Genesis 18:1-10a and Luke 10:38-22
The two sisters,
Mary and Martha,
perhaps some long-held sibiling rivalry,
or they’re competing for Jesus’ attention and love
(just as the Bible’s first two brothers struggled for God’s approval). .
Either from when it happened,
or in its interpretation through the generations,
their story has become the occasion for questions of the role of women in the church.
Oh, let’s name it outright– this issue has been the roles women have been forbidden
and relegated to in the church.
In an unpublished pastoral letter on women 20 years ago,
the U.S. Catholic bishops,
now included a footnote:
a full 85% of the work of the church is done by women.
Old First has an unusual number of men coming and involved in church,
but even here how would we get everything done without our sisters?
In our tradition, the first woman was ordained in 1853,
But in the Catholic Church church family, still today,
women are not authorized as God’s representatives
for the most sacred tasks of the church…
But it’s not just in the Catholic church, where work is gender-defined.
Which makes Mary and Martha hard to preach in any church…
and not just because we know the story so well.
I like how the intro. to the reading sort of papered over the issue,
promising that it won’t matter if you are reading Scripture or washing dishes,
as long as you are loving God with every once of your soul.
I probably agree with that,
But does Jesus?
The story seems to indicate he prefers
Mary’s devoted attention over
Martha’s dedicated busyness.
Here’s where it gets tough”
Jesus choice risks offending the workers the church desperately needs,
people, often women, who roll up their sleeves,
and do the day in and day out work around the church.
It seems almost a sin of omission here not to mention our kitchen crews explicity.
Trying to explain Jesus is this instance,
I could talk about the spiritual benefits,
— our spiritual need really —
of being deeply attentive and present.
And of how letting ourselves get all distracted
by life’s details or the day’s demands is
— in a favorite phrase of mine —
“to let the devil win.”
There’s truth in that.
Certainly, dinner needs to get on the table
if we’re going to make it to another day.
But what’s so important about being around tomorrow,
if you can’t see the forest for the trees,
if we only go through the motions,
if we never get to the deeper reasons for living?
Still, Jesus slamming Martha and making Mary’s example his favorite,
is a bit much, or at least hard to understand…
Let me try a relevant and more immediate example,
some transposition, if you will:
Each Sunday at Old First, as most of you know,
we have a Hospitality Team that responsible for, not surprisingly, hospitality.
We divide the whole congregations into 8 teams,
so everyone serves one Sunday about every 2 moths.
For any of you regulars who are not on teams yet,
or even if it’s your first Sunday here,
we believe the Hospitality Teams are a great first step,
how to start to get involved in church.
Not too much of a commitment,
and one right around a time when you’re often at church anyway.
A great way to get to know people better as well.
And this summer, we’ve simplified the whole operation–
just pretzels and fruit, and something cold to drink.
But there are two more important,
deeper points to be made about Hospitality,
that come from and point towards the meaning of this morning’s Scripture lessons:
1) Hospitality — “welcoming the stranger” —
is a basic Christian expression of our faithfulness.
Whether it’s Abraham and Sarah approached by strangers in the wilderness,
Or Jesus telling disciples that in as much as they have received the stranger, we have received HIm..
Hospitality is what we owe God as well as the ones to be welcomed.
Because while we were yet sinners,
in a great love for us, God welcomed us.
Not because of anything we had or could do.
Not because we earned or deserved it.
But as an act of love.
So too, we are to welcome those whom we meet.
Not just our brothers and sisters,
or a small circle of friends,
but anyone we meet…
Remember this story of Mary and Martha comes in Luke’s telling of the Gospel
right after last week’s Parable of the Good Samaritan!
We are to welcome all whom we meet —
all the way to the other and our enemies.
Hospitality Teams are our church’s institutional commitment
to involving everyone,
to helping us practice living up to such an understanding of faithfulness.
Making sure that each of and all of us together
put in some effort and time and energy that we might learn the ins and outs of,
or how to be best at being Martha AND Mary.
2) Which gets us to my second point and, I believe, the gist of Jesus’ intent.
What I’m going to share has all been said before.
I’ve said it to the congregation.
Suzanne when she was the Community Life SLG leader said it to the Hospitality Team Captains.
