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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Inviting Christ

Inviting Christ into our lives means clearing out, not entertaining, things that lead us away from Christ, but in such invitation we find the joy that Christ Jesus has already invited us into the life and love of God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 16 C
   Texts: Luke 10:38-42; Colossians 1:15-28

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Martha’s second invitation caused all the trouble.

Her first one is also the first thing Luke tells us. He began with Martha welcoming her friend, her master, Jesus, into her home. She invited him to dinner with her family, her sister Mary and brother Lazarus.

Her second invitation is less obvious, but it led to her pain. Her second invitation was to harsh thoughts about her sister. She invited them into her heart, offered them a seat, gave them something to eat and drink so they would stay around.

Martha’s good news is that her first invitation to Christ helped her deal with this second one. It’s good news for us, too. From Martha we learn it matters whom we invite into our hearts and lives.

We need to understand both these invitations. Because Martha first did exactly what she was supposed to do.

Welcoming even a stranger into her home, let alone Jesus, was a sacred responsibility. Every woman in Bethany would have done the same. Given that it was her beloved Jesus, she must have delighted to make him a meal, as we do with those whom we love.

Remember also there were few meals in that household, if any, where both sisters weren’t involved in preparing and serving. That’s how the work was divided. The sisters handled the household, the meals, the serving. Every woman in Bethany did the same.

But something wasn’t normal on this day. This time, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. Martha was doing what she normally did, what Mary normally would have helped her do.

And that’s when Martha invited in those thoughts.

But this second invitation sounds very normal to us.

This scene is a snapshot of a moment we all have experienced if we have lived in a family. Martha’s irritation likely had less to do with what Mary was doing, and more to do with their being sisters. Maybe they’d had a stressful week. Maybe Lazarus had begun his illness and caring for him was tiring them. It could be anything. Two sisters living to adulthood in the same home are going to have history. How often do we snipe at someone in our family over a surface issue when it really had nothing to do with that, we were just being irritable and unkind?

Jesus sees that. He doesn’t criticize Martha for cooking and serving and cleaning. He receives her welcome and hospitality gladly. Jesus calls her out for being “worried and distracted about many things.” All these other thoughts she’s let into her heart and given room to sit and stick around and fester.

Jesus isn’t pitting the two sisters’ choices against each other. He’s concerned that Martha’s loving gift is marred by her distracted, irritated thoughts.

This story is deeply significant for us.

Like Martha, every day we have unhelpful, unhealthy thoughts cross the doorstep of our hearts: jealousy and anger; temptation and selfishness; fear and prejudice; lust and laziness. Our defensiveness, our self-justification. Our ego, our sense that we are who we are and no one can tell us otherwise. Our inability to face our own mistakes and sin. Our unwillingness to hear someone else’s point of view. These all come from our broken human nature, from our own emotional lives, even from the outside.

If all these become houseguests sitting at the table of our heart, that leaves no room for anything healthy, no seats for those who give life.

We can’t control if these things show up. But Jesus says we don’t have to invite them in, sit them at the table of our hearts, and offer them something to eat. We literally don’t have to entertain those thoughts. We have a choice as to whether we’ll invite them in or let them pass by, whether we’ll nurture and feed them, or say that our cupboard is bare and they’ll need to go elsewhere.

When we copy Martha and invite Christ into our hearts while letting the rest out the door, we find life.

That’s what Martha shows us: those whom we invite into our hearts shape who we are. We want to fill those seats at the table of our hearts with those who give us life. Starting with Christ Jesus. Because he was at her table, Jesus was able to love Martha into a new way of being. And that’s what he will do when we invite him in.

When Christ sits in our heart he loves us with God’s life-giving love. No life we know makes any sense without Christ’s gift of God’s love centering our being, focusing our actions, giving us peace.

But Christ will also remind us when we are distracted by things we’ve let into our lives that lead to death.

Christ will look across the table and say, “are you sure you want that there? Is that good for you, to invite that in?” It must have been very hard for Martha to hear Christ’s criticisms. But in facing her distractions, letting them go, she found the path to deeper life in Christ, something we see in her later, at her brother’s graveside. Like Martha, it won’t be easy for us. It might even feel like dying, to let go of these guests in our heart we’ve become so attached to. But it will lead to life.

This is also the only way our world will be healed. The problems that overwhelm us and seem so threatening, racism, injustice, poverty, war, anger, hatred, all these begin to end when one person’s heart starts changing. When the thoughts and feelings and opinions that lead to such destruction are shown the door, and Christ comes in with the love of God and a helpful broom to keep cleaning house. Heart by heart, person by person, this is how God intends to heal this world.

But there is deeper mystery. The true first invitation is given to us.

We meet the Triune God in Christ Jesus and are invited into life, into grace, into joy. Face-to-face in baptism we are washed of all these resentments, hostilities, sins, frustrations, prejudices, all the houseguests that keep trying to make room in our heart.

This is mystery: when we invite Christ into our hearts we find Christ is already inviting us further into the life of God, deeper into the love that holds all things together.

This is mystery: in facing death for us Christ Jesus has taken away the power of all those things we’ve had in our hearts that seemed to be in control, seemed impossible to disinvite, all those things we’ve wished we could show the door.

This is mystery: in taking away their power, Christ Jesus is, as Paul says, reconciling this whole world back into God’s life and love. One clean heart and changed life at a time, from Martha, to us, to the world, until all things are whole and well in the love of God.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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