Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38-42
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Have you ever had one of those days when absolutely nothing went right, a day best described as a waste of good make up? It’s one of those days when your first discovery is finding your slippers mysteriously moved out of reach under the bed. You spill coffee, burn toast and find nothing in your closet that suits you. No matter what is in your hands, you don’t like it, you’re destined to break it, burn it, or just downright trash it. And when you do, you’re going to catch flack. Somebody is going to say something and you are not going to like it.

In our story for today, Mary and Martha had just one of those days. It started off well enough. They are at home, enjoying the peace and quiet when there’s a knock on the door. Things are getting better: a knock means company. When they open the door, their day breaks into indescribable brightness. Standing before them is Jesus.

Mary and Martha were more than just acquaintances of Jesus. They loved and honored him, so you can only imagine their delight when he came to their home. Being good Jewish women, they knew the things that needed to be done to make Jesus feel welcome and comfortable. They slipped into gear and started getting things ready.

But then something happened. We don’t know what it was. We don’t know if Jesus had a serious look to him that morning. Maybe it was his demeanor or a change in his tone of voice, more intense perhaps. Of course what Mary and Martha could not have known, was that Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem. Knowing what lay ahead, Jesus was bound to have had a sense of urgency about him. Whatever it was, it took Mary to her knees and she sat, distracted from the tasks at hand, spellbound at his feet. And she caught flack for it.

Her sister, not distracted from the work to be done, was distressed at having been left with the full responsibility for their important guest’s wellbeing. Although irritated with Mary, she spoke directly to Jesus because obviously it was going to take a Jewish man to tell this woman to stop sitting around and get to work. Instead, Martha caught flack!

Jesus’ words started compassionately enough: “Martha, I know you’re worried and distracted. I know you’re stressed and tense. It’s ok.” So far, so good, but watch out Martha, here it comes. Jesus continued, “But, you see, right now there is one thing that is important, and Mary has picked it.” There it is! It was one of those days when whatever you do, someone will have something to say about it.

It seems to me that we hear way too many sermons on this scripture, sermons about Martha’s failure and Mary’s inside line to Christ. The sermons inevitably conclude with the admonition-like question, “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” The question leaves no doubt as to the approved answer!

Of course there are no more sermons on the Mary/Martha scripture than on any other scripture in our lectionary. It just feels like it to me because at heart, I know that I am guilty. Through and through, I am a Martha. I know that if no one gets up and prepares a meal, no one will eat! I can assure you that if Jesus came to my door, tired and hungry, the first thing I would do is make sure he had a cold drink and food on the table before I sat down for a chat. So what is this stigma associated with Martha? Surely I can’t be the only one confused.

There are Biblical scholars who look at this recorded moment in history for what it is, a day in the life of three friends 2000 years ago. Other Biblical scholars go a step farther. They study this reading as an allegory, addressing a dual nature in people called to Christ. These scholars would say that there exists a Martha and a Mary inside each one of us. They would draw our attention to the times our Mary within is summoned just as it was that day 2000 years ago when Jesus summoned Mary to sit quietly and listen. They would note that on another day, Jesus would be calling upon the Martha within: The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. Get on with it! Feed and clothe the poor. Visit the imprisoned. On those days, Martha is absolutely stigma-free! And Mary standing idly by would catch well-deserved flack.

As if that’s not enough, Amos, in chapter 8 of his book takes us to another level of self-examination. The prophet addresses the complexity of the Mary/Martha dilemma in his own audience, accusing them of deception, “Listen, you that trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, who say, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain and the Sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale?’” At first glance, here are people immersing themselves in the word, right? They are in worship, sitting at the feet of God, if you will. But Amos understands that worship must extend even to their thoughts. Are they thinking Sabbath thoughts, or are they thinking business? When we are in church on a Sunday, are we focused on worship, immersing ourselves in the word? Or are we composing a mental grocery list for after church shopping? Or a check list of all of the errands we still have to run before returning home?

How do we maintain the purity of our Mary and Martha? Do we act like a Mary living a contemplative life to avoid getting our hands dirty with the work of the world? Or do we work like a Martha with a martyr’s joyless resentment when we get no credit for what we have done? Just as Amos’s audience didn’t like what he had to say, we find these not easy questions to ask ourselves, much less coming up with a solution. Paul offers some help. In the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians he suggests that we divert our focus from ourselves to Christ if we are to live fully these two entities. “Christ himself is before all things. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead. Why? So, that he might come to have first place in everything.”

