July 21, 2013
The Rev. Karin I. Liebster
Pastor for Faith Formation
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you talk about at your dinner table? Whether you are a family and sit around the table together a lot, or whether you are alone and meet with friends at home, in restaurants or at church, – what do you talk about at dinner? The daily dinner or the festive holiday table?
We have two stories today which invite us in to listen in on what other people talk about or are led to talk about:
The story of Abraham and Sarah who prepare a sumptuous overflowing festive meal for their three (or is it one? – nobody knows) visitors in the desert oasis by the oaks of Mamre, and the story of Martha and Mary who welcome Jesus into their home. In our imaginations let us slip by their side and join them at their tables.
Abraham and Sarah’s meal is of understated yet most generous oriental hospitality: with quantities of flour for bread enough to feed an army and choice meat prepared only for special occasions. It’s like a heavenly banquet. And indeed the visitors are heavenly visitors, it is the Lord God, and the air is full of promise. The promise of a son is repeated, Abraham and Sarah will have a son within a year. What a surprise at the dinner table! Sarah laughs, because this promise is so incredulous in her old age! And so Isaac is born, whose name means, he laughs.
The air in Mary’s and Martha’s house is different.
Martha welcomes Jesus into her home like the early Christians would have received and welcomed traveling missionaries. She prepares the meal while her sister Mary sits like the disciples would do at Jesus’ feet, listening to him speaking, teaching, talking. Mary is completely wrapped up in the moment, imbibing Jesus’ presence like a delicious pre-dinner drink.
But Martha, she is not well, distracted, not in her stride at all, not able to handle the situation. Before they ever get to the meal itself Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is not helping her. To which he responds in a tone which we can hear as chiding. “You are worried and distracted. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and your worry and complaint cannot take that better part away from her.”
I wonder how they got a dinner conversation started.
We need to think about this. What is actually going on here? What is the message Mary, Martha and Jesus are sending us from their dinner table and kitchen?
I want to imagine that we can join them for dinner even after this unpleasant scene and listen in, perk our ears and see if there is not at last a promise, a Gospel for us, even at this meal that starts on a difficult note.
Martha has not had an easy fate in church history. It would be tempting to go through the many different views and angles used to interpret her type in contrast to Mary’s throughout the history of Christian faith, but I fear that might distract us from where this gospel wants us to focus today.
So, let us imagine the three sit down, probably a few more people around the table, and we with them, and let us imagine they manage to have a conversation, Martha included.
How was Martha able to join them peaceably, get over her stress, the resistance she felt, and allow her feisty attitude to ebb away?
When we read closely, Jesus first answers Martha in less of a chiding manner than may appear.
He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted!” The double calling “Martha, Martha” reminds us that calling by name in the Bible always carries a heightened importance.
“Martha, Martha” is a tender, a gentle call meant to touch her in her heart, cut through her worries and liberate her from whatever it is that is holding her in a tight grip. Jesus’ tender call averts the threat of Martha gliding into the darkness of her own loneliness.
Now she is ready to finish the dinner preparations, do what she needs to do in light of Jesus’ presence at her dinner table. Everything is so much easier now. People are joining her in the kitchen to give her a hand; she is not shunning them anymore in a grim mood.
So, what did they talk about at dinner?
I wonder if people opened up in Jesus’ presence after they saw how he invited Martha to come back. Opened up and talked about their worries and distractions. About all the stuff people do to avoid the gentle calling of their names in fear it may be the judgment call.
If we extend Martha’s and Mary’s dinner table into our world, what are we talking about at our dinner tables? How is our table fellowship blessed with the promise of Christ visiting at our table so we can know where to focus?
I see a deep connection between the meals shared among fellow Christians, whether in the home, at church, or in other places, and the meal we share here around this table every week.
From here we receive focus. The promise, the announcement and experience of forgiveness is the source for renewal of our lives. The judgment has long been spoken and done. Called lovingly by our names, we can return to the tables where we share fellowship and focus on those things that matter. There is so much to think about and talk about, so much to plan and devise to spread the promise of God and the love of Christ in this suffering, bloody, warring world.
Christ is sending us into this very world from this table here, and from the extensions of this table in our homes, at our places of work, in restaurants and school cafeterias.
Dear friends, we need not wonder whether we fall in the type of Mary who sits at Jesus’ feet with rapt attention drinking in every word, or whether we are Martha’s type, liking to busy ourselves, serving and working.
These types into which we have made them, never really fit them. Much rather, we are both, all of us, not just the women, but the men too.
Here we are Maries taking in the Word who is Jesus Christ, in the proclamation and in the sacrament, so that we can go out and live the promise we have received.
Leaving this place and returning to our homes and lives, we do the loving work of Martha: hosting, welcoming, caring, preparing, serving and joining the dinner table to talk about those things that matter.
May God richly bless our hearing and our serving with joy, with laughter, and with promise.Amen.