Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Grace Is the Final Word

Once upon a time, there were two women -- sisters -- and they lived together. Word got around that a very famous man -- a superstar -- was coming to visit them, and he was bringing his entire entourage. Their house was nice enough, and cozy, but would it be nice enough for such a highly regarded public figure? And their furniture was almost brand new, but would it fit his sense of style or meet the standards of comfort to which he was accustomed? And food! What on earth would they do about food? They'd definitely have to go grocery shopping. The one sister -- we'll call her Martha -- took charge. After all, that's the kind of person she was -- a doer. She handled the planning, the procuring, the cleaning, the cooking, the decorating. In short, she did it all. While Mary, the other sister, sat around absorbing the moments of anticipation -- or some kind of silliness like that. Mary was all about living in the moment. (Who really "gets" those type of people? How can you live in the moment when things haven't been made ready, flawless?)

The day arrived, and so did their guest. By this time Martha had just about had it with her lazy, crazy sister.

"Mister," Martha said to their famous guest, "look at all this work! Look how I'm sweating! My nails are chipped from all this cooking and pot washing; I haven't even had a moment to change into something decent after all this cleaning. She'll listen to you -- tell Mary to get off her duff and help me out!"

Their prestigious guest replied, "Martha, it's OK. I didn't ask for all of this. You've gotten yourself all uptight over trivial things, but Mary's heart is really where it's at. I'm not going to take her peace or her grace from her. In fact, you oughta try it some time."
Every time I read this account in Luke 10:38-42, I get a little miffed. You see, for years I have been a Martha. I watched my mother scrub baseboards and iron white cotton curtains like a madwoman in the days leading up to the holiday season. When I got my own place, I was proud of my things and my ideas for decorating; I wanted everything to stay just as it was -- on display, like some kind of museum of good taste and refinement.

Well, there are so many things wrong with all of that. First, the obvious: Greed. "Don't touch my stuff. Don't flatten my cushions. Don't handle anything you might break." And with that comes Pride. "It's all mine. I did this." Thirdly, there's the silliness of missing the point. We are supposed to enjoy our guests, enjoy the time spent with friends and family -- not spend it popping up and down like some kind of neurotic prairie dog, hurrying and scurrying to make things just right. It's time spent with those we love that lasts, not impeccable decorating or spotless tableware. Fourth is delusion. It will never be flawless. Why waste whatever time you have with those you've invited, pursuing futility? Fifth is fear. The fear of others judging you. "Did you see her TV? It's not even a flat screen! And one of her dining room chairs had a big scratch on it!" Who gives a rip?! Anyone who judges your stuff should be more than happy to add you to their Christmas list.

But the sixth problem with Martha's (and my) attitude is the ignorance of grace. And folks, the Lord just brought this to me today -- this passage in Luke is about grace. Martha was doing all of these things to make herself and her home ready. She was working to appear acceptable and worthy of the company of such an esteemed guest -- a King, the King, Jesus! She wanted to impress Jesus with her ____ -- well, you fill in the blank. Things? Works? Abilities? For years I believed being a Christian was about getting it together, being righteous, living an exemplary life, smiling through the pain, denying myself through gritted teeth. And then I'd snap. I'd be some ranting, crazy shrew who was sick and tired of doing everything herself, who couldn't take another minute of the ignorant swine and indolent freeloaders around her. "How can I ever be the kind of Christian I'm supposed to be when I'm surrounded by people like this?! Lord, do something!"

The truth is, for Martha and all the Martha's like me, He already has. Mary chose to rest in the knowledge that no amount of toil could prepare their home or her heart enough for a King. That she must step aside and let God's grace make things right. That getting ready for the King to stay with you means nothing more than opening the door and listening to Him, looking toward Him, staying near Him. Our work, our scrubbing, our straightening out, our redecorating will never hide the true shortcomings from a God who formed us and knows the innermost parts of us; it will never be enough to fully make the homes of our hearts good enough for Royalty. We must come to Jesus exactly as we are, sit down and accept His grace. It is finished.

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