July 21, 2019
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Let’s set one thing aside: this is not a text only for women. We don’t assume stories about Peter or James and John are just for the men. It’s also not a text that pits service and hospitality against prayer and study.
It’s a story about worrying. Martha was distracted by many things. Because we have a history of interpretation with this text about women’s ways of work, we immediately imagine that Martha is worried about the details of the dinner party: her work is to get the food prepared, the table laid, and then probably have one or two good discussion questions to ask at the table.
The Greek work here, however, means more than just fussing, it means obsessed, captured by worry and fear, unable to let it go. Perhaps Martha is worried more than about this dinner party. Perhaps she understands the world, a world that certainly wouldn’t tolerate the message of their friend sitting in the other room; a world that silences the good voices and stokes the frightened ones; a world and a culture that’s filled with violence, hunger, and inequality.
I’ve noticed that in the last couple of years, conversations in the hallway, or in my office, turn to politics almost immediately. People are distraught about the turn in our national life. There are migrants packed into detention centers at the border, the chants at rallies torn from the playbook of the Klan, rising tensions between Iran and the West, insult after insult normed into daily life.
I sat on the front step of our house last evening, finally a gorgeous night. We have a beautiful patch of bee balm in our front yard. Last year, it was buzzing with big, fat bumble bees. This year, there is only silence. One single bee. It frightens me. Is this a holocaust unfolding in our front yard? I can’t get that bee out of my head, buzzing around and around.
There’s a certain privilege in worrying about the political or outside world. Some of us have worries and fears that hardly even allow ourselves to focus on such external worries: the child who slips farther and farther into despondency, the spouse who seems to have changed in some frightening way, the wasting of muscle and bone, the course work that never seems to lighten or easier, the grinding loneliness of another night at home.
I suspect we understand Martha.
And Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. In our historical interpretation of the story, we almost imagine her aglow as she gazes into Jesus eyes, filling up with his wisdom and grace, untethered from the vagrancies of life, free from distraction, blissful, yet we think a little naïve and, perhaps, dingy.
But let’s imagine another scenario for a minute, because she lives in the same world as Martha.
Perhaps she does understand what the world is really like. Yet some voice within her says, “You need to find a place to sit if you’re going to survive this. You need a place to ground yourself that’s not centered in your own capacity to fix things, or in the hope of some hero leader that will come and fix everything, or in some sense of ongoing progress.” Mary has a sense that this Jesus, this friend of theirs sitting right in her own living room, can connect her to the peace that surpasses all understanding. If she’s going to face tomorrow, or clean up the dishes, or deal with her ailing parents, or live in a world that spews hatred and death, she needs this Jesus as a center, a source of love.
Some of you may receive Richard Rohr’s daily devotion. (Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who is a spiritual writer and teacher.) This week’s theme was about being a mystic.
We tend to think of a mystic as some hermit out in the desert, or a nun who sees blazing visions of love in a hazelnut; a mystic is detached from the world and lives in a spiritual realm that’s impossible for most of us. Rohr says that a mystic is simply someone who has an inner experience of God.
Maybe we all need to be mystics. To trust that at the center of our being there is a place where human life and divine life sit together. This place, deep within the being of every living thing, is the source of love and mercy. Perhaps today’s gospel reading is simply a call to throw our anchor down into the deep baptismal water, the place that flows with the love that we so desperately need. From this deep place in our being, where the human and the divine sit together, is how we change the world.
I read about a New York florist who has decided to fill empty garbage cans with flowers. He takes the left-over flowers from the studio or from an event, and builds gorgeous arrangement right on the streets of the city. He says, “I am in the business of fantasy and flowers, and it’s my job to transform key moments in my clients’ lives into joyful, everlasting memories. I wanted to recreate a similar feeling for the everyday city-dwellers and tourists of New York City.”On the streets, beauty, color in the greys and the grime, an opening into a beauty that is truly at the heart of all things.
I suspect this week will take our breath away, distracted by so many things, but perhaps we can also find the courage to be stopped in our tracks with some beautiful thing, or some bible verse or prayer, or some friend whose willing to sit with us, to take in nature, the first Bible; to take in the breath that is in the very air we breathe, the presence of Jesus, the love of God.
In the meantime, without anxiety, without fuss, let’s set the table, put out the food, and for just a few minutes, sit with Jesus.