The one about Mary & Martha

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 21, 2019 – Luke 10:38-42 – Christ Church, Tracy City

This week I was reminded of what the preaching professor at The School of Theology always told us: when you preach, he said, you do so to a particular audience in a particular context. 

Broad-sweeping generalizations will never do. Each preaching event is unique. You can’t just take a sermon out of your files (not that my files are very extensive yet!) and give it to any ol’ congregation. 

This advice is good, but it’s not original. In fact, we first learned it from Jesus. Each time Jesus preached, he was aware of the specific needs of his particular hearers. When he taught, he did so conscious of his immediate context.

Luke chapter 10 provides us with a couple of examples of such instances. Last week we heard Jesus tell the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” 

A lawyer, well-schooled in Hebrew law, asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer already new the answer. In fact, he quoted the commandment perfectly. 

“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.” 

But Jesus took it one step further. Jesus taught the lawyer that simply knowing that he must love his neighbor, wasn’t enough. Jesus said, “You must go and do.” He taught the lawyer to put his love into action. 

Today we hear another familiar story. Martha is busy with her many tasks. She is distracted with all that she has to do. Jesus’ teaches Martha the value of stopping to listen. 

This is quite different from what the lawyer needed to hear. The lawyer needed to hear less about knowing and more about doing. He spent his whole life listening, learning, and acquiring knowledge. On the other hand, Martha, spending most of her time in active service, needed to be reminded to slow down and listen to the Word of God. 

Jesus understands that different people in different circumstances need to hear different messages, so his teaching is not always the same. It responds to the unique needs of individuals and audiences. 

To the lawyer, Jesus gave the example of a Samaritan who practices his love for his neighbor by an act of great mercy. To Martha, Jesus offers the example of her own sister, Mary. 

The example of Mary and Martha has taken on a life of its own. Some folks get caught up in who they imagine Mary and Martha to be. These imaginary characteristics tend to be analogous to their own personalities. 

I have heard some folks say, “I’m a Martha.” What they mean is, they are doers. They are the ones who see to the details. Plan. Prepare. Cook. Serve. Clean. 

Others say, “I’m a Mary.” They are totally at ease when they have company. They aren’t concerned about all the planning and organizing. They just want to sit back and soak it all in.

It’s completely fine to relate to biblical characters this way, but if you do, be careful not to cast yourself—or them—in too narrow a role. No one is entirely Mary or Martha. Each sister represents a part of your personality.

Living life like either Mary or Martha is not sufficient for a meaningful life. It takes both listening and doing, learning and service, knowledge and action.

When Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” it’s easy to hear that as an absolute. “Forever and for all time there is need of only one thing: stop with your work and listen.” 

If we took this as a Christian absolute nobody in the church would ever get anything done. We would all the time be making up excuses and saying to each other, “Sorry, can’t cut the grass today, have to listen to Jesus.” 

“Help you paint the community building? Afraid not, have to read my Bible.” 

“Sorry, I’d love to go serve a hot meal down at the tent city, but I’m afraid I’m too busy sitting here basking in God’s creation.” 

No, it’s not like that at all. Slowing down and letting some of the details go was necessary for Martha on this specific occasion. On another occasion it might have been different. It’s not, “There is need of only one thing for all time.” It’s, “There is need of only one thing right now.” 

The one thing you are in need of now might be different from the one thing your neighbor is in need of. And your one thing might change from week to week, day to day, hour to hour. 

Today you might need to be spurred to action in your community. Or you might need to be encouraged to take a break and listen quietly for what God is calling you to do next. You might need to be comforted. You might need to be stretched outside of your comfort zone. 

Thank God—literally—that God sent Jesus guide us, to walk with us in our humanity, and to help us through our struggles, whatever they may be.

Whatever you need, Jesus is here for you in the hearing of the word, the saying of the prayers, and the breaking of bread. The best part is, you can take him into your heart, as both Mary and Martha did, carrying him with you wherever you go!

Love. Your. Neighbor.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019 – Luke 10:25-37 – Trinity, Winchester

I invite you to listen to me preach this sermon here. 

You already know the story. 

It’s one of the Gospel’s most familiar. For this reason some teachers of preaching might even say, “Skip it! Focus on the Old Testament lesson. Try the epistle for a change.”

On the other hand, others urge the kind of strong exegetical work that leads to a cutting-edge interpretation. Such a familiar story deserves more critical attention, they say. Easier said than done. 

Either way, you already know the story. 

You’ve probably even heard a preacher say something like, “The priest and the Levite ignore the suffering man because they don’t want to be made unclean.”

Another likely brought to your attention the arrogance of the lawyer who seeks to test Jesus and justify himself.

One preacher no doubt wowed you by approximating the value of two denarii in today’s day and age. Still another stressed the animosity between Samaritans and Jews in order to emphasis just how unbelievable this radical act of mercy is. 

