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The Divine Secrets of the Disciple Sisterhood

Lesson: Luke 10:38-42

Note: today's sermon was preached by The Rev. Linda S. Powers.

I am so pleased to be with you this morning to preach the Word of God. And as is the occasion whenever I preach, I find myself filled with a bit of anxiousness as well as a little bit of excitement. In addition to prayer, I sometimes prepare and center myself by watching Sister Act or Sister Act II. It always pumps me up! I’m guessing that many of you have seen these movies? Whoopi Goldberg puts on a habit and becomes a nun and joins a teaching order of real nuns and together these sisters provide hope for a group of teenage youth whose lives are often full of despair.

On the surface this relationship of nuns and a Las Vegas show girl seems very odd, but after all, God has made us to be in relationship: In relationship with God, in relationship with the creation and the creatures and in relationship with each other. Relationships- where we are God’s servants working together to do God’s work in this world. These relationships of sisterhood and brotherhood can be the most amazing gifts from God or at times, they can be the most difficult, and the most puzzling of circumstances. I have three siblings – two younger brothers and an older sister she and I shared a bedroom growing up. I have hundreds of relationship stories around that, and my guess is you do too along with maybe some new ones from Thanksgiving this past week.

Well, I believe that in our scripture, there is no more puzzling sisterhood relationship story than that of Mary and Martha. When read rather simply and traditionally, we find two sisters that seem to have been polarized by their actions and by a comment from Jesus. Martha is rebuked by Jesus for being worried and distracted by her many tasks while Mary is to be rewarded for sitting at Jesus’ feet. The story seems to paint a picture of a good sister and a bad sister – a sister that is doing things the right way and a sister who is doing things the wrong way. Martha is an uppity woman who doesn’t even ask Jesus to have Mary help her, but instead commands him to tell Mary to help. Can you just hear her – “Jesus, make Mary help!” While in contrast, we have the quiet Mary, the ever-faithful listener.

This passage has always been difficult for a woman like me. I am what some folks have affectionately described as a mover and shaker. Others have used not so affection terms to describe me –but basically I am kinetic – a take charge person. I find myself having daily running dialogues with God. It would be a challenge to find me in a quiet room with a candle speaking to God. I consider myself a dedicated warrior for God’s social justice, and yet after reading this passage, I have often felt as if there was something wrong with me. What about all people who take pride in hard work and taking charge and getting things done? What about all the women, and men, who labor heavily to make people feel welcome in their homes? What about the women and men, sweating from dawn to dusk on Thanksgiving Day to put dinner on the table? What about the women in our world who work in addition to carrying the responsibilities of house and home. They like me, have often felt rebuked right along with Martha. This passage seems to have mixed blessings. On one hand we applaud the opportunity for Mary to be a disciple or pupil of Jesus, but on the other hand this elevation seems to only be achieved at the expense of Martha’s humiliation. If you think about it, A situation we often find in our own world. What is the message meant to be?

In our world today, how could one miss that there seems to be a hyper focus on tearing others down in order to build ourselves up or to make ourselves feel better. It is the art of the put down – the ultimate trash talk. We find it on the playground in bullies, on the prefabricated reality T.V. shows, political ads and news broadcasts where we do not spend time discussing why we should vote for a candidate or evaluate current events, but instead why we should not vote for another, or why what we hear is fake news. If you trash someone enough, you are bound to win.

I once was standing in line at the Oakland Airport waiting to order a sandwich before I boarded the plane. The woman in line in front of me was having difficulty understanding the young girl who was taking her order. This young woman had a thick accent. The woman in line turned to me and said, “I didn’t know I had to speak a foreign language to order a sandwich.” I was taken aback by her comment, but I was mostly stunned at her assumption that I somehow felt the same way as she did - that I was somehow part of her sisterhood. We seem to create this bizarre pecking order or tribe inclusion at the expense of others.

This may have something to do with nature, but surely it does not have anything to do with our Christianity – our charge to love our God and love our neighbor – does it? How then can we prevent this scripture from becoming a Martha vs. Mary story?

If we rotate this story just a bit and look at it from several different angles, it may reveal some new truths for us. Starting with verse 38, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home and unlike the social situation we normally see in Bible stories, it is Martha’s home not her husband’s or brother’s or father’s. She is obviously a woman of means and in a position to offer Jesus appropriate hospitality.