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Summary: A sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 11, series C.

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8th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 11] July 18, 2010 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, in Jesus, your incarnate Son, you came among us and opened your door to us; help us to open our doors to you. You have entered into our lives; help us to risk entering the lives of others. And as we remember the way that you have graciously received us and forgiven us, help us to graciously and forgivingly receive others. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

In the opening verse of our Gospel lesson for this morning, we read that a woman named Martha “welcomed” Jesus and his disciples into her home. According to the commentaries that I read on this text, there is an unspoken expectation about what it means to “welcome” a guest into your home. To offer hospitality, Martha followed the custom of her day, and went about preparing a big meal for her guests, in the way that Abraham provided for the three men who passed by his camp in our lesson from Genesis.

This certainly would not have been an easy task for Martha to fulfill. As one of the commentaries pointed out, there may have been well over one hundred people at this meal. As Luke points out in this tenth chapter of his Gospel, there was Jesus and his original twelve disciples. In addition, there were the seventy whom Jesus sent out, and who returned, plus whoever else might have been tagging along. Now a big meal for over a hundred people takes a lot of preparation and work.

Just think of when we host our chicken barbecue dinner here at the church, when we welcome such a crowd. There is all the planning and preparation in securing the needed food items, not to mention organizing all of the cooks and servers, preparing the tables, and the ongoing clean up. And there is the crew the builds and maintains the fire, cooks and cuts the chickens for serving. There is a lot of work in welcoming that many persons to a meal.

Our text also tells us that Martha had a sister named Mary, who lived with her. Mary also showed Jesus hospitality, by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what Jesus was saying. To welcome a guest into your home also involves being open to that person’s presence by showing interest in what that person has to offer. It is not unlike what Josie often asks me to do when preparing a meal for our family. How often she has said to me, “Ron, you entertain, while I get things ready.” Of course, that could also be her way of telling me to stay out of the kitchen, and not get in her way.

But that doesn’t seem to be Martha’s motivation. Overwhelmed by the many tasks in preparing such a big meal, she comes to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” But Jesus didn’t do what Martha had requested. Instead, and answered Martha’s request by saying, “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Traditionally, we often interpret this story in a way that makes good old pots-and-pans Martha look bad. But I’m not sure that the text demands that we treat Martha so critically. In her hustle and bustle in the kitchen, preparing a good home cooked kosher meal for Jesus and his disciples, she is doing what the Scriptures have taught her to do. She is offering traditional hospitality to Jesus, following the example of Abraham.

Perhaps we need to pay close attention to what Jesus does and does not say in his response to Martha. Jesus does not say that her work in preparing and serving a meal for Jesus and his disciples is not important and appreciated. Showing hospitality by providing a meal to ease the hunger of Jesus and his many disciples was an admirable expression of her concern for the physical needs of those whom she had welcomed into her home.

However, as William H. Willimon points out in one of his commentaries, Jesus’ answer to Martha that she is “worried about many things, there is need of only one thing,” may well be an assertion that Jesus and his disciples do not need a seven course dinner, but a simple meal. Thus, in trying to provide a huge feast for the crowd that she has invited into her home, although traditionally expected of a host, Martha was distracted from what was truly important. This would not be the first time that Jesus challenged the traditional social norms of his society. Nor would it be the first time that as hosts, we have prepared far more food than was needed to express hospitality. After all, leftovers can only taste good for a short time.

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