This blog has been very quiet of late, as I have been busy and have little say at present to the few people who kindly stop in here.  However, I preached this sermon on Sunday, 17 July, when I filled in for the rector at St. Margaret’s of Scotland in Barrie, Ontario, and it seems worth offering, given what’s happening at in Cleveland.  MP+

Texts for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost:  Amos 8:1-12 or Genesis 18:1-10a, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28 and Luke 10:38-42

as they were on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named
Martha welcomed him into her home” (Luke 10:38)


being part of a church in downtown Cleveland, Ohio this weekend.   There’s this guy coming to town, Donald
Trump, you may have heard of him, he’s a bit of a controversial character.   Trump will be in town for the Republican
National Convention, along with thousands of delegates, journalists, police
and, because it’s the USA and Americans get excited about politics, there will
be tens of thousands of protestors  Can
you imagine the traffic problems, the crowds, and even the threat of violence,
especially after the shootings in Dallas recently?  .   If
I went to a downtown church there, I would be tempted to skip this Sunday.

Street scene in Cleveland

I was
quite inspired to read about one downtown Cleveland congregation that is
definitely staying open this weekend.  
St. Paul’s Community Church is part of the United Church of Christ, with
a strong tradition of outreach to the homeless and poor.  The people of St. Paul’s have decided that
they will take in protestors looking for a place to rest and sleep.  It doesn’t matter if people or pro or
anti-Trump, they will all be welcomed if they put down their signs while they

The pastor there, Doug
Horner, told the New York Times that
“It’s a main Judeo-Christian-Muslim tenet that
whenever there are strangers in your community you welcome them.  You put your differences aside and you
welcome them. If they are hungry, feed them. If they need clothing, you give
them clothing. If they need shelter, you give them some place to stay.”

Most of us, I am sure, know something about what it takes to be
church.   We know that hospitality has a
cost attached.   Whether it’s taking in
protestors, feeding the homeless, participating in a school lunch program or
just the usual Sunday coffee hour, it takes time, effort, and money to welcome
and care for others.   It can be hard to
do these things when money is tight, time is short, and helping hands are
tired.  Nevertheless, we do these things
because we are called to do them.  Pastor
Horner in Cleveland talked about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tenet of hospitality,
which sounds impressive and high-fallutin’.  
For us as Christians, it means that we show love and hospitality, even
at a cost to ourselves, because we learned these things from Jesus.

Maybe you were in church last Sunday and heard the parable of the GoodSamaritan from Luke 10.   In that story,
Jesus teaches that love of God means love of neighbour, and our neighbour is
whoever we meet who has need of our help.  
The parable is very clear about the cost of love.  Besides his time and effort, the Samaritan
pays the innkeeper hard cash to look after the robbed and beaten man, and in a
lovely and concrete detail, he tells the innkeeper that “when I come back,  I will repay you whatever more you spend” .

Come this Sunday, we’re still in Luke 10. 
In fact, the story of Martha and Mary comes immediately after the
parable of the Good Samaritan.   Perhaps
Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples, is listening to him tell
the story of the Samaritan.  After all, I
am sure that Jesus, like all good teachers, reused his lessons.   So, while Mary is sitting there listening to
Jesus talking about the love that doesn’t count the cost, there is her sister
Martha, busy with all the tasks and pressures of hospitality, and Martha is
totally counting the cost.  Frustrated
and resentful, Martha asks Jesus to send Mary into the kitchen to help her, but
instead, Jesus seems, ever so gently, to chastise her.   “Martha, Martha, you are worried and
distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will
not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41).  
In other words, Martha, chill out. 
You should be cool, like Mary.

Most preachers like to stress how unusual it is for Mary to be sitting at
Jesus feet in the first place.  They like
to note that discipleship was a male domain, and domestic chores were reserved
for women.  Bishop NT Wright notes that
Mary has broken a major taboo because she has “shamelessly gone across the
short but steep gulf that separates male from female space” (Wright,
For All God’s Worth: True Worship and
the Calling of the Church, 86).
   In seeming to defend Mary’s right to sit and
listen, Jesus shows the same respect and equal treatment to women that he does
elsewhere in the gospels.   As a result,
many sermons seem to suggest that we should be more like Mary, an eager
disciple of Jesus, and less like busy and resentful Martha.

problem with this interpretation is that it ignores what Jesus has to say about
how hospitality is part of discipleship.   As we saw, the parable of the Good Samaritan
is all about selfless hospitality.   At
the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples, plus seventy others, out
onto the roads and tells them to count on the hospitality of others.   Later in Luke 10 these extra seventy
disciples return to Jesus and tell him how they got on.  For all we know, some of these seventy are
still with Jesus when he gets to Martha’s house at the end of Luke 10, because
all Luke tells us is that “as they
went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha
welcomed him into her home” (Lk 10:38).  
As far as I’m concerned, kudos to Martha for inviting Jesus along with
the usual twelve disciples.  That would
be a lot of work in itself, but if Jesus was travelling with a much larger
entourage, that pretty much qualifies Martha for instant sainthood.

So it’s
clear that Martha gets hospitality.  The
question for us is, what is the difference between Martha’s and Mary’s
attitudes, and why does Jesus say that Mary has chosen the better thing?  Christianity has a long tradition of using
Mary to describe a life of contemplation, self examination, and study of the
faith (the via contemplativa)  while
Martha is used to describe a life of active service (the via activa).   Sometimes the life of contemplation and
meditation is made out to be more important, when in fact it’s a bit of a false
distinction.     We can’t be disciples
unless we listen to scripture, hear sermons, and try to hear what Jesus says to
us in the gospels.   However, if send our
time listening to Jesus and never do anything, if we never give of our time,
our talents, and our wealth, then what good are we as disciples.  We are like salt that has lost its power.

Take St.
Paul’s Community Church in Cleveland.  
Why are they going to take in protestors and travellers when the city might
be engulfed in riots and chaos?   Why not
just batten down the hatches and ride out the storm?   I’m guessing that they are called to this
ministry because, like Mary,  they have
sat at the feet of Jesus and heard his commands to love and show love.   The same goes for any church where members
give sacrificially of their time, talent, and wealth because they want to
follow Jesus.  It shouldn’t be a matter
of choosing between volunteering at a soup kitchen or attending a bible
study.  The one reinforces the other, and
vice versa.  Both are parts of our lives
as disciples.

I’m not
entirely sure how to explain what “the one thing” is that Martha lacks.  Perhaps it’s a lack of patience, or a sense
of resentment against her sister.   Jesus
gently chides her for her distractions and concerns.   Perhaps that chiding might be helpful to us
as churchgoers as well.  I haven’t seen a
congregation yet that isn’t trying to do more with less.  As numbers fall, there are fewer and fewer
people to pay the bills, do the outreach, maintain the building, and act as
leaders.  Everyone ends up tired and
frazzled, like Martha.  Some of us fall
away.  For those of us who remain, our
message becomes confused.  We send
signals that we need new people for work and chores to keep the church going,
when in fact we need new people  because
people need to know Jesus.   I would go
further and suggest that the more we know Jesus, the more we will know what
Jesus wants us to do, and the happier we will be.

I’ve been
in Barrie long enough to know that the Anglican landscape is shifting.   A new ministry may be built around this
parish as other churches wind down their ministries and regroup here.   Personally, I hope that happens in a good
and life-giving manner for us all.  
However it happens, I hope and pray that we can ask the following
questions at all times.

  1. What
    is Jesus calling us to do?
  2. Are
    we listening to Jesus, as Mary did?
  3. Are
    we working, as Martha did, to allow others to listen to Jesus? 

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