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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Hospitable Contradiction - 07/17/2016

It would seem we have before us today a contradictory teaching on hospitality in this story of two sisters who invite Jesus into their home.

Our study with Luke this year has held up hospitality as an important mark of a follower Jesus, a disciple of his Way.

Just about a month ago we read the story about the forgiven woman who comes to the Pharisee Simon's house where Jesus has been invited for a meal. The woman demonstrates extreme and rather shocking gestures of hospitality when she kisses Jesus' feet and anoints them with ointment and tears and then wipes them with her hair. This outpouring of hospitality sits in stark contrast to the hollow gesture of hospitality Simon has offered.

“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks Simon. “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” (Luke 7:44-46)

And we will see this hospitality held up as a bright light of the Way again in a few months when we hear the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector from Jericho – a rich man viewed generally as a very public sinner. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down,” Jesus shouts up at the man, who was short in stature and had climbed into a sycamore tree so he could get a better view of Jesus passing through the town. “For I must stay at your house today.” Jesus adds. So the small but powerful government official hurried down and was happy to welcome him. (Luke 19: 5-6)

Like the Pharisee Simon, Martha initiates this hospitality when she invites Jesus into her home. And we know what is expected when one does this. It's neatly laid out for us in our reading from the Old Testament. And like Abraham, Martha wholeheartedly launches into the tasks of being a good host … meeting Jesus as he entered the town where she lived, opening her home, providing water to wash the dust from the road off his face and feet, giving him something to eat and drink and probably a place to rest.

This offer of hospitality also provides Jesus with a place to continue teaching his disciples, something Martha's sister Mary takes advantage of, but that doesn't sit too well with Martha, does it?

So how does Jesus respond when Martha airs her complaint? From the other stories of hospitality we get from Luke, I think we really might expect that Jesus would side with Martha and tell her that her attention to welcoming him, making him comfortable and doing all she could to support him in his ministry would meet the approval of even Abraham. But he doesn't do that.

“Martha, Martha,” he says. By repeating her name like that, Jesus shows he has compassion for her and the troubled head space that she's in. “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

***

“You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

If that one sentence doesn't lift itself up out of this first century context and plop itself into our 21st century lives of day planners and family schedules, dentist appointments and shopping lists and November elections, work deadlines and sports events, pill-minders and volunteer hours and summer visitors, I don't know what does.

This was probably not easy for Martha to hear. The word used for the many tasks Martha was distracted by is διακονια (dia KO nia). It is the Greek word that our English word deacon or deaconess comes from. It often denotes more than just a task, but rather the activities of our ministries to one another, the tasks of Christian affection or the outreach of the church to the poor and the forgotten. In other words, tasks that the teachings of Jesus often lead us to do.

But still, Jesus seems to contradict his other teachings on hospitality here, and that becomes our hint that there's something else, something new going on in what Jesus is trying to teach us about Christian hospitality.  I think the key to it all is the second part of this timeless comment we have from Jesus in this story … “there is need of only one thing.”

Mary has figured out what that “one thing” is, so she sits at Jesus' feet – the position of a student with a respected teacher – and she listens. She allows herself the space and the time to focus solely on the presence of Jesus in her house and his teachings.

Jesus is seeking to stretch and enrich our understanding of the important ministry of hospitality – of how it is he welcomes and walks with others.

I think it is equally as enlightening to note that while Jesus holds up the example of Mary he doesn't dismiss the work Martha is doing either – rather I think what he's trying to say is that there is a better way into this God-centered hospitality – a way that includes the examples of both Mary and Martha.

***

Before I went to seminary, I had a very solid and healthy daily devotional habit. Each weekday morning, I would come into work and I would be alone in my office area for at least an hour or so. So I started using the first 15 minutes as my devotional time. I would read from the daily devotions book I was using and pray. And then I'd get to my work. It didn't take long for me to notice the difference in how I approached my work or the tone it took based on whether I had set aside those 15 minutes.

The time I took to focus on the presence of Jesus and his teachings were the anchor of all else I did … but it was more than just the anchor. It was the “one thing” that served also as my compass, the wind in my sails, the crew that journeyed with me. It was the whole ship.

And then I went to seminary and my daily routine was tossed up in the air like a deck of cards in a game of 52 pick up. I still haven't been able to get my daily devotion routine nailed down like I would like it to be now that I'm out of seminary and have resumed more of a daily routine. Don't get me wrong, I still spend time each day with the Word and in prayer – time each day focused on that “one thing.”

And of course, regardless of where we are in our individual devotional practices, we are greatly blessed when we come together here and focus ourselves on the Word and make time to be nourished and healed by Jesus' presence in the bread and wine.

And while I do feel like I can say that I spend some time each day sitting at the feet of Jesus, letting the tasks of the day wait for a few minutes, I continue to seek out that optimal routine that I loved so much.

So what I get from this story of Martha and Mary – and the way I think many people may relate to this story – is that we all carry the spirits of both Martha and Mary, and that one cannot grow into its fullest potential, the potential that God creates and sees in each of us, without the other.

Our Mary spirits call us to unplug from our busy lives, our vocations, even our crises – it calls us to unplug and study at the feet of our Savior, to listen for the voice of God in our lives, to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit move within us and through us.

And our Martha spirits send us from those quiet and contemplative moments into our lives and this world – the many things and people we encounter in our work and our ministries and our experiences as generous hosts and gracious guests.

This is a story about Martha and Mary, after all. Not Martha or Mary.

So I'll close today with a prayer for the spirits of Martha and Mary in each of us.

Let us pray.

Gracious and All-Knowing God,

You created us to be servants of this world and we praise you for that and live humbled in these many tasks with which you have entrusted us.

The more we learn of you the more we want your hope-full and life-giving light to shine through us – in the work of our hands and our brains, in our encounters with our guests and our hosts.

We ask you to help us be mindful of all the ways you prepare us for this work. And on this day we ask you especially to help us learn to quiet ourselves and listen for you in our communion together here and our time spent at Jesus' feet.

We pray this in the name of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus, who willingly went to the cross and freed us to be thoughtful servants of your will and ambitious ambassadors of your love.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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