July 21, 2013  — Pentecost 9

Rev. David Boyd


I remember some years ago being at some Church conference where the workshop leader was talking about spirituality and changing attitudes in the Church. She said at one point, when she was talking about spirituality and the work of the Church in social justice, "Don't just do something, sit there." We all laughed thinking she'd made a mistake. The phrase is, "Don't just sit there, do something." Or so we thought. She was advocating that all of our social action and justice work needs to be grounded in who we are. She felt that in the 80's and 90's our sense of being had become detached from what we were doing in the Church. Instead, she suggested, what we do has to be rooted in our being. Our actions and our behaviours rise from our sense of being. I remember her also saying something like, "God created beings to do things." In other words, we are created as beings first. Then we do things.

The workshop leader's idea was provocative and thoughtful and goes to the very heart of the story from Luke's gospel for today, and the whole reason for baptism, which we are celebrating today. Baptism is an affirmation of our createdness; it is an affirmation of being. All life is affirmed in baptism.

First, though, the story from Luke. On the surface this is a fairly easy story to understand. Martha greets Jesus as he comes into her and Mary's home. Mary sits at Jesus' feet absorbing the teaching that Jesus is offering. Martha complains that her sister isn't doing enough and Jesus rebukes her by saying that Mary has chosen the better way. This story has annoyed more than a few women in the church who are hard workers. This superficial reading of the story has annoyed more than a few feminists in the Church, too! So, to open up this story a bit.

Firstly, we must presume that Lazarus is present; Lazarus was Mary and Martha's brother and John's Gospel tells us that he lived with them. But Martha still welcomes Jesus into HER home. Because we know that he lived with his sisters Mary and Martha, he likely was present. The general expectation was that the eldest male of the household would welcome the guest into the home. And yet we are told that Jesus was welcomed by Martha into HER home. It was not Lazarus' home. And what is more, Jesus receives the welcome. This is the first clue that we are in for something that will challenge our thinking.

The second clue that we are in for something different is that Mary sits at Jesus' feet as a disciple. In those days, women did not become disciples. Their task, which Martha continues, was to serve the men and maintain the household. And Jesus doesn't miss a beat; he continues his teaching and accepts Mary as one of his disciples. This is not Mary of Magdala; this is another Mary. In fact, Jesus affirms Mary's choice over Martha's.

The third clue that we are in for something different is Jesus' response to Martha. He comments on the fact that she has become distracted by many things and that she is worried. It isn't so much her attention to hospitality that Jesus criticizes but the worry and distraction. Jesus has something to say about anxiety and worry over insignificant things. And that's sure a message that we need to hear today; how we worry over insignificant things. Jayne Slawson often led devotionals at meetings while reading out of the book Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Jesus affirmed the two women of this story, Martha and Mary. He affirmed Martha as the head of her household and received her greeting and welcome. He affirmed Mary as a disciple, as one who wanted to learn and be still. He affirmed that we all get caught up in anxieties and worry over details which in the long-run aren't that important; Jesus reminded us that when we do things, we need to be intentional and mindful of what we are doing.

What is at stake here is our sense of being. We live in a society that is very focused on doing. We have to be active and busy otherwise we aren't so sure who we are. The western world is very doing oriented. And that's great. There is nothing wrong with that. We need, all of us, to be about doing... preparing supper, cleaning our homes, attending to chores and responsibilities. But as always, Jesus opens us up to think sideways about things. Who are we as we are doing? Who are we at our core? "Don't just do something, sit there."

When I was younger, and even still today, I was always the dreamer of the group. I can hunker down and do things, but my mode of being is to think about things. I like the psalm that we read today, which speculates about God knowing us and how deeply God knows us. One of the reasons that I liked Scouts so much when I was young was because I could marry my normal way of being with doing. In Scouts you were earning badges; I liked that because the badges were related to some core value of who I was... the badges were related to my BEING. And being hospitable and honourable and welcoming and helpful was what being a Scout was about.

In our baptism of Pheona this morning is our reminder of what's important. Life is important, the lives of children are important. It's important to nurture our relationships. This weekend our Church has been about two weddings and a baptism. All these things are about affirming important relationships and making covenants. Weddings are covenants between two people, and about creating a new constellation of relationships of family and God. Baptism is about joining a community of faith and pledging to live out the values of love, compassion and hospitality. These are questions of being that lead us to do important things.

In baptism today, not just Alyxa and Justin have made promises; we all have. We have made promises to live by the value of love, compassion and hospitality. We have pledged to serve one another in love and to care for the world in which we live. We have acknowledged that God has affirmed each of us as unique and special in God's sight. We are all children of God, equal and full of worth. By our presence here today, we promise to live the values of the Commonwealth of God, where all are respected for who they are not for what they've done or achieved; achievements are important, but the wonder of the Commonwealth is that we are accepted for who we are in the depths of our beings. We celebrate that today in the baptism of Pheona.

Jesus affirmed Mary and Martha both, and the place of women in this upside Commonwealth of God's. God has affirmed in baptism today, Pheona and all of us. Now, as we have celebrated our beingness (if that's a word), "don't just sit there, do something." Now, we can go forth, affirmed for who we are, to do the work of the Commonwealth, that is to share God's love and compassion with all and practice the radical hospitality of welcome!