July 21, 2019 - The Call to Radical Discipleship

The Call to Radical Discipleship
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11C Sunday, Calvary Episcopal Church, Front Royal, Virginia
The Rev. Valerie J. Hayes
Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
Once again, we have a story about Jesus that is familiar, often preached, and seemingly so straightforward. We know this scene. Close your eyes: you can see it, yes? And – forgive me for being explicitly preferenced for a moment: but women, we ourselves in our own minds usually identify with one or the other of the sisters. Or identify others as such. Yes? And with that comes a subtle creeping comparison – and maybe a little resentment – that the Marys of this world are judged the better. The more realistic view of these two women is that we all live our lives with the necessity of being at time like Martha. And, as we desire to come closer to God, we, like Mary, spend time listening to Jesus through prayer and reading and silence.
Like most scripture, when we step back and ask: “What is the deeper and layered meaning to this story?” we will find it.
This story of Jesus being received into the household of Martha and Mary is only found in Luke. And here, there is no mention of a brother Lazarus. There is no male head of this household in this telling: Martha is the head of the household. So, from the outset, Jesus is acting contrary to Jewish norms, as he is received – an important phrase – by Martha and enters her home.1 And from here, Martha is in control of the home, the meal, and serving. Of note here, the Greek word used here in reference to serving is the word diakonein. At the time of Luke’s gospel, diokonein referred to Christian ministry. This is the word from which we have the word deacon. In this context, Martha was serving as a disciple. Just differently than her sister. Mary takes the posture of a disciple by sitting at the feet of Jesus to listen. And Jesus not only allows it, but commends her choice.
It strikes me that the use of the translation “better” catches our attention in a way that distracts us from the deeper meaning of Luke’s gospel. As a people prone to comparison – and the ills of doing so – we get stuck in the story thinking the focus is on Jesus making a comparison of the sisters. If we’re stuck there, we miss a more important message. Within the story, Jesus is engaging the sisters in a way that indicates his inclusion of women in his inner circle, in his teaching, and as disciples. For readers of Luke’s gospel in the early centuries of the church, this inclusion of Martha and Mary would have been a radical shift in the role of women in both the home, the community, and religious life. Suddenly, what seems a somewhat straightforward story of resentment over serving guests becomes a radical statement of the role of women as disciples and in the church.
Again, Jesus’ ministry continues to uphold a model of discipleship that transcends gender, ethnicity, and nationality. Remember, last week in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus points to a despised Samaritan as one who exemplifies the commandment of loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Today he points to women.
Jesus continues to exemplify radical inclusion to those who are considered by their society as without status or worth. Weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus leaving the land of the Israelites and crossing the Sea of Galilee to enter foreign territory – a place and people wholly unclean – to heal a man and restore him to his own self and to his community. Jesus literally crosses the metaphorical chaos of water and wind to encounter chaos in a foreign human being and in doing so he brings peace and healing and reconciliation.
What are we to make of these things? Week after week, our sacred scripture is showing us where Jesus went; how Jesus treated people; and what he taught about discipleship. Week after week, we hear that Jesus goes to the marginalized, the broken and wounded, to those who are dismissed or despised. And when Jesus goes, he brings a radical approach to discipleship, to healing, and to the understanding of diakonen: ministry.
We are disciples. Isn’t that why we are here? To take this time – to choose amongst many choices – to be here, now. To be fed by word and sacrament. Not for our own benefit alone; not just for solace and pardon, but for strength and renewal. We come here to strengthen and deepen our faith. We – I hope – like Mary, daily sit at the feet of Jesus in prayer, reading, and silence.
And we do all this, not for our own benefit, but so that we can do the work that we are called to do in Christ’s name. Where is God calling us to minister to those who are oppressed and marginalized? To bring healing and mercy to a broken world?
It is not possible anymore to be unaware of the profound suffering and trauma that is happening to wholly innocent children in our country as a result of the policies being enacted by our country. Let me be clear: I am speaking about policy. Not a singular person, nor a party, nor a profession. This is about politics, by which I mean, according to etymology of the word: the "science of government," from politic (adj.), modeled on Aristotle's book, ta politika "affairs of state."2
Jesus was not partisan. But he was political. He directly and explicitly addressed the oppression and abuse of people by direct action and inaction of both the leaders of the Israel and the Temple and by the Roman occupiers. And we today we hear the exhortation from the prophet Amos and the Psalmists to an earlier time in Israel’s history when those in power failed in their duty. Jesus was not killed for no reason. He spoke truth to power, calling out corruption and neglect and abuse. And he was killed for it. And we are His disciples. As Paul wrote, we are servants of the gospel.
The policies and actions of our national government are causing the direct harm to innocent children. These children are wholly innocent of the situation in which they find themselves. They are left unprotected, unfed, unwashed, and unclothed. They are dying in the care of our nations’ government. They are being physically and sexually abused. These innocent children are experiencing trauma from which they will never – never – recover.
We are disciples of Christ. We come here today for strength and renewal. We ask that we might serve the world worthily in Christ’s name. As disciples, we are called to minister as Christ did; to cross over the chaos to heal and bring reconciliation. We are called to look closely, to be moved to pity. We are called like Mary: to sit at Jesus feet and learn. Like Marth: to serve.
I do not have all the answers on how to address the shameful, horrific treatment of these most vulnerable children. But I know they are God’s beloved. I know they are our neighbors in every sense of the world. I know that we must not look away. We must seek a way to serve them in Christ’s name. I don’t have all the answers. But I know where to ask.
To begin, like Mary we sit at the feet of Jesus today – beneath this cross. Then, like Martha we serve. Let us go forth and serve the world worthily in Christ’s name.