how she shows her love. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy listening to Jesus it’s just that there is a time for that after the tasks are completed. There is work to be done…and now Mary ain’t doin’ it.
Slowly, as she works without the aid of her sister, her anger rises and little…by…little…MARTHA…GETS…VERY…UPSET! It might have started with a simple request that went unheeded, but then it becomes more frustrating as things get behind in her previously perfected schedule. Soon there would be little noises of displeasure, maybe a word or two under her breath, maybe a utensil banged against the side of a bowl just a little harder so Mary might hear that help is needed.
Soon the tension is seen in her face as the lines become deeper on her forehead and her smile turns into a frown of irritation. As she works…by herself…she notices Mary at the foot of Jesus looking so smug and innocent. There she is, just sitting there doing nothing. She throws Mary some unpleasant glances, but they make no difference. Well, that’s just fine, like always, I have to do all the work myself. You know, she’s always been this way.
Mary and all her dancing and singing around the house and no chores getting done, Mary, lost in her daydreams. Why should I even expect anything from her. Nothing is going to help.
We’re tempted to sympathize with Martha. She was upset and needed a little help, is that too much to ask? Well, yes, considering the guest. Martha was being the servant, but her servitude had become her distraction. Her busyness was her focus when the very Son of God, was in her house teaching. She was meeting the needs of the disciples but she was distracted from what she needed most.
John Ortberg pinpoints this in his article, Taking Care of Busyness. He says, “For most of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”
What was most needed by Martha was not to be found in the kitchen, it was in another room, the one with Jesus in it and she should have been there right next to Mary listening intently. Martha’s anger and impatience got in the way of her understanding.
And Jesus, of course, notices this. He hears Martha’s pleas but instead of heading to them, He uses the opportunity to teach Martha something saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
In a gentle way, Jesus is telling her that His time on earth was limited and every opportunity should be made to listen to what He had to say. Mary understood this but Martha was lost to her distractions. It’s almost like Jesus was saying, “You’ve done good things and I appreciate it. But Martha, you are forgetting something. You must put ME first, not your busyness. Mary has understood this. She understands that it is not about her wishes…right now it’s about what I have for you. I am only here a little while, the busyness will have to wait because there is much to know before I am no longer with you.”
If He were here with us right now, His message would be the same. Your life on earth is short, do all you can to learn from me in Scripture. Take advantage of what I have given you in Sacrament, understand that I have given you forgiveness that is not deserved because I want your focus to be on what I died to provide to you and not on your own shortcomings.
Martha moments will continue to happen in all our lives. The most devoted of us will give way to distractions on a very regular basis. And when that happens we must allow Jesus to say in His gentle way, Dan…Dan, you’re anxious and troubled about many things. There is only ONE thing that is that important… listening to the Master.
Even in church during worship, our distractions get the best of us. That’s how the devil works. But Christ requires more. What He has to say is vital and He needs you to listen. Find your own way to sit at His feet and soak in His wisdom through Scripture study, devotion, worship and prayer.
Let’s sacrifice our Martha moments for Come to Jesus moments. Let’s put our focus to where it belongs. Make it your goal to seek as much wisdom from God as you can in thought, Word and deed. Be who God created you to be and seek His guidance. The busyness can wait.
Where is your focus today, right now? On the clock, on the job, on the weather? One thing is needful and Mary has chosen that good part and it will not be taken away from her.
Most of what we focus on will one day perish or be taken away from us, unless our focus is on Christ. Has your busyness taken your focus off Christ? What He has to tell you is vital. Listen to Him. Sit at His feet as much as you can. Don’t let your distractions sacrifice Christ to worldly things. He has much to share with you. Amen