Too busy for God

Homily 437 – Presentation of the Theotokos
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 21, 2020
Epistle: (320) Hebrews 9:1-7
Gospel: (54, 58) Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

In the Gospel for this feast, the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple, the Church selects a passage about Martha and Mary, two sisters who live, along with their brother Lazarus, in Bethany.

We are perhaps familiar with the passage – Martha is being hostess, Mary sits at Christ’s feet, listening. Martha complains about her sister not helping.

When the Birthgiver of God is presented in the Temple, the Church recalls that while she did pursue a trade – she is depicted on the icon of the Annunciation as making the thread for temple vestments – she spent most of her “brainpower” in contemplating God and the things of God.

She was Mary, not Martha. Martha was so consumed with hospitality – a good thing, a highly worthy effort – that she was unable, perhaps unwilling, to contemplate the things of God.

I will say it reminds me often of our situation here at Holy Transfiguration. We have many roles to fill, many tasks to be accomplished. However, we have very few people to accomplish those roles.

And so, we run the risk of Martha-ism. We run the risk of being too busy about the Church to the neglect of the Person of the Church – the person of Christ.

I’m guilty of that, certainly. As I stand in front of the Altar Table during the Liturgy, I have to confess my mind can be wandering to how the altar lights are doing, or if we are running low on prosphora, or if the temperature is OK, and if the live stream is stopped for some reason.

There are a myriad of other things – the music, the people we pray for, the people who I’d like to visit if I could, my lack of preparation for the sermon.

In seminary, they tell us that for the first decade of being a priest, the most difficult thing to do is pray during the services. Similarly for the Choir, and for the Altar Servers.

Many times, if I am focused, the hymns do speak to me in a different way than I thought. Or sometimes during the proclamation of the Gospel, a new insight happens. I hear something in a new way. Then, an internal debate starts – do I throw out what I’ve prepared and speak on this new thought, or continue with what I have?

I rarely speak on a new thought. I haven’t had the time to fully flesh it out. So I’m learning to absorb that thought.

Much like Mary would have absorbed that thought sitting at the feet of our Lord, or how the Birthgiver of God would have absorbed that thought as she spun wool in the Temple.

In Mary the Birthgiver of God, we see often in the Scriptures that these insights or thoughts must have caused her confusion – we are told she “treasured them in her heart” or contemplated the meaning.

How we solve our local problem of so much to do with so few people is a matter of us learning not to do too much. At least, not to the neglect of the salvation of our souls, and the communion we have with our Lord.

Of course, I would also add that we could begin inviting our friends, and have more people! That would help solve the problem a bit!

Now, I’m deeply appreciative of the work that everyone does here. Deeply appreciative. My concern is that we don’t try to do too much, meaning we aren’t able to continue to grow in our spiritual life.

That we recognize the need we have to serve our Lord by denying ourselves on behalf of those around us, but also to take Mary’s seat at Christ’s feet and absorb His love for us.

Don’t forget that Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus were called “friends of Jesus.”

That meant there was a relationship. Mary and Martha are reported in the Gospels to have kinda scolded Christ. If you had been here – our brother Lazarus wouldn’t have died.

And Christ didn’t rebuke them like He rebuked Peter who scolded Christ.

In the final analysis, Christ asks us to be His friend, paradoxically, by being His slave. While much of our life is spent doing the work of the Lord, and the work ascetically on ourselves, there are times when Christ tells us we are doing too much and He desires to give us, like Mary, the better part.

And we do well to heed the commandment of our Lord and to sit and be patient.

And listen. And hear. And to make our requests known to Christ.

We can be Martha. We can be Mary. We can be the Birthgiver. It revolves around paying attention to Christ when we aren’t encountering others in need.

And, unlike Martha in this case, knowing when the needs have been met.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!