In the month of May, Scott had a sermon series focusing on women. He actually titled the series ‘Putting Women in Their Place’. Needless to say, we had several emails from people who were not fans of that title! But the point was about putting women in their proper place, which is a place of honor and respect. And for the last Sunday of the series, he asked me to speak, so this blog post is basically the sermon I preached 2 weeks ago.
If you didn’t know, I’m from Birmingham. But we have been away from here for the past 7 years. Scott was the youth pastor and associate pastor at FUMC Union City in northwest Tennessee for 5 years. Then the North Alabama conference called and asked him to come back and be the associate pastor of Latham UMC in South Huntsville in charge of contemporary worship. And then we got appointed to the Harvest/Madison area to help CrossWinds UMC launch their second campus. And then, we got appointed here, back to good old Birmingham!
One thing I am most thrilled about in our moving back here is the Christmas movie series that plays at the Alabama Theater. One of my favorite memories of growing up here is going with my Granny Ann to see White Christmas on a Sunday afternoon at the Alabama Theater.
And now that I’m back, I can take my girls! We actually went to one movie this past Christmas, but it was Christmas Vacation. It’s the only one I could talk Scott into going to! This year, we are seeing White Christmas! Here is one of my favorite clips of the movie:
Oh, don’t you love sisters? Has to be one of the best physical relationships that God created. In that video clip, can’t you sense how they loved each other, yet, they seemed like they were right on the edge of frustration? “God bless the mister who comes between me and my sister, and God bless the sister, who comes between me and my man!” You know what I mean!
I have 2 sisters. Rebekah, who is 3 years younger than me, and Deborah, who is 10 years younger than me. The age gap between me and Deb really made me almost like a ‘little momma’ to her, but with Bekah, it was the classic sister relationship. We fussed some growing up, but not too bad. Really fought and annoyed each other when I was 10th and 11th grades and she was in 7th and 8th grades. By my senior year, everything was really great. I think we realized that I was fixing to go away to school, so we took advantage of that time together and the ‘friendship’ part of our sisterhood grew.
But just because we have matured and love each other deeply, we can still annoy each other. And right now, Bekah has actually frustrated me – greatly! She was supposed to be here today helping lead the musical portion of worship and was going to play a song she wrote after the sermon for our time of response. But she forgot to tell her husband, who then surprised her with a trip to the Bahamas for their anniversary. Needless to say, Brandon’s trip to the Bahamas trumped a worship service in Mount Olive! But it’s funny how God works. My story about a frustrated sister moment is fabulous sermon fodder for another story about a famous Bible sister duo, Mary and Martha, who had their moments of frustration as well.
Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, and they were all close friends of Jesus. Lazarus is mostly known for dying… and being raised from the dead. Martha is known for her fabulous hostess skills. And Mary is known for her worshipful heart. Let’s take a second and read about Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42.
At the Home of Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
So you see here that Martha is the hostess with the mostest, totally immersed in making Jesus feel welcome. Scripture even refers to the house as being ‘her home’. She was busy with all the preparations that having a special dinner guest requires.
But then the frustration creeps in. Can’t you just envision this: Martha going from room to room, taking care of her guests, and around the corner she catches a glimpse of her sister, who is just sitting there on her rear, staring up at Jesus, soaking in every word He is speaking. She finally had to speak up. “Lord, do you see what all I’m doing here, trying to have the perfect dinner for you, and ‘precious Mary’ is just sitting there, allowing me to do it all by myself? Do you care?”
Jesus, who I believe calmed her down by just saying her name “Martha, Martha”, then reminded her that only one thing matters, and that is spending time with Him. That she didn’t need to worry so much about the small earthly things, but focus more on Him.
We never hear what Martha’s response was to Jesus, but I assume she understood and was not offended, otherwise, we would have probably heard about it if she had blown up at Jesus! There would have been a few more verses where Martha smacked Jesus in the head with a frying pan! She received her chastisement in love, because it was given in love. But because of this story, Martha often takes a bad rap. All she cared about was the ‘busyness’ of life, without focusing on the Creator of life. BUT, there is another story.
