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Pentecost 9 July 17, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 9  Proper 11 Year C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, July 17, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet B. Campbell
The story of Martha and Mary
is often used to draw a distinction
between two seemingly opposed ways
          of living one’s faith:
the active (Martha),
and the contemplative (Mary),
with the contemplative
          apparently privileged by Jesus.
But I think probably that both Martha and Mary,
and most people,
would find themselves not at one end or the other,
but somewhere along the continuum
          between those two ways,
with the contemplative a foundation for the active,
and the active creating a need
          to return to the contemplative.
And it is good to keep the two in healthy balance
as we negotiate all the worries and distractions
          of daily life and duty.
Jesus himself did that,
          with his times for prayer
          and his times for action.
But Luke is after something else here,
and we can tell that
by where he has placed
the Martha and Mary story in his gospel:
immediately following the story of the Good Samaritan,
near the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
Chronologically and geographically,
Martha and Mary’s evening with Jesus
would have come near the end
of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem
          rather than at the beginning,
given that Bethany,
where they lived,
          lay just outside that city.
So what is Luke leading us to,
in the movement from
last week’s Good Samaritan reading
to today’s story of Martha and Mary?
The story of the Good Samaritan
asks not only,
          “Who is my neighbor?”
as Father Torvend suggested in his sermon,
          “Whose neighbor shall I become?”

In telling that story,
Jesus challenged the boundaries
people and peoples create
to separate ourselves one from another –
          in that case the age-old religious enmity
          between the Samaritans and the children of Israel.
How difficult it was
for the people in that story
to venture outside
the artificial distinctions and constraints
that both
defined who they were
          and limited who they could be . . .
how difficult for them
to connect with each other
          through their common humanity . . .
to the point where helping an injured man
          became so complicated
                   almost no one would dare do it.       
Jesus challenged the stupidity
          of those divisions,
pointing the way
to the life of true neighborliness
          he called the kingdom of God.

More boundaries are challenged
in the story of Martha and Mary
that follows.
In the society and culture
in which
they and Jesus lived,
(as is still the case in many places
          in the world today),
woman and men
lived mostly in separate areas
of the home:
the women in the domestic areas
for meal preparation, the raising of children,  
          management of the household,
the men in the public areas
for receiving visitors, dining,
          conducting business, engaging in conversation.
The only exceptions
were the outdoor places
          where the small children played,
and the marriage bedroom.
Male and female roles
were strictly delineated as well.
So, when Jesus and his disciples
dropped in for dinner,
Mary’s place was in the kitchen with Martha,
          in the appropriate women’s role:
providing the hospitality of the household.
Yet, there she was instead,
in the public room,
one woman mixing with all those men.
And she was actually sitting at Jesus’ feet
          as if she were his pupil,
as if she were studying with him
          to become a teacher herself.
In fact,
she was behaving as if she were a man!
According to the customs of the time,
which we should not judge
          from our 21st century perspective,
this was immodest and scandalous.
She had violated
two very important boundaries
that lay at the heart
of how her society was organized.
Martha had to speak up.

Of course she wanted some help,
and Mary’s duty at that moment
was to assist with
          the meal preparation.
But underneath Martha’s plea
for help
was what surely upset her
even more:
By hanging out
          in the public room
          and mingling with the men,
Mary was endangering her reputation
          and that of her family.
A man of his time and culture,
Jesus surely understood Martha’s concerns.
Yet he didn’t come to her defense.
he praised Mary
for daring to ignore
her culture’s definition
          of woman . . .

Instead of busying herself
to feed the guests
          with bread and meat and fruit,
she had sat herself down
          so that Jesus might feed her
                   with the word of God.
She had come to him
in the freedom
of herself as a person . . .
. . . hungry for what he had to say.
She had done
what she needed to do
to be fed.
In affirming Mary’s choice
Jesus was not denigrating
the role of women
          or the value of women’s work
                    as his culture saw them,
he was not inaugurating
          the women’s liberation movement.
He was inaugurating
          the everybody’s liberation movement
          otherwise known as God’s kingdom . . .

where artificial constraints
born of fear and ignorance
and imposed by social and cultural constructs
are done away with . . .
where all children of God are free
to live into the fullness of their  being –
female and male people,
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
          Transgender, Queer and heterosexual people,
people of all colors and all ages,
people of varying abilities
and different religions and nationalities and cultures . . .
all matter.
There were no people
who self-defined as black
or people of color . . .
until someone with power
decided that euro-white was the norm.
There were just people
          in gradations of color.

