Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
1st Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
In last week's Gospel reading, a man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what it says in the Bible. The man responds, “ You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then gives the man an example of what this looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I love the Gospel of Luke, because whenever there is a story about men, you can bet there will be a corresponding story with women as primary characters, and I have to respect Luke for doing that. So today we have the corresponding story of how to love God and neighbor with women as the primary characters, the story of Mary and Martha and their hospitality welcoming Jesus into their home.
I'll go into this story in a minute, but first I want to go back to the story from Genesis that we heard this morning about Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three visitors. This tradition of hospitality and loving God and neighbor goes a long way back. Jesus isn't just inventing this from no where. It is part of the way the Israelites have done things even back to Abraham, the father of their faith, the father of monotheism. Abraham and Sarah extend hospitality to three visitors and to God. Some have likened these three visitors to the Holy Trinity, or to angels, but most scholars agree these aren't just men, but God or messengers of God. It is pretty exciting that not just Abraham, but also Sarah are seen as providing hospitality and that the three visitors also recognized that and asked after Sarah and gave a blessing to her. It is one thing to say that Abraham will have a son and many offspring. Big deal, he doesn't carry a child for 9 months at age 90. In those days, men were blessed with a child through a woman, but nobody cared what the woman thought. She was just the vessel. It was highly unusual in those days to say that a woman would be blessed with a son. So for the visitors to say that this child will be a blessing to Sarah—to bless a woman, who is normally hardly even acknowledged as a person, is really a step forward. How she responds to it is her business, I guess. She outright laughs at the prospect, but who wouldn't at her age, in her situation?
Abraham and Sarah are extending hospitality. In this case it is strangers, visitors, or is it? It is God. But how soon do they recognize that it is God in their midst? I know I am usually slow to catch on, and only after someone has left, does it hit me that I learned something about myself, that the other person shared something so profound. So they are extending hospitality to those whom they perceive as strangers. In that time, there was a code. You welcome strangers because you were lonely, out there in the desert, and because survival depended on it. It might be a long way between sources of water or food. And you extended hospitality because you need more allies—as many as possible. Whenever a stranger approaches, we have the choice to think of them as allies or enemies. Certainly three men could have overpowered Abraham and Sarah and stolen everything they had. But they chose to treat them as friends and by doing so entertained angels unawares.
The reading from Colossians, shows us a view of cosmic hospitality. First, that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. A human body was a host for the fullness of God. That God became fully human and united heaven and earth in one person for all people, that heaven and earth co-mingled in Jesus and made room for one another, welcomed one another. Then that in Christ all things hold together in hospitality, so that Christ unites us all, humankind and all creation. And then that Christ is the head of the church and the church is Christ's body.
The reading goes on to accurately name our divisions, that we were estranged and hostile in mind. Paul hits the nail on the head, except he makes it past tense. This is the reality we feel we live in. Wherever we look we are suspicious. We are on the lookout for enemies, for danger. I see all the finger pointing in the news media and the campaign trail, blaming cops, blaming people of different races, blaming immigrants, always looking for a way to divide and separate, inventing fears. We get so divided, but that is not the way God made us and not the way God intends the world to be organized.
We invent divisions, but that can't stop God's love. In the person of Christ, God absorbed all the hatred and anger and divisions that we have to throw at him and that violence killed him. But God is life, and by definition, cannot be killed, so he rose again to show us another way to live that is fulfilling and loving and uniting and welcoming.
Even families divide themselves and create enemies of people of our own flesh and blood. Mary and Martha both welcomed Jesus into their home. Yes, Martha gets chastised later, but at the beginning of the Gospel it says, “Martha welcomed him into her home.” Martha always gets such a bad rap. Let's give Martha a break. She did well. She welcomed Jesus.
Shall we take a poll. Who here identifies with Martha—busy, making sure the guests have what they need, worker-bee? Who here identifies with Mary—listening, taking it all in, carefree?
