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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Luke 10:38-42
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA
July 18, 2010

Here we are in greater Townsend, Tennessee. We're on "the peaceful side of the Smokies." Can you feel the peace? Inhale. Breathe in the peace.

How often do you do that, breathing in, and paying attention? I'm sure we breathe in all the time, but that's not the breath we notice. Most of the time, we notice our breathing out. That's where we put our effort. A heavy sigh. A deep moan. A puckered, "Whew." After a long phone call, I make the horsey sound, "Pbbbbbbbbb."

I have reached the age where I make "Dad Sounds." You know what those are. It's when your dad reaches down to pick something up off the floor. Or sits down. Or stands up. It's a heavy sigh-grunt-groan sound. Women make a similar sound. Women, however, use the full content of their lungs. Usually with a hand on the lower back while staring up toward heaven, often with eyes closed, shaking the head from side to side. Often because of something a man has done.

Listen to your breathing. Of course you inhale. You couldn't exhale if you didn't inhale. But the inhale is usually silent. We hear the exhale. We spend a lot more energy exhaling than inhaling. What does that say about us?

In the Bible, the name for the Holy Spirit is, pneuma, as in pneumonia. It's the word for wind, as in the wind of the Holy Spirit that swept over the disciples' heads on Pentecost. The other Pentecostal symbol for the Holy Spirit is flame, as in the tongues of fire that danced on their heads while the pneuma was blowing around them. Wind and flame, the signs of the Spirit.

If you hold a burning candle in front of your mouth and exhale, what happens? The candle blows out. If you inhale, what happens? The wind might blow the candle out, but it might not. You might get a mouthful of the taste of flame. It's best not to hold it too close to your mouth. If you hold the candle and inhale, gently, you get the benefit of both wind and flame. You get the breath that gives life, and the fire that gives life flavor, and warmth.

Mary and Martha are like the inhale and the exhale. Mary is the inhale; Martha is the exhale. We have to have both to live. We can't go along inhaling all the time. But we also can't go around saying, "I didn't inhale." Of course you did. You inhale. You exhale. We need both the Mary that inhales the Spirit, and the Martha that exhales. We need Mary, who breathes in the Holy Spirit from Jesus, and we need Martha, who breathes out, and puts the Spirit to work.

Most of us pay attention to our exhale. We are children of the Protestant work ethic. We're the children of Martha. We think that if we're not exhausted, we haven't been productive. We think that if we're not productive, we're sinful. We act as though if we're not sighing from our souls, then our souls have gotten lazy. But if all we do is grunt and groan, if all we do is murmur and sigh, if all we do is breathe out curses under our breath at those who lay on the couch all day and inhale cheese-puffs while tweeting their peeps, if all we do is exhale, we blow out the candle of the Holy Spirit. Every once in a while, we have to breathe in. We have to breathe in, purposefully, spiritually, deeply. We have to pay attention to the inhale, as well as the exhale.

10:39 [Martha] had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.

10:40 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."

Frankly, I think Martha is done a great injustice. The feast she's going to serve Jesus and all twelve disciples, too, isn't going to cook itself. The table isn't going to set itself. The house isn't going to clean itself. It's not fair that Mary comes out so sweetly, while Martha gets the wag of the Master's finger.

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;"

YOU try cooking lamb over an open flame in first century Palestine. You try hosting a dinner party for thirteen guys who drop in, unexpected. Of course Martha's worried and distracted. She is exhaling, deeply. She has earned her huff.

It's wonderful that once a year we get to come up here and breathe in the warm air of creation. It's a blessing that we can come have our Mary day. We bask in the holiness of God's earth. The Lily Barn is such a relaxing place. Unless you own it. It takes a lot of late nights and long days to make a place this restful and relaxing. We must thank Martha. We must praise Martha, not shake our fingers at her. Without Martha, there would be no Mary.

