God is here – in your life, in this world – and will help you let go of your anxiety and distractions so you can see God’s grace and find the blessing God brings.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 16 C
Texts: Luke 10:38-42; Genesis 18:1-10a
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Abraham and Martha honored a sacred obligation in their culture.
Abraham would have been shamed if he’d let these three strangers walk by without offering hospitality. Martha did the only thing acceptable when a guest appears, welcomed them into her home.
And in both households two critical roles of hospitality were done well. Food and refreshment is central to hospitality, and Sarah and the servant prepared that for their guests, while Martha did that for Jesus.
But someone also needs to attend to the guests. You can’t just leave them alone in your entryway, or standing outside. So Abraham was with his three guests, found them shade under the tree. Mary sat with Jesus, made him welcome as the meal was prepared, attended to his needs.
We’re not going to pit these two sisters against each other. Jesus never did. The important thing in both these stories is not who had to do what role. All offered faithful, welcoming hospitality, gave blessing and gift. So if the problem isn’t that Martha cooked while Mary lounged, a completely unfair assessment, what is it?
It’s simple: Martha was “worried and distracted by many things,” Jesus says.
Maybe by whether the meal was coming together. Maybe Jesus was a surprise guest, and she worried whether she had enough in the house. Maybe she’d just had a hard week. Maybe Lazarus was looking tired and Martha was starting to worry he might be sick with something. Who knows?
Regardless of source, her anxiety and worry distracted her from enjoying Jesus’ visit.
I get that. There’ve been times when I was the main one preparing the meal for guests and I was anxious and distracted. Not about being the one making the meal – I enjoy that. It could have been anything. And then I’d feel, after the guests had left, that my state of mind cost me the pleasure of having them there.
Maybe you remember a celebration where you just weren’t fully present because your mind or spirit were roiled up, and afterward it felt like you missed all the fun. Or something you long expected ended up a disappointment because of your state when it actually happened. Maybe even here, in this place, you’ve missed out on the grace of the beautiful music, or God’s Word, or the Meal, because of your distraction.
But what made it worse for Martha was that God was visiting her house.
Like Abraham and Sarah. This wasn’t an ordinary guest, this was God-with-us, in our human flesh. And that was a huge loss for Martha. Because her problem really wasn’t her sister Mary, or cooking the meal. You know what it’s like to blurt out something in your worry or anxiety that’s only masking your deeper concerns, or to say something you regret. If she really wanted Mary to help, she’d have found a way to ask. They loved each other.
But she spoke to Jesus. And her question is deeply revealing of her anxiety: “Lord, do you not care?” She’s worried about her place in Jesus’ love.
And sadly, because of her anxiety and distraction, even if Jesus acted in love toward her, she probably missed it. We know that feeling, being our own worst enemies and missing what we dearly want because we’re in a state where we can’t see it. And so Martha misses the very presence of God in her house.
And that’s how you know what the “better part” is that Jesus hopes Martha can find.
And you, too. It has nothing to do with what roles you and I are playing in our lives, whether we’re like Martha, or Mary, or Sarah and the servant, or Abraham. The better part is learning to recognize God’s presence in your life, in this world, for healing and hope. And if you’re worried and distracted by many things, it’s going to be hard.
Do you feel despair and fear over the condition of our world, like so many of us do? It’s legitimate. But if that takes you over, you’ll lose the ability to see where God is moving and acting in this world.
Are you anxious about threatening, uncontrollable things in your life, or that of those you love? Most of us have felt that. But if you and I lean into that anxiety, we might lose the eyes to see where God’s love is moving and touching and bringing life.
And if you feel guilt or suffer from fear that you’re not enough, that you’ve done things you’re ashamed of, again, we’ve all felt that. But if that distracts and dominates your heart, how will you see when God looks at you with the deepest love and says, “you are my precious one, always?”
This is why you and I come here every week: to learn to see God’s presence in our lives and the world.
Sure, sometimes our distractions win the day, even here. But here we can find quiet for our spirit to breathe and rest. God’s gift of music pulls us out of ourselves and draws us into the presence of God. God’s Word speaks into our hearts of God’s hope for justice in this world, and calls us beloved. God feeds us with goodness and love. Here we learn what it is to be on holy ground, to see and sense God’s presence.
Here you also learn that all ground is holy, there’s no such distinction as sacred and secular. Your eyes are opened so when you step out into your life, into your world, you can see God’s presence everywhere. When you’ve learned here how to drop your anxiety and distraction and find joy in God with you, you’ll be able to do that better out there, in the holy, sacred ground that is all of God’s creation.
This is the better part that will never be taken from you or this world: God is with you, and in this whole creation.
And when God is present, God blesses you with faith and trust to see God even more clearly.
Martha’s trust in Jesus became so deep that, even as her brother was lying in his tomb, she made the Gospels’ greatest declaration of Jesus as God’s Christ, as God’s Son who’s come into the world. Mary’s devotion to Jesus became so profound that, she, and only she, sensed the coming tragedy as Holy Week began, and she poured out her love with costly perfume and her hair over Jesus’ feet. And Abraham and Sarah, each nearly a century old, received the blessing of a child, but more, the blessing of courage and trust that this God they risked everything to follow would always be with them.
That’s the blessing, the better part God wants for you and the whole creation. With the Spirit’s help, even you will be able to see and trust ever more deeply that God is with you and in the world, and rejoice in that.
In the name of Jesus. Amen