August 14- sermon- Marty Culbertson

Sermon Text...


August 14, 2022

Marty Culbertson



Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

Hear now the reading from the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him.[k] 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s[l] feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one.[m] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Let us pray:

We hear these words from scripture Lord, please teach us to sit and listen to them, really listen, not to respond, but to take them in!    Amen

In June, pastor Betsy mentioned that her summer series would focus on profiles of faith… and she mentioned that Susi would be preaching on the Susannahs… so jokingly I said, well, I need to preach on Martha… (yes Martha is my given name. J  and of course, I said this without really knowing if the Martha Story made any sense for me.  But I think I found that this story of Martha and Mary fits for me and has a message for all of us.

Work Life Balance…

This is a phrase we all have heard, and we often struggle to find the balance we need in our lives… and truth be told, we really need to work at claiming our restorative, personal time, we need that balance!

Work, our jobs that we must have to support ourselves and our families, indeed, can sap a lot of our energy.  It is a cultural thing, and we buy into it.  We want to be noticed for our hard work and our dedication to our job, how else can we increase our income and be viewed as “successful”? 

When I was about to start my position here at Federated Church 26 years ago, I left a job in Trade Show Marketing, I worked with some big companies, Nestle, Bristol Meyers Squibb and Boots Pharmaceuticals… Dave Norling, Senior Pastor at the time, asked me how did I feel about making such a drastic change in my earnings potential.  My answer was simple, I was missing the emotional income and I needed something more.  I was lucky to have clients that I built strong relationships with, but when the company was focused solely on the financial end of the business, I realized I needed something more.  So, I came to the church to work with 12-14 year olds, oh the emotional income was a plenty!

I think it is easier for people as we get older… to realize our success as human beings is not career advancement, it’s not the amount of money in the bank… although, who really is going to turn that away, but the measure of true success is who are we in the care for others, how do we interact with those who can offer us nothing in return.  Are we kind, generous, supportive, and loving to our neighbor?  Do we sit and listen? One does not need to come work for a church to find this kind of success as I did.  We certainly can live this out in every aspect of our life.  But we do need to create a balance in our life and these thoughts about success are why this examination of Martha and her sister Mary is so very important.  Important for ourselves, our relationship with Christ and our lives with each other.

In looking for inspiration for today, I came across something written by Catherine Upchurch, who wrote a piece for The Leaven, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. 

We are designed with a need for counterbalance.  Like a good engineer will tell you, to design a teeter totter or a forklift there is a need to balance the weight, to distribute weights evenly so we don’t topple over or in the case of the teeter totter one child doesn’t go flying through the air!   It is not so different when we are trying to balance our call by God to serve others and our need to fill ourselves with God’s love.


In our verse today, Jesus expresses, as he often did, his views against the cultural norms.  (and Thank Goodness!)  He gently gives Martha permission to chill out!  Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed – Martha, caught up in the social and cultural norms feels like she needs to be the best host, prepare the best meal, make sure all the details are perfect and for sure she thought Mary should be helping!

How many times have we been the host to a gathering of friends and at the end of the evening we discover we missed being with our friends?  Trying to make it all perfect, cleaning and prepping and wearing ourselves out and never really enjoying our time together.  I would rather leave a little clutter and dust and enjoy my time with company than be too busy or exhausted to engage with the very people I have invited in!

I was reading in a Bible Commentary (The Working Preacher) the following …

The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. Certainly, Jesus commends this kind of service to the neighbor many times, notably in the parable of the Good Samaritan that immediately precedes the story of Mary and Martha. The problem with Martha is not her serving, but rather that she is worried and distracted.

Martha’s distraction and worry leave no room for the most important aspect of hospitality — gracious attention to the guest.  In fact, she breaks all the rules of hospitality by trying to embarrass her sister in front of her guest, and by asking her guest to intervene in a family dispute. She even goes so far as to accuse Jesus of not caring about her (Lord, do you not care…?).

Martha’s worry and distraction prevent her from being truly present with Jesus and cause her to drive a wedge between her sister and herself, and between Jesus and herself. She has missed out on the “one thing needed” for true hospitality. There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest.

How often do we busy ourselves in preparation for guests?  Are we missing out on time spent together… the very reason you invite guests in! 

Imagine if that guest is Jesus…

…So, Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

Jesus’ words to Martha may be seen as an invitation rather than a rebuke.  

The one thing needed is for Martha to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words, to know that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God.

When we have guests, what is the most important outcome… that you busied yourself to make a wonderful meal, or that you had a pretty good meal and a wonderful visit… time spent listening, time to appreciate your guests and the gifts they bring with their presence in your home.

Let’s loop back to the modern-day culture and the misconception of what it means to be successful.

In a culture of hectic schedules and the relentless pursuit of productivity, we are tempted to measure our worth by how busy we are, by how much we accomplish, or by how well we meet the expectations of others.

