9th Sunday after Pentecost
One Thing, by Pastor Fred
It can be a challenge to mingle with the guests when you’re the host of the party!
At our first call in Michigan, Kim and I had an annual Christmas Open House at the Parsonage every December. It was quite a production, not just Christmas cookies and coffee, or a cake ordered from Jewel, but everything was home made. We had 4 different fondue’s, we had 3 different varieties of Tiropita’s that we made one phyllo dough sheet at a time, we had Kim’s mom’s favorite wine marinated chicken drumettes, and my home-made Eggnog. Mind you, it was only once a year – and the first year, it almost did us in! We desired to play the hosts, Kim and I, with the finest Hospitality we could provide.
Only, we didn’t really get around to the visiting part of Hospitality, the sitting at the feet part, at least, not that first year. Coming from the city, we didn’t realize that the Finnish people of Upper MI don’t believe in “fashionably late”, and at exactly 10 to the hour, the doorbell rang! And we were still running around, setting things up, finding the last lo-ing cattle of our various cultural collections of nativity scenes, lighting the candles, not to mention, beating the egg whites frothy, of my fresh home-made eggnog. And BTW, I can’t believe we served raw eggs and cream, back then! Of course, it was absolutely delicious, but “thanks be to God”, no one was struck ill with food poisoning!
As the guests ebbed and flowed throughout the evening, we struggled valiantly to keep up. Kim and I were in and out of the kitchen, fussing and fidgeting, and yes, ‘distracted’ (like Martha) by many dishes we wanted to keep hot or cold – just right – before we presented them to our honored guests. We made a few frantic attempts to come in and sit down with them, but ‘listen’ and relax, we couldn’t, as we were distracted by what had to come out of the oven next, afraid that smoke would rise, and the smell of burnt offerings would pour out of the kitchen, if we didn’t hurry back.
Like Martha, we felt exasperated with “all the work.” But we had no one to blame but ourselves!
Being worried and distracted we were not able to do the ‘one thing’, most necessary, be present for our guests. The next year, knowing something had to be done, we invited two of our most talented confirmands to come and help with the food prep and serving. That was a turning point. That, and letting go of my delicious, but dangerous, egg nog! And from that year on, we were much better able to practice Hospitality with our guests at the Christmas Open House.
And we began to see our hospitality more like, Abraham and Sarah’s, welcoming well, serving lavishly, and attentive to our guests. Abraham – though 99 years old – ran out to greet his guests, practically begged to serve them, treated them as more important, and offered them the usual Middle-East ‘daily special’ of water and pita bread, and then, going above and beyond, enlists his whole large family to put on a lavish feast, still finding time to play not only Host, but guest, standing by, under the shade of the Oak trees with them. And Sarah & Abraham do all this for complete strangers, even before they realized their divine angelic status – messengers of God.
It takes a bit of both Mary and Martha – Mary who sat listening to the Word of God at Jesus’ feet like a good disciple, and Martha preparing and serving the meal – to be truly hospitable and to stand with the Guests. That’s what we learned.
We learned that a Hospitality team is two sides of the same coin. That all of us, really, have a bit of both in us. We are sometimes the harried worker, the distracted director, the pushed to the limit parent or child. But we are also the attentive listener, the satiated concert or theatre goer, the curled up in the couch book worm, the Yoga meditator.
Jesus is not rating, or judging these opposite characteristics, “loving God with everything you have,” like Mary, and “loving your neighbor as yourself,” like Martha and the story of the ‘Merciful, Good, Samaritan’ from last week. The two stories go together, after all, one after the other in chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel. We do, and we are, both, in our life of faith.
Jesus certainly wasn’t putting down “service,” literally the “diaconate,” those who served at table. For, we know how Jesus praised Peter’s mother-in-law after he healed her, as she went from being served, to serving him a meal. We know Jesus celebrated with the wedding party at Cana – where he went from being served to serving the gallons and gallons of new wine from those water jugs. We know that Jesus ate and celebrated with the tax collectors and every repentant sinner, because, as the ‘bridegroom’, he was only with them a short while longer, both offering hospitality and receiving it. Jesus was honored to dine with “strangers” and those hungering for his message of the kingdom. He both served others, and was served.
And of course, all this Hospitality is embodied in the Lord’s Supper Jesus instituted, on the night in which he was betrayed, when Jesus shared the Passover Meal with his Disciples in the Upper Room, and Commanded all of us, ever after, to prepare, to serve, and to eat. Jesus is a Guest with us in this meal, and our Host. We are to focus on this “one thing” that is the “better part”, and then “go and do likewise”. It is good to develop both the ‘Mary and the Martha’ sides of our faith life. To ‘love God with all that we have, with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and, to love your neighbor as yourself’.
“We” are in the business of ‘Hospitality’. As the writer of Hebrews says of the Abraham and Sarah story, in the Epistle: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for by this some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). How can we welcome those around us with the Good News of the kingdom of God? How can we be hospitable to strangers and share what is essential about our faith? How can we live the life of welcoming for the sake of our Host at the Lord’s Supper, and feed the world with this bread of life?
When we entertain strangers in the name of Jesus, we may be entertaining God’s angels, or, welcoming those “thirsty to find their lives” here and now. Either way, it is worth sharing the “one thing” that is truly necessary, and letting go of the many distractions holding us back. Like two sides of the same coin, it can be a tricky balancing act between Mary and Martha in our lives; between knowing when to make the eggnog, or just pick it up at the store. But we know that God’s hospitality for us is always done with lavish generosity. And we can rest assured that our Host is always ready to serve us with the finest gift of all, God’s love and grace!