Audio 6 Pentecost Yr C Proper 11 July 21 2019
Genesis 18:1-10a, Psalm 15 , Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
My mom, loved having people over to our house. She seemed in her element when she was bustling about the kitchen, cooking and baking for all of us. Like many of you, the kitchen was the center of our house. In the kitchen, the stories would be told, the tears would be shed, love was prepared and served. She actually did the same thing at church, she was the kitchen queen, she hustled and bustled around that kitchen as well as her own. But my mom also had this other side. She loved to read, and she read everything. She’d sit in her chair, feet up, reading everything from People magazine to murder mysteries. But mom was convinced she was not very smart. I think she had put herself in a box, and I think she looked for verification from those around her. There was this one thing she believed she was really good at, cooking and baking and serving, and it became her identity. Even if she had wanted a way out, I don’t think she could have found it.
All of us have beloved people like my mom in our lives, they are our siblings, our friends, our children even. Some of us are that way too. We do this identity thing to ourselves, and we do it to each other. Am I a Martha who is happiest and most comfortable serving? And do I get a little bit resentful at my sisters who seem to not be so concerned with getting the meal on the table. Am I a Mary who loves to learn and chides my sisters who can’t seem to sit down long enough to catch the deep meaning of the story? But when we construct this scenario it is filled with words like resentment, jealousy, expectation, responsibility. We put ourselves and others into identity boxes that may not be helpful and that are hard to dismantle.
I think we’ve put our sisters Mary and Martha into this same box, and it’s so very hard to dismantle that box. You see, focusing on what Mary and Martha are doing seems to get us into the same box each time. I wonder if focusing on who Jesus is encouraging them to be, and who Jesus is encouraging us to be, may help us to break out of the box, and see this story of our sisters Mary and Martha in a new way. A new way that may help us pay attention, and open our eyes to the Christ who is with us.
We are in the midst of Luke’s story, and just like the one we heard last week, the story of the compassionate Samaritan, we hear this one that is so familiar. It is so familiar that many of us, as soon as we hear the names Mary and Martha, jump to identify ourselves, or even are identified as, a Mary or a Martha. When we do that, we invoke all the stereotypes that each of those represent. So today, I want to take a deeper dive. What may we be missing when we go immediately to the question of who am I, a Mary or Martha?
Jesus is a guest at the house of Martha, who is “distracted with much serving”. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to his word. There is very little other detail. So it is left to us to wonder. Mary and Martha are sisters, do they get along? Is one jealous of the other? Where are all the people who travel with Jesus? Why don’t they have anything to say about this? We’ve heard Lazarus is Mary and Martha’s brother, where is he? How is it that Martha is even hosting this single, Jewish man? What is Jesus doing at their home? The story doesn’t really suggest anything about a prior relationship between Mary and Martha and Jesus. It seems almost as if Jesus just showed up at Martha’s door. Do they know him? From what we know of this culture, that shouldn’t be happening.
But the gospel writer seems unconcerned with all of our concerns. So what is Luke concerned about? Why is Luke telling us this story about these sisters? We’ve often assumed this is a story about who or what is better, sitting at Jesus’ feet learning, or clamping around in the kitchen getting things done. I don’t think it’s a competition about who is better. I don’t think Jesus would enter us into a sibling competition. But sometimes, as we visit these two women in their home, we come away feeling like we lost. Either I’m a Mary and I’m not doing enough, or I’m a Martha and I’m not quiet enough. I’m sunk no matter what. But, I don’t think there is a winner and a loser here.
Jesus is not so much chiding Martha because of what she was doing, actually, what she was doing was the right thing to do. Martha was showing hospitality, and hospitality is one of the most important values in Luke’s gospel. Actually, the word that is used to describe who Martha is, is diakonia, it is the word that becomes deacon, one who serves.
Jesus says, Martha, you are distracted by so many things. So I wonder if Luke tells this story because being distracted was as true in the 1st century as it is in the 21st. We really haven’t invented distraction, it’s been around a long time. Jesus really is asking Martha to pay attention, and I think Mary hears that as well. I wonder if entering into the fullness of life in Christ is about not being distracted by all the things that circle about us, and instead, paying attention. I wonder if diakonia, serving, is really about paying attention to the Holy Presence. Because, what is hospitality but gracious attention to the guest.
You’ve seen it, you do it. I know I do. In the middle of a conversation, in the middle of a meal, sometimes in the middle of church, your phone rings, you get a text message, something on Facebook catches your attention, and off you go. You’re driving your car, your phone beeps, your eyes leave the road for a moment…Being distracted may be the greatest danger to us right now in so many ways. It surely is in driving, but it is a danger to us in relationships as well. Being distracted puts a wedge in between me and thee.
And there’s even a more insidious distraction going on today. Words, because words matter, when they are used in ways intended to cut, and bite, and chew particular people because of the color of their skin or the way they worship, or the place they’re from, those words distract us from the very fundamental truth of love. Don’t be distracted by the words and the antics of some who want to call our attention away from the very basic commandment given by Jesus, love one another, love your neighbor. Pay attention.
Paying attention is not only good for our health it is good for our heart. Paying attention to the Holy Presence right in our midst. Not thinking about or worrying about the next thing, or the other thing, or the wrong thing. Mary and Martha had Jesus right there, in their living room. The Holy Presence sitting in their most comfortable chair. And something else was more important: resentment, anger, guilt, or even arrogance. We must not let our attention be drawn from the one who says, love your neighbor, and who died for that truth. And we must not let our attention be drawn from actually loving our neighbor.
The good news is that Jesus is in our midst too, the Holy Presence is in our midst too. God is with us, we need not be so distracted that we cannot still ourselves, be present, pay attention. Jesus may be in our most comfortable chair, and most assuredly Jesus is in the person who is hurting, imprisoned, or exiled. Jesus is in the person you meet in the grocery store, the homeless woman in the park. Jesus is in the one who is sitting next to you. Pay attention, don’t be distracted, Jesus is here.