And they in turn have shared it with the members of their teams…
a) Our Hospitality Team ministry reminds us,
calls us all to participate
because “everyone being welcomed” is everyone’s job!
Not just my job because I’m the pastor.
Or the Elders’ responsibility because they get that big salaries and cushy title. .
Not just what the outgoing, extraverted folks’ should be doing.
Or a responsibility that falls to the shy people
because they feel more what it’s like to feel alone in a crowd.
Instead, we’re reminding ourselves
that Hospitality is everyone’s job,
because we are the church.
It’s ok’s if we take turns,
once every 8 weeks serving on our Hospitality Team,
…unless it’s not your week,
and you see someone standing alone,
and you could go introduce yourselves,
and make them feel recognized and welcomed.
b) Everyone who walks through the door deserves to feel welcome.
Our Genesis passage chided
That the we who see ourselves as the hosts
may be “entertaining angels unaware”
and therefore, in such a situation,
we’re the recipients of the greater blessing.
Let’s say that straight out:
We’re not doing visitors any favor with our hospitality,
or with the spread we offer.
Sometimes we get this confused.
Think of ourselves,
those who are already at church,
have something to share with those who give us a try.
And I hope we do.
But it’s not one way.
Or one of those situations where we who are resourced must offer to share with the needy.
Because, in fact, in the deepest sense, it’s exactly the other way around.
God’s promise is what THEY bring US,
what we RECEIVE through THEM.
That’s WHY Jesus says Mary’s way is better…
We’ve said this before,
and are trying to impress it upon ourselves this summer
with the simplified Table for Fellowship Hour…
If we get so caught up in a spread that’s more like lunch, or even a banquet,
If we get all worried whether every serving dish on the table is always full
and all the crumbs are wiped from the table,
If all the hosts are so busy in the kitchen,
or running around making sure that everything is just right,
that we leave the front door without greeters,
or fellowship hour without people consciously making sure to approach the guests…
we fall prey to the distraction that Mary suffered.
Or in my phrase, “the devil wins.”
Because we end up paying more attention to the food,
than the people we hope will receive it as a sign of our welcome.
If we are too busy,
and we fail to greet, much less REALLY meet any of those visitors…
Jesus isn’t saying that food is unnecessary
(though he does elsewhere remind us that humans do no live by bread alone).
What he’s saying is that its a strategic means to a much greater end.
We don’t want Old First to be known for the food we offer.
We’re not a Sunday brunch destination.
We want to be known for being present to the newcomer
in whom we see God
and in whom we look for and find God’s promise…
c) At first I titled the sermon:
Greeting over Eating — as you will see in the Order of Service.
But for you who are really sharp,
you have noticed the sign out front reads “Meet Over Eat.”
Because it occurred to me,
greeting is just the first interaction,
the outstretched hand,
that first step in a much larger, more profound movement forward,
but God’s waiting on much more from us.
It’s not just about some superficial hello or lame handshake,
the real “holy food” is found in an encounter,
when we begin to really meet one another here,
to know one another,
and care for one another deeper than Sunday morning appearances.
In fact, working at being more present–
to your neighbor and to yourself and thereby to God
that’s a good description of what religion is all about.
Why we come here.
What we want to be known for.
What we offer.
I know that we have at least one person this morning,
that came to church explicitly wondering
if and how and where
faith might fit in his life.
I’m glad he’s here.
And I hope he experiences others’ welcome too.
That he feels he’s been received profoundly,
not just offered a snack.
But even more deeply,
I hope for him
that he begins to see that deeper than all the rituals,
beyond even the most helpful lessons,
even greater than the opportunity to serve
faith is our commitment to work on showing up,
becoming more present to who we really our,
who God made us to be,
offering ourselves up.
One does that ironically by opening oneself up,
outstretching ones arms,
making oneself vulnerable to the stranger.
And somewhere in that space that’s inevitably left between us,
even when we’re hugging in welcome
or passing the peace,
or telling someone what’s really most important to us,
…somewhere in that space between us
as we open ourselves to one another,
in that space that can be even as small as
the distance we left between ourselves at our first junior high school dance
there, in that infinitesimal space,
we also begin to become more present to God.