Paul reminds us it’s not about Mary. It’s not about Martha. It’s about Christ calling on us. When he calls us to work, let’s do what we can even if it is not what we once did, or less than we would have wanted. And when he calls upon us to slow down and pick up our devotional, or Bible, or this blog to read, study, worship and pray, we will be able to do so with Jesus as our head and center guiding our focus.

The way I see it, we have two questions to consider. The first, “How can I live to the fullest my Martha and my Mary?” Paul gave us the formula. Take the time to immerse yourself in Christ’s presence so that you are up to the task of doing the work he calls you to do. Keep Christ at the head of everything, and you cannot fail.

The second question is about timing. How will we know when it is time for our Martha to be in high gear or when it is time for our Mary to be in quiet focus? This one is up to us. To avoid mistakes, we must pay attention to what is going on around us. Be present. Is there someone in your life who could use a moment of your Martha time to hold open a door, cook a meal, or offer a gentle touch? Are there opportunities before you when someone simply needs your Mary to listen quietly and lovingly? Do you have times of spiritual burnout or lethargy when you need to sit quietly at Jesus’s feet like Mary, and simply take in his light and power? At the end of the day, we can only hope to do the right thing at the right time, and to do it with singleness of heart, with Christ as our head.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is a prayer about being present, paying attention, and making decisions. Let me read the familiar first lines. “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Reverend Dr. Niebuhr composed the Serenity prayer back in 1934 and it’s been prayed repeatedly in many different contexts and circumstances. I don’t think he’ll mind if I change it up just a little bit to sharpen our listening skills for the times Jesus calls to us.

“Dearest God, grant us the health, energy and drive to do the work that you have given us to do.
Grant us the serenity to sit quietly and patiently in your presence and in the presence of those who need us.
And grant us the wisdom to know the time and place for each. Amen.”

Father’s Day

Genesis 1:1-2: 4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights– the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night– and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

John 14: 8-14
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; . . . “

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; . . . “

Happy Father’s Day!
Happy Father’s day to all of you who are fathers.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you who are like fathers to your family.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you who look forward to being fathers.
Happy Father’s day to the fathers we hold dear in our hearts; fathers still with us, and fathers who are not.

We all have a father. We couldn’t have gotten here without a man out there somewhere. That man may or may not have proven to be a father, but for the most part, the majority of us can claim a father in our life, and that is a good thing. Fathers are important. It is a sad statement that we hear more these days about dead beat dads than we do about dependable dads; or about distant dads than dedicated and adoring dads. With that said, I hope you had or still have a good dad. I do.

I went to see him yesterday. He’s in a nursing home now. I prepared myself emotionally, he’s become so frail. He can’t keep track of his glasses, and his vision is cloudy. He can’t hear and he won’t wear hearing aids even when he knows where they are. After a multitude of TIA’s his balance is so impaired that for his own safety, he is in a wheelchair. I walked into the community room and recognized him even though his back was to me. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Hi, Daddy.” He looked up, smiled and said, “Oh my beautiful daughter. I am blessed.”

We sat together and caught up on news and the weather, before reading his Father’s Day card. First, I described the little girl on the sepia colored card recalling back to a post WWII time of innocence. She was holding her father’s hand as they walked along a wooded path. I read her words, how much she adored him; how she always looked up to him; and how he’d taught her so many things. While those were words on a card, they were also words from my heart.

I remember being three years old standing with my hands on the handlebars in front of daddy, “driving” his motor scooter up and down the block in front of the house. I ‘m sure my mother was thrilled.

I have a photograph from early childhood, sitting on Daddy’s shoulder. He was standing knee deep in the Gulf of Mexico jellyfish-infested waters. I was not afraid. My father had taught me fearlessness. He taught me to swim and to dive from the high board. He’d throw coins into the deep end of the pool, sending me to retrieve them. With eyes wide open, I’d swim underwater until I found them, and spring up to the surface victorious. I’m sure my mother was thrilled.

