Pastor Robb's Sermon - 7/17

Learning Healthy Helping Sermon - Luke 10:38-42 As Bailey mentioned, the Enneagram personality type were exploring

today is number 2 - commonly called “The Helper.” While this summer has

been about looking at the unique inner journeys and powerful

transformations God can take us through for each of our personalities, this

type is also one that many people can relate to some of the key aspects of

- especially what we saw with Martha in the scripture today. We’re all likely

to believe strongly in the value of service as part of our walk with God -

Jesus himself said he came not to be served, but to serve - but serving, or

helping, and all of our expectations and feelings around it can get pretty

complicated pretty quickly.

Today we’ve met characters, C3PO and Martha, who are trying very

hard in their circumstances to do the right thing and be helpful, and are

getting pretty stressed about whether other characters with other things on

their mind, R2D2 and Mary, might be messing everything up. We also met

Amos McGee, who seems to have found a peace and contentment in his

helping identity that makes him effective in his work, and comfortable when

things don’t work out the way he’s used to or the way he might prefer.

When we see these characters held up next to each other this way,

probably a lot of us can remember times we’ve felt like C3PO or Martha,

and wonder what it takes to feel more like Amos more often. This might be

because the Helper is our core personality type, or those of us with other

personalities might just have a particular project or relationship in mind

where we’re in a helping, serving, or supporting position and we’ve ended

up feeling stressed out or stretched thin.

I really want to make sure we consider these issues deeply and

carefully, though, and invite God to move and begin to shape us in some

potentially unexpected ways this morning. On first pass, I think we’re prone

to reading this scripture and picture Martha running around a kitchen or

dining room huffing and puffing, and Jesus’ words to her when she asks

about Mary are about not being so worried about something that doesn’t

need to be as perfect as she thinks... or that busyness is keeping her from

connecting with God in the way that she should... or sometimes the feminist

in us sees this as Jesus not just keeping women in the kitchen but giving

them a prominent place as disciple usually reserved for men.

These are all good lessons, but I think if they stay on the surface,

there’s also a danger of getting into new traps. I think we always need

something more than just the admonition - “Don’t feel worried.” And while

staying rooted with God and overcoming mere busyness are important, I

also don’t think that God is looking for us to only pray or read the Bible and

never do service in our life of faith, or just doesn’t really like Helper

personalities. And lastly, reading this passage through our evaluation of

how liberated Martha was or wasn’t may actually betray some patriarchal

assumptions we’re making about her in the first place. There’s things going

on in this passage that I think show God us wants to look even deeper

within ourselves on issues that impact how we serve and the expectations

we put on ourselves and others in a lot of circumstances.

First, let’s go deeper than just seeing this verse as an encouragement

to not feel worried about or get overly busy with tasks that only we think are

that important. Luke is actually trying to make this story a helpful lynch pin

for how we understand all kinds of service - even and especially that which

we’d think of as most important and valuable. For instance, the word to

describe what Martha is doing in this story, diakonia, is sometimes used to

mean something like table service, but is also where we get the word

“deacon” and was used by the early church to refer to all sorts of important

ministry. We don’t have to read this story and see Martha trying to get

Mary to steam a bunch of doilies or fold all the napkins into swans - it could

just as easily be referring to Martha organizing the care of sick people who

had come to have Jesus heal them, or recruiting people to come listen to

Jesus’ teaching, or managing the financial gifts that would be shared with

the poor, or getting a delegation of disciples ready to appeal to the

Pharisees or other powerful people who would be coming by about

injustices that needed to be addressed. This story speaks to us if we relate

to any of those things too, and also tells us we need perspective about how

we can help and serve healthily in every setting, including those that are

often seen as more of a big deal.

Here’s the thing, 2s on the Enneagram, Helper personalities are

wonderfully gifted both practically and relationally. They recognize what’s

needed in situations, can respond confidently, and are good at setting their

own agendas aside so they don’t get in the way of the bigger context.

These are great characteristics and it’s a good thing when we have a little 2

in us this way when we serve if we’re a different personality. However, we

can also get fixated on needing to be needed in an unhealthy way, or letting

our own or other people’s expectations entangle our service and

compromise what is really best for us and the situation we’re in.

