Pots on the Stove

pots on the stoveProp: a table draped to look like a stove, the top overcrowded with many pots.

The tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel records Jesus’ encounter with the sisters of Lazarus. It’s a short story, which is surprising when you consider the vivid picture it seems to paint for us of a family conflict.

Everyone, it seems, except Martha, is in the living room listening to Jesus, perhaps enthralled by his accounts of teaching and healing, or perhaps listening attentively to one of his parables. Martha is in the kitchen, preparing a meal for six, or twelve, or, for all we know, twenty-four.

Many of us hear this description and recall our grandmothers or mothers preparing a holiday meal. I believe my mother enjoyed the preparations; to be in the kitchen with her was sometimes to be in her way. I know I enjoyed smelling the turkey roasting and pie baking, and going on with watching a football game, or whatever other activities were happening in other parts of our home.

Occasionally, not very often, I recall some pots and pans banging, and a few deep sighs. Every now and then, I remember words something like this: “I sure could use some help in the kitchen.”

That’s what I think about when I imagine Martha’s conversation with Jesus.

Regardless of gender or ability to cook, most of us can sympathize with Martha’s feeling of being overwhelmed.

On Monday, I was at the presbytery office in St. Louis for several hours of meetings. Our Leadership Team is preparing for the November regional assembly. I’m growing in my awareness of all the things that people think that our presbytery is supposed to be doing. Lead us in facing the crisis of congregations that wish to leave the denomination. Lead us in facing the crisis of racial relations in our region. Help us develop more funding and volunteers for foreign missions. Help us develop more funding and volunteers for our presbytery’s camp. Help us develop more funding and volunteers for new church development. How are we going to manage several properties of closed congregations until they are sold? What is our mission, really? How are we going to balance the budget? It’s a bit like having a big commercial stove, adding pot after pot to the burners, and by the time you get to the 8th pot, you can’t remember what’s in the first. “I sure could use some help in the kitchen.”

The story of our presbytery is the story of our church, too. There are always more dreams than resources to fulfill them. Dreams about educational offerings for children, youth, and adults; dreams about musicals, recitals, cantatas, and readers’ theater; dreams about team involvement in dozens of community and regional mission causes. As our nominating committee knows, there seem to be more jobs than people to fill them. “There are eight pots on the stove, and I sure could use some help in the kitchen.” “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”

Then along comes Jesus who says, “Martha, Martha” – here’s where you might substitute your own name – “you are worried and distracted by many things.”

We need to exercise care in interpreting what Jesus is saying. In the gospels, Jesus says much about the importance of following him and bearing good fruit. I don’t think he is saying to Martha – or to us – that good works are unimportant. In context, this story follows the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What is that story if not a call to serve someone rather than pass by on the other side of the road? I think Jesus is encouraging Martha to remember the source of motivation that makes all our good works worthwhile.

“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away.” Here, I think, Jesus is not so much putting down Martha’s work, as he is trying to help her focus on what he calls “the better part.” The parts of our lives are like many pots on the stove. There are work pots, full of projects and events we manage. There are family responsibility pots: taking care of an aging parent, supporting children, being present to your spouse. There are pots with household chores like car repairs and doing laundry, unexpected tasks like getting the washer running and slow-draining pipes cleaned out. There are pots that have to do with going to the doctor and getting your flu shot, reading the paper and casting your vote, reading notes from teachers, doing homework, going to band rehearsal or sports practice. Sometimes it seems we have accumulated so many pots on the stove that we can’t remember what’s in all of them, and some begin to burn up, and we along with them. It’s then that we should hear Jesus’ words, not as a rebuke, but as a gentle call to remember the source of our motivation, and to choose the “better part.”

The “better part,” it seems to me,” has something to do with focusing on the One who is the source of our life, our hope, our motivation. I suspect that most of us don’t attend enough to Jesus in Bible reading and prayer. There’s certainly a trend in our society to not attend to Jesus nearly as much as we once did in worship services. There’s no time, we think; there are always too many pots on the stove.

One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says “Even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . . Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of glad air and live one day at a time. Know that you are precious . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”[1]

To stop all that chatter, maybe we need to hear a few less pots boiling, to take some of the pots off the stove, but not all, to choose the better part.

Preacher removes pots from table, then returns three in an orderly arrangement.

[1] Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991, pages 92, 105.

 

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~ by JohnH1962 on October 19, 2014.

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