I begin by sharing with you a memory. In a land and time now far away, I was at a beautiful dinner party. It had been an elegant, almost perfect, evening, except for the edge of anxiety that only people like Woody Allen or the Coen Brothers could put onto the silver screen. We all were new to each other at the table, the only common denominator being the hosts who invited us. But they were, well, dysfunctional. Their desire to produce a perfect evening was so great that they were overwhelmed by performance anxiety. They SO wanted it to go well, and with a dramatic splendor unnatural to them. So eager to impress were they that when the grand finale of cherries jubilee was introduced the evening actually became an alcohol bath. The carriage for the bowl of cherries was there, but not the bowl of cherries itself. Dramatically looking at his guests and not at the place where the cherries were supposed to be, the host poured the ladle of brandy directly through the empty center of the carriage onto the beautiful linen table cloth. Good thing that the match was not lit immediately after!
At this moment I confess that I have just some anxiety about when and where to pour the brandy, so to speak. After two orientations accompanied by detailed printed instructions and a map from Pastor Liebster about how to “do” the divine drama of hospitality in this gorgeously graced place, I confess that I may not perform the kabuki-like details perfectly. I imagine you have some concern, too. Who IS this guy? Does he know what he’s doing? Will he treat us well? Can he follow the script? Will he lavish us with the love of God and not singe the table cloths? What is an Interim Pastor, anyway?
Last question first. Like any pastor, I am here to accompany you in deep discernment of how the font and pulpit and table center of Christ the King Lutheran Church will shape the next chapter of your beautiful life. In so doing, I commit to being with and for you in the deeper detail of your own lives, no matter how I likely will miss a few cues along the way, for I am not worried. I am not worried because the one whose peace and truth transcends and heals all anxieties is here at the center of it all. Jesus Christ is at the center of your life, whether you acknowledge that or not. Jesus Christ is at the periphery of your life, whether you see and feel and hear him, or not. Jesus Christ will have you and free you with his presence. Jesus Christ is in this house. When Jesus Christ is in the house, the whole economy is changed for the better.
Consider what happened when Jesus came to Mary and Martha’s house. Many things are happening in this story, beginning with the fact that the house was Mary and Martha’s. Two women had their own home in a society where women mattered not as much as men. Secondly, Martha initiates hospitality; this single woman invites a single man to her home. There Martha endeavors to provide the kind of hospitality that is among the highest values in their culture. I do not know that this Martha went to the extreme of hospitality that, say, a certain Martha of today might instruct on a television show. But Martha was working up a sweat to lavish Jesus with love in her hospitality. It is important to understand Martha’s hospitality was a good and noble thing, especially expected of those of a privileged society, living there in Israel’s version of Rice Village.
But a revolution is happening here. When Jesus is in the house, the economy is changed. The word “economy” means “the house order;” oikos means ‘house;’ nomos “rule” or “order.” Jesus changes the order of things by observing Martha’s anxious need to do right according to the social rules of that day. He doesn’t scold Martha; he compassionately points out that she would do better to salve her anxious soul by sitting like Mary at his feet and listening to the rabbi. That, we must know, was also a revolutionary act itself. In a world where only men’s lives mattered enough to be allowed at the feet of rabbis, Jesus invited all individual and unique lives—men, women, brown, black, white, CIS, whomever—to sit at his feet and listen. Jesus’ loving insightful counsel to Mary meant for her and for us that our active love for the neighbor can only flourish when we take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet. One cannot burn out unless one is first there to be set on fire. Otherwise the fine brandy is wasted. As he promised, Jesus pours spirit on the souls who sit with him, who hear him, who look on him eye to eye.
Jesus has been in this house for a long time. You have been at his feet and have served so well. We together have the gift of more hearing and doing. The revolutionary economy of this place serves so well God’s intentions of justice and mercy, about which the larger world now shows daily that it is ignorant. Anxiety and rage infect so many other houses. Violence compounds daily. Terrorists and politicians unknowingly ally by capitalizing on fear and hate for their own selfish ends. They return darkness for a darkness that only the light of love can correct.
This week we are invited by our synod Bishop Rinehart, Bishop Muench of the Baton Rouge Roman Catholic Diocese, and many other ecumenical leaders, to very concrete about prayer and reflection. They ask us this week to pray daily with concern for racial justice. After all, prayer without action is hypocrisy, and action without listening to God is foolishness. Would you pray and ask yourself this week these questions? Why is there racial injustice? Why do we turn to violence? Where is God when tragedies happen? How is God calling us together and individually to respond?
We pray, we can pray and reflect, because Jesus is in the house. In this house. Jesus is in your more private spaces, too. As has happened here so well, so also for God’s future for Christ the King, so also for God’s future for each and every one of you, Jesus means to anchor your heart in peace, in trust, in the intimate confidence (in Pastor Liebster’s beautiful words) of God’s “lavish love for each of you,” because each of you and every neighbor matter as the wonderful unique works of art you are, made by the God who loves each of you in your differentness as only God can love.
My call as an interim pastor, which is the call of every baptized beloved child of God, starts right at Jesus’ feet; where we listen and pray, so to be lit like brandied cherries present to the patient fire of God’s Spirit. In Luke, you see, the ministry of Jesus is portrayed always as what happens when the long-prayed for economy of God has finally arrived, when all celebrate human dignity and all anxieties are stilled, when faith is active in love and peace-filled hearts do justice. When we sit at Christ’s feet and therefrom perform (to use Pr. Liebster’s beautiful phrase) his “lavish love,” it is called jubilee. Like for Abraham and Sarah and Mary and Martha before, God is in the house.