Making Love our True Focus – a sermon on Luke 10

13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oI’ve always had a problem with the story of Martha and Mary.

For a long time, I took issue with the fact that Jesus seems to prefer Mary’s sitting and listening to Martha’s hospitality and doing…

I suspect that this bothers me because I myself identify strongly with Martha in this story.

And frankly, I know that I am not the only person for whom this is true…

The work needs to be done, gosh darn it, and more than that, hospitality and the gift of welcome is critically important in the life of faith…

…as is taking time for reflection and learning.

Today’s story sometimes sets up a false dichotomy between the two, as if it is a problem to have an active rather than contemplative life of faith…

when in reality, a healthy, thriving life of faith is both, both Martha and Mary, both active and contemplative.

More recently, the story of Martha and Mary bothers me also because of the competition inherent in it.

The moment we hear Jesus utter the phrase “the better part”, we read competition and resentment between the two sisters.

Our society can, often unconsciously, socialize women to be each others worst enemies, and the reason for this, is of course…

…is that it is easier to have women divided against each other in anxiety than for women to be united and to take a stand against the collective issue that discriminates against them: sexism.

It bothers me, that we tend to hear, yet again in this story, two talented, gifted women, whose energies seem to be directed in competition with each other,

rather than in doing what is best for God and the world.

Now, we know that this is not the intent of today’s story.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Rather than creating a life of faith that is based on competition, on who is in and who is out, Jesus instead emphasizes the full inclusion of the life of faith.

After all, in a time when women were often relegated to purely domestic roles, Jesus affirms Mary’s role as a disciple.

She is as worthy of engaging in the teachings of Christ as anyone else.

Martha is a disciple too.

In fact, a more accurate translation of today’s gospel reads that, Martha was distracted by her “much serving”.

The word for serving, is diakonos, the root of our word for deacon, a minister who specializes in service to God and the world.

Martha’s service is just as valuable; it is a true ministry.

I believe the ultimate point of today’s gospel is not to set up competition between the sisters, or dichotomies in the life of faith…

but instead to remind us about the ultimate point, the reason behind what we do.

In Martha and Mary’s case, it is offering true hospitality to the guest in their midst.

In our case, it is about how we seek and serve Christ in all persons.

And the moment when it becomes about something else, about distraction, over busy-ness, resentment, fear, who is in or who is out…

…then we’ve gotten off track about what it truly means to follow Jesus.

We’ve been inundated lately in our society, by the language of resentment, competition and divisiveness.

Our political situation seems intractably divided, and the language of politicians across the political spectrum has often been adversarial.

And at its worst, such language outright pits groups of people against one another,

preying on peoples’ resentments and desperation and fears, to turn peoples’ energies not towards a solution,

but towards exclusion and anger towards one another.

We’ve seen people targeted in Orlando in a terrorist act of violence, because of their sexual orientation.

We’ve seen people killed, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, police officers in Dallas; violence welling up from deep racial divisions in our country.

I suspect that many of us have our own internal sense of anger, a desire to hold someone accountable for the divisions we are in.

I could go on.

This blaming, fear mongering, pitting of people against each other, it all distracts us from addressing the real issues that afflict us:

racism, isolationism, a culture of violence, persistent poverty, a lack of opportunity…

But I would say, as one biblical scholar says, that at the heart of all of this is “an inherent,

systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love.”

The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That not all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.”

We’re lost, we’ve gotten so distracted, so afraid, we can forget even our own country’s best democratic ideals…

to say nothing of what it means to see Christ in ourselves and in other people and to act accordingly.

Worries and distractions, if they take us away from our true calling, to love God and our neighbor….

can actually become idols for us, or a form of sin, that pull us away from God and each other.

When Jesus talks about the better part, the part that will not be taken away from us….

he is referring to the love we have in Christ and for each other in Christ.

If we make that love our consistent true focus, then worries and distractions, anger and fear, start to melt away.

Or, as one bible scholar puts it, “Mary and Martha cannot be about the better thing that means who is better, who acts better, who can be better.

The better thing is the invitation to believe that you are who God sees you to be.”

And that those around us are also beloved in the eyes of God.

I often joke that I know that God is great, because God loves everyone.

It can be very difficult sometimes, for us to love other people as God loves them.

But simply knowing that God does love them, even if we have a hard time with it ourselves, makes a difference.

It is impossible to see belovedness in someone and still hate them.

It is impossible to see God’s love in the world and still feel afraid.

It is impossible to see God’s presence in our work and still feel burdened.

The life of faith is not about comparison, who is in and who is out.

We are all in, in the eyes of God.

Our life of faith is about completion, not competition.

The life of faith is about when things are better—the coming of God’s kingdom, not who is better.

The life of faith is about why things are better—because we are all beloved by God, not what is better.

I truly believe that God’s kingdom breaks in on us, that we get glimpses of what God’s love is like in our loving relationships with each other.

With such a wider view of God’s kingdom, I suspect that we might come to see more of the world, including ourselves, as a part of it.

And when we see God’s kingdom in our midst, we cannot help but participate in it, to help make the kingdom of God even more a reality in this world.

Mary and Martha are two sisters who love each other; they are two women who Jesus loves deeply.

Like us.

Loving and beloved, serving God and our neighbor, working on behalf of God’s kingdom in the world.