Sermon Proper 11C 2019
Seminarian’s Address by Aimee Hill
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
After college I moved to Los Angeles and lived in a lovely woman’s guest house. She happened to be friends with many actors, one of whom is an actor I had seen on Broadway. When I found out he was visiting, I was incredibly excited to meet him.
Well, I woke up the next day only to find that the water in the guest house wasn’t working. I called my landlord as I needed to get ready for work and she said that I could just use the main house. This sounded like a good plan as she always kept the back door unlocked. However, on this day, she had already left and her friend, the actor I couldn’t wait to meet, had locked the door.
I started to panic. I couldn’t be late for work, but I also couldn’t show up looking the way that I did!
Then, in a moment of clarity, her dog came out of the doggy door. This gave me an idea. I got on the ground, stuck my arm up through the doggy door and managed to turn the lock on the door handle. I pulled my arm out, stood up, and turned the handle only to discover that the deadbolt was also locked.
I got back on the ground, this time with the dog watching, stuck my arm back up the doggy door, strained to reach the deadbolt…when I looked up and saw that actor on the other side of the door, looking down at me, wondering what in the world I was doing. I got my arm out as fast as I could, picked up the many pieces of my shattered dignity and watched as he took a step back and unlocked the door.
I was so frenzied, trying to figure out how I was going to get to work, that I forgot there was another person inside the house, and I could just ring the doorbell!
Well, I hope that you have not had an experience like that one, but I think we can all relate to that feeling of being so distracted that we miss out on what is really going on. For example, have you ever parked in your garage after a long day at work only to realize you were so distracted by your many concerns that you don’t remember actually driving home?
Or got to the end of a stressful day and thought, “My word, what even happened today?”
If so, then you can probably relate to Martha. But before we delve into the Gospel story today, we have to understand a little of what led up to it.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, a journey that will end in his death and resurrection. Have you ever wondered what your headspace would be if you knew your life was coming to the end? This is where Jesus was so what he says and does is incredibly poignant. And immediately before today’s Gospel story begins, Jesus tells the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. It includes a Samaritan, a person that many in the Jewish nation would have considered a traitor to their people. And Jesus makes him the hero of the story. It was shocking.
It was stories like this that led to Jesus’ death. The rulers of the day, even some of the religious leaders, could not get over their self-righteousness and power long enough to recognize that God was erasing the boundaries. That the hated Samaritan was the only person from the story who loved his neighbor as himself.
After sharing this story, Jesus and his disciples continue on their journey towards Jerusalem and stop at Martha’s house. I always feel badly for Martha when I read this story. I mean, my goodness, she’s doing all the work by herself, I would be overwhelmed! But there is a lot going on here that our 21st century eyes miss.
Mary isn’t just taking a break, sitting passively at Jesus’ feet. She’s actually doing something very subversive. Jesus was a Rabbi, a religious teacher who had followers. In those days, Rabbis would only allow people to be his followers if he thought they could share the Rabbi’s message with others. Do you remember the story where Jesus sends out 70 people? That was a common practice for a Rabbi. It was a Rabbi sending out his followers to share his message. And in those days, women were typically not allowed.
Sitting at a Rabbi’s feet is an action his followers would take to learn the Rabbi’s teaching before telling others his message. But here, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, taking the place of a disciple. And when Jesus lets her stay, he is saying that he believes that she too can carry his message. He gives her the place of the follower of a Rabbi. Similar to the Good Samaritan, Jesus is choosing the person that others would say you can’t choose.
Then we have Martha. Note that Jesus never condemns Martha’s hospitality. This isn’t a story about contemplation versus action. Instead, he says that she is distracted and worried about too many things. New Testament professor Holly E. Hearon explains that the word distracted here “includes the sense of being in an uproar.” It’s the 1st century equivalent of me lying on my side, attempting to break into a house through a doggy door, forgetting about a convenient piece of technology called a doorbell.
Also note that when Martha initially goes to Jesus, she doesn’t just ask him to tell Mary to help her. She begins by saying, “Don’t you care?” It’s not just that she’s mad she’s doing all of the work but she also feels that Jesus doesn’t care.
But in this story, it’s not that Jesus’ doesn’t care, it’s that Jesus cares too much that he can’t condone her frenzied perspective.
Mary found the one thing, she found Jesus. And finding Jesus gave her the courage to do a very terrifying act, to sit at Jesu’s feet. Mary is the one who should have been in an internal uproar, because Mary was doing something the culture considered absurd. But she wasn’t in an uproar, because she had the one thing- she had Christ.
In affirming Mary’s choice, Jesus is inviting Martha to also choose the one thing. If Christ became her center, she could continue in her incredible hospitality without all of these concerns drowning out her own thoughts. She could even sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary without being terrified of the world’s judgment. That is what happens when Jesus becomes the one thing. It gives you the courage to act out in the way God is calling you to without the terror of others’ opinion.
I’ve been pretty overwhelmed lately with all of the current events. From the tornado to earthquakes to the many stories on the news, I have felt frenzied, wondering how in the world I can help, how I can exhibit this boundary-erasing love of Christ.
I’m Martha, unable to discern what God is calling me to do because my soul is in too much of an uproar. But what would it look like if, in the midst of all the chaos, Jesus remained my center? Our center? How does Jesus as our center call us to action?
How would our thoughts and actions change if, when we heard disheartening stories on the news or found out about our neighbor’s diagnosis, or felt overwhelmed with those struggles in our own lives that we don’t yet have the courage to share, if we stopped to ask God,
“Where are you in this? Where are we pushing you out? How does keeping you as my center guide the way I respond?”
Like the story of Mary and Martha, we can live distracted and worried or, we can recognize that in all we do we can keep Christ as the one in whom, through whom and for whom we do all things. When Jesus is the one thing, he gives us the courage to do the scary actions like loving the Samaritan and inviting all people to take the place of a disciple, even those we would rather keep out. And yes, this radical love led to Jesus’ death and it might lead to the death of some of our preferences, but it also led and continues to lead to the restoration of the world.
So let us go, discern where God is working and how God would prompt us to work as well. Let us live in boundary-erasing love that is too scary to do on our own. Let us, in all things, keep Jesus as the center. Amen.