JulieKellySermon for Ninth Pentecost -

Martha & Mary 
By Vicar Julie A. Kelly -


It was a dark and stormy night…
When we hear these words, we assume we know what comes next.  Drama, mayhem, scary moments and mystery.  So, when we hear the story of Martha and Mary, it is equally easy to fall into the habit of assuming we know what the message to follow will be as well.
But the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42) never sat very well with me. As a woman, I have always closely identified with both women and I have always felt I was wrong for that. But women do not have the corner on this story, men also relate to these roles, but it has also been used as a weapon against women for nearly two millennia. A weapon for women no matter which of the sisters they relate to. 
For example, the Martha in all of us who strives to do good work, to serve others and to care for the people in front of us, just as the Samaritan did, are ‘too busy.’  That somehow we have failed to be spiritual enough and that we need to stop worrying- that it will all get done.  Except that in my experience, when I stop and assume it will all get done- it rarely does.
I come from a stoic, German- Norwegian farm family that landed in the badlands and bitter winters of the Dakotas and Minnesota, where there was an awful lot of work to be done to simply survive.  The strong work ethic is deeply engrained in my people-the belief that we need only to work harder when we have hardship.  When we are hungry, work to ignore it or feed it.  When we are sad, work to get through it.  When we are hurting, if we work we will grow stronger and not hurt so much next time.  For us, God may have provided the manna, but the Israelites still had to bend over pick it up and put it in their own mouths- In other words, God helps those who help themselves. 
How are the laborers among us- the Martha’s- to hear the message from just last week of the Samaritan who goes out of their way to care for someone else, even when they have their own business to attend to already, and then hear this message of Martha being told to chill out and listen to Jesus? 
We are inundated with the same message to trust and let God provide the manna with which we will be fed.  But when I do, when I lay around for a day reading books that feed my soul, take naps that feed my body, and spend time in prayer and meditation that might look to you like floating in the pool and listening to my ipod, I hear the message that I am lazy, comments like, “it must be nice.”  The rest of the Bible is thrown in my face when I spend an afternoon just contemplating life and where God is in all of it.  But isn’t that what Mary was doing?

So when I read this story and recall the messages of society, I become agitated.  Like Martha, my heart becomes distracted and upset over preaching this difficult topic that never seems to be realistic. In all honesty,  even a sermon that attends to her distraction opposes the message of the Samaritan from last week because that Samaritan got distracted, too and let themself be caught up in the cares and concerns of another when they were already on the road to accomplish something else.  They could have been single minded like the priest and Levite on the road- but we all know what Jesus thought of that idea.
quote godwelcomesOurPresnceThen I read an address from the Reverand Dr. Caroline Lewis, Professor at Luther Seminary. She dared to suggest that this story is not about the comparison of two women and who was right or wrong.  She said we need to STOP comparing women.  Sisters, to stop comparing yourselves against each other, against me, against her.  Instead, the story of Martha and Mary is about something far more important and infinitely less destructive that trying to tell us we are not enough, no matter which person we identify with.  She boldy suggests that Martha and Mary teach us that women are invited to be disciples by Jesus directly- and that we do not even need invitation, because Mary is already doing so. 
Mary did not need the Pope to convene a special council to “look into” whether or not women could or should be ordained or could serve the church.  Instead, she knew it was so.  And Martha, obedient Martha, who follows all the social rules needed to hear that Mary didn’t need permission to do this, and Martha doesn’t either. 
And once again, Jesus is breaking the social constructs! The role of a woman was certainly not to run out to greet the guest and invite them in, that was the man’s role.  It was not to be present and visiting with men, but to be in the kitchen or caring for household duties.  And it most certainly was not to learn and be taught directly, let alone to be taught as a disciple who would share the Word of God alongside men. 
The interaction between Martha and Jesus is not a chastisement to women for failing to do the right thing, it is a clarification for all people that we are invited already. Jesus changes the next line- which in turn changes the entire story, not just for women, but for all of us.    The kingdom of God is not about social constructs, but instead is about freedom; freedom to be a woman who preaches and a man who sings lullabies and teaches preschoolers, to be a woman is smart and capable and not a sex object, freedom to be a woman or a gay man and an Army Ranger, to be a child from the Ghetto becomes a neurosurgeon and a tattooed, recovering addict who can be a wildly successful preacher of God’s Word. 
Martha and Mary are not constrained to the limits of who society thinks they are supposed to be- but freed by the Word of Christ- which feeds them and sustains them in their daily duties. 
This passage is not a comparison, but a revelation of who Christ is and who we are in Christ. 
The passage says, “Martha welcomed him as a guest.” God is revealed through Christ, who comes to us and accepts our limited welcome and hospitality. God comes to us.  Every ONE of us.
The passage says, “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened.” Our God welcomes our presence and participation, no matter who we are or are not.  No matter our gender, our sexuality, age, skin color, social status, or education, our God desires to engage directly with us and revels in our learning.
The passage also says, “Martha was distracted” and “came to Jesus” to complain.  In her actions, we are revealed as a people who can go to our God directly- not only to sit in adoration, or to learn, present and silent, but we are people who  can challenge and complain and our God is revealed to be one who receives our cares and concerns, hearing them and then freeing us from fear and limitations.
Finally, the passage says, “it will not be taken away.” The world will try to steal our hope and joy, it surely will steal our youth, our prosperity, and our energy, innocence, and in the end our very life.  But it cannot steal our promise of eternal life or our faith- for these are given to us by Christ on the cross, and they are nurtured and prospered by the Holy Spirit, through communion and community in the Kingdom of God as it is right here and now. 
It was a dark and stormy night… and the fire leapt as the family laughed, hugged, and played games, laughing as the sky cleared and the stars appeared in their multitude.
The world may tell us to compare, to limit ourselves, to restrict to social constructs, that we are not the right height or weight, age or gender, color or sexuality.  The world may tell us that we belong in our place, but Jesus, our Savior, changes the story, and tells us that our place is as a disciple, that we are of value, and need no invitation already have the right to be bold, to be faithful, to be unique and are already called through the promise of life and salvation Christ procured for us on the cross. We are freed to be not Martha or Mary, but just me, just you, just us, perfected in our created being by the love and promise of Jesus Christ.

Julie A. Kelly
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California

Martha & Mary
Sermon for Ninth Pentecost
Written by Julie A. Kelly
July 17, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California


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