I know there are a lot of Marthas, out here, because I see how much you do around here, and you've got your own lives at home, and then helping grandchildren, going to their games, and looking after them, and some of you still caregiving for parents or elderly family members or neighbors. We all do so much. Many of you volunteer in the community and give so much. So why doesn't Jesus appreciate us?!
I don't think Jesus is saying, as we may think, that sitting is better than working. Jesus points out some things that Martha could improve on and it doesn't mean that Mary can't improve, she just didn't put herself in the position of complaining to Jesus or asking his input on her situation.
Maybe the problem is that, Martha was distracted and worried by many things. Mary was focussed on Jesus. Martha was focused on whether her sister was contributing in the way she thought she should. She missed out on the wonder of entertaining God in her home, because she was mad at her sister.
Maybe the problem is that Martha complained to Jesus. Martha was unhappy with Mary. Why didn't she take Mary aside and try to work it out with her? Maybe she had. Who knows how long this disagreement had gone on, or what the history was between them. I think we can take away from this that if we have a problem with someone, we should go to them and try to work it out. It often works out so much better than just complaining about it, but it takes courage and a willingness to have more than a superficial relationship, to be willing to see another side.
Maybe the problem is a lack of balance in life. Mary and Martha represent two aspects of life, faith and good works. You can't have one with out the other. Faith without works is dead, we read in scriptures, and good works without a chance to sit and reflect and restock the storehouse can be exhausting and damaging.
Maybe the problem is that Martha made her sister her enemy. So often when we have a problem with someone we forget to look deep inside to see what's going on with us and where these feelings are coming from. Maybe Martha was unhappy because she wanted to sit at Jesus' feet, too. Who was keeping her there in the kitchen? Her sister wasn't keeping her there. She was doing this to herself. Maybe she could have been creative and left the dishes until after Jesus had left. Martha had the choice to see her sister as a friend, to be happy for her that she could spend time with Jesus. Instead, Martha blamed her sister and saw her as an enemy, as we all do sometimes.
God has created this world in unity, from all the same stardust, to work together in cooperation for the mutual benefit of all. God came as Christ to reinforce that concept, that God is with us and that we are one with each other. Jesus treated each person with dignity as an example to us of how to foster unity between us rather than divisions. And even his enemies, he forgives and saves, because we are all brothers and sister, children of God.
The enemies seem to be all around us, but really they are few. Friends are truly all around us. Jesus is all around us. Jesus is in the lines of hundred standing in line to give blood. Jesus is in all the many peace officers who do their job well because they want to make a difference. Jesus is in all the people who encourage and help. Jesus is in all the people who give selflessly.
If we look, we can see friends to extend hospitality to. We can see Christ. I invite you to see a congregation united in Christ, willing to reach out to those with different opinions and find out why that person acts the way they do, a congregation open to all the gifts that God has given us even when they are unfamiliar and a little frightening, a congregation with a view toward the future, willing to take risks and try new things in order to be relevant and approachable, a congregation able to let go of human habits that are getting in the way and dividing people, keeping others from Christ.
I invite you to look for and see a community united in Christ, getting to know each other more and more, extending hospitality to newcomers, caring for one another as life circumstances change, learning new languages to accommodate those from other lands, teaching one another and learning from one another, tearing down fences and sharing all things in common.
I invite you to see a nation where the least are cared for, the hungry are fed, and the sad are tended to, in which every person is known and valued, where no one feels afraid, where dialogue between groups is standard practice, where the people most affected make the decisions about their own lives, where people are treasured because of intrinsic value rather than the money they have or the car they drive, where each person can contribute out of their gifts and talents.
We might, like Sarah, laugh at the prospect! It seems so far away. We've heard it all before. But to God, this is no laughing matter. This is what God is bringing to us, so we'd better get ready to be part of it, to let it happen through us. And I know when it does, I will be laughing in a whole new way, without cynicism, but with joy.