On Mother's Day Sunday morning, six of us loaded into our minivan to make the short drive to Resurrection Lutheran Church in Ankeny, Iowa. Danette’s thirty-something nieces maneuvered into the back seat, her older brother and Mom sat in the middle seats.
We were on our way to the 8:15 worship service. Then they have Sunday School from 9:30 to 10:30 and the late service at 10:45. In comparison to Divinity, Resurrection is a small building and a small congregation.
Because my mother-in-law at 92 rarely makes it to church she was warmly greeted by some of the older members. She’s been a member there for over 30 years when her husband retired from the ministry and they moved from Grinnell to Ankeny, Iowa.
Danette’s father died in 2001 after a few years of retirement from being first a Lutheran missionary in New Guinea where Danette and her older brother, Ken, were born and then a pastor in 3 Iowa congregations. They had met on the ship going out of Seattle to deliver missionaries, teachers, and supplies to New Guinea. They were married in New Guinea where Pearlyn was a teacher for missionary’s children.
On this Iowa trip, I asked mom about the story of Danette’s birth. During her last month of pregnancy, she made the journey to the town where there was a hospital staffed with missionary doctors and nurses. One of the nurses, Danette’s Aunt Marie, her Dad’s sister, lived there so she had a place to stay.
Danette’s parents were living in a village in the mountains. Mom rode a horse out of the mountains, very pregnant, to a harbor where she got on a boat to go along the coast of the island to MaDang where Danette would be born.
Danette’s Aunt Marie was in the delivery room helping bring Danette into the world of Papua, New Guinea. Mom had been through the routine 2 years earlier with the birth of Ken. Now at 92, bent over, walking with a cane, but driving and living alone in her home, she made her way into her church with family in tow, greeted by old friends and leading us up the aisle to the third pew which we filled.
Attendance was sparce, like here, as a young woman, Pastor Beth, welcomed us and the live streamers. The small sanctuary was well equipped with 3 cameras, 2 in each back corner and 1 in the middle over the aisle. Microphones hung down from the ceiling to pick up the congregation’s voices. Danette and her brother’s voices filled the sanctuary and I’m sure the live stream.
I always appreciate listening to another pastor’s sermon, especially this one. Her sermon was based on the 23rd Psalm as was Lori’s that Sunday here at Divinity. She talked about our life journey of ups and downs, of moving from green pastures and still waters to the dark valleys of our lives and back again.
In the last verse that says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”, she taught us that a better translation of the Hebrew word for “follow” is “pursue or hunt down”. “God’s goodness and mercy shall pursue us all the days of our life”. Especially when we ignore it, God’s goodness and mercy will hunt us down and fill us with grace and forgiveness.
When we went to the altar to receive the bread, it was already cut into small pieces because Pastor Beth was born without her left arm from the elbow down. She couldn’t break the bread and hold on to the tray. It was good, homemade bread like here.
Four of the six high school graduating seniors, all girls, were at this service with their pictures on the screen. They were called to the front with their parents to be presented with blankets in their school colors for their parents to drape over their shoulders in the midst of a shortened affirmation of baptism service. Of course, the women of the church had created the blankets which gave me the idea of presenting prayer shawls to our graduating seniors.
Following worship there was coffee and very messy cupcakes in the new addition fellowship hall. Pastor Beth came to our table and introduced herself. Then she tried to get adults to come to Adult Sunday School class, a challenge in many churches.
It was a Sunday morning of giving thanks to God for our faithful mother on her journey to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. We gave thanks for a modern-day Martha who spent most of her life serving her family, church, and anyone in need. We gave thanks that in these last years, she could spend time sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to his teachings. She begins her day reading from various devotional books. On Sunday mornings Mom first live-streams Resurrection’s 8:15 service and then live-streams Divinity’s 9:00 worship thanks to the 1-hour time difference.
Every night Pearlyn prays out loud sitting on her bed for the families of each of her 4 children. One night during our stay, we listened from the living room as she methodically named each of us in her prayer. She covered us with her prayer. She was sitting at the Lord’s feet in conversation with our Lord.
I remember thinking that it was because of strong Christians like her covering me in prayer that has empowered me to serve these many years as a pastoral servant. I listened in silence.
You are visiting a friend, a very dear friend. You come unexpectedly. You are welcomed, invited in, and then when the greetings are over, just at the point the small talk is coming to an end and is going to give place to the real news — your hostess, your friend disappears into the kitchen and because others are with you or maybe you are even alone, you do not follow her into that kitchen. And although you came for her, you do not see her anymore. She is making coffee, baking a cake, opening a tin, cleaning fruits. Finally, you go to the kitchen, or you call from the living room: "Hey, come here, I came for you. Sit down with me. Do not make such a fuss. Do not make it too complicated. We do not need very much. One thing will do!"
This is what happened. Jesus arrived. He was, of course, not alone. He had his disciples with him. They went to his very dear friends, Mary and Martha. Martha welcomes him very enthusiastically, to disappear immediately afterwards into the kitchen. But Mary stayed with him. Or maybe, and I would say more likely, she also was running to and from the kitchen to the sitting room to begin with. But then once she did not return to the kitchen and stayed with him.
And then Martha comes from the kitchen, indignant, and she tells Jesus to reproach her sister, to condemn her, for just sitting there listening and doing nothing.
Jesus refuses to condemn Mary. He said to Martha: "You are too busy. Come and sit down with us. Do not make things so complicated or we'll be here till midnight. Keep it simple. One thing will do. I did not come for your food. I came for you."
But you can bet that Martha disappeared again to her pots and pans to prepare for a meal that, a bit later, they all enjoyed very much; Jesus, his disciples, Martha and Mary.
And Jesus must have said to Martha after that meal: "Martha that was very good. Thank you”.
Jesus refused to condemn Mary, who listened to him. But Jesus did not offer us any reason to condemn Martha, who cooked for him, either.
A person who prays cannot use this text to judge and to condemn those who work. And those who work cannot use this text to judge and condemn those who pray and study.
Each one of us has his or her vocation. Each one of us has his or her rhythm of prayer and work, his or her call, his or her personality, and it is together that we hope to realize the one thing really asked from us, the one thing needed: HIS KINGDOM. Thy Kingdom come.
Let us not judge and condemn Martha. After all it is, according to the text, Martha who welcomed Jesus and whose food Jesus ate. Let us not judge and condemn Mary, who listened to what Jesus was saying.
Let us try to find out what our task is when confronted with Jesus. And let us be faithful to it, keeping in that way, our way, the balance between working and praying, the balance between serving and listening, as Martha did in her way, as Mary did in hers, as Pearlyn did in her way.