Sermon for July 21, 2019
Jesus can be full of surprises. For example, think of his parable of the Good Samaritan, the gospel lesson last week. The story told of a man nearly beaten to death by robbers and left for dead in the middle of the road. Who was the one who stopped and rendered first aid; who was the one who paid good money for his lodging and food while he recovered? Not the priest, not the Levite, not a pious layman, but surprise, a Samaritan. Most people who were Jews at the time would have told the Samaritan to go back where he came from. But the Samaritan, a perceived enemy, was the one who showed mercy. A point of the parable is not to demonize your enemy, for he or she be may be the one who is merciful to you. Jesus’ teaching may surprise us, and such a surprise can make us uncomfortable since Jesus is not afraid to challenge our pre-conceived notions, all for the purpose of the Kingdom of God, or our growth in faith.
Today’s gospel is right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus would be at it again, surprising us. We are in a portion of the gospel of Luke known as the travel narrative: Jesus is making tracks toward Jerusalem and the crux of his journey is the cross. Jesus passed through a certain unnamed village where a woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Martha got busy to show hospitality to Jesus. We get an example of Middle Eastern hospitality from the first lesson today: when three strangers showed up at Abraham and Sarah’s tent, they are honored and welcomed, refreshed and fed a wonderful meal. We could very well have a similar situation in the gospel. Martha welcomed Jesus not at the door, but invited him into her home. Although the text does not give details we may safely assume Martha got busy in the kitchen. Like the reading about Abraham and Sarah, Jesus was welcomed with the gift of a tasty meal. Unlike Abraham, Martha did not have servants to do the work. She did have a sister named Mary. Where was Mary when Martha could have used a hand? The text said “she was at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he was saying.” Mary was being a true disciple, listening to Jesus’ word and teaching. Earlier in the gospel of Luke Jesus was teaching a group of people. His mother and brothers came looking for him. When Jesus got the message he said “those who listen to my word and do it are my sisters and brothers.”
But now back to the kitchen, was not Martha a faithful disciple, doing the word of God by practicing hospitality? We would say ‘yes’, for she wanted to make sure Jesus was refreshed and fed. But Martha’s faithfulness began to unravel; there was so much to do! She became distracted by her many tasks. We would say she was stressed out. Stress led to anger and she scolded Jesus, accusing him of not caring about her: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!” Have you ever said similar words to members of your family who were playing games on their phones or watching TV? If you felt you were doing more than your fair share, you could very well let others know about such unfairness.
Jesus now surprised us with his reply, basically telling Martha to leave her sister alone. We may not appreciate this surprise. We sympathize with Martha who needed Mary to help her with her many tasks. There was a recent editorial in the New York Times about the dangers of multi-tasking. But Jesus was gentle with Martha, repeating her name revealing the full weight of his care for her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” This gospel was written more than 2,000 years ago and yet it sounds so much like today. Our American culture seems to expect us to be multi-taskers. What is the first thing you think about in the morning—before your coffee—to thank the Lord, as Luther wrote in his morning prayer “That you have kept and protected through the night”, or are we already calculating lists, things we have to do, things that have to get done. There is even the strange expression, “we are off and running”. Stress and worry go together, and they are not good for heart health, which also means the heart of our faith. Jesus was concerned about Martha and certainly had compassion for his super-busy friend. But he needed to gently tell her, “There is need of only one thing…. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha’ serving, which in light of the parable of the Good Samaritan was an act of mercy, an act of service for someone in need—here hospitality for Jesus—is affirmed by Jesus. But he did talk about a better part, or maybe we should say, a higher priority. The better part is Jesus, from whom we have the gift of the kingdom of God, which is redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In life, things may gradually pass away, but Jesus will not. He will not be taken away from us. In Bible school years ago we often sang the simple song, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning, Jesus at noontime, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus when the sun goes down.” There is the refrain to an African-American spiritual, “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you can have all the rest, give me Jesus.”
Could it be that Mary can help us be better ‘Marthas’—not that Jesus can ease a little stress now and then. The second lesson from Colossians helps us to understand Jesus as the ‘one thing needful’. The lesson has been called a hymn to Jesus, the one called the firstborn of creation. All things were made through him and for him, in Jesus all creation holds together. Stop and think about that: Jesus with his forgiveness, mercy, and divine love holds us, so we do not become unhinged and lose hope. This love was spoken specifically in terms of reconciliation. Jesus ever wants to connect with us, having made peace through the blood of his cross. Jesus was also called the first born from the dead. This refers to his resurrection, meaning life with him will not be taken away since nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate us from him. The mystery, as the reading put it, has been disclosed, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The good news for us is that this mystery is ever being revealed, time and time again. When we hear the gospel, receive Holy Communion, we are blest with the assurance of Christ in us, our hope and help. We need such assurance so we, as the lesson said, mature in Christ. This maturity is revealed in our ever growing awareness of grace, just indeed how Jesus has been with us each day, our strength, our assurance of forgiveness, and perhaps even our song: “Give me Jesus, you can have all the rest, give me Jesus.”
Recently I read of something in our culture advertisers like to exploit: it is called FOMO, an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out”. People fear that without such and such a product, or such and such a status, or by having more money, they are missing out on the fullness of life. Now certainly it is good that people work hard to obtain what they need in life. But there is always the danger of becoming distracted, which can lead to negative thoughts about others, or the stress of feeling inferior or just not as good as others who may have more. The cure of FOMO is JOY: standing for Jesus, Others, and you. May you be blessed daily with the mystery revealed: Christ in you, the hope of glory; Christ in you who loves you beyond all measure; Christ in you who forgives all sins; Christ in you, who is your peace; Christ in you who teaches you and me to love our neighbors as ourselves.