What feeds your soul? You know it when you experience it: you come away refreshed on a profound level, inspired, connected to something larger than yourself. What feeds your soul? (Input: music, being in nature, church, a good meal with friends, etc.)
How often do we prioritize feeding our soul? How often do we practice sitting at Jesus’ feet and just being instead of constantly doing? How often do we simply take delight at being with God, being a divine child of God? This is the contrast in the story of Mary and Martha. Martha invites Jesus to come to her home and then is rushing around getting the food ready, serving everyone, doing the dishes. And her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet with the disciples.
I totally understand Martha’s annoyance with Mary. There’s a bit of the martyr in her voice when she says to Jesus, “Would you tell Mary to get off her butt and lend a hand? I’m the only one doing any of the work here!” Does this sound familiar to anyone? It sure does to me.
Imagine Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with all the relatives gathered, and your 97-year-old uncle starts telling stories about your great-grandfather, whom you never met. This is a real example in my life: my Uncle Bob, whom some of you have met, tells stories about his grandfather, who was called Papa Baird. Everyone is laughing, remembering, sharing. And you miss out because you’re in the kitchen basting the turkey, carving the turkey, mashing the potatoes, making the gravy. You now don’t know those stories, which are foundational stories about people who made you who you are. So there is a time to prioritize just sitting and being with someone in a way that feeds our soul.
Here are some other ways we might find Martha today, as suggested by Joy Douglas Strome:
Today’s Martha could be working at a computer, … talking on her cell phone while driving and eating lunch. She could be on a treadmill while making appointments for the next day. She could be grading papers, her phone held between cheek and shoulder, checking in with family about coming home late. She could be trying to have a business meeting in the middle of a crowded airplane while juggling a watery cup of Coke. She could have a baby on one hip and a textbook for night class on the other. She could be receiving chemotherapy on her lunch hour and trying like crazy to save her job. She could be overscheduled, overbooked and overwhelmed. The pace could make her snap. The urgent demands of life collide with the urgent demands of the gospel—and anyone’s trigger can be tripped. Martha, dear Martha. We know you well. [From “Kitchen relief: Luke 10:38-42” by Joy Douglas Strome, July 10, 2007 https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2007-07/kitchen-relief]
Okay, take a deep breath. It’s exhausting just to hear about all this nonstop activity. And do you get how it separates us from each other? How it’s an excuse that keeps people at bay? How, when you’re doing ten things at once, you can’t be fully present to any of them? All that busyness in our lives becomes noise that keeps us from stopping and just being and feeding our soul. Martha is so concerned about feeding the people food for their bodies, that she misses the food for her own soul that Jesus is serving up, in abundance, seconds for everybody, out in the living room. And he says, that’s the more important meal.
Jesus has nothing against food, or a good meal. He’s not scolding Martha about the food. You know Jesus: he eats with anyone and everyone. He feeds the 5,000 when they have gathered to hear him teach—he feeds them body and soul. Loaves and fishes for the body, divine presence and teachings for the soul. We need both. We have to prioritize both. But when we get caught up in the fussing and fretting and busyness, we short out our opportunities to prioritize God.
Notice as well that Martha seems to need to be right. She’s trying to get Jesus to agree that she’s right and Mary’s wrong, and would you please go impose on Mary my right judgment? Catching that nuance brought me up short, because I like to be right, too. But that’s another way of not being fully present in the moment with people. Because if I’m focused on being right, that probably means that I’ve decided someone else has to be wrong. I’ve made a judgment, and that has closed me off to being fully present to that person in the moment. And Jesus says, “Stop judging and fretting. Stop judging right and wrong. Just come and be. Just be fully present with the Divine.”
When we don’t feed our souls for a long time, we can lose track of what it means to be a child of God. Martha experiences this loss in one way, and the prophet Amos talks about it in another way. I want to shift and talk about the Amos reading now, and then I’ll tie it back in with Mary and Martha.
Amos is one of those slim books of prophecy at the back of the Old Testament. This prophet likely lived in the 8th century BCE. The whole book of Amos is only 9 chapters long. For 8 ½ chapters, Amos goes on about how corrupt the people are and how God is going to judge them.
The theme in Amos is that the people have lost their way. They worship the idols of success, money, wheeling and dealing, cheating their neighbor. They have forgotten what it means to prioritize God, to practice sabbath, to love their neighbor, to love themselves. Instead they put their fingers on the scales and make people pay more than they owe. They sell the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals. They force women who have no good options into prostitution. They oppress, they traffic, they cheat, they lie, they steal. They can’t wait for the holy days to be over so that they can get back to making money and cheating people. They have cut themselves off from their own souls. And when God calls them to account, and they realize that they need the word of God, they can’t find it. They don’t know how. It no longer exists in their society.
Like the people in Amos’s day, we live in a society that prioritizes busyness, money, success. It does not prioritize God. We are perhaps starting to grow numb to cruelty in our midst, as if it’s okay for this to become normal. Trafficking of humans, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, stripping people of their rights, putting undocumented immigrants into concentration camps, separating parents from children, cheating farm laborers of their pay—these things happen all the time. We hear about them and don’t know what to do. Maybe we learn to tune them out.
We can do better. We can start by sitting at Jesus’ feet and just being in that holy presence. We can soak up that divine love, feed our soul, hear the teachings about caring for the poor and oppressed. We can dare to see the oppressive practices in our society. But it takes courage. Joan Chittister writes,
For all of us who live under threat of social degeneracy from the power brokers, the profiteers, the dictators, the nativists, the narcissists, and the prejudiced, there are decisions to make. Shall we do something to reshape the heart and the soul of the worlds we inhabit? Or shall we do nothing and claim that we were powerless in the world? Will we act like we do not know that there are rallies to attend, students to teach, peacemaking courses to take, public legislation to study and discuss, facilities and services to open to the homeless, and, at the very least, honest bidding prayers to say in public in our churches? Will we raise no voice at all in the pursuit of God’s will for us all? (Joan Chittister, “The Time Is Now”)
We live in a society that does not prioritize God or create space for sabbath. So for us to come together as followers of Jesus and to sit at his feet is a radical act. In a world where people want to skip the sabbath so that they can get more things done, make more money, go go go, we practice pausing to prioritize God, pausing to feed the soul and to remember that we are beloved children of God. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, and it is something very good—something that calls us to be our best selves. Amos says there will come a day of accounting when people who have never prioritized God will realize that they need that holy Word, and they won’t know where to find it. We do know where to find it. We practice finding it and letting it guide our steps.
Churches are shrinking all over the U.S. Not just in the UCC but across faiths. But as long as we are here, we are bearers of that Word in the world. That’s important. We may be reluctant to talk about our faith journey with others in our lives, especially if they are caught up in everything being busy busy busy, or if the people around us think church is a sham. That can make it hard, because they may think they’re right and we’re wrong. Or vice versa. But you never know when people are realizing that they’ve been out in that kitchen with Martha long enough, or they’ve been caught up in a corrupt system long enough, and it’s time for them to connect with their soul.
So practice feeding your soul, whether that is in church or in meditation or hiking in the mountains or listening to beautiful music or whatever it is that connects you to God and a world that is larger than yourself. And invite others to do the same. Step out of the kitchen, out of the frantic pace, and into the living room. Sit at Jesus’ feet. Just be in that holy presence. And then open your heart to wherever that takes you. Because it will take you someplace where God’s Word of truth and love is most needed. Amen.