Sermon from July 21st, 2019

Audio includes readings, sermon, and offertory.

Offertory: Clare de Lune by Harriet Adkins.

2019 July 21 Order of Service

Out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing. Not loving is a letting go. Listen, the terrain around here is far too dangerous for that.

I called through your door,
“The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!”

“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”

“I don’t care if you’re dead!
Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!”

Amos 8:1-8
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’ Then the Lord said to me,
‘The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings on that day,’
says the Lord God;
‘the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!’

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

Qur’an 5:8
O you who believe! Be always upright for God, bearing witness to justice, and do not let the hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety; fear God, verily God is fully aware of all what you do.

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went along, he came to this village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. And she had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Master’s feet and listened to his words. But Martha kept getting distracted because she was doing all the serving. So she went up to Jesus and said, “Master, doesn’t it matter to you that my sister has left me with all the serving? Tell her to give me a hand!”

But the Master answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about a lot of things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has made the better choice and it’s something she will never lose.”

sisters lucille clifton
me and you be sisters.
we be the same.
me and you
coming from the same place.
me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.
me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.
me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.
me and you
got babies
got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.
only where you sing,
I poet.

A feminist reading.

Mary by sitting at the feet of Jesus takes the posture of student to teacher. Mary shows that she has a mind. She takes the position that is reserved for males. Females are to serve while the men listen to the teacher. Martha represents the pressure to conform to established, orthodox, gender roles and tries to shame her sister, Mary, into doing the job assigned to her by patriarchy. Jesus, by siding with Mary, provides divine approval for women to become equal with men. He is challenging gender roles by proclaiming that Mary has a choice at all and that she made the better choice. Mary is the model and the saint for women who have crossed gender boundaries and claimed positions reserved for men.

A labor reading.

Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus represents the elite. Martha represents the labor force, those who provide and prepare food so that the elite can sit and engage in lofty discussion. Martha is requesting justice by asking Mary, who is acting like an elite, to do her fair share of labor. Martha is not granted justice by Jesus but shaming. Jesus siding with Mary is typical of elite who make their living with words and ideas rather than labor. Their work is more important than the work of those who make, prepare, and serve food. Clergy, professors, and managers see this passage as offering divine sanction for their so-called work of word-smithing while the real work of the world, represented by Martha, is devalued as not as important and not as important as Mary’s choice. Thus the hypocrisy. “Mary made the better choice, Martha. By the way, would you make me a sandwich?”

This passage is a popular one for preachers. I quickly glanced on-line and saw that there are number of videos of sermons with titles like, “Trying to Be Mary in a Martha World” or “Everybody is Hustling” and so forth. This conflict resonates in the lives of both home and in church. Martha has become the patron saint of those who do the work that needs to be done even when it isn’t valued.

In biblical passages that feature Jesus taking a side, it is expected that we are supposed to side with what Jesus said. Mary is right. Martha is wrong. But what is often missed is the context or matrix, the patriarchy or the elitism behind it all. Jesus is a male. And he is a teacher. The others in this text are women. No one else is named. Is no one else around? Did Jesus arrive alone? Or does he have an entourage of men who want sandwiches? What about Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary? OK, I am stealing him from another gospel story, but let’s say he lives in the house, too. What is he doing? Is he serving? Or is serving just women’s work?

We might look differently at the story if it is just three people versus a whole houseful.

I cannot read this passage and not think of my mother. She was constantly serving. Three meals a day for whoever was in the house plus snacks and cookies and she was always up and down. My father would, “Sit down, Olive, you’re making me nervous.” She couldn’t sit for too long not when there were people around who needed to be served, including my father.

Beyond gender, and elitism and roles that are assigned, there are personalities, too. The Mary and the Martha. I can imagine Martha singing to Mary, the song from Leon Redbone, “Lazy Bones.”

Now, lazy bones, loafin’ through the day
How you ‘xpect to make a dime that way?
You’ll never make a dime that way
Never heard a word I say

Mary, the daydreamer, just doesn’t quite get into the work like her sister does. She wants something different. She spends every moment she can dreaming up ideas and writing songs.

True for a lot of families I expect. Marthas and Marys.

Did Martha have a right to complain? Why did she complain? Could she have taken the position Mary did but just chose not to do so? Would she rather just work and complain about it? Is she envious of her sister? On the other hand, isn’t it easy for the daydreamers to expect service on one hand and devalue the work on the other? Isn’t it an act of pure love to prepare a table for a guest? What is more like heaven than that? How we respond to questions like those may indicate whether we are more like Martha or Mary.

Either way, I have to think the ultimate response of Jesus is one of love for both Martha and Mary, and for Martha and Mary to love themselves as lucille clifton put it:

be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters

Marthas and Marys are both needed in our world.

Both are needed more than ever.

The other passage from the lectionary is from Amos. It is a passage of judgment. The Hebrew words for fruit and end sound similar, so the “basket of summer fruit” and “the end has come” are a play on words.

The end is coming. It is coming because injustice is not sustainable. Those who exploit last for a season, but the season comes to an end eventually.

The passage is not a pleasant one, even as it is poetic. Judgments and wailing.

Unless of course, you are the poor and needy who have been exploited, sold into slavery for a pair of shoes. Then the end doesn’t sound so bad at all. It sounds like justice. Hear their story. Hear their complaint:

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

We are headed for an end.

Earth and its creatures are not treated with justice by the elite of this world. By many measures, that imbalance between the top 1% and the other 99% or perhaps the top 7% and the 93% is growing.

The call from Amos is to recognize this. That is assuming Amos still speaks to us today. That we can see our world in this oracle. Know this inequity exists and it cannot last. The moral fabric of the universe will not allow injustice to last.

Do we believe that or not?
Do we want to hear it whether or not we believe it?
Do we want to do anything about it?

I wonder if that was the kind of thing Jesus was telling Mary as she sat at his feet. I wonder if Martha, amidst her distractions, also heard it. The stuff that Amos said is the same stuff that Jesus said. It is the same stuff that Moses said. It is the same stuff several centuries later, that Mohammad said.

Inequity is unsustainable.
It will not last.

So, Mary, you with your imagination. You with your love of learning. You with your ability to sit and listen and think and imagine and sing and create, you, you are needed. You are needed more than ever to hear divine wisdom and to share it. Study it. Learn it. Speak it. Sing it. Shout it.

Dear Martha, you with your tireless love of service. You who pray with leathered and calloused hands. You who delight in the comfort of your guests. You who are the first to volunteer to get things done. You, you are needed. You are needed more than ever to enact divine wisdom. Serve and show what hospitality and justice is by your actions. Serve. Love. Create.

Mary and Martha. Both are needed. Both are loved. Both are cherished.

Both are summoned to save the world.