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The 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Luke 10:38-42

Martha. Martha. Martha. She worked so hard. She did what she thought she was supposed to do. She wanted to get it right. That was important to her. She was a hard worker. She was a helper.

I know her. I recognize her- don’t you?

But Martha has a dilemma.We hear her story in this morning’s gospel reading from Luke. She and her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus are good friends of Jesus. They followed him from the early days of his ministry- right to the end of the story. They loved Jesus and Jesus loved them. AND Martha is struggling.

I imagine her as the older sister – the responsible one. The one who keeps the household in order. Jesus is passing through Bethany and Martha has invited him for dinner. There is great excitement in the household. Martha has been preparing all day. Then Jesus arrives. He sits down and talks and teaches. Mary rushes to sit at his feet- even as she anoints his feet with perfume and her hair later in the gospel narrative. But someone needs to finish preparing the meal, make all things ready for Jesus and the other guests. Martha’s love language is cooking, hard work- she shows her love of Jesus with her hard work. She wants it to be nice. She wants it to be right. She does what she believes if required of her as a good host.

I recognize Martha. She is trying so very hard- to get it right, to do the right thing, to do what she believes she is supposed to be doing.

But she is working so hard, eventually she resents it. Her sister Mary is not helping at all. She is just sitting there- soaking Jesus up! Martha can’t stand it anymore- she interrupts and says: Jesus send her in to help me- she is just sitting there doing nothing while I work so hard. Tell her to help.

Jesus smiles. He understands Martha’s struggle- but rather than telling Mary to get with the program and help Martha- he teaches Martha. Martha, Martha, Martha: Mary has chosen the better part. I will not always be with you. The food can wait. BE with me.

MY REACTION: At first, I react to this story- with a little bit of outrage on Martha’s behalf – she has worked so hard; she has tried so hard to do what she thinks she is supposed to do- and Jesus corrects HER.

JESUS’ MEANING: But when we sit with Jesus’ meaning for a little longer – we see how in Jesus’ words his great love of Martha is revealed. He wants Martha to SEE: the discipleship journey begins in BEING with God, BEING in God and the sight that comes from that place.

CHRISTIAN TRADITION: Our tradition, the Christian tradition like most other religious traditions has framed much of its story around two poles. We have thought thinking that the point of our religion is one of two things(fancy great words but simple meanings):

Orthodoxy: right belief- we need to believe a certain way, we need to believe and think the right things OR Orthopraxy: right action— we need to DO the right things.

The story of Mary and Martha makes me think perhaps we have invested in framing our religious practice, in a way which does not lead us where we need to go.

ANGLICAN COMMUNION: Over the past several three decades that I have served as a priest, we have watched as the Anglican Communion in our era has torn itself apart over these pivots: we must believe this; we must do that. Of course the right belief and the right action have been poles of difference around which we have divided ourselves into camps and rigidly adhered to our own definitions of ‘rightness”. We have fought over the authority of Scripture, the role of women and most recently the place of differently gendered persons in our communities. Last week at our General Synod, the vote on the marriage canon narrowly failed – largely due to the voting system in our polity- the need for a 2/3 majority in three different houses. As a straight vote vote by houses the motion easily passed the required 2/3’s. But in any case, the motion failed.The pain and outcry over this has sent shock-waves across social media and our church world -with many words of rage, pain and anger expressed.

Our discipleship community which hopes to be a beacon of love and healing in the world is torn and broken and angry. I do entirely trust that although this is not where we would hope to be as a church- it is where we are. We can only move to the future from where we are and life as it is?

But then – Where to from here?

NEW FRAME: I think the Jesus teaching to Martha gives us a clue. Martha was trying very hard to get it right – as we all do. But Jesus said – leave the work for a time and come and BE with me.

So we see the possibility of a new frame for our tradition. Let’s make up for ourselves another fancy Greek word. This Christian story is not rightly framed as orthodoxy or orthopraxy – but as Ortho-ousia — right being. Jesus said: Come and BE with me.

What happens when we lay down our dish towels, our labour, our struggle to get it right in thought and action – and sit with God as our beginning place? As with Mary – we begin to SEE. We see the heart of the gospel story. We see the good news of God in Jesus. We begin to see who we ARE — beyond our choices and actions and thoughts, our struggles to get it right — we SEE. God made us. God in Jesus came to us to bring us home to that true sight that we are the beautiful beloved creation of God. Nothing we do. Nothing we think. Nothing we say, (fragile broken creatures of God) will ever separate us from this truth.

When we see all of this, each of us, created in love, named and known in love, held in love, awash in the golden light of the love of God for all that IS— things start to look different. Eyes illumined by love open a way of thinking and acting in the world which leads to healing, to forgiveness, to acceptance, to reconciliation, to Life. This of course in the path God intended for this world, the path God gave God-self to open in the person of Jesus.

Huron College Chapel Story: Thirty years ago I was a new professor in the Faculty of Theology at Huron College. As a young woman I held my convictions – whatever the topic — with great enthusiasm. I found myself in a conflict with the Principal of the college over one of these convictions. I was outraged at an action he had taken, which differed with my view of what was right. One Thursday morning I was sitting in the chapel waiting for the community Eucharist to begin. If you have been to the Huron College Chapel you will know that it is monastic seating- the pews face each other rather than the altar. As I sat quietly, the Principal came in. He sat immediately across from me. As I looked at him, I was filled with self-righteous indignation! Who did he think he was – coming in here to worship after what he had done. I was outraged. But then something happened – as I sat there filled with my self-righteous indignation, God acted. The chapel was bathed in a beautiful golden light. Everything was lifted up. Every division was healed – there was nothing in that space but perfect love. And I heard the voice of God – you know that voice that comes from a place which is heard not with the ears – I heard God say: He’s my child too. I love him too.” And I saw-in God nothing was broken, divided or unhealed – the immense love of God for all of creation, for every creature was much stronger than any conflict created by human hands. Love defines this creation- immense overwhelming perfect love.

Here and Now: As surely as God flooded that Huron College Chapel with light – God’s love floods this space now – and God says to each of us — you are my child; I love you. BE in me. As surely as God spoke in that Chapel 30 years ago God speaks now – to the person in the pew beside you, to your colleague, your neighbour, your child about whom you are so worried, your enemy, your Other, and says, He is my child too. I love her too.

The love of God is immense – an ocean of grace- it gathers us all in. No creature left behind. No child of God unloved. We do not have to work harder to earn it. We do not have to earn God’s love- or the right to be here and be loved- it is a gift- the gift of God to each of us. That is the vision that resides at the heart of the gospel, the sight that comes at the feet of Jesus.

This week we will have choices to make, work to do, places to go and people to see. Budgets to tend, meals to cook, conflicts to manage. As we hold the responsibility of our lives as free and conscious human beings through this week, I ask us to consider Jesus invitation to Martha – and so to us — very intentionally. Before you DO – come and BE with me.

As we ARE with God, I do entirely trust that we will see who WE ARE – beautiful, beloved, infinitely valued creatures all- in the light of that sight then- we will know what to think. We will know what to do. May grace enough for the living of these days abound in us all.

Copyright ©2019 by Wendy Fletcher