Last week in Wednesday Bible study, we learned a story about being caught in a storm that comes from without. It was a story about being afraid. This week, we learned a story about a storm that comes from within - the storm called "worry."
In this week's story, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, but Martha is having a hard time with that because she is "distracted by the many preparations." Finally she bursts out, "Lord! Don't you care? My sister has left me to do all the work! Tell her to help me!"
Martha's cry is so much like the cry of the disciples in the boat from last week's story: "Lord! Don't you care?"
But there's a big difference. The disciples plead, "Save us!" Martha tells Jesus what to do.
In his letter to the believers at Philippi, Paul writes about the storm of worries:
Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer & petition with thanksgiving,
present your requests to the Lord.
Paul doesn't say, "Present your instructions to the Lord." He says, "Present your requests."
How does Jesus respond to taking instructions?
He says, "Martha, Martha, you are distracted and upset about many things. But only one thing is essential, and Mary has chosen it."
Your version of the Bible might say, "You are worried about many things." That word translated "worry" in English means divided or distracted.
Where is the "hard time" in this story? It's the storm within Martha. It's the tumult of being pulled in a thousand different directions, of not being able to quiet your heart or your mind, not being able to focus. Sometimes it is the big storm of circumstances that swamps you, like in last week's story. But more often, it is the storm of lots of little worries that consumes you and causes just as much anxiety.
I speak as an expert on this. I am a black belt worrier. The inside of my head is a big string ball of anxieties.
You may ask, how can a person who studies the Bible and teaches it and writes about faith and seems for all the world to be a Mary be such a Martha?
The answer is that you have to remember the Big Story that this little story and every story fits into: God vs. Satan. If God created you and me for a relationship with him, the last thing his enemy wants us to do is enjoy that relationship. And one of his chief tactics is to distract us. With worries. So he can tempt us with that same old question: "Don't you care?"
If he can get us off on our hamster wheel, churning over our worries, instead of talking to God - or better yet listening to God - then he has succeeded. For now.
This isn't a story about whether hospitality is less important than discipleship. It isn't even a story about hostessing. Or women. It's a good story for business people, for college students, for anybody with a To Do List that has taken over their life.
Paul goes on in Philippians to say this about the divided mind:
It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together,
will come and settle you down.
- Philippians 4:7 The Message
Everybody worries. Just today at lunch, after Bible study, our waitress was in tears because she was worried about something personal. And we told her the story we had just learned about Martha. She is a believer, but just like us, she'd gotten focused on the worries and not on Jesus. Right before our eyes, we saw him settle her down. And it was wonderful. I'm so thankful I was there to see it.
I'm so thankful Luke preserved this little story for all of us worriers! Today as we practiced telling it, some of us pretended to be Mary and some of us pretended to be Martha. But the truth is, all of us are Marthas when it comes to being distracted by many things.
Who will you tell this story to?