CURLEY’S ONE THING….Luke 10:38-42  July 17, 2016

Some time ago a woman named Anna Quindlen wrote a short little book – 50 pages in length – called HOW TO LIVE A HAPPY LIFE. Anna had been a newspaper columnist and even won a Pulitzer Prize before retiring to become a novelist. Her newspaper columns often centered on how materialistic we have become as a nation and as a people. She was heavily influenced in her writing by the death of her mother at the age of 40 years old when Anna was still a teenager.

Anyway, the HOW TO LIVE A HAPPY LIFE book was originally meant to be a commencement address at Villanova University. When it became a book it immediately sold like crazy. People happily plunked down $21.95 for 50 pages. Here are a few highlighted axioms of her very successful book.

1) Be thrilled with what you have, not controlled by what you want.

2) Take pleasure in the little things; don’t worry so much; turns out everything is a little thing.

3) Celebrate family and friendships and don’t waste any more energy finding fault with others.

Calvin Coolidge, who was known as Silent Cal during his presidency, provided this additional nugget for successful living. He once wrote: “There is no dignity quite so impressive and no independence quite so important as living within your means.”

These little rules and tools for a living should sound pretty familiar. Jesus mentions most of them in so many words in His Sermon on the Mount. And then He keeps mentioning them and teaching them throughout His ministry. At the heart of Jesus’ message in the Gospel lesson for today is HOW TO LIVE A HAPPY LIFE. Doesn’t sound like that to Martha. She’s working hard to be the perfect hostess to a room full of hungry men. And her little sister Mary is content to sit down with the guys and listen to Jesus teach.

One of my all time favorite movie lines were in the Billy Crystal movie CITY SLICKERS and it was spoken by Curley the cowboy. He has the 3 yuppies from the city gathered around the campfire in the middle of the prairie and he tells them about the secret to happiness. And he holds up one finger. He explains that you cannot find true contentment in life until you figure out what that one thing is – the one thing that is truly first in your life.

And that is the essence of Jesus’ message to Martha – who reminds us a lot of Martha Stewart. Not Martha Stewart the tax dodger. But Martha the consummate hostess, organized, proud to have Jesus and His disciples in her home. The one difference, though, between Martha Stewart and our Martha in the Gospel lesson is that Martha Stewart never gets frazzled. I’ve never heard Martha Stewart display rage like our Martha here. LORD! She whines to Jesus, DON’T YOU CARE THAT MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK – BY MYSELF?? TELL HER TO HELP ME! Exclamation point.

Maybe Jesus held up one finger too when he answered her, like Curley in City Slickers, but he doesn’t give her an ounce of satisfaction. Instead, He tells her, “Martha, Martha, Martha…you’re worried and upset about a LOT of things, but only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the one thing and made it her own.” Jesus says “IT CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HER.” An interesting choice of words here to describe Mary’s focus on things spiritual. Listen to and take to heart the good news of the Gospel, because it is the only thing that can never be taken away from you. Jesus died for YOUR sins and God’s forgiveness for you is unconditional.  No one can stand in the way of your complete forgiveness except YOU. The implication is, everything else CAN be taken away from you. Everything else passes away. Everything!

I’ve owned several motorcycles over the years and sold the last one just before we moved down here, figuring not only are my reflexes starting to decline but at least half the people in South Florida drive like lunatics! But Dawn and I used to take long rides on the back roads. And as we drove by farms it seemed that every farm would have somewhere on the back 40 at least one and sometimes 2 or 3 old rusted out pick- up trucks. Farmers apparently don’t trade in the old pick up for a new one. Instead, when it’s no longer road worthy they use it just around the farm, until it finally dies of natural causes. Then they drag it back out of the way and leave it. I suppose a collection of old worn out pick-ups becomes a way of marking time and decades gone by. You look at these old junkers, though, and it occurs to you that, once upon a time, each of these vehicles was brought home, brand new and shiny, with the latest gadgets – a joyous day around the homestead. But eventually, they are discarded. They are here and pass away, or on the farm, still here but useless and ignored. It happens to the best of us.

YOU WORRY ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS, MARTHA! Jesus tells her. That had to be hard to hear for poor Martha. She’s trying to be the hostess with the mostest and Jesus kind of belittles her efforts. By the way, this is Martha’s house they are all at, the Bible tells us. That was unusual in Palestine in Jesus’ time, for a woman to be a homeowner. Martha was likely a widow who apparently had the wherewithal and the determination to keep up this house. She was the oldest of the children in her family; probably had that well-known oldest child trait of overachiever. She was proud of her home. Proud of her possessions, her dinnerware, her household management – and Jesus tells her she worries about a lot of things, meaning A LOT OF UNIMPORTANT THINGS.

Do you think that describes you too much of the time? Find yourself worrying about a LOT of things? Now, if it’s health and wellness issues we are worried about, that’s kind of understandable. Don’t beat yourself up for that. Health problems are a major distraction. If we are in pain or otherwise impaired, it’s hard to focus on the ONE THING. It’s hard to ignore everything around us and have our mind only on what is above us. But if we are worried about a lot of earthly things, if our possessions are managing us instead of the other way around, it’s time to simplify. It’s time to make time, for meditation, for worship, for reflection, for gratitude. If you think that’s easier said than done, then try forcing yourself to write it down. Make two columns. In the first column list all the things that worry you. If you’re like Martha, it will be a LOT of things. In the column to the right, write down what the worst possible outcome is if any or all of these things to come to pass. And, yes, include those health issues.

Now if you are like most of us, at the top of your list of worries are the people you love. ‘How do I stop worrying about my children and my grandchildren, Pastor Mark?”  Well, you don’t. Instead, you tell them that. You tell them that today and you tell them that again next week. “I worry about you every day. I worry about your well-being. I worry most about whether you know Jesus as well as you need to know Jesus.” That is a powerful witness. You are a picture of Christ when you speak those words.

ONE THING is needed, Jesus says. Just one. Maybe Jesus stepped on our feelings a little bit, too, this morning with this response He gives to Martha. We worry about a LOT of things. “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Have you?”  AMEN



Author: Jan Withers

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