March 11, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: Martha

This Lent we’ve been looking at Burning Bush moments. Times when someone’s heart is changed because of an encounter with a ‘burning bush’ in the form of Jesus. Burning bushes can come in different forms. For SimonPeter’s mother-in-law it was her healing. Nicodemus faced his burning bush when he talked to Jesus. Burning bush moments transform our hearts and we are born anew.

This week, we’re looking at Martha of Bethany. Her burning bush moment came when she was frazzled and frustrated. In Luke we hear her story, “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha often gets pointed to as someone who couldn’t take time to be holy and pay attention to Jesus. I think rather she, like many of us, was ‘distracted by her many tasks’, and didn’t see the burning bush in front of her. As we’ve noted throughout this series, Elizabeth Barrett Browning stated, “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” Martha was so busy ‘plucking blackberries’, that is doing the work of preparing for the guests, that she missed the burning bush. 

It’s easy to be so focused on getting a task accomplished that you don’t see God in the work at all. Sometimes that happens when you are doing ‘church’ work, and sometimes when you are just getting things done. The end result becomes more important than pausing to look around for a burning bush in the area that might just be pointing in a different direction. That’s what seems to have happened with Martha. She’s entirely focused on being a good (or even great) hostess and doesn’t have time to see the ‘burning bush’. Very often, burning bushes require you to look up from your work to see them. Rarely do they spring up in some ‘important’ task. You have to take the time to see the ‘bush aflame with God’.

Like Martha, we get lots of second chances from God. Sometimes an encounter with a burning bush gives you a new insight. You may understand something about your relationship with God, or simply realize that you aren’t the same person you were a couple years ago. Martha was truly changed by her encounter with Jesus and later she can proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27)  This art by Corwin Knapp Linson shows that moment when Martha confronts Jesus. 

Our encounter with a burning bush may give us the joy of seeing what was dead brought back to life. Martha’s brother, Lazarus was dead. Then Jesus called him to come out of the grave. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:44) Jesus comes to our dead dreams and tells us, “unbind them and let them go”.

There is always something new waiting on the other side of a burning bush moment. For Martha it was an understanding of Jesus and God’s power. Martha was changed, just as we all are when we recognize the burning bush in our path.

When have you encountered Jesus and the Spirit’s flame and been changed, renewed, even resurrected? 

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