Listen to the audio podcast: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21193350
A few weeks ago I shared with you that I have something in common with the prophet Isaiah.
I am not a prophet who has spoken to kings.
I have not predicted the rise and fall of nations.
I have not been visited by angels or received visions.
But when Isaiah found himself before the throne of God he was humbled and confessed that he was a man of unclean lips. That is what Isaiah and I have in common, that I too can be a person of unclean lips.
And while I might be too quick to say words I shouldn’t say, there is one particular one that I don’t say often enough.
And that word is, no.
If someone asks me for help, my natural gut reaction is to say yes.
Need a pastor to pray for the blessing of a house, I am your man.
Need someone to help feed hungry people, here I am.
Want to do some mission work, lets go.
Not saying no is not necessarily a bad trait, but for me it can lead to me over-extending myself. Suddenly I look at my calendar and there are seven or eight events in one day. Sometimes, I have double-booked multiple events at the same time and I have not figured out how to be in more than one place at the same time.
So my tendency to not be able to say no leads to me taking on more than I should, running from obligation to obligation, and not really achieving that much at all.
But I don’t think I am the only one around here that suffers from this inability to say no.
Isaiah not only said he was a man of unclean lips, but from a people of unclean lips. And it only takes a minute of standing on parsons avenue to hear that we are a people of unclean lips.
I am not only an over-achiever myself, but from a people who over-achieve.
In fact, we do so much around here at the Church for All People that we have even developed a name for out over-functioning–the swirl. When we have multiple things going on at the same time and a lot of people in a small space a swirl of activity ensues.
While good things are happening and we are doing good work, “the swirl” can take away from our ability to be present with God and with one another and it becomes difficult to live up to our ideal of radical hospitality.
Radical hospitality is one of our core values. It is this audacious aspiration that we can create a sacred space where all people are welcome, all the time. That it doesn’t matter how you come in the door, we are going to treat you with kindness and dignity and respect unlike anywhere you have ever been. We are going to welcome you in to the circle of God’s love and share with you the gifts of God’s grace. Our ultimate aim is not only to give out clothes through the Free Store or food from the market, but to build relationships of mutuality that change all of our lives.
But in order for me to build a relationship with you, I have to be present to you. When we are distracted and swirling, it is hard to build a relationship.
This is the tension in the story of Mary and Martha.
At the end of Luke, Chapter 9, Jesus and the disciples begin a journey toward Jerusalem that takes up almost half of the gospel. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Jesus instructs the disciples to go on this journey but to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”. Instead, they are to depend on the radical hospitality of others as they travel.
They have just begun this trek and the first person who welcomes them is Martha. Martha invites them in to her home, with her sister Mary and Lazarus.
Martha invites them in and then does what a host is expected to do, she starts preparing a meal. She is putting together the food, cooking, cleaning, serving drinks, being a good host and then as she is in her own swirl of trying to get everything done, she sees her sister Mary sitting at Jesus feet.
In the culture of ancient Israel, to sit at the feet of a rabbi and learn from a teacher was the position of a man. Women were expected to prepare the food in the kitchen while men sat and talked.
I am not agreeing with history, just reporting it.
But Martha looks at Mary sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time and tries to triangulate Jesus in to her anxiety and says Jesus, tell her to come help me.
But Jesus doesn’t condone the custom of the day that limited women, but says that Mary has chosen the better part. Jesus offers radical hospitality to women in his ministry, talks to the woman at the well, forgives the woman accused of adultery, and makes disciples of women like Mary and Martha. The resurrected Christ first appears to women and women are the first to preach the good news that he is risen.
Jesus does not take away Mary’s position but says that it is Martha who is the one distracted by many things, when there is need of only one thing.
The surface reading of this, and the way I have often heard this scripture preached, is to say Mary, good; Martha, bad.
Mary has chosen the better thing; Martha is distracted by many things.
I want to offer a slightly different approach to this scripture.
If we look at Mary as the centered, contemplative, prayerful person and Martha as the “gets stuff done” person, I would advocate that to be a full, whole Christian, and a full, whole church, that both are necessary.
