SERMON FOR THE WWCTU INTERNATIONAL PRAYER DAY 2017
Finnish and Swedish versions of the following text were sent to all congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland along with a request for prayers and economic support for the Finnish White Ribbon movement and an offer of assistance during the Sunday service of the WWCTU International Prayer Day in September.
Sunday, September 24th: Luke 10:38–42
GOD HELPS US SEE WHAT OTHERS TRULY NEED AND SHEDS LIGHT ON THE SHADOW WE CAST WHILE TRYING TO HELP
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What happened at the home of Martha and Mary in Luke’s account feels familiar. The contrast between two kinds of people is something we often encounter in daily life. Indeed, we are so used to it that we hardly appreciate how big the difference between two fairly similar individuals – here, siblings – might actually be when it comes to spiritual life. At first glance, the conflict taking place in Luke’s account may seem like a trivial clash between personalities. After all, some are born to bustle while others are quiet in nature. Those who find satisfaction in action may find it peculiar that others seem quiet and passive, even withdrawn. Those who, in contrast, lead peaceful lives may be disposed to view their bustling peers as shallow and noisy. Since we are living in a world of many kinds of people, we are rightly taught not to be judgmental about them as society is dependent on numerous kinds of personal traits to function.
From a spiritual perspective, one cannot speak of wrong kinds of personality and right kinds of personality. God has not mass-produced us to be identical copies of each other. Some are concerned with pots and pans, others with deep thinking, but everyone can have a meaningful function in God’s creation. The Lord has a purpose for both Martha and Mary!
Today’s text, however, brings up another topic of great importance: Even when we think we have good intentions, our efforts to help others may be misguided.
When Jesus entered the home of Martha and Mary, He was received as an important guest by both sisters. Martha wanted to offer Him the very best she had at home, and in order to make all the necessary preparations, she had to hurry. Let us for a moment think about what Martha’s bustling looked like from the Lord’s perspective. Had He entered the house to be served by those who lived there, or had He come to serve them? Was He hoping for a grand meal, or did He want to feed His friends with His words? Which sister received Him in the way He had hoped, Martha or Mary? Despite her intention to serve Jesus well, Martha was focused on matters that were of secondary importance to the words Mary was listening to so attentively as to forget her chores.
Jesus was indeed an important guest, but He was not expecting to be treated like the guests of honour of this world. For someone who had fasted for forty days at one point, not getting a meal when visiting a house would hardly have been intolerable, and a simple meal would have been more than enough. While Martha hurried to serve Jesus in what she considered to be the only right way, Mary was, by listening to Jesus and in this way being served by Him, actually doing what Jesus had hoped. Here we find one of the great difficulties in life. We often want to do our best to be helpful and benevolent toward each other, but we want to be so in the way we ourselves choose, on our own terms. When our efforts are not welcomed as we had hoped, we feel offended and unappreciated, leaving us with a thought that often reveals our secret desire for recognition: “I did my best, and this is how my efforts are rewarded…”
If we want to truly help other people, we have to put aside our own agenda and try to look into the heart, the inner world of that person and think about what he or she desires and needs. Jesus loved Martha and Martha loved Jesus, but by not realising what Jesus considered important, Martha disrupted His teaching with harsh and unfriendly words toward her sister. In this situation, Martha did not see the Jesus whose food was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34).
Martti Lindqvist, a well-known Finnish churchman and author on ethics, talked and wrote about the so-called “shadow of the helper”. The desire to lead a good and spiritual life cannot dispel our shadow, but God can shed light on it. By helping another person in need, the wounds of my neighbour reveal my own wounds. The desire to be there for a fellow human being in need and be an active participant rather than a passive observer is noble and desirable. It is like finding the right frequency on a radio; when we attain proper understanding, we can see, even feel, the pain of the other person. Based on his experience, Lindqvist encourages the one who wants to help another person to consider his or her own shadow as a helper, becoming aware of the risks and dangers associated with one’s particular personality.
White Ribboners frequently meet people who are in the midst of the pain and chaos caused by drugs. Some try to regain control of their lives, but these efforts often fail, reminding us of the importance of God’s help. In many situations, a caring neighbour may serve as God’s most important tool for helping a struggling individual.
Christian charity arises from the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” The international White Ribbon movement has followed this principle since its early days in the 1890s. God’s love is the source of all efforts to help, support and comfort others, and in an encounter between people, this love can be seen as genuine interaction, participation, listening and respect.
Each of us is called to be messengers of God’s love in this often cruel world. This task is great indeed and may sometimes appear so onerous as to make us hesitate. Am I really fit to help and support another person when I myself am struggling with various problems? However, when such doubts arise, we should remind ourselves to trust that God will give us the strength and wisdom to act in these situations if we are willing to receive His guidance.
Let us boldly walk the path of faith and trust in God, prepared to encounter those in need while being keenly aware of our own shadow as helpers.
IRJA ESKELINEN3rd Vice President, Rev.