Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Martha & Mary: A story of obligation...

For this coming Sunday, I'm going to post probably a poem....so for today, here is my sermon I preached this past Sunday, 7/18.

Last January I was taking what is called a Jan term class. These courses are usually held, you guessed it, in January and meet everyday during the month. Sometimes they are intense, like when I took biblical Hebrew. And sometimes they are more introspective, like the class I took this past January. This class was a class on pastoral care in alternate settings. It was held in a recovery center, and the eleven of us students not only learned about care for families and individuals who deal with various illnesses and addictions, but we learned how to listen to God. We were tasked to keep a journal, and on a morning basis write a dialog with God. Our assignment was to read a bit of scripture, ask God a question, then listen. After listening, we were to write down what we had heard. This brought each of us not only a whole new awareness of God, but taught us about how we interact with each other. One of my revelations from this activity was to remember friends, get out more, look at things from a different angle, and learn to listen more intently to what God was saying to me. Even if it was something I didn’t want to hear.

So in late January there was a Girl’s Night Out planned and organized by a few women from my home faith community. (Now at this point I was working an internship at another church while taking this January term class...I was quite busy). With some hesitation, I went to the Girls Night Out and watched the movie chosen by the group. When I got home, I wrote a Facebook status. (Yes, I am a big Facebook user.) And this is what I said. “So glad I went to girls night out tonight...funny movie and great company. And it was good for my soul to go. I was totally irresponsible in going...sermon not written; paper not started, and apartment not clean..even dirty dishes in the sink.” The pastor of my home faith community left me this comment to my status, “sometimes it is the absolutely responsible thing to do, to do what the voices in my head say would be the irresponsible thing to do! dishes? homework? cleaning? No Way. Community and laughter and relaxing are what God likes better.”

Now I don’t think he was saying God likes shirking responsibility entirely, but God wants us to listen to the rhythms of life...people and community, and our selves as God speaks to us. In today’s world, there is no argument that technology, cell phones, the impulsion to multi-task, and the bombardment of messages demand our attention, time and concentration. This very issue was written about in a opinion column in yesterday’s New York Times. The writer tells a story about a lovely engagement party that consisted of delicious foods and champagne toasts. Although, one small glitch. The guests, with their cell phones on the table, consistently sent text messages to friends and each other throughout the entire party. The writer proposes, “Enough already with this hyperactive behavior, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism (frenzy). We need to slow down and take a deep breath.”

I met a friend for breakfast last week. We meet at a sweet, bright restaurant. However, as we sat at our table, we noticed music playing, and TVs on. The TVs were playing on various walls. And I noticed that added to the frenzy of what was going on in the dining rooms, was a scrolling news banner toward the bottom of each of the TV screens. Is it too much? I’m sure the restaurant owners are not out to hurt their patrons by giving them a huge headache. They are offering hospitality in accordance, or in obligation to what society demands them to have in their establishment. They believe in order to serve people, they must offer them, TV, music and of course free WiFi. But at what cost? All in the name of Hospitality in our busy society.

In the Genesis reading, Hospitality is slightly different than today’s restaurant. Abraham sees three men amidst the Lord. He scrambles to prepare for his guests, making sure they can be refreshed under his favorite large tree, and the opportunity for them to clean their feet. He elicits Sarah to make bread and cakes. And elicits his servant to prepare a meal, complete with cheese and milk, all from a calf Abraham has personally selected from his herd. Abraham is in a frenzy. He wants to show reverence, and respect. And he wants to show love. His love for the Lord. His reward for the hospitality is the Lord granting he and Sarah their long time wish for a son. Well, maybe reward is not the best term to describe the reason for Abraham’s hospitality. He didn’t do it for a reward. He did it out of reverence, respect and love. His gain by virtue of his faithfulness was God answering his longly felt, deep prayer. Abraham’s example of hospitality would later become during Jesus’ time, societal obligation in order to show hospitality. To show reverence, respect, and love. And so it was when Jesus stopped with his disciples in a certain village and a woman by the name of Martha welcomed them all into her home. She became frenzied by the responsibility of being a good hostess. She wanted to show reverence, respect and love. So, she likely prepared a comfortable place for them to rest. She got things together to cook a delicious meal, and then probably even cleaned up from the meal. Yet, Martha starts to feel overwhelmed in the act of being a good steward of hospitality. Now Martha has a sister Mary who lives with her. However, as Abraham is able to elicit Sarah’s help and his servants help in serving the Lord, Martha does not have that luxury. She starts to feel frustrated with Mary. She continually tries to elicit Mary’s help. Mary should be helping. Should; but she’s not. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Mary is listening to Jesus. Martha in her exasperation asks Jesus to say something to Mary to get her to cooperate and start to help.

These two sisters, the story of Martha and Mary, is not about two women, one good and one bad. Not two to be pitted against one another. But, two women who each show their love for Jesus uniquely. Two women who find themselves obligated to show reverence, and to show love. One woman, Mary, focuses on listening to God. One woman, Martha, focuses on serving. Both women feel obligated to show love in different ways. Martha takes the conditioning society has taught to her . Mary looks at things differently. She feels compelled toward a different type of obligation. She knows that she can show reverence, respect and love in a different way. Mary knows that she can show love and reverence for God by listening to God’s son, Jesus. Mary knows that service to God also means listening to God’s voice, and for God’s voice.

For the gospel writer Luke, Jesus is not a divider. In response to Martha, Jesus lovingly tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” That one thing he speaks of is listening. He will not insist that Mary help Martha because Mary is learning to listen. She is learning to follow Jesus. She is remaining relaxed and enjoying being in community with Jesus. She is doing what is natural to her. She is open to seeing things in a new way than how she was conditioned.
What struck me this week is this quote I found. The writer says, “Being human we act on what we know, but being followers of Christ we need to constantly question what we think we know. Not women vs. women; nor choice vs. choice.” In the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, the teacher , Robin Williams character John Keating, has his students stand on their desks. Why does he do this? Because, as he tells his students, “just when you know something, you must look at it in a different way.” And so it is with Mary. Mary and Martha each have the goal of the pursuit of the truth. Each goes about it differently. But Mary takes the time to stop and listen.

Listening to God, let alone each other can be hard task in our day. Speaking on the frenzied state of our society, the opinion writer of the Times wrote, “Let’s put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency, amid all the craziness that surrounds us, to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves, and that includes our own individual needs — those very special, mostly nonmaterial things that would fulfill us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.”

Like Mary our conditioning should not control us. Such things as technology (checking e-mail all the time; constantly attached to our cell phones) should not control us and keep us from relaxing and being in community with one another. To listen to one another. To stop and smell the flowers, so to speak, all the while listening to God. For when we are able to easily embrace those around us, we become able to embrace God, to embrace Christ. I’m going to end with the words I found yesterday by the opinion columnist of the New York Times who says, “Listen....Other people have something to say, too. And when they don’t, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That’s when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you.

And I’ll add, and that is when you begin to remember that you’re a child of God; and thus, begin to hear God’s voice more intently.

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