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Monday, July 19, 2010

Sermon: "Hospitality: Martha, Mary, and Jesus"

Sunday, July 18, 2010
Luke 10: 38-42
Bradley P. Holt

I was 16 years old and I had just wrecked my Dad’s car. I had driven three friends to a youth meeting at a church 30 miles from home. I waited for the police and for my father, with dread in my heart. None of us were injured, but there we stood on the highway in the dark. But someone invited us in. They had the space to give a place to be. They welcomed us as strangers in need, into their house.

I was 32 years old and had begun to teach at a Protestant Nigerian seminary. In Ibadan, perhaps 10 hours drive from home, the Catholic Dominicans welcomed me warmly and I felt at home, worshipping and communing with them.

I was 48 years old and I was burned out in a mid-life crisis. I was teaching at Augsburg College. I went to a man known for spiritual direction, and poured out my heart for two hours. He showed me hospitality, listening with empathy and wisdom.

I invite you today to think of your own stories of hospitality, hospitality given and hospitality received, that is to say, love given and love received. Today we will consider in turn, first the hospitality of Martha, then the hospitality of Mary, and finally the hospitality of Jesus.

Before we do that, let us remember two facts. First let us remember the immediate context of this story. It is the third of the three important accounts of Luke chapter ten. As you may remember, two weeks ago we heard of the mission of the seventy, preaching and healing, and how the Kingdom of God is the central point in Jesus’ teaching. Last week we heard the story of the two great commandments and the Good Samaritan, and how in effect we are the wounded travelers, and how Jesus is really our Good Samaritan. This third story completes the first two. We might oversimplify them by saying the first is about evangelism, the second about social action, and now this third one about spirituality. We need all three of these elements as we experience the Kingdom of God.

The second fact is that Jesus took women seriously. According to Luke 8, it was women, including Mary Magdalene, who made Jesus’ ministry possible by their donations. There are at least six Marys in the gospels; it is important to distinguish the Mary of this story, Mary of Bethany, from Mary Magdalene, Mary Jesus’ mother, and the others. This story shows that Jesus broke cultural boundaries, both by entering the house of a woman who is not his relative, and by behaving to a woman as a rabbi to a disciple.

I. The Hospitality of Martha
Martha, the first person in our triangle, seems to be the older sister of Mary. It is she who invites Jesus to her house. According to the Gospel of John, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are siblings who live in Bethany, less than 2 miles east of Jerusalem. Bethany is located on the Mount of Olives, for which our congregation is named.

Martha, after inviting Jesus into their house, busily prepares, perhaps not only for Jesus, but also for his followers. She is the model of the active life, the life that many of us know all too well. She is stressed, anxious, divided, multi-tasking, and irritated. Her work is good and necessary. It may well include other things outside the house, such as evangelism and social justice, the sorts of things done by the 70 and by the Good Samaritan. I am reminded of Alvin Rogness, who warned that when we invite Jesus into our lives, he invites all his friends in with him! Those who are in need follow inevitably after the friend of sinners, the friend of the poor. Or to remember Matthew’s way of putting it, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Martha gives the physical hospitality we usually think of when we hear the word “hospitality.” Yet she is not happy, and it is not only her seemingly lazy sister that is bothering her. Everything about Martha in the text is double, not single, even Jesus’ address to her, “Martha, Martha.” She is a multi-tasking person. When he reproves her, I would like to think of Jesus’ look as a loving smile, rather than a frowning reproach. It is the same way he looks upon you and me. He sees that she is close to burn-out. I think we can all identify with Martha, in our lives that do not seem to have any space to breathe, but are crammed full of activity, much of it good activity. I think of us Marthas like a refrigerator that is so crammed full that there is no space left for the air to circulate. Marthas are so busy with the cleaning and the food that we would abandon the honored guest to sit alone while we finish our extensive lists of tasks.

II. The Hospitality of Mary

Jesus praises Mary, who has chosen the better part, the one thing needful. Mary’s is the contemplative life, Martha’s, the active life. Martha is a manager; Mary is a mystic. Whereas Martha’s posture is standing and scurrying, Mary’s is sitting and hearing; sitting at the feet of Jesus. She has seen that there is a time for everything under heaven: a time for serving and a time for listening, a time for making things happen, and a time for pondering what is happening; a time to act and a time to just be. Martha’s word is, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Mary’s word is “Don’t just do something, sit there!” This is a deeper way of thinking about hospitality, a spiritual way. Mary is hospitable to Jesus not by putting food in front of him, but by welcoming him into her heart. She gives him her time and attention. She makes an empty space in order that he may enter.

In Revelation the risen Christ says, “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” We too can show hospitality to Jesus, as both Martha and Mary did; we can invite Jesus in to our houses and hearts too. In fact many of us say this very thing when we say at table, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.”

Another way to look at Martha and Mary is to see them as fulfilling the two great commandments Jesus talked about earlier in the chapter. Mary loves God with all her heart--in the person of Jesus; Martha loves her neighbor as she loves herself--in the person of Jesus.

Like the Norwegian farmer who loved his wife so much that he almost told her so, we are also invited to love Jesus, and to tell him so. We do it through words of praise in this very church. I like to think that when we praise God singing “heaven and earth are full of your glory,” we are loving God for God’s beauty and the beauty of the creation. Our praises reflect a personal relationship. When we say “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” we are saying “Welcome, Jesus, we love you!” When we listen to the sermon with attention and prayer, we are listening. When we are silent, for example, after the sermon, we are taking time to ponder the meaning of it all. When we do this, we are Marys. In these and other ways, the liturgy of our church when we are gathered is a short model of our times at the feet of Jesus when we are scattered.

At home, alone or in our families, when we take time to spend with God, we are remembering the one thing needful. We are making space for Jesus in our lives, and also for all his friends! I know that some of you do this by centering prayer, or by the examen of your day, or by lectio divina with the Scriptures, or by keeping a spiritual journal. By giving space in your day and your heart, you are showing hospitality to God.

III. The hospitality of Jesus
Up to now, I have spoken of the hospitality of Martha and the hospitality of Mary, as they welcomed Jesus into their home. But looked at in more profound way, it is the hospitality of Jesus himself that is the key element in the Christian life. He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He says, “Come to my feast, the wedding feast of the lamb.” It is he who welcomes Martha and Mary into an intimate relationship with himself. His welcome, his hospitality is a form of his love. He welcomes us in Baptism and in the meal we are about to share. We are invited to express our love for him in many ways, including by words in this assembly. We are invited to say to Jesus and to God, “I love you, because you first loved me. We love you, because you first loved us.”

We take delight in God. God takes delight in us. My friend Tim recently described how he came to experience this. He was on a long hike with his son, and became aware of how much he delighted in seeing him studying the plants and the landscape along the way. Then came the thought, “If I can take such delight in my son, then God must also delight in me, God’s child; in us, God’s children!”

Our Old Testament lesson is an example of this two-sided hospitality. Abraham and Sarah welcome the three visitors, whose identity changes in the course of the story. When Pastor Hollie preached on this event on Trinity Sunday, she showed us the famous icon painted by Rublev, on the cover of our bulletin. She stood in this pulpit and said, “the three visitors, who are the Holy Trinity, invite you to table with them.” God is the ultimate host.

Here is the bottom line: We are all Marthas. We are all Marys. We are all invited by the loving hospitality of Jesus, called to show that hospitality to one another, and reminded that the one thing needful is to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening and loving.

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