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Pentecost 9C Sermon
Luke 10: 38-42

July 17, 2016


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The picture on the front of your bulletin is a bit fuzzy, I admit. It was cropped from a larger photo that I took when I was in the Church of St. Lazarus in Bethany where it is believed that Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. As with most churches built on these Biblical sites, this one is filled with artists’ depictions of the events which happened in connection with the site. In this church there are four paintings, placed high above the four walls surrounding the altar area. Two have to do with the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ interaction with the sisters during that event, and a third painting depicts the scene after Lazarus’ raising where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive oil while Judas complains that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

The picture on the front of our bulletin is from the first of the four paintings, and the caption in Latin under it reads, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Now, lest you think that this is an ancient painting, the Church of St. Lazarus was designed by Antonio Barluzzi under the auspices of the Franciscan Order, and was built in the mid-1950s. It is located on top of the remains of several other churches which were destroyed over the centuries between the time of Jesus and today, but this picture is only about 60 years old. Even though it is a bit fuzzy, I still wanted to include it on the bulletin. After a first look, a few things caught my eyes – what appears to be a rather modern-day fireplace in the background to the right of Jesus. Also Mary seems to be holding a book, not a scroll, which was probably truer to the time period. And while there may have been such things around (I don’t know), but there is a nice domesticated dog – possibly a greyhound - sitting behind Jesus who appears to be just as interested in what he is saying as Mary is! And when you think of it, since this church belongs to the Franciscan order, and St. Francis was a lover of all creatures great and small, it makes sense that they would include one of God’s four-legged creatures for good measure.

It’s a fuzzy picture, but that’s okay. The story is a little fuzzy to us, isn’t it? Jesus seems to be challenging us to figure out what is right and what is wrong and why these things are right and wrong. He criticizes Martha, who we are told is distracted by her many tasks, or according to the Greek word, “diakonia”, by her, “much serving.” But it was widely taught in the early years of Christianity that the main task of the church is diakonos – to serve.

And Jesus doesn’t necessarily tell her that she is wrong, although he does point out her worry and distractedness because of these tasks. But he does call Mary’s choice, “The better part,” and says that it will not be taken away from her. Is this a story about distractedness and priorities? Is it a story encouraging us to put a premium on worship, dwelling in the presence of Jesus whenever we have the opportunity? Is this a story telling us that there is a time for everything, and it takes a special person to discern when the time is right for something? The painting depicts a very tidy house – was Martha exhausted from cleaning up so that they would be presentable to Jesus? Was she cooking a meal out of hospitality for him – hospitality was very important, after all, in Jesus’ day in that area of the world. It’s all a bit fuzzy, isn’t it!?

Fuzziness seems to be the rule in our day and age. It seems that we cannot stand up for what we believe to be right without offending someone who believes something else to be right. The Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, France on Thursday makes us wonder what the state of the world today is. We want to defeat this evil force called, “ISIS”, but people who are either their followers or are influenced by them live in pockets all over the globe … possibly even in our own neighborhood. What is right and what is wrong in dealing with folks who may be a threat in our own communities? How do we identify people who are either a threat to our communities, or are simply not living as God calls them to live? Do we identify them by their skin color, religion, age, nationality, or if they are hard workers or lazy? Do we do it by their income, political affiliation or their stands on certain issues? How do we identify “the enemy” when they are not carrying a black flag with white Arabic writing on it?

Martha thought that she knew what was right according to the social norms of her day, but Jesus doesn’t live in the black and white, right and wrong rules that we set up. Rather, Jesus dwells in the family which God creates in all of us. These two were and always would be sisters who loved and cared for each other. Their love for Jesus was just as evident as their love for each other and for their brother, Lazarus, and each of them was expressing that love in the ways that each could – Martha by serving Jesus and Mary by sitting at his feet, listening to him. That which seemed to be the better thing to everyone reading or hearing this story – Martha’s service – is ignored while Mary’s devotion is called the better part. It’s all fuzzy, just like all of life is fuzzy. But it is a fuzzy family situation in which Jesus meets these two sisters and loves them both.

What I would really like for you to do is use this bulletin cover as a devotional piece for the next few weeks. Read again the Gospel passage inside the bulletin, and then while it is still fresh, pray on this picture. Dwell in its fuzziness. Think about where you would be in this picture – standing as Martha was, or sitting as Mary. Focus on those who don’t do things like you do, or who think that a certain lifestyle is more important than yours. Release that resentment, giving it over to God, and somehow, I am sure, God will make us all a lot more loving toward each other as we live into this fuzziness.

The one last thing about the picture I want to remind you of is this: there are golden halos over the heads of all three figures here. Neither Mary nor Martha is kicked out of the family because of this – they are both considered Saints, right along with Jesus, because of their devotion and love. As we look around at our church family, and at the people with whom we live and interact every day, we are called to see them as fellow brothers and sisters with Christ, saints and sinners at the same time just like each one of us.

I don’t know about you, but I would like it much better if life were more like a clean, crisp beautiful piece of art where every detail is clear and visible. But the reality is, life is more like this fuzzy interaction between Jesus, Mary and Martha. Thanks be to God that Jesus meets us every day in the fuzziness of our lives. May we encourage others to see Jesus, and to devote their lives to him as they are able and gifted to do, and may we love each other as Jesus loves us. Amen.