PENTECOST 6 Proper 11 Year C
Gen. 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Christ Episcopal Church
Sunday, July 21, 2019
The Rev. Janet B. Campbell
The story of Martha and Mary
is often used to draw a distinction
between two seemingly opposed ways
of living one’s faith:
the active (Martha),
and the contemplative (Mary),
with the contemplative
apparently privileged by Jesus.
But I think probably that both Martha and Mary,
and most people,
would find themselves not at one end or the other,
but somewhere along the continuum
between those two ways,
with the contemplative a foundation for the active,
and the active creating a need
to return to the contemplative.
And it is good to keep the two in healthy balance
as we negotiate all the worries and distractions
of daily life and duty.
Jesus himself did that,
with his times for prayer
and his times for action.
But Luke is after something else here,
and we can tell that
by where he has placed
the Martha and Mary story in his gospel:
immediately following the story of the Good Samaritan,
near the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
Chronologically and geographically,
Martha and Mary’s evening with Jesus
would have come near the end
of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem
rather than at the beginning,
given that Bethany,
where they lived,
lay just outside that city.
So what is Luke leading us to,
in the movement from
last week’s Good Samaritan reading
to today’s story of Martha and Mary?
First, a quick look back at
the story of the Good Samaritan
which asks not only,
“Who is my neighbor?”
as last week’s sermon suggested,
“Whose neighbor must I be?”
In telling that story,
Jesus challenged the boundaries
people and peoples create
to separate ourselves one from another –
in that case the age-old religious enmity
between the Samaritans and the children of Israel.
How difficult it was
for the people in that story
to venture outside
the artificial distinctions and constraints
that both defined who they were
and limited who they could be . . .
how difficult for them
to connect with each other
through their common humanity . . .
to the point where helping an injured man
became so complicated
there was no room for compassion.
Jesus challenged the stupidity
of those divisions,
pointing the way
to the life of true neighborliness
he called the kingdom of God.
More boundaries are challenged
in the story of Martha and Mary
In the society and culture
they and Jesus lived,
woman and men
lived mostly in separate areas
of the home
as is still the case in many places
in the world today,
the women in the domestic areas
for meal preparation, the raising of children,
management of the household,
the men in the public areas
for receiving visitors, dining,
engaging in conversation
about the wide world.
The only exceptions
were the outdoor places
where the small children played
watched over by the women,
and the marriage bedroom.
Male and female roles
were strictly delineated as well.
So, when Jesus and his disciples
dropped in for dinner,
Mary’s place was in the kitchen with Martha,
in the appropriate woman’s role:
providing the hospitality of the household.
Yet, there she was instead,
in the public room,
one woman mixing with all those men.
And she was actually sitting at Jesus’ feet
as if she were his pupil,
as if she were studying with him
to become a teacher herself.
she was behaving as if she were a man!
According to the customs of the time,
which we should not judge
from our 21st century perspective,
this was immodest and scandalous.
She had violated
two very important boundaries
that lay at the heart
of how her society was organized.
Martha had to speak up.
Of course she wanted some help,
and Mary’s duty at that moment
was to assist with
the meal preparation.
But underneath Martha’s plea
was what surely upset her
By hanging out
in the public room
and mingling with the men,
Mary was endangering her reputation
and that of her family.
A man of his time and culture,
Jesus surely understood Martha’s concerns.
Yet he didn’t come to her defense.
he praised Mary
for daring to ignore
her culture’s definition
of woman . . .
Instead of busying herself
to feed the guests
with bread and meat and fruit,
she had sat herself down
so that Jesus might feed her
with the word of God.
She had come to him
in the freedom
of herself as a person . . .
. . . hungry for what he had to say.
She had done
what she needed to do
to be fed.
In affirming Mary’s choice
Jesus was not denigrating
the role of women
or the value of women’s work
as his culture saw them,
he was not inaugurating
the women’s liberation movement.
He was inaugurating
the everybody’s liberation movement
otherwise known as God’s kingdom . . .
where artificial constraints
born of fear and ignorance
and imposed by social and cultural constructs
are done away with . . .
where all children of God are free
to live into the fullness of their being –
female and male people,
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Non-binary,
Transgender, and heterosexual people,
people of all colors and all ages,
people of varying abilities
and different religions and nationalities and cultures . . .
all carry within them
the dignity of God.
There were no people
who self-defined as black
or people of color . . .
until someone with power
decided that euro-white was the norm.
There were just people
in gradations of color.
There were no people
who self-defined as LGBTQ . . .
until someone with power
decided that straight was the norm.
There were just people
How far away we still are
from Jesus’ vision of the kingdom
in this ugly time in our country
and among the nations,
as the dividing lines we have drawn
stand out in stark relief,
and our racism, intolerance, callousness
and penchant for violence
is sadly revealed – again –
and the very ones
who are supposed to be
cynically exploit our divisions
with provocative and angry rhetoric,
showing themselves unworthy
of the offices they hold
or to which they aspire.
Where, then, do we find hope?
Perhaps first, in reminding ourselves that,
just as in Jesus’ own time,
will not be a product
of a political system, agenda, or party,
an armed revolution,
or the elimination of those
we deem to be our enemies,
but a product of transformation.
God’s kingdom is
revealed in the transformative
being and life and death and resurrection
breaking down the barriers
that separate us,
establishing the new community
creating freedom in which
differences can flourish,
bringing into being a new creation.
A new creation
being brought to its fulfillment by God
in ways seen and unseen,
in and through
the life and work of the Church.
From Paul’s Letter to the Colossians,
“all things have been created through Jesus and for Jesus . . .
in him all things hold together . . .
he is the head of the body, the church,
in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . .
through him God was pleased
to reconcile to God’s self all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Paul rejoices in his sufferings
(the rejections, the beatings, the frustrations,
because through the cross
he has been joined to that great work:
spreading the gospel,
proclaiming the peace of Christ
to his own cruel and violent age,
establishing groups of followers, churches,
to carry on the work
until the Kingdom is manifest in all its fullness . . .
Paul found the trust, the courage . . . the hope . . .
that made it possible
to face anything life could throw at him . . .
And he died
but confident in,
the ultimate completion
of his work in Christ.
As Paul’s heirs in the church,
as the living body of the risen Christ in this age,
we continue that work,
participating in the cross of Jesus
by breaking through
the barriers that define us
and, we think, keep us safe,
even as they restrict our lives
by their confinement . . .
breaking down those barriers,
dying to narrowness of self
to live freely and broadly
as a people
of reconciliation and peace.
A Mary people
sitting at the feet of Jesus,
by word and sacrament, prayer, and study.
A Martha people,
laboring in the kitchen with God
resolutely cooking up a kingdom
of immense hospitality for all.