17 July 2022
Year C (Proper 11 )
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Episcopal Church
St. John the Baptist Church, Orlando
St. Mary of the Angels Church, Orlando
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus calls us as to turn and return to Him to seek His face to then love and serve others. In the past few weeks Luke has invited us to join Jesus on the last leg of his journey toward the Cross. Last week, we heard the wily lawyer searching for a loophole to exclude others and Jesus reminding him and reminding us that an essential fiber of our very being as His disciples is to seek and serve Christ in all persons especially with our hands led by our hearts. And today Jesus teaches us that disciples’ second essential fiber is to seek and be with Christ sitting at His very feet. Him to fill our hearts with his Love so we can walk in His way of love in service to others. This morning, Jesus and his disciples are on their way first, entering Bethany, a village just 2 miles from Jerusalem and then the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus although Lazarus is nowhere to be found. Martha and Mary offer Jesus generous hospitality each by living into one essential disciple’s fiber; one doing and the other being.
When you hear this story, with whom do you identify? Are you a Martha or are you a Mary? Are you busy or mindful? Striving or tranquil? I suspect that even hearing this question you may feel some pressure to have the right answer, to measure up, to choose the better part. But quite honestly, I think asking the question “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” is a trick question. It is a trick question because it limits the range of our answers. We can quickly respond either or, without considering so many other factors that impact our decisions. The situation we are in. The time in our life. Our energy levels. And our sense of being anchored Jesus’ way of love. But either/or answers tend to satisfy our basic human desire. to have easy, tidy responses. to identify who we are.
Human beings have been known to consult astrological charts, complete spiritual or personality inventories to get a clearer picture about who they are. Some of us may have answered random Facebook or other Internet quizzes designed to give us answers to exactly with what dog breed, or actor or actress, or color we most identify answers which sometime identify our preferences quite accurately, but much of the time are way off base as to our true identity.
Historically, focusing on the question “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” has led to interpretations pitting Martha’s response versus Mary’s response; to value judgements about which category of doing or being is best. In fact, recent psychological research shows that asking the question “Who am I?” can actually lead to increased anxiety, as it limits us to be a fixed being, stuck in one mode or another, in being or doing. And a better question is “How do I want to engage or live my life?” And as Christians, we might add “How is Jesus calling me to live my life rooted in Him?” For as we see in the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus ‘goal is not to exclude Martha or Mary or even to raise the question “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” Jesus teaches us that being rooted in Christ as his faithful followers means honoring both essential fibers of doing and being. And Jesus invites us to embrace the ambivalence and complexity of our lives and of our very identity, engaging in our lives sometimes as Martha and sometimes as Mary based upon our discerning what He is calling us to do. And Jesus validates for us that all of us, just like Martha and Mary, have an internal struggle to discern each day and in each situation, to act with hearts and hands while remembering Him or to return to sit at Christ’s feet for Him to re-fill our empty spirits. Returning again and again to experience the fullness of Christ and our own identity as His followers.
As you remember, in this morning’s Gospel lesson, Martha and Mary welcome Jesus into their home. Mary heads straight to the living room to sit at Jesus’ feet. Martha proceeds directly to the kitchen to fulfill what she thought was expected as a faithful offering, to feed Jesus her best meal, offer Jesus her most comfy room, provide the very best welcome that any good Jewish woman of the house could offer to THE Guest of Honor. Can’t you just picture Martha in the kitchen, generously offering her hospitality by doing; organizing the servants, rattling those pots and pans, tasting the main meal to make sure it is just right. But, despite all her good intentions,
Martha is not anchored deeply enough this morning in the knowledge and love of Christ. Martha becomes distracted by her own expectations and by her frustration with her little sister, Mary who has chosen to sit spell bound at Jesus feet, soaking in his every word and his grace-filled love. And Martha becomes worried and obsesses even more, “Will this be the best dish Jesus has ever had?” “Are the dishes all clean and warm?” “Can she orchestrate the food to arrive at same time so it will stay hot?” And finally, Martha loses her cool. Bursting into the quiet living room, upsetting the teaching moment, accusing not only her sister, but Jesus himself of abandoning her with the burden of all the work. And then Commanding Jesus to tell Mary to get her lazy behind into the kitchen. Can’t you just imagine Jesus saying, “Martha, Martha” choosing to be a doer is not wrong, it is good. but HOW you are choosing to prepare our meal is off the mark. You are distracted. You are worried. You have lost your focus on me, on me and my love for you. So, choose for now, the better part which Mary chose in this place and time. Choose to Return to me. I am the One who knew and loved you from before you were born. Come to me sit with me, seek my face. Let me help you pour out your cup filled with worry and angst and resentment and open your heart to receive my love, my grace, and to focus on my way of love.
Jesus does not reject Martha’s character or even her “doing” in the kitchen. Jesus teaches Martha and Mary and all of us that both doing and being belong. But what matters is HOW we embody these responses. Our attention needs to be focused on Jesus; being and doing from a place of Jesus’s openness, inclusivity, and love and to be mindful, discerning where our focus lies and what might be separating us from the heart of God; whether we need to stay and sit awhile longer with Him or whether Jesus calls us to go and do. Martha lives and serves, as we all do, in the name of Jesus. Jesus has knocked upon her door and abides in the midst of her activities, but in her desire to please with good intentions no doubt Martha has forgotten to ask what Jesus is calling her to; to assess the level of neighborly love in her cup to listen for where Jesus and not social expectations are calling her. Jesus calls Martha and all of us to open our homes and our hearts and all our beings and doings to be fully rooted in Him, in His love.
All of our day-to-day activities, cooking, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, sewing, hold the possibility of our Divine Lord breaking in in His glory. If we are mindful of the mixture of worry and angst and peace and in our cup and we are intentional about praying, asking and inviting Jesus to be present.
In this Gospel story, Jesus reminds us that faithful disciples, like Mary and Martha, and us are not to judge being over doing or doing over being but rather to be mindful that we are to be aware of our focus and to where our attention is drawn. In a world filled with continuous crises, fraught with division and violence, fueled by lack of civility and hatred, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. But Jesus calls us to return again and again to sit at his feet, to open our hearts deeply, our eyes widely, our ears broadly to hear his calling and to root ourselves in Him and His love. He calls us, all his followers, to love and not to worry or distraction. We need not fear for we seek Him and we serve Him together, joining our hands and hearts at His feet in His community of love, to be empowered by His love. For everything we do as disciples we are to do in remembrance of Him. Everything we are to do is in remembrance of Him.
And so, this week remember that in your very being as His disciples are the essential fibers of doing and being, take time to sit with Jesus to deepen knowledge and love of Him. Be mindful to ask yourself each day and in each situation, “Is Jesus calling me to go and serve?” or “Is Jesus calling me to stay a while, to help me empty my cup from what keeps me from knowing Him and walking in His way of Love. And then to fill my cup with his mercy filled love and grace, to go and serve my neighbor again, remembering Him.