Pentecost 6 July 21, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 6  Proper 11 Year C

Gen. 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

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?”

but,

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

that follows.

 

In the society and culture

in which

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,

conducting business,

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.

 

In fact,

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

for help

was what surely upset her

even more:

 

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.

 

Instead,

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 –

 

where

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

loving 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

public servants

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,

God’s kingdom

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

a mystery

revealed in the transformative

being and life and death and resurrection

of Jesus:

breaking down the barriers

that separate us,

establishing the new community

of reconciliation,

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,

the imprisonments)

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 . . .

 

In Christ,

Paul found the trust, the courage . . . the hope . . .

that made it possible

to face anything life could throw at him . . .

 

And he died

not knowing,

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,

refreshed, renewed,

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.

 

 

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