Proper 11, Year C ‘16
Luke 10: 38-42
July 17, 2016
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them, take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
The thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that, if we really listen it calls us into doing some fairly radical living. We find ourselves called to be people who bring the about the Kingdom of God as a lived reality for all people so that we all can celebrate God’s loving-kindness. What does the story we heard today tell us? For most of us the story of Martha and Mary is a familiar one. Is there anything new to be learned from it? First notice where it is placed within the Gospel According to Luke. Jesus is teaching us about what it means to be a disciple. Recall how Luke tells the story. First Jesus sent out the seventy to do his work in the world. Then he prayed, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Next a lawyer, wanting to set limits on his obligation to love his neighbor, questioned Jesus.
Remember? Jesus went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. It was, no doubt, a mind-bending story for those first hearers. Who would have thought Jesus would use a Samaritan to provide an example of how God calls faithful people to action? Luke’s telling moves right along though. “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” Good grief. First it was that Samaritan and now it’s a woman who will provide an example of what it means to be a disciple. The Gospel turns our preconceptions right upside down. It is as though Jesus wants to shake us up, to open our ears to truths we wouldn’t otherwise hear.
Once again Jesus calls all of us, no exceptions, to do his radical work in the world, this time through the simple act of hospitality. Do you remember a time when you have been invited into the home of friends and made to feel truly welcome? Several years ago Holly and I stayed with her friends Preston and Elizabeth for a couple of nights as we moved Holly into a new townhouse. They invited us into their home saying: “make yourself at home”. That they meant what they said was obvious. The first evening Holly and I brought take-out food to share. The next evening they provided us with a wonderful home cooked meal. On each of those two evening we gathered around their table for food and fellowship, for laughter and talk. As we shared ourselves with one another we were able to be open and honest about the pain and the joys of our lives. As our time together progressed I found myself blessed with a great sense of richness, of God’s goodness, God’s loving-kindness. God was present with us easing an otherwise difficult time, enriching our common lives. I hope you’ve had that kind of experience at some point. Perhaps you recall other, less comfortable, experiences. You know, those times when everything must be just so and there is tension in every moment. While you appreciate what your host or hostess is doing, don’t you also wish for the relaxation that comes from just letting things be? What was Jesus’ time with Martha and Mary like do you suppose? Jesus and his followers were on their way to Jerusalem, to the experience of the cross and death, to the experience of resurrection and ascension. Surely it was a time of some tension as they walked that road. Jesus was busy teaching his followers everything they would need to go on without him. Those followers were willing, but sometimes they were also confused and overwhelmed by what was required of them. In today’s story they arrive at Martha and Mary’s home. Martha was busy making sure all was ready according to the Biblically based requirements for hospitality common at that time. I can see her buzzing around the house doing what was needed. Notice, please, that she is not a villain in the story. She really is just doing what is needful for the welcoming of her guests. She is so much like many of us as we go about our daily lives. She is worried and distracted by all the things that need to be done. But Jesus says there is need of only one thing. He goes on to say that Mary, as she sits at this feet to listen to him, has chosen the better part.
In thinking about Martha and Mary, in remembering my time with Preston and Elizabeth, it seems that balance is the thing most needed. Yes, the tasks of hospitality must be done.
And yes it is critically important to take the time to listen and to share. Both are needful if God’s presence is to be made known. It is the anxiety, the getting caught up in busy-ness, that is the mistake. It is the anxiety that leads to doing in preference to being that keeps us from being to being nurtured and fed at God’s table. It is that running to and fro, driven by our anxiety, or need for perfection, that keeps us from hearing God’s word to us even when we seek it. Each week we gather together around our Lord’s table. There is much to be done before each service to make sure all will go well. That is as it should be. And yet.
Sometimes things are over planned, over engineered. It is easy to become nervous, even rigid, about all that goes into making worship what it “should” be. It is then that we lose what is most important. We miss the meaning of what happens when we gather as a community to celebrate this meal together. Here’s the thing. Like that meal at Martha and Mary’s house, like the meals Holly and I shared with Preston and Elizabeth, our Eucharistic meal is an opportunity to come into God’s presence and be nurtured by the blessed relationships God gives us in community. This table, one hopes, is the place where we can be most honest, most open, most ourselves. Yes, preparation is necessary but at the same time our hearts and minds and spirits must be entirely open to the wonder of the occasion, to the deepest reality of God’s presence with us. Our hospitality must be such that a visitor, a stranger to use Biblical language, will know themselves welcome at the table even as we each are. Our hospitality must be such that everyone present, friend and stranger alike, will know what it is to hear and experience the whole story of God’s love for us. We are each called to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to be Mary’s who listen to what our Lord says, attending to his words, savoring them, and making them our own. We are called to be Martha’s who prepare without anxiety for those who God sends our way, opening the doors of this, our spiritual home, wide so that all who seek God’s presence may find it at our table. Martha and Mary both show us that the mark of hospitality, the mark of discipleship lived out day to day, is that capacity to give. At the same time Martha and Mary show us another mark of discipleship as well. They show us the equally important, but much more difficult, capacity to receive. You see this is a parable that is about both giving and receiving, doing and being. It is a parable about the presence of Jesus making the ordinary extraordinary, day to day, as we welcome him, and all others, with the gift of hospitality and as we receive from him, and from one another, the gift of his presence. Amen