Many of us likely identify with Martha. Anxiously feeling like we have to go go go , do do do ! — this is common for our modern day society, but as this story points out, not new.  Jesus says in Luke 12:25, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

What does worry get us… what does go go go, do do do accomplish… other than wearing us down, stressing us out, it doesn’t really help us in the end.  Our intentions are good, we feel like we need to do as much as possible and we worry about doing things well.  It is a noble pursuit to give everything to do our best.  To give our families, our children the best of what is out in the world… but at what expense?  Where is the Balance.  That work /life balance. 

When I was young kid, my parents had some “rules” about extra-curricular activities.  I am sure this was as much for them as it was to ground me in a well-balanced childhood.  I could pick one outside extracurricular activity each season, a sport, a creative writing class or art class… just one!  The rest of my time away from school was to be spent on being a kid… playing and exploring with my neighborhood friends.  Of course, after I did my one required chore each day.  Somewhere along the way the idea of setting limits to create a balance is lost, before we know it, we are that kid that goes flying off the teeter totter.  We are Martha in our story today, worried that we must be doing doing doing and resenting those that are taking the time to sit, to listen.

Christ is telling us in this verse that we need to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, if we don’t, we are likely to end up anxious and troubled.

In my work as Director of Jr High programing and the Colorado Trip I often referred to the writings of author Mike Yaconelli, (he was a minister for over 40 years and owner and co-founder of Youth Specialties, a great resource for youth leaders).  One of Yaconelli’s Books, Dangerous Wonder (An adventure into childlike faith) there is a chapter titled “Wide-eyed Listening”.  He writes the following:

Sadly, by the time we are adults, most of us have lost our God hearing.  By the time we are adults, we have decided that listening to God is less important than knowing about God.  By the time we are grown, we have jobs and children; the noise of our lives has increased to such a level that we couldn’t possibly hear God because God rarely shouts – he whispers.

I personally think God does indeed shout…trying to get our attention… Big things happen in our world…usually not good things, that just might be God whacking us on the head with a 2x4.  But people tend to ignore that approach… I for one react better to a gentle approach… a whisper.

In Psalm 46:11 we read “Be Still and know that I am God”, where can you sit and Be Still, where do you listen for God?  God has Creative Power… Seek what are the signs that you can see each day. Seek God, Listen for the presence of God in our daily lives.


For many years on this Federated Church staff, I have been the liaison to Mission and Service and more recently to SJAM.  One philosophy I try to share is that I think as we work to serve others, to live out our call as Christians, we need to not try to do everything, don’t stress ourselves out, Let’s choose fewer tasks and do them well.  Do them to a level that brings about real change and has a great impact.

When we do this, we give ourselves as individuals and as a congregation the opportunity to be both Mary and Martha.  Sit and listen to God and offer up hospitality/service to others in a meaningful way.  A way that will bring about change, bring about justice for all of God’s children.

If we don’t find that balance, we are likely to end up with a kind of service that is devoid of love and joy and does not actually bring about the changes we so desperately need in this world … where people are marginalized, where not everyone has their basic needs met and one group of people hold power over another.


Here is a final note from the “Working Preacher” Commentary that I referenced earlier…

Both listening and doing, receiving God’s Word, and serving others, are vital to the Christian life, just as inhaling and exhaling are to breathing. Yet how often do we forget to breathe in deeply? Trying to serve without being nourished by God’s word is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted.


I know a lot of people balk at too much social media… but for me Facebook can be a great resource for wisdom, as in the Mindfulness videos posted by my Niece-in-Law and Love, Stephanie Varnon-Hughes.  On July 25th Stephanie’s devotional video offered some wonderful words that relate to our desire to be listening for God, listening to what Christ is teaching us today.

Here is a slightly paraphrased version of what Stephanie had to share in her devotional of July 25th

Imagine God speaking to you now… “As you listen to birds calling to one another, hear also my love call to you.  I speak to you continually through sights, sounds, thoughts, impressions, scriptures, there is no limit to the variety of ways I can communicate with you.  Your part is to be attentive to my messages in whatever form they come.  When you set out to find me in a day, you discover the world is vibrantly alive with my presence.  You can find me not only in beauty and bird calls but also in tragedy and faces filled with grief.  I can take the deepest sorrow and weave it into a pattern for good.  Search for me and my messages as you go through each day, you will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole being.”


This encouragement to be still, to listen and notice God Speaking to us in everyday things that we often take for granted is the advice Jesus is offering to Martha.  Be a good and gracious host by taking in what God is offering to us.


Stephanie adds…  “Multitasking; multitasking is not a thing; our brains are divided in these moments. God craves our attention and it's healthy for us to take a moment now and then to turn our attention and be open to just sit and listen to the birds.  To align myself to noticing, noticing God's presence.  Finding it in the butterfly and the birdsong and a conflict that I might have Infront of me.  If I can seek God's presence, I will surely find it.  

From John 10:27 “my sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me”


 And finally, from Jeremiah 29:13 “you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”. 


 Let us go out today and allow ourselves to be a bit of both Mary and Martha.  Invite God into our everyday life, prepare a good meal (not a perfect meal) let the dog hair and dust set where it is and sit and listen.  We have much to learn.  We need that balance in our life to fulfill the call as Christians.  It is how we can be truly successful, how we will make the world a place of peace.