One of my seminary professors impressed me when he likened the robbers in the story to terrorists. They strip the man, beat him, and leave him half dead. These are no ordinary pick-pockets. These are much worse than the people who wave handguns at convenience store clerks. 

New exegetical interpretations might help you see something you hadn’t before. Different homiletical tactics may bring you into the story from a different angle. Still, you already know the story. 

No matter now many times you poke and prod it searching for new insight, the fundamental message remains: Love. Your. Neighbor. It really is as simple as that.  

All our lives—from the fables we heard in Kindergarten to the parables we learned in Sunday School—we have encountered this valuable lesson over and over and over again: Love your neighbor.

Just like the lawyer in the story, we already know what is written in the book. If asked we can probably quote it, too. “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.”

There’s a shorter version, too. Matthew wrote it down this way: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” The Golden Rule. You know it well. 

But here’s the thing, friends. Jesus is not simply concerned with whether you know this important truth; Jesus is concerned with whether or not you practice it in your everyday life. 

It’s right here in black and white. Jesus tells the lawyer, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” It’s not just about knowing, it’s about doing. You know it; now go and act like you know it.

After Jesus tells this familiar story he asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer answers, “The one who showed him mercy.” 

Good! Another correct answer. More right belief. More good knowledge. But what is Jesus’ response? “Go and do likewise.” Do likewise. You already know it; now you have to do it. We all have to do it. We have to love our neighbor. 

Before we continue: a caveat. All this talk about doing stuff is bound to make good protestants nervous. 

I know that we’ve caught Dr. Luther’s attention and from the Communion of Saints he strains his ear even as we speak to make sure we get this right. So let’s be clear. You can’t earn your salvation by doing things. You can’t get into heaven by right action. 

We do not go about the business of loving our neighbor in order to earn something or to gain access to someplace. We do it to make the world the place that God wants the world to be. 

We do not do it for ourselves. We do it out of love for one another, out of a desire to see each other grow and learn and flourish and succeed. Most of all, we do it out of gratitude for the love, the saving grace that God has shown to each of us.

So just do it—love your neighbor. Not just in thought, but it in word and deed. The world needs your example. 

This community needs your example. 

The day after Governor Lee declared Nathan Bedford Forest Day, the great state of Tennessee needs Christians like you to stand up and say, “This is absolutely wrong.” 

So do it! Not because you don’t care about history. Not because you want to erase the past. Not because you prefer a sanitized version of an idealized nation. 

No. Do it out of love for those who live in the still-too-threatening shadow of the Klan. Do it because you stand shoulder to shoulder with Jesus beside the oppressed and victimized. Do it because you follow God who really does desire “liberty and justice for all,” not just for some. 

The Anglican Church of Canada needs your example. 

After a heart-breaking vote at their General Synod this week the Canadian church has once again denied marriage equality to its members. The bishops could not reach the two thirds vote threshold they needed to expand the marriage rite to include same-sex couples. 

It’s up to you to show the world that it’s possible to love your neighbor. 

The United States needs your example. 

As long as innocent children are separated from their families, as long as refugees remain trapped in unsanitary cages without adequate nourishment, Christians have work to do.

We have to show the world that it really is possible to love our neighbor. 

No matter who occupies the White House, no matter who wields the Speaker’s gavel, no matter who sits in the Leader’s chair, we are called to respond as bearers of the light and life of Christ.

This is not work we do to earn more jewels in our crown or a better seat at the heavenly banquet table. This is love that we share in response to a God who loved us so much that he deigned to walk among us as a human being, showing us that our flesh matters. 

Jesus led by example. He taught us that even in our frail, feeble, fleshy state we can put God’s love into action because that’s what we were created to do. 

Now, here’s the really hard part. I don’t want to scare you, but I feel I have an obligation to share this with you: every single one of your neighbors deserves the love of God. All of them. Full stop. 

That’s not only the people who you are called to stand up for, but those who you are called to stand up to. Even the men and women in the halls of power, even a few Canadian bishops, even Governor Lee. 

I must admit, I’m not exactly sure how we’re supposed to manage this all the time. I’m supposed to be a professional Christian of sorts, and I don’t always get it right. That doesn’t mean we can’t give it our best shot. 

We can take care not to vilify others before we take their perspective. We can do more to recognize how the thoughts in our heads and words on our tongues turn to hate in our hearts. We can remind ourselves—and each other—that we’re much better off with love, even when others don’t love us back. 

Most of all, we can practice being grateful to God who saves us. As has been said before, “I never knew a person to be mean who was first and foremost grateful.” Be grateful. 

Beyond that, I’m not really sure what more to say. We’ll just have to continue to do the work together. The good news is, we can. With God’s help and by God’s grace we can love anyone, everyone. It’ll be hard work, but then again, most things in life that are worth it are hard, and nobody ever said love was easy.

No, nobody ever said love was easy.