The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 21, 2019
Luke 10: 38-42
In our Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus and the disciples are visiting the home of Martha and Mary. We don’t know if the women were given any lead time to prepare or whether Jesus and his followers just showed up….at dinner time. Martha, not a person to order out or just throw something together, was working hard to get a special meal ready for these beloved guests. She did that with the same vigor for hospitality as Abraham and Sarah receiving the three visitors at their tent … spare no effort to welcome them!
Martha is often identified, at least in my Lutheran background, as the patron saint of church basement ladies, those women who work hard to provide hospitality and tasty food for church dinners, funeral dinners, or in ancient times, wedding dinners. I learned early in my ministry not to mess with them when, on an afternoon when I didn’t have much pressing work to do, I went down to the church kitchen and moved some things around, making the organization of that place what seemed to me to be more efficient. A short time later, I heard an explosion of voices coming from the kitchen…that explosion was directed at the miscreant who moved the cooking utensils and the electric can opener to different places. You would have thought I’d done something wrong!
They, like Martha, were a presence to be reckoned with in their ministry of hospitality. Martha was not silent about wanting some help: ‘Jesus, tell my sister to help me!’ When I was talking with my wife Sue about this story, she said she wished Jesus and the disciples would have responded to Martha’s plea by pitching in to help get the meal ready rather than continuing to sit and talk while Martha was working, and obviously wanting and needing help. Now that would have been a story worthy of putting in all four gospels!
No, that’s not the direction it took. Mary was commended and Martha was admonished. Luke doesn’t say what happened next. Maybe Martha went back to the kitchen, and Mary continued to listen to Jesus until the meal was served. Or, even better, maybe Martha went and sat down next to Mary, emboldened by Jesus affirmation of that being the better way, and they opened the door for women as equal partners in Christian ministry with men. In this small snippet of scripture telling of his visit to the home of Martha and Mary, Jesus brought down the sexist attitude that only men could listen and learn, study and significantly serve in God’s earthly realm. Jesus, with these words to Mary and Martha, took women out of the kitchen, out of the basement, out of the restrictive, constrictive, and destructive cultural stereotypes of where they should or should not be and placed women and men, all of us exactly where we need to be. And where is that? It is to live out of that one thing…Martha, one thing is needed …Jesus probably went on to explain that one thing to her, but Luke doesn’t include that in this story but we know what it is! Just a few verses before this Martha and Mary dinner drama, we hear the Jesus lauding the lawyer for answering rightly about that one thing: ‘You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself!’ Jesus, of course, then goes on to explain that our neighbor is a stranger in need, something only the Samaritan understood in the memorable story he told.
Yes, Jesus’ words to Martha are powerful. Jesus breaks down the wall between the kind of ministry men can do, and the kind of ministry women can do! Those words are as radical as the stranger in the tent telling Abraham: ‘I will return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a child!’ It’s crazy and foolish, but no laughing matter when God’s vision and action for fulfilling the promise is involved. God’s vision is that all of us live out of our Godly gifts to love God with all your heart, your mind, your spirit, and your neighbor as yourself…no barriers, boundaries, or limitations.
This story is not about balance and compromise. Jesus isn’t calling Martha and Mary, isn’t calling any or all of us to live a life of moderation, taking into consideration the sexism, racism, ageism or any other ism’s which limit our calling. Jesus is calling us to show a single-minded, intense, unbalanced devotion to God and to our neighbor.
Following Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary, the exciting thing is that women were welcomed as equal partners with men in any and all ways in loving God and neighbor. Ideally that would have meant that women would have been pastors and bishops in the church beyond the 2nd Century. Luke identifies women’s leadership in the early church in the book of Acts. Had that early church model continued, it would have meant that women across Christendom would have had no restrictions on the kinds of ministry they could or could not do. Leadership would have been shared equally among women and men. History would have been profoundly different if that would have happened! It is dreadful that women were restricted in living out their God-given vocations through the ages.
But as I was reminded as I read Sister Joanne’s amazing synopsis of her 65 years of monastic profession, ‘the time’s they were a changing.’ Thanks be to God and bold women like Sister Joanne, the church is changing. The legacy of listening to God’s guidance, listening to the spiritual needs of people, and making courageous decisions to follow a radical path into the future is profound. Sister Joanne called it an ‘everyday path.’ And that everyday path is reshaping Christ’s church into a place where all are welcome, all women and men are emboldened to use their spiritual gifts to love God and neighbor in any and all ways God has guided them to do so. Thanks be to God. Amen.