Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 10:38-42

38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

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In the ancient Middle East, hospitality was a very important thing. Often one’s safety, well-being, and even life might depend on it!  Leaving one’s home town, where “everybody knows your name,” and going to or through another place where people didn’t recognize you was very risky.  The arrival of an unknown person, or having to walk through a village of unknown people could stoke a lot of unease and suspicions.  People quickly got on edge.  So broadly held and widely practiced hospitality procedures were key to keeping the peace and well-being between strangers.  These hospitality rites communicated respect for someone you didn’t know, allayed suspicions about another’s intent, and obligated parties to behave and be good to one another.

Well, Jesus has entered a village where people may have heard of him, but did not really know him or perhaps recognize him.  And Martha has stepped up to offer him hospitality, and so to ease him into the community.  Now, it would have been unusual for a woman to welcome a man into her home.  No husband is mentioned.  Martha might have been a widow whose sons or brothers provided handsomely for her to own a home.  But still, for a woman to open her home to a man was a bit suspicious.  Nonetheless, Jesus accepts.  And maybe she was a bit unprepared for his acceptance of her invitation because it seems she is quickly inundated with the details of providing the correct hospitality.  There was a lot to do to complete the rituals and procedures that were expected.  And soon she’s frazzled by all the expectations and distracted by all the details.  She’s so steeped herself in the rituals and procedures of expected hospitality that she’s become distracted from what hospitality is really about – a focus on the guest.  Instead, her anxiety has made it all about her.  “How am I going to get all this done?  Why isn’t my sister helping me? Am I the only one who cares about hospitality?”  And just then, Martha unwittingly becomes so inhospitable!  She actually questions Jesus’ regard for her: “Lord, do you not care..?”  Instead of quietly speaking to her sister Mary, Martha disses her sister in front of Jesus the guest; and then she wants Jesus to get himself involved in a dispute between his hostesses!  Whoa! How could this have happened?  I think we know.

We all have concerns to be good spouses, parents, friends, job-holders, or church members.  But sometimes these concerns to live up to expectations become inundating worries that distract us from the original focus of those concerns – the others whom we wish to honor.  We become focused only on our anxiety about what we have to get done by when; how we’re ever going to suit others or ourselves; and shouldn’t spouse, sibling or friend understand what I’m facing and help me out a little!  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”  There have been many times when Jesus could have just as easily said, “Chris, Chris, you are worried and distracted by many things!”  How many of you have been there?  It’s such a feature of contemporary life these days.  There are so many opportunities for us to play and recreate, to get more done in less time, and to go, see and try out new things.  Wow!  But somehow opportunities for us morph into expectations of us, don’t they?  And expectations of us lead into judgments on us; and the idea of being judged by others or ourselves will sometimes stoke a frantic anxiety about…us.  And soon it all becomes about us…

“Martha, Martha…”  Jesus does not disgrace Martha or condemn her efforts to be hospitable.  But he does gently and resolutely confront her with her anxiety; and offers her sister Mary, with whom Martha has been so upset, as an example of someone who is finding peace and well-being.  So what is it about Mary that makes her an example?  While Martha became inundated by the details of hospitality, Mary was doing what?  …Listening to Jesus.  …Listening to Jesus.

The words of Jesus work that balance that’s been missing in our out-of-kilter lives.  The words of Jesus work that right mind in folks so afraid of being found wrong.  Even when we’re down low, the words of Jesus lift us up and save us from drowning in a sea of worry.  “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

My retirement move from the pulpit to the pew has taught me some important things about myself, my faith, and my discipleship.  On Sunday mornings in my congregation, I really enjoy camaraderie with my fellow parishioners, the music of the talented pianist, the voices of the choir, and my pastor’s personal welcome.  But I’ve come to understand that what I really want most of all is to hear Jesus, and not a series of long announcements or a battery of people trying to shake my hand.  Despite all those other experiences, what makes or breaks the worship service for me is being able to listen to Jesus and to focus on his Word in scripture, liturgy, or sermon.  Now to be honest, there are times when I don’t “want” to hear Jesus because his Word can be quite a challenge and not what I want to hear.  But even then, I always somehow need to hear Jesus.  I can’t help but wonder if that it not true for most of us, and especially for visitors who cross our threshold.  Haven’t you all come with the hope that today you’ll have a time to hear Jesus, and in this busy world be able to take in his Word of new...life?  Sure, we all hope to welcome Jesus...and each other.  But what we really need is for Jesus to welcome us into hearing His Word of challenge, life, and promise.  God, I pray that we’ll be able to join Mary today and just listen to Jesus...because our lives need just that.

I haven’t been with you a month, but I’ve already noticed that there are some wonderful Marthas in this congregation.  They are working so hard to keep this grand home of faith lively, open, and welcoming.  I hope always to treasure and appreciate their good work enough to worry about them.  I think you know who you are.  Please don’t let the work you think just has to be done get in the way of what Jesus wants to work in you with his words and Word!  Guard yourselves against the frustrated estrangement and burn-out that Martha was just about to experience.  Better, may our Lord Jesus guard you against the devil who lurks in all the draining details and expectations that can pop up when we try to serve Christ.  Today we gather to welcome Jesus into this home of disciples.  But strangely, Jesus comes into this home only to welcome us into His Word of life and promise.

So for the months that we have together, let us covenant with one another to let some things go if need be, so that we all have the time and opportunity to truly welcome Jesus by just listening to Jesus.  It’s what we need.  Pray for me as your pastor, that you hear much more than me – that you hear Jesus, come to this home of yours to speak the Word of life and hope.  And I’ll pray for you in thanksgiving for the greeters, ushers, choir members, acolytes, crucifers, offering presenters, and fellowship food providers; but also with the concern that all the details which befall you in offering such fine hospitality towards others and Christ would not come to distract you from, or to tire you out before, just taking the time to listen to Jesus.  You know, it’s the world out there and the world in here (our minds) – it’s the world that wants to exhaust us and to frustrate us.  Jesus never does that.  In the gospels there’s not one instance of Jesus exhausting his disciples.  Now, Jesus challenges his disciples like crazy. But he never exhausts them: he restores them...to life.  And so Jesus has come to this house to speak the Word that works life, and peace, and healing...in you.  It’s the better part which will not be taken away from you.

Pastor Chris Price

First English Lutheran Church

Richmond, VA

July 21, 2019

Lectionary 16C

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