Thanks to having two daughters, I know how this sister thing works. If life were fair, then in our Bible story, Mary would do all the cleanup, by herself. Mary would shovel the oven and empty the trash. Mary would load the dishwasher and vacuum the crumbs from dining room floor. That would be fair, which is all a girl wants. If life were fair, then Martha could have her Jesus time, after dinner. Maybe a glass of wine, too. Martha could sit at the Master's feet and inhale the Spirit of his teachings. Martha could do the "one thing" that is the better part that would not be taken away. And every once in a while, she could glance over at Mary and say, "Missed a spot."

But in the Bible, Martha gets the short end of the deal. Not only does she get to do all the work, she also gets that famous, "Martha, Martha," from Jesus.

I don't believe the Bible is telling us how to raise daughters. Nor is it trying to tell us how - or how NOT - to host a successful dinner party. I don't even think it's trying to say that prayer is more important than hospitality, or that rest is more important than work.

I think what's trying to be said here is that it's much, much easier to consume ourselves with work. Look around you. As you go about your day, do you see people who are at peace with the world? Do you see people who have no worries, no troubles, no anxieties? Do you see people who live in a state of bliss, always drinking deeply from the waters of Christ, always inhaling emphatically from the breath of the Holy Spirit? Or do you see people who are always throwing a supper party for their worries? Do you see people who can't get over the past, or people who can't get past the dread of tomorrow? They live by, "If only." They live by, "What if?" They live on the words, "If I can just (do this one more thing)...." You say, "Well, that's just the way the world is." And you're right. Given the way of the world, it's much easier, and potentially much more rewarding, to be 100% Martha than even a fraction of Mary. It's much, much easier to be worried and troubled about many things. That was true in Mary and Martha's day, and in 2000 years, it hasn't changed, except to get worse. Nowadays, Martha wouldn't only be cooking Jesus dinner, she'd also be taking phone calls, updating her Facebook status, emailing a client, and helping the youngest child with homework. And there's nothing in the world wrong with that. Except. Except that if all she does is exhale, the flame of the Spirit will have a very hard time staying lit. It's much easier to join the world's exhale. It's easier to be exhausted than to breathe in the life of the Spirit.

Maybe in her own way, Mary was working harder than Martha. As Mary sat listening to Jesus, maybe on the inside, she was being torn in two with guilt. Maybe she saw her sister working, slaving over a hot stove, and maybe she wanted so badly to go and help her. But maybe on the other hand, she also knew that for the sake of her soul, she needed to hear what Jesus was teaching. It might have been so much easier for Mary to say, "Yes, Lord. But could you hold that thought until after dinner? Martha's dying in there and needs my help." It's always easier to tend to the urgent. It's always easier to follow the herd, especially when you're related to Queen Martha. Maybe Mary was using all her will to listen to Jesus, when she could so easily have been off doing something... productive.

It's hard to sit still. It's hard to sit still, just through a sermon. I know, I've sat through my share of them. When you've got a to-do list as long as your arm, doing nothing is hard work. I doubt any of us can really balance our inner Mary and inner Martha. But a little Mary can go a long way.

The next time you feel yourself tensing up, the next time you hear yourself loosing a long, sustained sigh, inhale. It's not hard. I know you can all do it. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. Instead of letting the world hear your exhaustion, breathe in the pneuma of the Holy Spirit. Breathe in the Spirit that gives life, instead of the exhaustion that takes it away. Let your breath remind you that you can't live without inhaling, too. Let your breath be the peace of Mary which makes possible the work of Martha. Breathe in, and remember the sights and sounds of this place. Remember that you can fill your lungs and fill your mind with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. The peace of Christ, that surpasses all our good works. The peace of Christ without which we live half a life, when we could be living whole.

For all you Marthas who labored over hot ovens to make our lunch today, we give thanks. Take a deep breath. Don't compare your dish to those around it. Don't worry that the marshmallows in your jello salad have started to melt. Don't worry if there are four more of exactly the same dish you made. "Martha, Martha. You are worried and distracted by many things." Take it easy. Take it all in. The food, the hills, the breeze, the friendship. Let Mary have this day. This day, this better day, that can't be taken away.

Let's pray.