Luke 10:38-42

Overworked and Underpaid

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel


Gerard Manley Hopkins said:

It is not only prayer that gives God glory,
but work. smithing on an anvil,
sawing a beam, white-washing a wall,
driving horses, sweeping, scouring;
everything gives God glory,
if being in grace, you do it as your duty.
To go to communion worthily
gives God great glory,
but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives Him glory too.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dung-fork in his hand,
a woman with a slop-pail,
give Him glory too.
God is so great that all things give Him glory
if you mean they should.
So then, live.

Whatever you do, you can give God the glory. All this sounds fine in theory but when we look at what we actually do in life, our own work, well – I changed the title from what you read in your bulletin, “The Better Part,” to “Overworked and Underpaid.”

I have never yet met a person who did not feel that this represented his or her own life. I have had physicians tell me that they were overworked and I could easily believe that. When they got to the underpaid part, I had a bit more trouble. But it is easy, in whatever we do, to see our work as being underappreciated, underpaid and at times just too much for us. I have to confess that our pastors’ text study this week got onto this theme – talk about a difference in perspective: the pastors thought their congregations did not think they worked very much and the pastors talked about working fifty-sixty hours a week. Now I know you all don’t think we work just an hour on Sunday morning! In every job there is pressure to perform, pressure to conform to expectations. We measure ourselves against what other do, against the perceived success of other people and we often feel bad. It seems fine for English poets to tell us that whatever we do can glorify God but we would still rather do it in a Mercedes than a Ford and have a “thank you” besides.

In our Gospel text for this morning, we have the familiar story of Mary and Martha, a text which deals with attitude toward work, with the feeling of being overworked and underappreciated. It has also carried a theme of right priorities – caring about people not just tasks. We can readily see ourselves in this story. Often preachers use it to speak in favor of the contemplative rather than active life. I have preached on the text to promote Bible study, worship, devotions rather than activity but it really has little to do with these things. Rather it is the story of Martha, who is so busy meeting what she perceives are the expectations of others, being the good hostess, that she forgets to honor her guest. It is the story of Martha who feels overworked and underappreciated and who is focused on the tasks at hand rather than the person she is hosting..

Our text comes right after Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which suggested how Christians are to live out their faith active in love. This story of Martha is about the first Table of the Law – about those commandments which tell us we should fear and love God above all things: to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.   It is a story of priorities and attitudes.

Martha does seem overworked. She has prepared a feast for Jesus. It is often tiring having houseguests. We had some distant relatives, friends, stay with us over the fourth of July and had a great time but it was also work. We cleaned the house and planned places to visit; Margit cooked meal after meal not always knowing if our guests would show up at dinner time. Martha prepared well for the visit of the illustrious rabbi from Nazareth but our text tells us, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” Jesus saw she was anxious and troubled: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” It is not so much the work itself that is the problem for Martha but her attitude toward the many things that she was doing. Work need not be to something to dread.

Proverbs tells us, “In all toil there is profit.”   John Calvin, the Reformer, “There can be no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God, and is not right precious, provided that in it we serve our vocation.” All work can be a calling, a vocation, given to us by God. Whatever we do, we should do to the glory of God. The key is attitude. Martha could have seen her work as her opportunity to serve God and glorify God rather than become distracted and blame her sister for not helping.

I have often wondered why it is that our work should seem like so much toil and trouble. Yes, I know Adam’s punishment was to farm with thorns and thistles and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Work can be hard and tedious and often unsatisfying Is that why we have become a nation of clock-watchers just waiting for five o’clock to come round, especially five o’clock on Friday. A whole restaurant chain has been named TGIF – “Thank Goodness, It’s Friday.” Then when we get off work we go home and mow the lawn, pull weeds in the garden, paint the house. That’s what I did on my day off last Monday – painted the trim on our house. It was a pretty hot afternoon for that!   But sometimes work can be fun. This summer for our vacation we are going back to Minnesota to the lake cabin we have on Pelican Lake. On of our tasks is to paint the cottage. It will be a lot of work but also fun. When I get hot – I’ll put the paint brush down and jump into the lake and cool off. When the mosquitoes get too bad I’ll probably do the same. I plan brush out some of the lot and I’ll probably hum while doing it – people tell me I do that when I’m really enjoying myself.. It will be hard work but fun too. It is all a matter of attitude. Martha was troubled and frustrated not only by the amount of work but feeling underappreciated. Her sister got to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him and she had to do all the work!

Malcolm Muggeridge the British skeptic turned believer recalled visiting India and seeing a retarded boy driving geese: “His chest was sunken, his face vacant, and his eyes are dull, yet he drives his geese skillfully; and believe me or not as you like, he speaks to them in the soft caressing voice a mother uses to a very little baby. I must say that I envy the goose boy,” Muggeridge continues, “I feel that he has found the secret of happiness in that he has done one useful thing which he can do superlatively well and which he is content to go on doing from day to day until his dies. When his soul leaves the poor, puny body with its gapingly vacant face, I believe it will be found to be a rare and beautiful soul, pleasing to its Maker.”

It is enough to do our work well, whatever that work may be. Remember that God has said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much.” We do the will of God as we use our work as an opportunity to achieve much in the eyes of God even if it doesn’t always meet the expectations of other people or look very successful to others. Work well-done is performed to the glory of God.

One of the topics at our pastors’ text study was the challenge of being able to set aside task for people. It is theme of this text where Mary is praised because she listened to the Lord. She recognized the important of being with Jesus her guest rather than focusing on the work involved in entertaining. One of the pastors told of how when he was young he worked at Disneyland at the front gate. Part of his task was to count the visitors as they came through the turnstyles and report it to the park manager. This would determine whether certain attractions were kept open or closed down, the same with food service. He was due to submit his report when a family came to ask him questions. He said they asked question after question, “Is it real water in the jungle cruise? ” Things like that. He wanted to make his report but instead he kept answering their questions. After about ten minutes the family left and who should show up but Walt Disney himself. Boy did he think he was in trouble for not submitting his numbers but instead Walt Disney commended him, ” Troy, you did the right thing. You made this family feel they were important and that you were here to help them not just take their money. They will tell their friends what a wonderful place Disneyland is. Thank you.”

Now I met Walt Disney when I was a kid. He was sitting in the booth next to ours at the Disneyland Hotel and I got to speak with him. It has been a thrill for my whole life.

It is important to take time for people not just task Part of our vocation, for all of us, is to make time for people and for God. Along with a change of attitude – we are not always overworked and underpaid – can come a new set of priorities – do our work well to the glory of God but also set aside time for others and for the Lord. We may enjoy our work more and see what we do as an opportunity for service rather than a burden. Maybe we’ll even look forward to Monday morning. Amen.

Copyright 2004 James Kegel.  Used by permission.