July 17, 2022
Genesis 18:1-10a Psalm 15 Colossians 1:15-28 Luke 10:38-42
Martha and Mary. Today’s gospel should strike a chord for those of us who like to stay busy, so busy we rarely sit in silence and listen to what the Lord our God wants us to hear. Martha isn’t neglecting her duties as a host, but neither is she taking time away from all that needs to be done in order to hear what Jesus is saying.
In the translation of this story, Jesus says, “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.” In the King James version it reads, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubledabout many things.” Worried and distracted vs. careful and troubled. Both translations help to illuminate the problems so many of us have listening to God’s word.
Sometimes we are simply too distracted to listen, other times we are engaged in so carefully fulfilling our duties that we fail to take the time. It is like the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we focus all our attention on loving our neighbor and neglect ourselves, we find that we, like Martha, are overwhelmed and can become resentful.
Hospitality in Martha’s time was a sacred responsibility. So, what she is doing is, without a doubt, important. Yet, if we’re too distracted by our responsibilities that we lose track as to why we do what we do, then we turn loving our neighbor into a job rather than an act of love.
I dare say that this is a common experience. Out of love, parents may deny their own needs to care for their children. This, however, may lead to feeling as though their children feel entitled and are taking advantage of them. Employees are paid to work, but in order for work to be fulfilling it must be done with a desire to make a positive difference. None of us live in a vacuum, we all depend on others – knowing this and recognizing we are a part of something larger than ourselves can not only connect us with others, it can help us feel like we are contributing to the good as a whole. Unless, of course, we see what we are doing as menial work. Then, we can feel as Martha did and resent others for not helping. During the start of the pandemic, nurses were being laid off and people working in grocery stores, and factories were classified as essential workers.
The sacred nature of hospitality is found in our story this morning from Genesis. We are told the Lord appears to Abraham, then he sees three men standing near him. He runs to them and invites them to spend some time with him. He has his wife and servants prepare food and stands with them as they eat. He is asked where Sarah is and then told, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” The lesson ends here. It teaches us that in providing hospitality, we may receive important news from God’s messengers.
At the front door of our house is a floor cloth Cathy painted of an angel. Around the angel is a printed verse from Hebrews (13:2): “Be not forgetful to entertained strangers for thereby some have entertained Angels unawares.” It is a reference to readings from the Old Testament, one of which was today’s reading from Genesis. All these passages point to the importance of hospitality. Listening is a vital part of hospitality. Mary is doing this in the gospel and Jesus says it is the most important part. Listening is a key ingredient for developing a relationship.
Jesus wants us be in a relationship with him. “Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing.” In this case it is to listen. Mary must listen if she is to develop a deeper relationship with our creator, our redeemer, and the one who sustains us.
The chapter from Hebrews begins with “Let brotherly love continue,” or in the New Revised Translation, “Let mutual affection continue.” Hospitality is about developing mutualaffection, developing a relationship with our guest. And who are our guests? I think Jesus would answer this question just as he did, “And who is my neighbor?” Our guests are anyone who is need.
Today, as we watch the number of new cases of Covid-19 increase yet again, I am reminded of just how challenging it is for us to entertain strangers and to develop relationships with others. The Corona Virus has been a major distraction that has caused many of us to be as careful and troubled as Martha. This past year, I heard teachers commenting on how children struggled in school because they had been denied the opportunity to socialize with other children. We need to be with each other. As the number of those infected surge yet again, we know how to limit our exposure and we understand the importance of maintaining our relationships with others.
How we limit our exposure and both maintain and develop relationships is up to each of us. We may need to be as careful as Martha and as attentive as Mary. Martha opened her home and Mary opened her heart. How, in the midst of this latest surge do we do both? I wish I knew the answer.
Starting this afternoon, I will be at Camp Mitchell serving as the priest at the Junior High Camp. Everyone will be tested as we enter the camp, and we will wear masks indoors. We will be outside as much as possible (drinking plenty of water to survive the heat). Balancing safety and our need to be with others may be the greatest challenge of this decade.
One thing I do know is that we cannot let it distract and trouble us to the point that we fail to listen to Jesus and his call to us. Our relationship with Christ will sustain us whatever the outcome.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, we come before you today in need of your guidance. Help us in all things to do what is right. Fill us with your Spirit that we may do the one thing that we are in need of. Help us to listen so that we might develop a deeper relationship with you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.