Sermon for July 21, 2019 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost “The Blessing of Spaces”
Growing up it was expected that we all take piano lessons. The lessons were fine; the practice was always a challenge. We had a normal house, the piano was in the living room, and though dad never complained, I am sure that he despises Fleur Elyse to this day. He had to endure five children learning that piece. For that piece of music and every piece of music it is essential to pay attention to the spaces. So often we get fixated on the notes that we lose sight of the spaces that allow the notes to make sense.
The Gospel lesson for today teaches us to pay attention to the spaces. Those moments of essential teaching and attention to Jesus that makes everything else make sense. As Mary, Martha and Jesus were friends he often stopped in to see them. As was the custom, hospitality was offered to Jesus and in fact to all who come to visit. One fact we often forget is that Jesus did have a life before his ministry began and Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30. There is a whole life we can only speculate on but we do know that Jesus was a frequent visitor to his friends in Bethany.
As the story unfolds, Mary is interested in the teachings of Jesus and wants to know more and Martha has taken her place preparing for her friends needs. As always, there is more going on than meets the eye. The un-noticed spaces are there to remind us of the depth and scope of Jesus life.
As we step back and look at a broader picture we soon discover that impact of the spaces. The teaching of Rabbi’s was exclusively to the men, women had other roles. Jesus felt at home while visiting his friends as witnessed by the casual atmosphere and intimate gathering. Jesus uses the opportunity to point to the one important thing that makes all others necessary. Again we see Jesus adjusting the well held stereotypes that only men could know the true heart of God and the message of Jesus. I expect Mary sat on the floor because all the seats were occupied by men. The message is that the teachings of Jesus are available to and for all.
When Martha interrupts and nearly demands that Mary find her place in the kitchen, Jesus response at first hearing seems harsh. Again I think it is vital to step back and look for the spaces that enable the teaching to make sense. From this place, I hear Jesus saying: our first priority of follows of Jesus is to be followers, to know deep in our heart and soul the teachings, to spend time with Jesus by his words and in prayer. From that place or space we can discern what then needs to be done. The teaching is that Jesus is that ‘light at our feet’ the guide of our heart and soul and from that place all our other efforts emerge.
This is one of the attributes I love about St. Mark’s, your first priority is about a personal relationship with Jesus, to call on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to influence decisions and directions. Then to take action on what you are called to do. Some actions seemed easy and others were a leap of faith. That will not change moving forward. God knows that the mission and ministry of Jesus would be a disaster is all we did was sit at his feet and listen, equally so if we never left the kitchen. What God does know is that the starting place was, is and always will be spending enough time at the feet of Jesus so that what happens in the kitchen becomes a ministry of faithfulness and joy, not one of duty.
Martha’s challenge is not her ministry in the kitchen. As Cynthia Jarvis points out “What is the church to make of Jesus’ harsh words to Martha? The nature of hospitality is realized to attending to one’s guest, yet Martha’s speech is centered on ‘me’ talk” “lord do you not care that my sister has left ME to do all the work by MYSELF? Tell her to help ME” When that language becomes about ME then it is time to get out of the ‘kitchen’ and sit at the feet of Jesus.
If you were to ask my dad about those days of listening to five children practice the piano, I know he would smile and say it was music to his ears. We do not need to ask Jesus what he thinks, all we need do is be aware of the blessings that surround us that enable ministry to flourish and we know in our heart that Jesus is smiling and encouraging and sustaining us on the journey.