There were no people
who self-defined as LGBTQ . . .
until someone with power
decided that straight was the norm.
There were just people
          loving people.
How far away we still are
from Jesus’ vision of the kingdom
in this ugly time in our country 
          and among the nations,
as the dividing lines we have drawn
          stand out in stark relief,
and our racism, intolerance, callousness
          and penchant for violence
                   is sadly revealed – again –
and politicians
who are supposed to be
          public servants
cynically exploit our divisions
          with provocative and angry rhetoric,
showing themselves unworthy
of the offices they hold
          or to which they aspire.
Where, then, do we find hope?

Perhaps in first reminding ourselves that,
just as in Jesus’ own time,
God’s kingdom
will not be a product
of a political system, agenda, or party,
an armed revolution,
or the elimination of those
          we deem to be our enemies.
God’s kingdom is
a mystery
revealed in the being and life and death and resurrection
          of Jesus:
          breaking down the barriers
                    that separate us,
          establishing the new community
                   of reconciliation,
          creating freedom in which
                    differences can flourish,
           bringing into being a new creation. 
A new creation
being brought to its fulfillment by God
in and through
the life of the Church.

From Paul’s Letter to the Colossians,
“all things have been created through Jesus and for Jesus . . .
in him all things hold together . . .
he is the head of the body, the church,
in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . .
through him God was pleased
          to reconcile to God’s self all things,
          whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Paul rejoices in his sufferings
(the rejections, the beatings, the frustrations,
          the imprisonments)
because through the cross
he has been joined to that great work:
spreading the gospel,
proclaiming the peace of Christ
          to his own cruel and violent age,
establishing groups of followers, churches,
           to carry on the work  
                   until the Kingdom is manifest in all its fullness . . .
In Christ,
Paul found the trust, the courage . . . the hope . . .
that made it possible
to face anything life could throw at him . . .

And he died
not knowing,
but confident in,
          the ultimate completion
                   of his work in Christ.
As his heirs in the church,
as the living body of the risen Christ in this age,
we continue that work,
participating in the cross of Jesus
by breaking through
the barriers that define us
          and, we think, keep us safe,
even as they narrow our lives
          by their confinement . . .
breaking through those barriers
          to live freely and broadly
          as  kingdom people of reconciliation and peace.
The kingdom of God
is like an elusive little dog,
(not one of mine)
a little brown-and-white spotted dog
wearing a red bandana harness
trotting all alone
down the middle of Cirque Drive
just west of Bridgeport Way
in the late Friday afternoon traffic.

Everywhere cars were stopping
in the center turn lane
and on the shoulders,
and people were getting out of their cars
and coming out their houses
to rescue him:
a woman wearing a burka,
a young girl on a bicycle,
a man out campaigning for a candidate for city council,
a boy in a Seahawks cap and cut offs,
a woman priest in a clergy shirt (me),
What colors were we all . . . ?
What was our sexuality,
our ethnicity?
It didn’t and doesn’t matter . . .
we were just strangers
united by our concern
for one hapless little creature.
Treats were offered,
cajoling voices beckoned,
to no avail.
Every time someone got close,
that little dog turned
          and trotted off in another direction,
back and forth across the street,
          oblivious to the danger.

No matter how we tried
we couldn’t
surround and head him off.
Eventually he
left the road
and disappeared into a neighborhood of houses.
Maybe he’d found his way home,
maybe it was just a way
to escape from us.
I don’t know,
but I have hope for a world
in which strangers unite 
around the plight of the helpless.
The kingdom of God
is like that,
and its coming is like this:
we strive for it
in ways large and small,
often without knowing
if what we have done
          makes any difference.
The kingdom of God
          is not knowing . . .
and trusting God
          to know.