Sermon Response to Scripture proclaimed for Year C, Proper 11:
At Zion Episcopal Church
By The Reverend Sarah E. Saxe on July 17, 2016
Listen That You Might Hear
Last Sunday we heard the parable of the good Samaritan. Through it, Jesus taught us who our neighbor is – anyone who is in need. And that we should care for that neighbor - whatever the need.
And today we hear the story of Martha and Mary. Through it Jesus teaches us about the virtue of hospitality.
Our first taste of the Jewish tradition of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham and Sarah entertain angels unawares. Do you remember that story? They are camped under the trees and some strangers show up. Abe invites them to rest in the shade, offers them water to wash their feet and invites them to share a meal.
Now fast forward a few thousand years to Jewish hospitality in Jesus’ time. A number of weeks ago, we heard Jesus describe it when he was at Simon the Pharisee’s house - the story where the woman comes in and anoints his feet.
Jesus had expected Simon to offer him the kiss of peace; water for bathing his feet; and scented oil for his parched skin, in addition to a meal.
And regarding the meal, we heard two Sundays ago that anything was fine. Jesus told the 70 when he sent them out that they were to eat and drink whatever was put before them.
So that’s probably all he expected of Martha, because I’m sure Jesus practiced what he preached: the kiss of peace, clean feet, moist skin and something to eat and drink.
But it seems there was one other thing that Jesus expected of Martha. He expected her to listen to his teaching.
After all, wasn’t that why she would have invited him in the first place? In the same way that Simon the Pharisee invited him?
Among his followers Jesus was ‘Rabbi’, ‘Elijah’, the ‘Messiah’ and so having him over for supper was not only a great honor but also an opportunity to absorb his teaching.
And imagine what that would have been like! To actually be there with Jesus! To hear him teach in person! Exhilarating? Confusing? Disturbing? After all he turned their understanding of God and the world upside down.
He challenged people to re-examine what they took for granted – to re-evaluate their priorities – to re-imagine how they worshipped God; to relinquish how they had always done things. And he challenges us still.
Back in April we heard Revelation (21.5) say that “he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” Jesus was making all things new during his earthly ministry. He is making all things new now. And he will make all things new in the end times. God in Christ transforming us and the world.
So it seems that Martha was missing out on an incredible opportunity.
Now I’ve heard many a sermon claim that the good Samaritan story followed by the Martha & Mary story teaches us about the need to find the right balance between doing and listening. And I agree.
Sometimes we have to choose. Choose between working for Jesus or just sitting at his feet so to speak.
But I don’t see why they must always be mutually exclusive.
Why can’t we be doing both at the same time?
Again thinking about the Genesis story of Abraham and Sarah, even though Sarah was in the tent working, she still heard Abraham’s conversation with the angels. And their claim that she would have a baby in her old age made her to laugh! Sarah was listening. She was paying attention even though she was working.
Couldn’t Martha also hear Jesus while she was working? But even though she heard him, perhaps she wasn’t really listening because she was “worried and distracted by many things.” So it’s not what she was doing with her body that was the problem, but what she was doing with her mind.
And conversely, even though Mary was lounging by Jesus and hearing him teach, was she really listening? After all we can be sitting at his feet and though we hear, we still don’t pay attention. Or we could be working hard and yet still listen – still attend to Jesus’ guiding voice.
Because by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus is still speaking, still teaching, still guiding – and we are supposed to stop what we are doing and listen – pay attention to what he is saying!
Not necessarily stop our activities, because even if we are sitting absolutely still, we may need to stop our mind. From churning, and judging, and wandering from the message. Perhaps stop our mind from thinking that there is only one way to understand God and the world.
Stop both our mind and body from not paying attention to Jesus as he tries to transform us and our ways of prayer and study and worship. Wasn’t that part of his teaching to the Jews? Isn’t that part of his teaching now?
So stop! (long pause)
What is Jesus saying to you? What is he teaching? What is the better part?
The better part is loving God and loving your neighbor.
And that includes those neighbors right here in this sanctuary as well as those out there in the world.
Sometimes we have to choose between our own desire and the desire of someone else. And with God’s help, if we’re paying attention, we will choose rightly.
Now in the past year I have made some changes to our Order of Worship and there will be more changes I’m sure. As one parishioner put it, change is a constant in daily life.
Sometimes the changes come out of a natural progression of events that I didn’t plan and you didn’t plan. I call that the Holy Spirit leading us and I just trust God and move forward.
Sometimes the changes come from requests of parishioners. I call that the command to love our neighbor right here by honoring the minority voice.
Sometimes the changes come from what I’ve learned at seminary – practical things about how to attract new members. And theological things about how to honor my ordination vow to teach you and help you in your spiritual formation.
And believe me, it’s hard to keep track of who likes what and who doesn’t like what and still be listening to what God would like. It’s hard to pay attention with so many “worries and distractions.” But based on the majority while honoring the minority, I try to keep a balance between doing and listening.
I trust that God in Christ is creating something new. But even though the idea of being transformed – being created anew - may be exciting, the actual process almost always causes discomfort.
For those of you who would prefer no changes, it may seem we are moving too fast and you may feel overwhelmed. And for those of you who want lots of variety and change, it may seem like we are moving too slowly and you may feel frustrated.
But if we support each other in love, by God’s grace and with God’s help we will get through this time of transformation. We will be able to feel joy when we do something different on Sunday, knowing that even if it doesn’t enhance our personal worship, it might do so for one of our neighbors right here.
Just as he was then, so Jesus is now trying to make a new creation. He is challenging us to re-examine what we take for granted – to re-evaluate our priorities – to re-imagine how we worship God - to relinquish how we have always done things.
But the Good News is that he is right here with us. He doesn’t teach us something new and then abandon us in our struggle to adjust.
Jesus spoke kindly to Martha, not with anger but rather with love and compassion. And he was with her until the end. He understood her struggle and sympathized with it. He was a good neighbor - a friend.
And he is our friend. Gently challenging, patiently encouraging, steadfastly supporting us as we struggle with our transformation.
What a friend we have in Jesus. Give your many worries and distractions to him so that you might be able to stop and listen.
And then come to his table and share a meal with him.