One of the most unfortunately trivialized texts is Luke 10:38-42:
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
During a recent church-related board meeting, we were deep into a discussion about endowments and spend rates when the finance chair said a wise thing: “This is about balancing the mission and the math.” It is too easy in such a moment to choose up sides: are you the put-upon Martha who is hard at work performing the tasks of hospitality, or do you favor Mary—the dreamer who sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him for hours at a time? It’s a false dichotomy. We’re not sure how long Jesus or his followers would have lingered in the sisters’ home without those tasks of hospitality. But what good it is to have an encounter with God incarnate if all your attention goes to washing the pots and pans or balancing the books?
The fact is, church boards need to look at the books and attend to the pots and pans of ministry—bills come due, sinks fill up. But the time to sit at the feet of Jesus – to dream, to listen, to grow – cannot ever be seen as optional, as “the thing we’ll get to if we get done with the Buildings and Grounds report early.” Thinking of Martha and Mary, we need to “handle the pots” but do it as quietly as we can.
In her first collection A Street in Bronzeville (1945), the great twentieth-century poet Gwendolyn Brooks sets her dreamer in an especially cramped building of shared kitchens, and bathrooms, and phrases, and smells.
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
• Is there room for dreams in the life that this poem describes? Why or why not?
• What is the difference between the dream described in stanza two and the hope that ends the poem? Are dreams and hopes different companions in the life of a congregation?
• What alterations need to happen in your church board meetings, in order to give equal emphasis and time to dishes and dreaming?