First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
March 11, 2018 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
Sermon: “What Time is it?”
Jane: I have had a really busy week. I was in Topeka on Tuesday. I’m serving on a Conference Team about shaping a good process for whatever comes in 2019. It is an honor to be asked to be part of this important conversation and to offer a voice for inclusion, your voice, at the table. However, I lost a day and a half of work here because I was there. I have so much to do here. I want to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition here. I want everything in order and just so to leave things tidy and good for next chapter. I was in Lincoln on Thursday meeting new staff there. I want a good transition there. I want to ease their anxiety and arrive prepared. I have to sell my house— which means I have to clean out my house. I want to downsize, so many trips to donation places! I have to buy a house there. Houses sell so quickly these days. It’s a seller’s market. If a house gets listed at noon, it’s sold by evening. Have to jump on it, if I see one, so I made another trip to Lincoln on Friday. My daughter is getting married in August! I’ll be the Mother of the Bride; we have a wedding to plan. Hey, spring is going to happen; the lake will thaw. I have to get my kayaks out and get to the lake! I have to clean my closets! I have to go to meetings! I have….
Cynthia: (interrupting) Jane. Jane. You are worried and distracted by many things.
Jane: Cynthia, I’m kinda busy now! (Her look send Cynthia back to her chair.) It’s all important. Just like all week. I’m busy. It’s not like I’m lounging around watching Star Wars or doing yoga all day!
Cynthia: Jane. Jane. There is need of only one thing. Did you actually read the scripture this week—the one you are supposed to be preaching on?
Jane: Didn’t you hear me? I was busy this week. Blah, blah, Mary, blah blah, Martha… we all know the story. I thought I could just wing this one.
Cynthia: “Wing it!” That’s what I do; that doesn’t sound like you. Maybe you just need to focus on one thing.
Jane: Right, and who’s going to do everything else? I mean really, Jesus didn’t appreciate Martha. She invited him and his band of stinky guys into HER home. A dozen men or more! It’s all on her. She is extending hospitality which was an important act in their culture; it was an essential quality. God destroyed whole towns of Sodom and Gomorrah – not because of hanky-panky, but because they weren’t showing hospitality. Martha is living out the expectations of her people. You know how hard it is to live up to others expectations! Do you know what it’s like to try and cook for twenty hungry men? There’s no freaky fast Jimmy John’s. She had to get the grain from the field and grind it and measure flour and kneed and build a fire and bake it. That’s just to put the bread on the table! Jesus acts like this stuff just floats down from heaven!
Cynthia: Actually, I don’t think Jesus is criticizing Martha for cooking, but as you named, hospitality is the essence of relationships and Martha was not present to those in her home. Jesus appreciates her work. He enjoyed a good meal with friends. I think Jesus is concerned about Martha’s heart. I think he spoke to her out of care not criticism. Sometimes when we are too tired, we might confuse the two. Martha is frantic. The scripture we heard said she was ‘distracted’, but the text means more than distracted. Martha is having what looks like a panic attack. She may be on the verge of losing it. She certainly sees what she is doing as a struggle, and she feels completely alone in it. She’s not cooking with delight and joy at the opportunity to serve Jesus. And she takes out her frustration the other woman in the house, her sister.
Jane: That’s true. I get it. She’s feeling like the whole world— all the responsibility is resting on her. She’s seeing herself as a victim, so she lashes out at her sister. Isn’t that the way it goes? I mean when we feel like we’ve done more than anyone else, we have the right then to judge and criticize others. We make the other one into less than; we exaggerate their faults as we climb upon our cross of martyrdom or pedestal of glory. Women are particularly bad about that. My antagonists have always been other women. Oh, I’ve had men disrespect me, but a woman seeing me as competition, they destroy. We are vicious.
Cynthia: Women can be vicious. Why is it that women are against other women, and can be each other’s worst enemies? Why is that those we thought we could trust end up being those who are determined to undermine our ministry? Well, because our society fosters and depends on the socialization of women toward competition, judgment, and expectation. It is a way to control women. To elevate and exacerbate our insecurities which are the result of unrealistic expectations of performance and beauty. To put women in a place where they are too busy competing against each other to rise up against the injustice of sexism.
I once heard a psychologist say women are evolutionarily predestined not to collaborate with women they are not related to. And because many life lessons can be learned at the zoo, did you know that male chimpanzees groom one another more than females do and hunt together and keep security over the community of chimps? Female chimps are much less likely to form partnerships…
Jane: (interrupting) Cynthia, let’s get back on track here: Martha versus Mary. Sister against sister. Instead of helping each other to be successful, we take the bait and destroy each other. Poor Martha. Jesus might not be chastising her so much as inviting her into the NOW so she can notice what she’s doing. To be present to her feelings. She feels taken for granted, how many times has she been the one to pick up the slack? She needs to name her resentment and own it instead of pushing it off on Mary. I think she’s jealous too.
Cynthia: Sure, look at Mary! She’s breaking out of the mold. She breaking stained glass ceilings of her day! She is sitting at the feet of Jesus. She’s not in a servant position; she’s in a disciple spot. She’s not staying in the kitchen “where she belonged” according to the cultural expectations of her day. Nope, she’s gone right into the conversation, sat down at the teachers feet right alongside the men. She’s claimed her place of equality in Jesus’ kingdom long before anyone celebrated International Women’s Day.
Jane: And Jesus affirms her! He defends her place near him in the teaching circle. He tells Martha, “Mary has chosen to listen to me. That will not be taken away from her.” Jesus tells Mary that she has a place of respect, and no one can take that from her.
Cynthia: Not even her stressed out sister trying to do her own good deed. Jesus won’t allow Martha to hold Mary back from being a true disciple.
Jane: We shouldn’t try to hold others back. We think the story is that one sister is right and the other is wrong. We still think dualistically. If we are a Martha in the kitchen, we think it’s wrong for Mary not to be in the kitchen. If we are a Mary sitting with Jesus, then the Marthas must be wrong to be in the kitchen. We have to break out of that mindset. We have to quit projecting our stuff on others, and we have to quit getting so caught up in the anxiety and busyness of the day that we forget to be present.
Cynthia: We need to be present to ourselves so we can acknowledge our own feelings, fears, resentments, judgments, needs, fears, especially during times of change. We need to be present to others acknowledging that the place they chose may be different from ours, but where they are is about them not us. Our presence is to honor others where they must be.
Jane: We need to be present to the Divine Presence. The Divine Presence that is with us in the kitchen when we are fully there in joy and delight. The Divine Presence that is with us when we engage in prayer and meditation in joy and delight. Jesus’ teachings invite us to grow in health and in compassion towards ourselves and all others. None of us need to stay in the kitchen all the time.
Cynthia: None of us need to sit all the time.
Jane: We need time to feed our soul by listening; we need time to live our faith by serving. We need to know what time it is.
May it be so.