Adapted from a sermon
Delivered July 22, 2007
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
Sitting in with Mary and Martha
Good morning. I have to admit I was not pleased when I read the lectionary and found that today’s lesson was the old, familiar Mary and Martha story. Everybody knows the story. What more can be said? We have two sisters, one who has been working her heart out all day in the kitchen preparing a meal for the visiting Jesus. Jesus arrives and her sister Mary gets to sit down, maybe have a glass of wine, and listen to their friend talk of “important” matters.
After a while, Martha blows her cork, comes in and confronts the two of them, directing her comments to Jesus: “Don’t you care that I’m working out there and my sister is doing nothing? Tell her to help me!”
What happens next has upset hard working housewives for centuries. Jesus takes the side of Mary – it was Mary whose quiet attention pleased the Lord, not Martha’s hard work. It almost reminds me of the Cain and Abel story. Cain was trying to please God with his offering of grain from his fields; but it was Abel who received God’s blessing with his offering of a lamb from his flock.
Cain’s disappointment and anger, however, got the better of him – and he murdered Abel. We think Martha handled her rebuke with much more grace, hopefully shrugging, and coming out to the living area to sit with her sister and Jesus. She really wanted to be there anyway, or she wouldn’t have been upset in the first place.
And that’s important to recognize. Some women, and I suppose I have been one of them, need special permission to do what they want to do anyway. They have read this story as calling them from the kitchen to work and study in fields once only open to men– such as the ministry. Men and women alike need permission to stop all the small stuff, to get off that whirling hamster wheel, and to engage Jesus without all the regular distractions.
When I re-read the Mary and Martha story this week, I felt a pang of jealousy. I would have liked to have sat in on the conversation with Jesus, too. If I’d been invited, would I have been too busy to come?
I wanted to know what Jesus was talking about that was so interesting to these sisters!
I’m not sure what they talked about that evening, but the compilers of the lectionary hint at some possibilities. The lectionary pairs the Mary and Martha story with a passage from the Letter to the Colossians. Paul is trying to help the Colossians deepen their spiritual knowledge, to bring them hope and understanding. He wants them to become mature Christians, not just novices.
I think I missed the whole point of today’s Colossians passage when I first read it. In fact, I know I did. I read it and read it – wondering what am I going to do with this? I simply don’t understand.
Finally, a still, small voice whispered, “Don’t take such big bites. Line by line. Take it slowly; it all doesn’t have to come at once. You don’t even have to use it all. Slow down.”
One thought at a time. “Christ is the image of the invisible God”, okay I think I’ve got that. “The first born of all creation.” Not just the first born human being, but the first born of all creation. All creation, then, is the image of the invisible God.
Some people call this the Cosmic Christ. But would that be too New Age for a sermon? I decided to look for someone who was decidedly NOT New Age.
The 1700s Puritan Preacher Jonathan Edwards believed this passage proved the Presence of God in Nature more than any other passage in the Bible.
“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…he holds it all together. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….” These words held deep meaning for our Puritan ancestor.
Edwards wrote in his Personal Narrative that after reading these words, he experienced a mystical awakening, during which he felt the presence of God: "There seemed to be…a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature."
After this experience Edwards said he often went "walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, prayer, and conversation with God.”
“For in him (Christ) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….” All creation was a part of Christ. “The fullness of God” encompasses everything. I felt a cool breeze of dawning understanding. I understood, just a little. Do not be so rushed, do not be distracted by so many things. There is a beauty in these words, there is beauty in this world -- if you’ll just slow down.
I wonder if maybe Jesus was sharing some of these thoughts that evening so long ago?
Getting up my courage, I moved a little further into Colossians. In verses 21-23, Paul speaks of reconciliation on the human level. The Colossians, who were once estranged from and hostile to the faith, have now been reconciled to God and have become “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, ”but they must "continue securely established and steadfast in the faith…”
And what would that faith require, I wondered?
“Do not shift away from the hope promised by the gospel … proclaimed to every creature under heaven,” Paul answers. Do not give up hope. Hope in the Gospel is the key component. Hang on to that word. Hope.
I read on:
“I was commissioned to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to the saints,” Paul says. He describes “the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There is that word “hope” again, and “Christ in you.”
There is more to the Letter of Paul to the Colossians. But understanding comes in small bites. Becoming “mature in the faith” is a lifelong process.
After struggling with all this, I looked up and saw a beautiful day outside. A light drift of clouds painted the sky. Perhaps we should come out from under all this heavy study, I thought, and just enjoy the presence of Christ – right out there, right beside me, right inside me.
The Colossians text tells us that this earthly creation is itself created in the image of God. When Jonathan Edwards or you and I hike through the woods or experience awe, or love, we are, indeed, experiencing Christ with us.
For today, I’d like to think this was the message that Jesus may have shared with the two sisters. Christ is with us everywhere, in all our activities, great or small.
And after dinner, I have this vision of the three of them – Mary, Martha and Jesus -- standing in the kitchen, doing up the dishes together.