We need to be Mary people AND Martha people.
We need to be a centered people. We can think of people in our church like Mattie or Donita who are people of deep spirituality and who teach us that things happen when we pray that don’t happen when we don’t.
We need to be grounded in our relationship with God and from that connection we are then led in to action.
But we do also need to be people of action. If we pray, but keep our doors shut and our hands folded, then we are missing out in the entire focus of Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus sends the 70 out at the beginning of Luke 10, the message he tells them to share is “The kingdom of God has come near to you”. The kingdom of God comes near when we engage in God’s work in the world.
After all, the scripture directly before this one is the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story it is the religious people who pass by a person in need and it is the foreigner who goes out of his way to help the person who has been robbed and beaten. The Samaritan is the hero of the story because he does something.
In Matthew 25, it is the people who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned who are welcomed in to paradise.
Jesus is clearly about doing, but he also has a practice of staying centered. In the gospels, there are about 25 recorded times that Jesus prayed. Most of those were not short prayers he hastily offered asking for a blessing before doing something, but times of solitude and silence where he distanced himself from the noise and the crowds and reconnected with his father.
Contemplation and action are two sides of the same coin, they are like two hands of an artist working together to shape clay and make something beautiful.
A person who prays but doesn’t do anything is as incomplete as a person who does all kinds of things but they aren’t grounded in prayer.
To be a whole disciple is to learn from both Mary and Martha. We need to spend time at Jesus’ feet learning and listening so that we can go and do what a church is supposed to do.
So why does this scripture and even Jesus tend to privilege Mary over Martha? I believe it is because there are more Marthas in this room than Marys. If we have a tendency as a church, we are more likely to do something without praying about it than we are to pray about something and not do it.
We are a church that does a lot of stuff. We know how to do stuff. We are good at doing, so if God has an invitation for us it would be to remind ourselves to also take time to be centered and grounded. For when we get so busy that we find ourselves in the swirl, so busy that we don’t have time to build relationships, we can end up distracted by many things like Martha.
Martha was not doing anything wrong. She was preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples and the people in her house. People who don’t eat get hangry and it would be bad hospitality to not serve a meal.
But in her swirl, she lost herself, her centeredness, her direction.
You can be really busy and work hard and still be centered.
It is not the doing of things that is a problem, it is when we allow the doing to distract us from our primary purpose, from what Jesus says is the need of only one thing.
What is the one thing?
Our relationship with God.
When Jesus is asked what is the one thing, we read again here in Luke 10: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself
This is the one thing and if we hold on to that as a sense of direction, as the ground that we stand on, as our focus, we can do many other things from that center.
The one thing is to remain centered on God and not allow the distractions of life to pull us off course.
We can be distracted by a long to do list, a full calendar, entertainment, the pressure of social media, our own internal need to perform and produce, our guilt of the past or our fear of the future.
But Jesus invitation to us is to stay centered on the one thing and that no one can take that from you and once we are grounded in the one thing, we can do all things.
If we are centered on God, even when the swirl is happening around us, we can be the calm presence in the midst of the swirl that offers the gift of radical hospitality to the stranger.
We are a church that is blessed with an abundance of opportunity.
We are helping people find jobs in ways we never have before.
We have tripled the number of people we serve in our Fresh Market.
We have coming opportunities to do things in housing that will redefine our neighborhood.
But the most important gift we have is not a program or a facility, but it is our relationships. And if we are going to build relationships with more people, we have to be centered enough to be fully present to the person in front of us.
Developing the ability to be fully present to the stranger and to offer radical hospitality begins with being fully present to God.
How do we place ourselves at Jesus’ feet, listen to God’s still, small voice, and center ourselves?
The ways that we do it vary.
We can do it through prayer, worship, reading scripture, listening to music, sharing a meal, disconnecting from the things that distract us and reconnecting with God.
Whatever it is that you do that centers you, spend some time today and this week, and throughout your life. When we do that, we wont only do many things that a church should do, or cross tasks of our to do list, but the kingdom of God will come near.