The Better Part-a Sermon

I was honored to write and deliver the sermon on Sunday, February 24 at First Presbyterian Church in Haddonfield. Here it is, thanks to my beloved Pastor Rachel Rhodes for her kind, loving guidance and hours of chatting and my beloved Pastor Bill Getman for being the knock at the door I needed. And, of course, none of this would be possible without sitting, at the feet of my Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God. 

The Better Part

I asked my six year old Lily what she would do if Jesus knocked on our door.

She paused, for a nice long time,  and then gave me her answer:

“That’s a hard one,   Mom.”

For the past few weeks, I’ve been pondering this very question, what would I do if Jesus knocked on my door?   

The truth is if Jesus knocked on my door, first, he’d be lucky that I would answer it. . Our home is chaos. Someone is always yelling/crying/screaming/laughing/shouting. What if I was nursing the baby or writing something under a tight deadline or hiding from my children in the bathroom making a phone call, when he knocked? Or maybe it would be dinner time and I’d be cooking dinner/helping with math homework/defusing sister fights, and just could not discern Christ’s gentle rap on the door. 

Chances are, I would not hear him knocking, at all.

But, if I did, I’d smile, no doubt, while silently wondering why he did not call first (Christ of all people should know how busy we are). 

But, nonetheless, I’d welcome my Savior in and take his coat.  Yell for my children to line up Sound of Music style, from tallest to shortest. Maybe demand the girls curtsy. And I have no idea why I would have them curtsy, it just seems like the thing to do for Christ, curtsy.  I am sure I’d have to nudge the girls, since they are kind of shy, gently with my foot, to say hello.  

And I then would decide which room was the most presentable--the living room or my den and quickly kick the Polly Pockets under the table; while simultaneously tucking and brushing debris into the couch cushions. I’d make some silly excuse about the chaos, reference a deadline or a fictional broken washing machine or blame a tribe of imaginary heathen children who came over for a playdate and left the place in shambles.

He would know I was lying, of course, he is the son of God, but I’d hope he was a polite enough guest to just get over it.

I’d sneak away to update my Facebook status: “Surprise guest! Christ,” quickly text Mike and hope he races home with ice, because we are always out of ice. I’d have to get him something to drink. . wine? tea? coffee? water? bottled? tap?

What does Christ in 2013 drink, exactly?

But anyway it does not matter. 

Because when I was finally ready to make small talk--I have no idea where I would begin.  I wouldn’t want to appear too over eager or be annoying, but I also would not want to appear aloof. Can he read my mind? I have no idea. How does this work exactly? And I’d have to hurry. Who knows how long Christ would stay or if he had dinner plans?

If Jesus knocked on my door, what would I do? Well, I’d be exactly like Martha. 

In the story of Mary and Martha, we hear of Jesus visiting the home of two women; two women we know to be the sisters of Lazarus and beloved friends of Christ.  Martha welcomes Christ into her home. Mary sits at her beloved teacher’s feet. Martha busies herself--makes herself the attentive hostess, preparing food, cleaning, bustling, flitting, flapping, arranging, rearranging. 

Martha remains busy. I imagine her busyness shifts into frustration and anger--afterall her sister was not doing a thing--Martha begins clanging pots and pans, clearing her throat, slamming plates on the table, all the while her sister sits and does absolutely nothing. 

And then, Martha finally breaks down and says:

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

And Mary still sits. 

I never sit. I doubt any of us sit much. And even when I am sitting, I am not just sitting, I am doing something.  Because that is my nature. Get it done. It is our culture. Get it done and get it done fast. Lenten Bible Study? great! add it to the calendar. CHurch on Sundays from 9:30-10:30 am, super, schedule it in. Get it done. And then get some more done. Add more to the list. Cross it off. Repeat.

Until something stops us--until there is a road block so big that we have to toss our  list into the trash--and do what has to be done. 

Six years ago, I had to toss my list into the trash. Lily, who was 14 months old at the time was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The list of normal to-do’s became a list of oncology to-dos. There was one thing that was on each and every list: 

Save Lily. 

In my prayers I said it over and over and over and over and over again. Save Lily. Save Lily. Save Lily. God, Save Lily.  

The days that followed diagnosis included surgery, planning, pathology, spinal taps, physical therapy, treatment plans, monitoring fluid intake, updating family, keeping our new home in the PICU at Children’s Hopsital of Philadelphia clean and tidy.  Checking things off. Making more lists. It was routine--our new normal, routine as the parents of a child fighting cancer. 