The apparent tension between Mary and Martha shows us two

foundational temptations for us when we seek to serve, and both are

related to rushing and having imposed expectations.

In Martha we see her operating out of her own preferred expectations

of service, or perhaps assumptions she made about what other people

would expect of her, and her feeling that she was serving and being

selfless the right way kept her from stopping to consider if there were other

options for her to serve that would actually be better for her, and made her

turn those expectations on Mary without considering if another option was

best for her sister.

On the other side of the coin, Mary could have felt that pressure from

Martha, and in trying to seek affirmation from her sister through serving, run

after something that seemed more popular, or urgent, or likely to get

recognition, instead of pursuing what fit her calling and personality best.

This has implications for us in all types of serving, from small tasks

and interpersonal relationships, to how we respond to big national or

international issues and wonder what we can do. You may have situations

you are dealing with pop to mind where the pressure of expectations has

caused you to approach helping in a way that ended up being draining or

not very effective. Or maybe you can think of a time when you were

serving in a way that was very important to you, and you caused some

conflict by telling other people that they had to serve exactly like you too.

It’s worth noticing that Jesus did not chide Martha for her service, or

even tell her to stop. Instead he was concerned about how she was taking

on certain expectations and then also imposing them on someone else. It

is common for us to think about serving or helping as limiting ourselves or

putting ourselves under other people’s control, but I think this story shows

God intends service to actually be freeing and empowering as it takes a

central part in our life of faith. The Apostle Paul summarized this really

straightforwardly in his encouragement to the early church in Galatia: “You

are called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge anyone’s

selfishness, but serve one another in love.”

Again, hopefully God is finding ways to give all of us encouragement

and guidance about this in our daily lives and relationships, but I do want to

take a moment to reflect on one way this might apply to all of us. Right

now, we are seeing very clearly all around us heartbreaking, significant and

complicated social problems that I imagine we all feel like anyone and

everyone should try to do something to change, but I imagine a lot of us

also feel very overwhelmed about what we can and should actually do in

our own contexts. I think we can take this story about Mary and Martha,

and be encouraged out of two traps we might fall into as we try to respond:

First, we should not allow our current busyness to be an excuse not

to discern if God wants us to take up a new way of serving that is most

needed or where God is especially moving.

Second, we should not chase after a way of serving that seems the

most urgent in the moment, or will get the most recognition or approval

from other people who are serving in their own way. Nor should we allow

ourselves to be pressured by people who want our service to look exactly

like theirs in order to be seen as valid or valuable. And if we’re in the

position to encourage other people’s service, we should be very careful to

make sure we’re helping them serve best how they are called, and not

making others look like copies of us.

And this is why Mary’s model of sitting at the feet of Jesus is so

important. This takes intentional discernment and wanting to be steered

more by God’s callings and giftings than our own or others’ expectations or

preferences. I have been wrestling with my own tendencies towards both

of these traps a lot lately, and probably will be for awhile, but I hope we can

be a community where we do that together in God’s presence.

And our Amos McGee story today actually gives us a fun example of

this type of mutually serving and affirming community. There’s no worry

from anyone about only being served or always being seen as the one that

can help and never needs anything. There’s no pressure that service look

a certain way other than how what someone can do fits what’s needed, but

still a great desire to mutually help and empower each other out of love and

not just stand on the sidelines. I think C3PO and Martha would have been

blessed by this - released from the stress of pressures and more opened

up to seeing their abilities and purposes used in new ways that enabled

better connection with R2D2 and Mary.

And I hope we can bless each other with God’s help like this, too.

Might we uphold and encourage each other when we’re feeling stressed or

know we’re causing others stress as we try to serve and help in our

personal lives. Might we find together the particular call God has for us to

contribute to transforming even the biggest and most complex injustices we

see around us. And, to be honest, as we enter Fall and Pastor April’s

sabbatical when there will be a lot of ways for all of us to serve and help to

look at - may we be a community that doesn’t follow our own preferences

or other people’s pressuring, but steps up in following God’s callings and

giftings to do what is needed and be a loving and mutually empowering

church. And if people are worried or self-conscious, I feel like I can be the

elephant so you can be Amos or the penguin, or the tortoise or the mouse

or whoever.