Luke 10:38-42 Common English Bible (CEB)
38 While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. 40 By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”
41 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. 42 One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”
In 1998, while a student at Chapman University, I had the opportunity to attend my very first Quadrennial Assembly. It is, or rather was, a gathering of thousands of Disciples Women from all over the US and Canada, as well as representatives from other countries. When I arrived at Purdue University along with all the other women from the Pacific Southwest Region I ran into Bill Thomas, choir director for the event, who invited me to join the Quadrennial Choir to sing “From Generation to Generation.” (which he wrote, by the way.) I was so excited - I knew it by heart because I had been singing along with the CD of music specially written for Quadrennial for weeks and weeks! We sang it for the communion song - and kept it going for as long as it took to serve communion to four thousand women. I still love this song and was so happy that today we were able to share it with all of you today.
We are people empowered by the Holy Spirit, we rejoice in God who calls us by name.
Names are important.
In the Bible relatively few people are named, male or female. The centurion is simply “the centurion” - it is his rank in society that is important to the story, not his name. In the story from the Old Testament about Elisha and Elijah we read theater week the writer only named those two, not all the other prophets he referred to. Even in the New Testament, in most of the stories the people involved, the people being healed or interacted with are usually referred to by their societal status - the leper, the tax collector, the leader of the synagogue, the women, the children, the Syro-Phonecian woman, the Samaritan, and so on. But relatively few are named. The number of women who are named in the Bible - Old Testament or New Testament - is so low that feminist scholars have written volumes on the unnamed women and why they are important to the Biblical tradition.
But Mary and Martha are named. These were significant women, women who held a place of importance in the movement.
Martha, Martha, you are worried. You are concerned about so very many things.
Whenever this passage comes around in the lectionary I think to myself, “Here we go again!” It’s that old argument over and over again - faith versus works. As if one is good and the other is less good. As if one is necessary and the other not so much. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet learning and listening. Martha prepares dinner for their guests.
Hospitality was the number one most important rule of the ancient world. The sin for which Sodom was destroyed was lack of hospitality, attacking visitors instead of treating them like honored guests. Martha was not going to violate that law. So when brother Lazarus brought his buddy Jesus home for dinner - and probably a bunch of other friends and probably without much warning, just with the expectation that his sisters would make his house proud - Martha did what was expected of her. And I’d have gotten annoyed too, if my only helper had wandered off to listen to the guests talking instead of doing the very important work of feeding them.
Jesus knows this. And yet Jesus says to an overworked, anxious Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part.” If I had been Martha I’d have been all, “so go to McDonalds why don’t you?” But, aside from the fact that there was no such thing as McDonalds or likely even an inn near Bethany, Martha wouldn’t do that. Jesus knows this too. But Jesus says, “You worry too much. Mary has chosen the better part.”
I’m not overly fond of this passage, because usually it’s either used to beat up on the Marthas, or to say that Bible Study is more important than the cookies we eat while we are studying. Although some preachers will go the other way and say, “Hey! We need those cookies. How dare you pick on our Marthas? It’s the work of the church that is important, and don’t you forget it!”
But you know, I think this passage goes a lot deeper than we usually give it credit for. I don’t think that Jesus was saying, “Listening to me is more important than feeding us.” I think what he was saying was more like, “Each of you has God given gifts and each of you is honoring your gifts by using them. (But you really do worry too much, Martha.)” I think he was saying, “Stop worrying about all the things of this world and let yourself become aware of God’s kingdom, and what we have to do to bring it about.” I think he was saying, “The old models are falling away. This is a new way of thinking and being and behaving, and Mary is at the forefront of this new movement.”
Speaking of new movements . . . . just in case you don’t recognize the cute little creature on the screen, that’s Pikachu, probably the most easily recognized Pokemon of them all, along with his trainer, Ash. The original Pokemon game was released by Nintendo in 1996, and was quickly followed by Pokemon cards, cartoon shows and movies. Pokemon games, cartoons and merchandise have remained fairly popular ever since, but 11 days ago Pokemon Go was released as an app for smart phones. It is a gaming phenomenon. Within just six days of the App’s release over 21 million people were already playing! As a result of this mega-popular app, not only are the Pokemon back, but they have succeeded in doing what no other game has = they have gotten gamers to leave their homes and investigate their communities! There have been a few incidents - but by and large this has been a pretty good thing. Even the medical community has noted that playing this game is improving the physical and mental health of those suffering from depression and social anxiety disorders. Interest in Pokemon has rekindled, big time! Businesses are excited that the Pokemon are bringing people in. Churches are getting in on the action too, with signs like ours and events intended to welcome Pokemon trainers. For a really nice example of that, Wahiawa Christian Church in Hawaii, pastored by my friend Heather Robertson, had a Pokemon event last night on their front lawn, setting off lures to attract Pokemon and players. Pokemon Go is fun and exciting. It is the coolest new thing and I am having as much fun with it as anyone. I caught a wild Zubat in my kitchen at 4:45 this morning! I’m not sure how it got into my kitchen - and you’re probably wondering why I was playing Pokemon Go in my kitchen at 4:45 am . . . I totally love that our sign tells people wandering by that we are joining in the excitement and that All are welcome here - even Pokemon.
The point of catching Pokemon is to send them into battle against the Pokemon belonging to other “trainers.” When you catch enough Pokemon to reach level 5, you can join a team so that you can join forces in those battles. As you gather Pokemon, Pokeballs, eggs and such along your path, you can power up your Pokemon, making them strong enough to defeat others, thus adding new Pokemon to your collection.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were to get as excited about studying the Bible as we are about Pokemon? Wouldn’t it be really exciting if we could make Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another” as huge of a social phenomenon as “Gotta Catch Em All”? On our way to the Fresno Youth Choir concert yesterday, Jennifer and I were talking about making a Jesus game where you could level up by applying Jesus’ commandments to love your neighbor as yourself, and get rewards that you to spend to improve your mastery of the game. So, feed a hungry person and get love points that you get to spend toward leveling up so you have the energy to feed more hungry people. Smile at the checkout person in Walmart and get a virtual hug you get to pass along to a real person. Power ups would come in the form of a fiery dove . . .
We are people empowered by the Holy Spirit, we rejoice in God who calls us by name.
We are people empowered by the Holy Spirit, powered up to go out and love one another as Jesus has commanded us to do.
We are people rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, whom God has called by name, to be sent out into an embattled, embittered, world as emissaries of peace and healing.
We are people emboldened by the Holy Spirit, so that we may move through the landscape of our lives, looking around us in real time and in real places, for those upon whom we can cast a net of love, reaching out to those who are angry or depressed or grieving, so that they may feel the real power of God’s love.
We are people enlivened by the Holy Spirit, given so many different gifts and talents to spend in Christ’s Holy Name.
We are people empowered by the Holy Spirit, to do the new thing Jesus has called us to do, to go out and find all people who need to be loved, and to love them.
May we rejoice in God, who calls us by name.