Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sermon: The peace of Christ’s presence, the love of serving, and the joy of both

Now, what exactly is going on here at Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary?
         It can feel like we’re supposed to take sides, right?
I’m for Listening-Mary against Overactive-Martha.
Or I’m for Hospitable-Martha against Couch Potato-Mary.
         Soon enough, we could start to hear Martha crashing around in the kitchen colanders and pots and pans flying everywhere, brisket burning, emotionally on the edge of meltdown.
         Soon enough, we could transform Mary into a figure popping Pringles on a grody beanbag chair while Jesus philosophizes for her.
         After all, Jesus does make the statement, “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.”
         There is, clearly, a side being taken, and so, a shallow reading of today’s gospel could leave us in lethargy, listening, not doing.
         But, I think, if we consider all that leads up to Jesus’ time with Mary and Martha, we can, and should, embrace both of their examples of being disciples of Jesus.
         Let us pray:
         Lord, May we know the peace of Christ’s presence,
         have a love of service
         and find joy in both. Amen.

          It should be unsurprising that Mary is praised for listening to Jesus.
After all, from Jesus’ transfiguration
—that wild story about Jesus taking James and John and Peter up a high mountain and revealing his glory to them
—from that mountain to this humble visit to Mary and Martha, we’re constantly being reminded of how special it is to be in the presence of Jesus, to see, hear, and listen to him.
         On that mountain the three are commanded, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him.” Listen to him, just like Mary.
         Then people are called to account by Christ’s presence
—his being-with-them becomes the only thing.
         He affirms that the presence of just his name is enough to make someone for him, and not against him.
         His presence causes people to follow him and to head out telling everyone that he’s coming—that his presence will soon be felt!
         The disciples are reminded that knowing him is the same as knowing the Father.
         They’re reminded that seeing him and hearing him… listening to him… is a privilege that Prophets and potentates miss out on.
         For that matter, people who respond to his presence with other concerns are condemned. “I have to bury my father”—tough. “I have to say farewell to my family first”—too bad. Being in his presence is the only thing.
         Yes, by the time we get to Mary and Martha’s house, we realize how important the presence of Christ is,
sitting at his feet as disciples,
listening to his words and letting them soothe us and shape us.
         But that’s not all. Service, hospitality, welcome, the core of what Martha is about, is also lifted up on the way to the sisters’ home.
         The moment Jesus steps off that mountain, he welcomes a child to be healed, and then tells his disciples that greatness is found in being hospitable to a child.
         He tells his disciples to go out and rely on the hospitality of others as they prepare a way for him.
         He caps this off with last week’s story of the Samaritan who serves a man of a race and religion different than his own, condemning the unwelcoming Levite and unwelcoming Priest in the process.
         In a strange reversal of this story Jesus himself runs into an Inhospitable Samaritan village and leaves those Samaritans behind.
         On top of all that, he declares that those who do not welcome are a deeply evil people.
         By the time the disciples reach Martha and Mary’s—they’ve heard and seen Jesus assess service, and welcome, and hospitality as central to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
         So, I would imagine, Jesus’ words were surprising to them, just as they ought to be to us.

         Because of this surprise it is worth looking closer and noticing that they are spoken in a defensive way.
Jesus doesn’t want to get caught up in a family argument
—strangely a common theme in Luke’s Gospel
—but more importantly, he wants to make sure there is space for listening,
for sitting at the feet of the Lord,
space to allow Mary to experience the presence of the Kingdom of God.

         I wonder… if Mary had attacked Martha for serving and asked Jesus to side with her, as Martha did to Mary, would a similar skewering would have occurred?
Would Jesus have lifted up service in a similar way?

         Make no mistake. Both service and listening,
presence and hospitality,
welcome and sitting at the feet of the Lord,
are part of the Kingdom of God, part of being a disciple,
part of this whole Jesus thing.

         Perhaps you feel like a Martha, always inviting, and encouraging fellowship and feeding and collecting, and quilting and preparing care packages.
I pray you also find rest, filled with the Joy of Jesus’ presence, find yourself more closely knowing the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

         Or, perhaps, you feel like a Mary, always in Bible Study and personal prayer and reflection, finding Jesus in worship and sacraments and sacred conversation.
I pray you also come to know the joy of serving your sisters and brothers, becoming a welcoming presence and being hospitable as Christ was hospitable.

         And so, I pray that neither of these are threatened.
I pray also that all of us might regularly get to experience both.
         I pray, in short:
         Lord, May we know the peace of Christ’s presence,
         have a love of service
         and find joy in both. Amen.