Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pentecost 9C

Luke 10:38–42

 

THE ONE THING NEEDFUL

 

Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.

 

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.”

 

It would be a mistake to view Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha as a critique of her hospitality. Martha had been working hard in the kitchen, preparing a fine meal for Jesus. Jesus was her dear friend and Lord. She wanted to show him how much she cared for him.

 

Hospitality was a high priority in biblical times. People were expected to show hospitality to traveling guests. They were to provide food, shelter, and protection for them. Jesus was on a journey to Jerusalem. Showing hospitality to Jesus was the customary thing for Martha and Mary to do. But Martha was not satisfied with the customary; she wanted to go the extra mile for Jesus.

 

The gospel of Luke strongly affirms hospitality and all efforts to serve the neighbor. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, immediately prior to today’s gospel reading, emphasizes the importance of serving a neighbor in need. Samaritans and Jews were enemies. For a Samaritan to go the extra mile in caring for a Jewish victim was a dramatic example of radical hospitality— hospitality that cuts across all religious, ethnic, racial, and other such boundaries.

 

In Luke 15:2 religious leaders grumble about Jesus, because he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus practiced radical hospitality toward people who tended to be excluded from the religious community. In the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14, when all those first invited give a variety of excuses for not coming, the host becomes angry and tells his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” Here Jesus affirms radical hospitality.

 

I myself was the recipient of wonderful hospitality during my trip to Basel, Switzerland. I registered too late to stay at the main hotel for the International Bonhoeffer Congress. So I ended up staying at a Bed and Breakfast in Riehen, a pleasant Swiss village on the edge of Basel. A German pastor named Henri also stayed there. This B & B was owned by Jean and Daisy. They were so gracious. Their home was inviting. Jean baked the bread we ate every morning for breakfast. He served it along with a variety of local cheeses and jams.

 

Only about two percent of the population in Switzerland attends church on a regular basis. When Henri and I went with Bonhoeffer colleagues to the Basel Munster on Sunday, Jean and Daisy went to a growing church of 3,000 members. The Munster is the large cathedral in the heart of Basel, overlooking the Rhein River. It has a magnificent pipe organ. Jean and Daisy had been to the Basel Munster a number of times, and they appreciated the pastor’s preaching and the organ music. But Jean compared the two houses of worship in this way: the Munster is a tabernacle, and our church is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It was obvious he and Daisy preferred a temple of the Holy Spirit. It was also obvious that their gracious hospitality was a fruit of their faith.

 

The last thing Jesus would have wanted to do was to discourage his followers from being hospitable. Jesus’ rebuke of Martha is more about the spirit with which she is practicing hospitality. She is caught up in what some have called the “Martha complex.” Notice that Jesus said to her, “You are worried and distracted by many things.” The Martha complex is characterized by excessive worry and busyness. One has the feeling of having to do all the work without enough help. It is a common affliction among many of the hardest working people in our churches. People afflicted with the Martha complex tend to do good things. The problem is that they are trying to do too many good things at one time. Or they may get so caught up in doing good things that they neglect something better.

 

Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha is not so much a condemnation of what she is doing as it is a commendation of Mary’s choice to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him. In that culture sitting at the feet of a teacher tended to be a role reserved for males. Jesus’ twelve disciples were all male. Martha viewed Mary as presumptuous for assuming the posture of a disciple.

 

Jesus, however, affirmed that Mary had chosen the one thing needful. When your guest is the Son of God, the Master, Jesus himself, whose life and teachings reveal the one God, what could be more important than to sit at his feet and learn from him? The one thing needful is to listen with rapt attention to Jesus. He has the words of eternal life. He affirms that we are beloved children of God. His words are full of grace and truth. He reveals the will of God to us and helps us discern what it means to live by faith as a child of God.

 

Sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him does not mean that we do not need to do anything. In the biblical understanding there is no such thing as listening to God’s word and not acting on it. If God’s word does not lead us to action, then we have not truly heard it. But fulfilling the will of God is not simply a matter of doing good things. Careful listening to God’s word helps us discern the best thing or the most essential thing we need to do. Careful listening to God’s word can help us decide which of several good things is the one thing God needs done now.

 

Some of the most pressing issues of our time may require urgent action. However, if we just rush in and starting responding without thoughtful reflection we may cause more harm than good.

 

When I was in Switzerland and heard of the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, of Philando Castile in Minneapolis, and of Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson in Dallas, I was deeply saddened. As I pondered how to respond, one clear message emerged in my mind: people of faith need to insist on justice. Many would say it is long past time. What does insisting on justice mean? That is part of the discernment process. More than ever people of faith need to be involved in deep listening as we seek to respond to racial shootings, terrorist attacks, and other traumatic events.

 

Last Sunday evening several St. Andrew folks gathered with hundreds of people from the metro area for an interfaith service at Augustana Lutheran Church. It was an effort to insist on justice and peace in our community and in our land. I’m told that one African-American woman simply asked white folks in the congregation, “Where have you been?”

 

Our Racial Justice Team has hosted a couple forums this year on racial justice and will lead a Sunday morning forum on “Racial Equity” in the fall. These forums in themselves are not enough. But they are examples of seeking to sit at the feet of our Lord and listen so that we can discern what our Lord is calling us to do to insist on justice.

 

The annual Collins Lecture on November 3, sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, will focus on racial justice. The speaker will be Pastor Otis Moss III. He is the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. You may recall that Trinity was the church President Obama and his family chose to leave during the 2008 presidential campaign. I was pleasantly surprised that Concordia University, a Missouri Synod Lutheran institution, offered to host this Collins Lecture. I will be part of a planning meeting at Concordia on Tuesday. The diversity of the people of faith in this meeting will be encouraging in and of itself. We can hope that this Collins Lecture will be a catalyst to inspire people of faith to insist on racial justice in our communities and in Oregon.

 

Five days after the Collins Lecture is Election Day 2016. People of faith need to vote for candidates who they believe will insist on justice for all people. We need to listen carefully to the candidates so that we are prepared to vote as responsibly as possible.

 

Henri, the German pastor I stayed with at the Bed and Breakfast in Switzerland, knew how to speak English a little better than I spoke German; but we both enjoyed learning words from each other. The favorite English word I taught him was “contuition.” I told him that it was not necessarily a familiar word to most English-speaking people. I discovered it as I did research for my book Coming Home to Earth. The concept originated with St. Bonaventure, a 13th century Franciscan theologian. “Contuition” is a process of learning to see Earth and all its inhabitants as God sees them. In writing Coming Home to Earth Genesis 1:31a emerged as a hinge verse, expressing how God sees all God has created: “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good”— that is, God delighted in Earth and all its inhabitants. Bonaventure viewed St. Francis of Assisi as a master of contuition. Through St. Francis’ relationship with Christ he was enabled to see that all peoples and creatures are precious in God’s sight.

 

One thing that Henri told me he likes to do is to sit in public places and watch the people. When I told him that “contuition” entails gazing at and pondering people and creatures until we see them as God sees them, until we delight in them, he pumped his fist in the air and then high fived me. The concept of contuition obviously delighted him.

 

In a period of racial tension and ecological crisis what could be more important than taking time to sit at the Lord’s feet and learn to see peoples and creatures as God sees them. That would seem to be the one thing needful in our time. Inasmuch as we view all peoples and creatures as precious in God’s sight, we are far more likely to insist on racial justice and ecological justice.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.