Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pentecost 9C, 2013: Rebellious hospitality

Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nobmre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

When we were younger, my husband and I did a lot of entertaining. We loved it. Our house was known as a place where great dinners and fun evenings could be had – and we had them often.

We were working parents, stretched to the limit on time and energy. Plus, my work was such that at any time I could get an emergency call and have to run out to the shelter or the hospital to help a victim of violence.

Sometimes, I would work so hard on the details of a dinner party that I’d exhaust myself. I’d gripe at my family, feeling unsupported and unappreciated. When the guests arrived, however, we were the perfect hosts, even though I was yawning by 9:00 pm.

I remember knowing then something was wrong with that picture, but the expectations for hospitality from me kept leading me to the same place. I was supposed to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan wearing my pinafore apron, high heels, and a smile. These were the expectations I learned growing up.

All of our readings today speak to us about hospitality. Looking at this very familiar concept through the lens of our Scripture readings, we can see that hospitality really is textured, vacillates between gift and sin in our lives, and in the end, demonstrates a manifest truth of our redemption.

For example, in Genesis, three guests show up unexpectedly. Some say they were three emanations of God, others say they were angels from God. Not knowing who they were, Abraham asks the three not to pass by, but to stay, rest, and receive his gift of hospitality. Giving hospitality in Abraham’s day was a big deal, it was expected. So Abraham had Sarah make fresh bread, and told his servants to kill a calf and prepare a feast.

One texture in the fabric of hospitality this story shows us is time: imagine how much time was dedicated to hospitality for these guests… time enough to make bread, time enough to kill, clean, dress, and cook an animal. Another texture is humility. While the preparations were being made, Abraham put aside his own plans for the day, washed the feet of his guests, and sat them under a shade tree where they could rest.

The Psalm describes for us another texture in the fabric of hospitality: generosity. The psalmist asks, “Who may dwell in your tabernacle?” You may remember that a tabernacle is a moveable habitation for God. In ancient Israel, the tabernacle held the Arc of the Covenant as it moved from place to place until the temple was built where it was permanently housed.

So it was, in a real sense, a church on the move. Think about that – one week you go to worship where the Arc is parked, the next week, it’s been moved somewhere else. Who can be a member of such a church? The answer is: anyone who abides with God upon God’s holy hill.

To abide with God is to live according to the will of God; and ‘holy hill’ is a biblical term for the presence of God. The hospitality of generosity involves welcoming into the worshipping community anyone whom God calls to live according to the will of God, in the presence of God.

St. Paul discusses yet another texture of hospitality in his epistle to the Colossians: proclamation. Paul tells of the sacrifice he made of his own life, mimicking Jesus’ sacrifice of his life, for the sake of making “the word of God fully known…” proclaiming that the mystery, which had been hidden
had been revealed to us who believe.

In fact (and this is the important part), Paul says this mystery abides in us: “the mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The hospitality of proclamation is us offering ourselves as a living sacrifice, because we know that through Christ the “tabernacle” of God is our very bodies. We are the church on the move, and our purpose in moving about is to make known the “riches of the glory of this mystery” proclaiming it and teaching it to everyone so that they can know it too.

In the Gospel story Martha is preparing a great feast for her good friend, Jesus, and his disciples. Martha is devoting much time and care to the feast she will serve them. She’s doing very much as Abraham was doing in the Genesis story.

But as we know, with Christ, things are always unexpectedly transformed. In this case, Martha’s sister, Mary, chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet as he teaches which is something only men are supposed to do.

Mary’s choice upsets Martha’s careful planning schedule costing Martha experienced help in the kitchen. As the dinner begins to fall apart, so does Martha.

So Martha marches out to her good friend, Jesus, and (my guess is) feeling unsupported and unappreciated, and maybe a bit jealous, Martha asks Jesus to make Mary do what’s expected of her. ‘Tell my sister to stop acting like a man and help me in the kitchen like she’s supposed to do.’

And this is where Jesus reveals the transforming texture of his hospitality: rebellion.

”Martha, Martha,” Jesus says soothingly, “you are worried and distracted by many things.” I would restate that like this (and this is totally my Midrash)… ‘Martha, you know me well enough to know that I don’t need a fancy dinner, just time abiding with you and our friends in your home. All we need is food enough to sustain us. Be still, Martha. Be with me. You have no praise to earn, no expectations to meet. You are already beloved.’

Martha had gotten lost in being the perfect host. Her motivation was good – she truly loved Jesus and wanted to offer him great gift, one she knew well: hospitality. But her gift became her sin when she lost sight of the true priority: it wasn’t about what she could give Jesus, but what he could give her: “… there is need of only one thing [Jesus said]. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her.”

If only the world had listened and obeyed! Maybe we wouldn’t still be arguing about the place of women or gays in the Church today. Jesus made this point pretty clearly in our Gospel story. He was emphatic that his followers should be agents of his transforming love in the world and he rebelled against the religious and cultural expectations used to exclude anyone from seeking the better part.

Jesus opened the door, but sadly, that didn’t last, and by the second century, women had been pushed back to the margins of church life. The window opened by Jesus was slammed shut once again by the church’s leadership.

The newly emerging body of Christ ceased to be rebelliously hospitable and returned to its familiar ‘We’ve always done it this way’ protocol. Twelve hundred years later, St. Thomas Aquinas summed up the church’s traditional theological stance on women, fortified by the science of his time saying: "Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness [of God] in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist." (“Summa Theologica” I q. 92 a. 1)

Many people don’t recognize the Spirit of God in themselves or in others. They were either never taught or encouraged to look for it, or as we’ve just heard, they were taught falsely – sinfully - that they did not have it.

I call on us as followers of Jesus Christ today to hear our Redeemer’s call to practice rebellious hospitality, welcoming everyone into our church, knowing that if they are breathing then the Spirit of God lives in them.

I call on us not just to welcome them, but also to feed them (actually and spiritually), to wash their feet, and give them a safe, loving place to rest so they can be still and be with God and discover their belovedness.

I also call on us to proclaim that the glory of the mystery that was once hidden but is now revealed is that Christ is in us – all of us.

Finally, I call on us as followers of Jesus Christ today to be intentional about seeking the one thing we need - individually and corporately: time spent abiding with God and one another, listening for the voice of God within and among us, being strengthened for service, so that we can live as agents of Christ’s transforming love in the world.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this message!