Then there was another surgery, one to place a shunt to help Lily’s spinal fluid drain properly, to release the pressure from her brain. A routine surgery, they all said. She would in and out. No worries. 

But, she was out before they could operate. A fever. She had a fever--the surgeon said. He did not want to take any risks. Since her immune system was battling something, he would not risk brain surgery. We would wait a few days. Figure out what the infection was, exactly.

All I heard was “infection.”  And that was it for me; I stopped. 

I had no list for: my child might be dying.  There was no list to cover a 14-month old with a brain tumor who might have an infection and has excess fluid in her brain. There is no list for that. There is no list that could stop me from spiraling into a deep, dark hole. I had nothing but pain and anger and fear, true bone chilling fear. 

The fear had been there for days; but I listed it away. Kept myself busy and empty.  I listed myself into distraction, sweet, sweet distraction. Now my list was gone. 

I asked Lily’s PICU nurse to get me drugs--to get me help--get me something to numb it all. Just take it away, I said. 

Five minutes later, Christ knocked on my door; in the form of two ministers: Bill Getman and the hospital chaplain.

The nurse, who is no doubt an angel, took one look at Lily’s chart and saw that  we were Christians. She knew exactly what we needed. We needed to sit at the feet of Christ. 

The nurse called the Chaplain. I’ll never know why Bill chose to visit that day, at that moment, exactly. But, it does not matter. It was the knock at the door I needed. It was the knock at the door I answered.  

Mary and Martha answered the door. Mary sat. Martha raced away checking off items from her list. She flapped and floundered and fixed food. 

Then Martha asks Christ to make Mary help her.But Christ does not make Mary help her. Christ says:

“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.”

Christ says, Sit down Martha.

Those days at the hospital, while dramatic, where like any other day. I was distracted by my lists, my to-dos, my busyness. I was busy in the kitchen; making myself useful, making sure it was all done, but missing what I needed.  

I filled myself with nothing; because to give my pain to Christ, to sit at his feet; would mean I had to first feel all of it. It meant falling to my knees. 

And that is an uncomfortable place. 

But that day, because I answered the door.  I sat. And we all prayed: Mike, Bill, the Chaplain and I. I don’t remember the words. But I remember the peace--a lasting peace that carried us through the days and weeks and months and years that followed. It is a peace that filled me with strength and hope. It is a peace that allowed me to do what we needed to do to save Lily and still be with Christ.

It is the better part. 

The better part is not always sitting--in the literal sense. Some days, we feel called to sit--to be still and know God in the quiet moments. We attend church on Sundays, we pray before bed, we take quiet walks.  

Other days, we move--we are called to serve. When we prepare meals in the kitchen for the homeless or sing our hearts out for Feed our Starving Children or March on Washington for Civil Rights or simply hold the door for a stranger; we have chosen the better part. 

The better part is having the heart of Mary and the energy of Martha. 

Christ’s life is a living example of the better part. He flipped over tables, he healed the sick, he fed, loved and provided counseling to everyone in his path. He prayed for strength on the Mount of Olives. He sat with his disciplines and shared The Last Supper.  

Christ showed us that sitting at his feet; that choosing the better part is a mix of stillness and activity. It is always a matter of choosing that which serves God over that which serves the world. It is knowing that sometimes while we may loose our way in lists and chaos,  Christ patiently waits for us to sit. It is knowing that when we are dizzy, we have to sit and ask for peace. 

The better part is finding rest for our souls at the feet of Christ. It is tossing away busyness for fullness. It is making sure we are not so busy that we cannot hear the knock at the door. But knowing that even if we miss it once, twice, three times,  a million times. Christ is persistent and patient and humble and gentle. 

When Jesus knocks on my door, I might not always recognize him. I might not have invited him, specifically. I might not answer. But, he will keep knocking, waiting patiently.  And when I finally answer, I know what he will say.

There is only one thing needed. Sit down, Trish. That is the better part. 



  1. I always questioned how everyone was going to eat dinner there if someone didn't do the work. After all, there were no microwaves in Biblical times. Poor Martha.

    But then you worded it in a way that makes me understand:

    "The better part is having the heart of Mary and the energy of Martha...It is always a matter of choosing that which serves God over that which serves the world."

    Of course!


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