9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – July 17, 2016 – Genesis 18:1-10a, Luke 10:38-42
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Stop, Listen, See, Love – Pastor Evan Davis
You know how the Salvation Army has Christmas in July? It’s a good effort for a good cause. So imagine with me: It’s Christmas Eve. You’re at home. The home where you grew up. The presents are under the tree. The lights are twinkling in the windows. A mouth-watering aroma is wafting from the kitchen. You’re sitting on the couch with Dad and the kids. I have just one question: where’s Mom?
Yeah, she’s in the kitchen, isn’t she? Now that’s not a bad place to be, is it? She probably loves it. Or maybe she doesn’t and one year she swears one of you is going to make this roast so help her Lord. It’s pretty automatic, right, that Mom is in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, on Thanksgiving, when beloved friends or honored guests come to visit? Or at our church dinners?
Now, this is an area where we could talk all day and I could get into trouble real fast… But I can’t ignore it. It seems to be what unites our two readings from Genesis and Luke today. Abraham is hanging out by his tent under the oaks of Mamre, the place of promise God had told him to purchase. It’s hot. He’s spacing out. He looks up and three men, three mysterious visitors are standing there. How’d they get there? Who are they? Whoever they are, Abraham feels compelled to address them, “my lord.” Stay here. Let us take care of you, wash your feet, rest. We’ll feed you. They say, “ok.” What’s the first thing Abraham does? “Sarah! Oh…Sarah! Dear, would you make some cakes for these distinguished gentlemen here?” He does at least pick out the calf to serve…but he finds a servant to prepare it.
Luke records but a variation on the theme. Jesus and his disciples are tired after a long day of walking from village to village, and a woman named Martha does what she is expected to do. She welcomes them into her home. She moves quickly and decisively from place to place doing the many things needed to make the home ready to welcome a large party of guests…making fires, sweeping out the room, fetching water, chopping vegetables, kneading dough, preparing things to eat. In the tradition of Abraham and Sarah…well, Sarah, offering a generous hospitality to holy visitors, what Martha does is honored by her neighbors, by her society, and she probably feels pretty good about it herself. This is hardly a distraction, as Luke calls it in his narration. She’s focused on the task at hand. As someone who has carefully polished glasses for many a banquet, who has made sure every detail is perfect for a conference, and waited on plenty of tables, and watched you expertly welcome me and others in the congregation to your homes, I can say with confidence that fine hospitality is an art, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
Just about every culture I know of in the world places this kind of high value on good hospitality. Maybe because our cultures emerged in an era when you had to depend on each other a bit more than today, when families, and strangers, mixed with each other more than we do now. If only that good-for-nothing sister Mary would get off the floor and do something useful for a change.
But isn’t it interesting? What is Mary doing? She is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying. Do you know who does that? Disciples. Disciples do that. They sit at the feet of their teacher, listen, and learn. Mary was probably sitting with the disciples, with all the men. For whatever reason, maybe just chutzpah, spunk, self-confidence, Mary moves right out of the box society had constructed for her and takes her rightful (she thought) place with the men. Far from disapproving this, Jesus not only commends her, but he scolds Martha for being so caught up in the things she is expected to do, even good and positive things, that she cannot see the new thing he is doing…which is to open up an entirely new world of opportunity not just to Mary but also to her.
Did you notice how the story with Abraham and Sarah ends? Sarah does not remain simply Abraham’s gopher. She becomes the star of the show. She is the one who’s been chosen to bear the child of promise…the long-awaited child who will bear the promise given to Abraham, to him and all his descendants.
God interrupts even things that we see as clearly good and positive to speak a life-giving and life-expanding word to someone. To someone like Sarah. To someone like Mary, and to someone like Martha. Both hear something life-altering. It makes me wonder. Do we always believe that everyone gets to hear that word?
I want you to hear clearly today that God can and is speaking that word to you. Stop and listen. God made you. God loves you. God does not promise an easy life, not a life free from stresses or tragedies or loss, but God promises to be with you. And God promises that no matter what this world tells you, you matter to God. Not that you’re the center of the universe. It’s not all about you. It’s not that the world owes you something. Not that you don’t have your problems or that you aren’t capable of terrible things, not that you have not sinned…but that you are loved anyways. You are not defective. By God’s grace, you deserve to be here as the person you are. That’s a life-changing word that everyone needs, and deserves to hear. Mary heard it. I believe that eventually Martha heard it. Sarah and Abraham both heard it.
Stop and listen. Stop to tell someone else. Stop to consider whether you have placed any of your neighbors into that proverbial box. Are you pretending that God has not spoken this life-giving word to them? Stop to see your neighbors as people God loves just as much as you, as people who deserve to be here just as much as you.
But please…stop to consider what this means for you. How are you going to love and respect the you God made today? How are you going then to offer who you are and what you have in love for others today? How will you be the person God made you to be today? This is not some great thing. It’s simple. See yourself, know yourself, love yourself. See your neighbor, know your neighbor, love your neighbor. Amen.