The Work We Are Called to Do
It occurred to me the other day that I never bothered to introduce the idea and themes of the sermon series we started two weeks ago. I’m making excuses here, but maybe I was too freaked out on that first Sunday; and maybe last week I was too focused on the sensitive material of the sermon that it didn’t seem appropriate. Who knows. I like to think of myself as a relatively unconventional pastor so how’s this: three weeks in, I’ll say a little about the aims of the sermon series. Here goes.
“Living a Jesus Life” is about seeking answers to the question, “How do I live out my faith as a disciple of Jesus?” Put another way: “What does Jesus call us to?” “Do this and you will live,” Jesus says to the lawyer from last week’s text. What is the “Do this…” for us today? So the first week we talked about the disciple’s call to go out and share the good news of Christ- regardless of how we are received. Last week we talked about the disciple’s need to deal with others, especially the most vulnerable, with compassion. Today we’ll discuss the disciple’s need to focus on Jesus and live our lives in such a way that we are using our gifts to further his mission.
The gospel text for today has a wide variety of interpretations. Most of the time I have heard this text interpreted either as conflict between sisters or living out one’s particular gifts to the best one can. Martha is upset that Mary, her sister, does not help with the household chores. She asks Jesus to rebuke Mary. Mary is focused on Jesus, using her best gift as a student. Martha is focused on hospitality, making sure her guest is treated with life affirming grace. Maybe there is a way to squeeze into the middle of those two interpretations. Yes, Martha should have focused less on the cleaning and cooking and sat and listened to Jesus. Yes, she is frustrated with Mary. Whoever heard of sisters who got along 100% of the time? I have a sister, Julie--today is her birthday--let’s say growing up our relationship was tense for many years. One of the best things I ever did to improve our relationship was to move to college!
For this morning, I’d like for us to take on the role of Mary, who “does the better part,” according to Jesus. Her devotion to the Lord’s teaching is a model for every would-be disciple. She sits and listens. How can we live a Jesus life if we don’t listen to him? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, in Chapter 9 when he is transfigured above the disciples on the mountain, a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to him!” Well Mary is living that command--she is listening to Jesus. As a side note, it’s a pretty radical vision for a woman to sit at the feet of a rabbi as a student--even in her own home. I love that Luke gives Mary this exalted status few women could have achieved. I found this amazing quote from Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and former slave, delivered at the Women’s Convention in 1851:
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
- Internet Modern History Sourcebook
Kerry Washington performs:
Mary was able to learn from Jesus because she knew Jesus personally-- he and Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus were all good friends. He probably had dinner in their home many times. But here we are, two millennia later, and we cannot have the same sort of teaching moment with Jesus Mary enjoyed. So the Colossians text helps us to know and understand more about Jesus’ roots and his role.
- Jesus is the image of God and the first-born of all creation-- meaning nothing ever existed outside of Jesus’ presence
- He has dominion over all things and holds all things in unity
- The Church is his body, and Jesus is the head of the Church
- All things are brought to reconciliation in him
- His death on the cross has meaning--through his death peace is possible
Now we know something about Jesus. But what about us? How does being a disciple of Jesus change us?
- We were once foreigners and enemies, but now we are reconciled to each other and God
- We are able to appear before God blameless and without guilt
- We are able to become perfect, or mature, because of the power of Christ in us
So the One who is Lord of all creation, who has dominion over all things, who is the Savior of all because of his death and resurrection, that same Jesus can be so well known that he is comfortable teaching a woman one to one about the nature of being a disciple. For me at least, it’s a mind-blowing combination of ideas.
So what does all of this have to do with us? Well the goal, Paul says, is Christian perfection: that everyone be presented mature in Christ (verse 28). We know the gospel breaks barriers: Mary, a woman, sits and listens to Jesus as a disciple; Paul opens the gospel to the Gentiles (verse 27). Everyone has the possibility of knowing Christ, loving Christ, growing in Christ. All because of who Christ is. And because of who Christ is, and who we can become as his disciples, we can embrace life without fear. This week we witnessed another terrorist attack in Nice, France. Violence and hate has become the norm for our world. But not so for us. Because Christ has brought reconciliation, so can we. We can face injustice in whatever forms it presents itself and turn it away. So that the vision of Amos is realized.
I know the Amos texts of last week and today are difficult to hear. No one likes doom and gloom from the prophets. It would be easy to ignore them, and many have. But we need to hear their call to justice. Amos pleads with the Israelites to embrace justice. Remember the poor. Do not steal from them or victimize them. Do not exploit those already hurting. In the end, Israel ignored Amos and the other prophets and they lost everything. They did not care for the widows, orphans, aliens, and outcast and the entire society fell apart.
Because of the work of Christ, however, you and I have the opportunity to set things right in our world. Live with hope, not fear. Care for the vulnerable. Share from our abundance with those who have little. And we will experience grace and life in new, powerful ways. The world will be transformed into the glorious image of Christ.
It will begin with our devotion of Jesus. Like Mary, let us sit at his feet and listen to him. Like Martha, let us be people of action, committed to not only hear, but do the work of God. Then we will live as free, mature people in Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.