Pentecost IX, 2016
You may have heard the joke going around this week about Brexit and the new Prime Minister in England: when men make a mess, they get a woman to clean it up.
Well, the OT and the Gospel today both have women front and center. In Genesis, Abraham gives Sara the menu and the cooking instructions; he supervises the grilling. The three guests share the meal, Abraham stands by, and Sara stays in the tent.
St. Luke gives us Martha in the kitchen, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha complains about the unfair division of labor; she is rebuked. We don’t know whether both sisters ate the food Martha was preparing with Jesus—or, where were the rest of the disciples? They were all walking to Jerusalem with Jesus, maybe Martha was fretting over not knowing how many were coming for dinner. I can see her muttering and thumping clay pots and hoping her sister will come to her senses to do her share. When she just can’t take it, she rebukes Jesus—calling him Lord, but: Don’t you care? And she is rebuked in turn.
The rebuke: you are distracted by many things; your sister has chosen a good part, it will not be taken from her.
The rebuke is the crux of the story; this Gospel version of “I was driving through on I-80, so I thought I’d stop by to see if you were in” carries a lot of baggage.
Is this a text about justification by faith and not by works? Mary, sitting as a disciple, radiates quiet faith; Martha works, seeing that everyone gets to eat. Jesus did a certain amount of feeding, too; and Jesus doesn’t say what the “good part” is—just that Mary has it.
Is this an affirmation of the contemplative life over the active life? Both kinds of life can (should, you know) be lived with great faith. It’s hard for us to see contemplative life—meditation, prayer, study—as, well, as worthwhile for real life (even in a university community). Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, can dream of sitting with learned men studying the Torah all day, but neither his life nor ours works that way.
Is this a subtle affirmation of the role of women as disciples? Mary is in the posture of a disciple; she is listening and learning. That’s a popular view of the passage. Luke talks about women a lot—though women in traditional roles of service, not leadership; learning, not taking prophetic role. Aha, the truth of the narrative shines through and undermines men’s view: here is Mary being a disciple and praised for it..
True enough, but…Mary is a passive learner here; she doesn’t say anything. The (male) disciples ask Jesus questions all the time. Dumb questions, often, but they ask; we could call it faith seeking understanding. Mary’s model doesn’t measure up to Anselm’s description of theology. One hopes she does better in the after dinner symposium.
Maybe these dichotomies are just missing the point. Maybe it’s not about whether it’s better to do one thing or another. Maybe..
Maybe it’s about not making choices for other people. That’s stretching it, but Jesus does say that Mary’s choice isn’t to be taken from her.
Maybe, I suggest first, it’s about hospitality, that ancient practice of many cultures; Abraham didn’t invent it. In this track in the Lectionary, the Old Testament lesson is chosen to complement the Gospel reading. The passage from Genesis is cut off—we don’t hear the bits where Sara laughs, banters with God (what? I’m old and he’s older). In what we have, the focus is hospitality: the response of the faithful and righteous Abraham to guests—whether the Lord or three strangers. Likewise, Mary and Martha are offering Jesus hospitality: giving welcome to a guest, meeting the needs of the guest, honoring the guest. In short, paying attention to the guest.
But what is Martha doing? She is, we must report, paying attention to herself and to how busy she is, how unfairly burdened. She’s rebuked not for being in the kitchen, but for losing sight of hospitality, of focus on the guest—and in this case, the guest is Jesus Christ. Hospitality: focus on the guest. As a Christian: focus on God. Christian hospitality: focus on God in each person. If there are any other ex-Presbyterians here, you may remember that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.
I think, as a preacher, I’m now supposed to say, so what’s distracting you from God? But I’m not going to. I’m going to describe another meal.
Street Church—worship done outdoors, on the street, to bring the opportunity for worship and community to people for whom “housed churches” are not welcoming or comfortable—has congregations in almost every state. Street churches offer worship: scripture and song and prayer; many offer a communion service.
And many of them also offer a simple meal before or after the service: a sandwich, a cookie, a piece of fruit, coolers of water, sometimes coffee. Birthday cake once a month for all the birthdays otherwise forgotten if you live on the street.
Now, how do you get all that food assembled? Churches—housed churches, like ours—sign up to provide the meal, to bring a group to share the worship, distribute the meal, join the community of those who are homeless for a few hours. It’s quite an experience. The visiting church groups are given some briefing before hand, and a chance to de-brief and ask questions afterwards.
What stays in my mind is one sentence:
Remember, you’re serving people, not sandwiches.
|Jul 17, 2016||Pentecost IX, 2016||Listen||Download|