John 11:1-44 tells the story about Lazarus dying, Mary and Martha summoning Jesus, and Jesus raising him from the dead. We’re going to jump to verse 17 which is entitled ‘Jesus Comforts the Sisters’.
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
I don’t know about you, but Martha certainly doesn’t sound like a terrible person in this passage! She sounds like a strong woman of faith, assertive and proactive, seeking her Savior. She immediately went to Him when she heard He was coming. And she did say that her brother would still be alive if He had come earlier, but then she punctuated it with the statement, “but I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.” And further more, when Jesus asked her if she believed if He was the resurrection and the life, and that if you believed in Him, you would never die, she made the magnificent confession, “Yes, Lord. You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” So powerful! She is actually one of the very first people to actually make this eternal statement. And in contrast, Mary didn’t come out until Jesus summoned her, and her first statement was more of self-pity. But instead of Jesus chastising her, he was moved by her sorrow, and actually cried Himself.
After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, we go into chapter 12 where John describes an absolutely beautiful act of worship. Mary, in the wake of this miracle of her brother’s resurrection, is moved to anoint Jesus out of gratitude and love. I love verse 2 in chapter 12, because it describes each of the siblings and their roles. Martha is actively serving dinner, Lazarus is reclining at the table with Jesus, and Mary then comes in with a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, and pours it over Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair. The Bible states that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
This act of worship was costly. It cost about a years worth of wages. This was extremely expensive. This act was abnormal. Usually in scripture where you read about anointing, people usually anointed the head, not the feet. This act was vulnerable. Respectable women kept their hair bound in public, so for her to take it down to wipe His feet, this was a risky move. Who knows what people would now thing of her acting so inappropriately? And finally, this act was humbling. It was the job of servants to tend to the feet of guests. But she was the homeowner, the hostess, taking on the role of servant.
When Judas saw what was happening, he objected and told Jesus that this was a waste of money. But Jesus chastised him and said this was actually an anointing for His burial. Mary had no way to know what the future would hold for Jesus, but her act was very timely and purposeful, as well as being her own personal response to Jesus’ love and care for her family.
Louie Giglio, the founder of Passion ministries, which is a college ministry that has reached thouands of people has a definition of worship that I love:
Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live. – Louis Giglio
Another statement about worship I found that really broke my heart was made by A.W. Tozer:
To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us. – A. W. Tozer
Ugh… that’s what we’ve done with worship. With our ‘worship services’. They have become programs, a term borrowed from the stage, that suggests orchestrated events that are not worship at all. They are actions, motions, and words we do because we’ve always done them. But maybe it’s time to tap into our Mary side. To ‘respond to God for who He is, and what He has done’. Like Mary, who’s brother was raised from the dead, her only acceptable response was that of extravagant action. Costly, abnormal, vulnerable, humbling action.
But just like faith without works is dead, worship without faith is meaningless. Martha’s faith is just as important and vital as Mary’s worship. THEY ARE BOTH NEEDED, WITHIN EACH INDIVIDUAL. I’m a Mary. Just being honest with you. But if I just sit up at the altar and never move, I’ll miss out on meeting a visitor that might come in the door who is in desperate need of God’s love. And if I’m so focused on all the busyness of the church and forget the ‘Who’ this is all for, then it’s all for naught. Martha and Mary go hand in hand. We need hearts full of faith as well as hearts full of love.
One of my favorite worship songs is “The More I Seek You”, which I think has to be the exact words Mary was thinking as she was anointing Jesus. The lyrics are:
The more I seek you,
The more I find you
The more I find you, the more I love you
I wanna sit at your feet
Drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat
This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming
And as I challenged the congregation that day, I’m challenging you now reading this post. Tap into your Mary. Get off the script, off the bulletin. Choose the ‘better’. Love on your God. Spend time at His feet. And my prayer is that our worship will be a beautiful fragance in His nostrils as it was described in scripture 2000 years ago as filling the house.
To a lot of us, it’s easier to be Martha. Who doesn’t love a task list, marking things off as you get them done? Focusing on the task at hand rather than the face of God. But maybe it’s time to put yourself out there. Be vulnerable, be abnormal, be humble. Go ahead… let your hair down.