Sermon July 21st 2019-Luke 10:38-42

This morning, we continue to read from the Gospel of Luke, picking up from the parable of the Good Samaritan, to hear the story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha. Our story today is a short one, only five verses long. Yet it is one that has a lot to offer us, as we consider the ways in which we are called to play our part in the Kingdom of God. Because throughout chapter ten of Luke, this is what our focus is. From Jesus sending out the seventy to do ministry in his name, to the parable of the Good Samaritan, all are about inviting us to consider what it means to work for the Kingdom of God, and what it looks like to follow Jesus. Last week, the Good Samaritan invited us to consider what it means to embody love for one’s neighbour. But this week, we are invited to consider something different: embodying love for God. Our story tells us that Jesus entered a village, where he then visited in the home of two sisters: Martha and Mary. Martha keeps busy with the many tasks of hosting a visitor, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to Jesus. In frustration, Martha demands that Jesus tell Mary to get up and help her, rather than sitting with Jesus, when she gets an unexpected response. Jesus lifts Mary up for what she is doing, and insists that she be left alone. It’s easy to immediately see this story as a condemnation on Martha for being too busy and distracted, while praising Mary for sitting, listening and learning from Jesus. Although busyness and distraction can prevent us from seeing and hearing God with us, I want us to consider the possibility that this story isn’t about Martha at all. What if Martha is just a part of helping us to understand an important message that is being offered through Mary? What if Jesus isn’t commenting on Martha or her choices, but is instead inviting us to see the barriers being broken down through Mary’s choice? Brian Peterson, in his commentary on this scripture proposes that “we don’t need to reject Martha in order to understand Luke’s point about Mary. . .she violates cultural expectations in ways that Martha does not. This is the sort of thing that Jesus does, breaking the cultural constraints and setting people free for the kingdom.” We already know that Jesus sought to break down barriers in his time. He healed the sick on the Sabbath, he reached out to those who others deemed unworthy, ate meals with sinners, and had uplifted women. Mary was doing something that was against the norm for women: she was sitting with the men, participating in conversation and religious discussion. She was seeking to listen and learn from Jesus. Martha was expecting that Mary follow in line with what was expected of her, what was expected of women: to be serving and showing hospitality. Not sitting and listening and learning. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong herself, she was serving in a way that she knew best: through the gift of hospitality. But, there wasn’t anything wrong with what Mary was doing either, even if it wasn’t what others thought she should be doing. And so this is where the message of this story comes in: Jesus encourages Mary to continue learning, instead of pushing her back into the box society had given her. Jesus encourages Mary in her desire to embody her love for God through learning, and in her desire to be herself rather than what others wanted her to be. In many ways, Jesus is setting her free. Peterson goes on to say: “This is the sort of thing that Jesus does, breaking the cultural constraints and setting people free for the kingdom. That’s necessary if we are actually going to love our neighbors and love God. It has happened (and must continue to happen) in the face of slavery, and racism, and sexism, and homophobia. The church needs to be set free for such faithful listening and discipled violation of cultural assumptions so that we can love the strangers and sojourners among us, so that we can love our Muslim and Hindu and atheist neighbors, so that we can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what he has to say to us.” Which brings us to the question, what does it mean for us to be like Mary? What social expectation do we need to break, in order to embody our love for God, and our love for neighbour? This isn’t an easy thing to think about. It can be scary to go against the norms of society. To do something outside the box, when everyone else feels that we should follow in line. Whether it’s embracing a neighbour that others feel should be shunned; taking on a role that others feel we shouldn’t, because of our age, gender, or race; or taking an unpopular position in the name of love and justice. Yet Jesus calls on us to do so. To not allow cultural norms or societal expectations hold us back from responding to God’s call in our lives. Wherever it is that call may lead us. Because God calls on us to embody love, and to follow Christ, no matter what or who that choice may challenge. This is what it means to be a part of creating the Kingdom of God. It means being open to following Christ wherever it may lead. And it means encouraging others to do the same. Because sometimes, it’s tempting to help hold up societal norms. To encourage only our girls to play with dolls; to tell our boys that crying is for the weak; or to tell someone that they can’t do something because of their age. But just as Christ sought to break down barriers in his time, we too, are called to continue his work. To break down barriers wherever we encounter them. To encourage one another to be who we are no matter what. To follow our hearts and God, so that God’s Kingdom might come into being here on earth. For we are called to participate in the Kingdom here and now. To live as if the Kingdom has come, in the hopes that one day it will. For when we do this, it is then that we are able to not just be set free ourselves, but we are able to help set others free, to live into their own calling. For Christ sets us free, so that we might help offer the same to others, through him. So as we consider the story of Martha and Mary for our own lives, may we see this not as a condemnation of hospitality or ‘busyness’ but rather as an encouragement to break down barriers for the sake of the kingdom. To serve God, and serve our neighbour using our gifts, whatever they may be. Even if others might feel they aren’t the right ones. And to serve God and our neighbour by being present to and with Christ, who walks with us, and breaks down the walls for us as we go. Be like Mary and be who you are. Be like Mary and show your love for God, by sitting and listening at Christ’s feet. But also, be like Martha and welcome all through the gift of hospitality. For both are needed in God’s Kingdom. Be Mary. Be Martha. Be you. Whoever that you might be. And remind others to do the same, as you seek justice, offer peace, and share love. For these are the building blocks of the Kingdom Christ calls on us to build. Together, in faith. Together in hope. Together, as disciples along the Way.

Brian Peterson, WorkingPreacher for July 21st 2019

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