My daddy taught me how to ride a bicycle, and later a car. I was only fourteen when he taught me how to drive a standard transmission on deserted airstrips on the island of Guam. When we returned to Texas, we drove up and down country and city roads until my 16th birthday, when I took the driver’s license test. Passed it on the first run-through, thank you, Daddy.

It seems like yesterday, my now adult son and I were driving up and down country and city roads, him learning how to drive a standard transmission. I asked if he wouldn’t rather his dad or stepfather teach him. He said, “No Mom, you’re the only person in my life calm enough to teach me how to drive.” He was probably right. My father was the only one calm enough to teach me. Decades later, here I was, teaching my son exactly the way my father had taught me.

Daddy taught me more than driving and swimming. He taught me that Sundays were special beginning with his early morning extravagant breakfasts that made it easy to get up. There never was a question about the Sunday schedule. Church and Sunday school were top priorities. Weeknights at home were also special. We gathered for family devotions that he initiated with assignments to each of us so that all participated. It was a time of peace; a time when God found a place in our home. To this day, Sundays are honored as a time for worship, and evenings close with prayers from the Book of Common Prayer gifted to me and signed with my father’s message of love and hope for my life in Christ.

“I am in the father and the father is in me.” With these words Jesus explained the physics of life, the cascade of love that in the holy scheme of things flows from the father through the mother to the children. In our New Testament readings, we have two farewells that look deeply into this formula. John recalls Jesus’s prophetic words of farewell to his disciples as they shared a Passover meal the night of his arrest. Jesus cautioned that hard times lay ahead, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He predicted his departure and return, “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also.” He clarified his place in life and in relationship with his father, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.” And still, they struggled to understand the formula, until he boiled it down to the simplest of terms: Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own authority. I speak on the authority of the father who dwells in me! Believe me! I am in the father and the father is in me. If you have trouble believing my words, believe me for the sake of the works that I do that are the works of the father.

Again and again Jesus explained the physics of life. Nothing stands still; nothing remains static. He understood fully that the influence of a father doesn’t stay put; it moves through his children and beyond. Jesus certainly made that clear when he sent a handful of men and women into the world to create his church, an astronomical task second only to the Father’s creation of the universe! It was an impossible mission except that he himself was present in each and every one of them. His words of farewell empowered them in a way that was beyond all human understanding, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me and I am in you.”

Many of us in the second half of life no longer have a father who is still alive. Yet what you know from the physics of life is that in one shape or another, he lives on in you. Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe not. The reality is, you learn from and incorporate into your own psyche your father’s successes and virtues as well as his failures and weaknesses. The unique relationship of father and child can be a source of joy and strength, or struggle and angst. Accounts from the Garden of Gethsemane seem to indicate that Jesus struggled with a Father who would allow his son’s arrest, torture, execution and death. What kind of a father would do that? In Jesus’s case, it was a father he loved and honored. It was into his father’s arms that he commended his spirit at death.

Maybe your father was a role model for strength and compassion, and left you with words of love and encouragement at his last farewell. Conversely, you may have had a father who didn’t bother with a farewell and left you with a challenging and difficult opportunity to love unconditionally and forgive generously. Jesus within us, we will have the power to come to peace with who we are in relationship with our earthly father, dead or alive. Then can we let our hearts not be troubled. Then can we become the honored father, leaving behind encouraging and loving words of farewell to our children.

My father is still alive, but I know that farewells will come soon. When they do, I am sure he will have a message for me much like the message Jesus had for his disciples or Paul for his parishioners in Corinth when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

Of course, my father will have his own thoughts to add, I’m sure. They might go something like this:
“Daughter, I showed you how to live fearlessly, and you have certainly done that. You aimed way higher than I was comfortable with and at times you half scared me to death.
Forgive me for not understanding your passionate pursuit of education and profession. Thank you for not lowering your sights even when I suggested it.
I taught you how to live an orderly and responsible life, how to be organized and tidy. You’ve done a good job and you’ve done it with a dash of style.
You live in peace and love with everyone, especially me. Watching you greet others with a holy kiss, I pray that when I cross over, the saints will greet me in similar fashion. I’m sure they will when they learn that you are my daughter. They will look at you and see me in you. That will bring a smile to their face and a holy kiss for me. They know their physics.
Good bye, my beautiful daughter.”

Thank you, Daddy.