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              Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA July 17, 2016
          Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Year C (RCL): Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42.
    
          May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
      be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.
       
          Two weeks ago Tuesday, we reeled from news that a 37-year-old man named Alton Sterling had been fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge.  The shooting was caught on cell phone video by a bystander and quickly went viral on the internet.
        The next day as I drove to New Hampshire to visit my father, news broke of another fatal police-involved shooting of Philando Castille in Minneapolis.  The aftermath of a traffic stop gone bad was live-streamed through Facebook by his girlfriend sitting next to him in the car.
        Then Thursday evening, a peaceful Black Lives Matters-organized protest against the police killings of the preceding days ended abruptly when an apparent lone shooter, an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran, ambushed the police in Dallas, apparently targeting white officers.  Five were killed with nine others injured.  All of this has happened since that horrific tragedy in Orlando, where 49 innocents lost their lives.
        I expect that we’re all aware of these events because we read our newspapers, listen to the radio, watch the local and national TV news, or surf the internet and use social media.  My father had the TV on A LOT while we were there!  Memorial services were held and individual funerals have begun.  It’s hard to not see or hear something about each instance and all of it.  But that’s not all, is it? 
        This past Friday, that terrible truck attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day killed many people and injured countless more, and then a failed coup in Turkey left too many dead from the violence and way too many others wounded.  We have these terrible things piling up on top of our fears and terror.  How do we make sense of all this?  What do we need to do?
        I confess: I’d been glad to not have to preach last Sunday with the parable of the Good Samaritan confronting us with “Who is my neighbor?”  I saw it as the PERFECT question to address our domestic difficulties, but I knew it would be a hard discussion.  I’ve been told the rector’s sermon was powerful last Sunday.  We also heard a courageous sermon in New Hampshire.
        Now, we have the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary to try to cover all the uncertainties of this world.  I’ve been holding this lesson in my head and my heart all week.
        Then this past Thursday night, I watched the televised town hall, “The President and the People: A National Conversation.”  If you missed it, the conversation involving people whose lives had been changed forever the past several weeks touched on race relations, justice, policing, and equality. 
        Watching and listening with today’s Gospel in mind, at some point, I jotted the notes, “The President is NOT Jesus; we are ALL Martha and Mary.”  Repeat “The President is NOT Jesus; we are ALL Martha and Mary.”  Now, why did I write that?  Because I saw people hoping the man in front of them could FIX all the problems he was hearing about.  Because I saw how badly we ALL want someone to change the situation, just as Martha wanted Jesus to do, just as Mary was listening to hear how Jesus might. 
        The church, even in its best days, is never ‘all ears.’  Yet, we know and believe that our Lord exhorts us repeatedly, as the faithful people of God, to “Let those who have ears, Listen!”  We are called to heed the Word which issues forth from above.  So it was with Mary and Martha.  We, too, are called each day as we join that holy assembly to listen to and hear the Word of God, which are truly words of life.
        In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses his visit to two sisters as an occasion to remind his disciples then, and us now, that an important aspect of obedience is single-minded devotion to Jesus and his word.  We all know the struggle of trying to be in the ‘here and now’ by setting aside our calendars, to-do lists, and ongoing pressing duties.  It’s hard and not easily done.  But we are challenged to simply rest in the presence of God that has come near to us.  We are encouraged to listen to what God may be saying to us, and doing for us.
        The tension present here is Jesus addressing the compulsive busyness, worry, and distraction of Martha to “do” for her guest that is mirrored up against the calm, contemplative focus and desire of Mary to “be” with her Lord.  Please note: Both women are following Jesus in their own way. Martha seeks to serve him and Mary wants to learn from him.  That is not to say that serving and learning are not compatible, but actions and works sometimes distract us from listening and hearing.  Especially if we allow our worry about our actions to overtake our ability to hear.
        If you’re like me, we can tend to put off listening to and learning from Jesus until we are done with all our busy work, which never really ends, so we’re always putting off opportunities at discipleship.
        So how do we manage to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus when this full life overflows with distractions?  Rather than worry about how our active life competes with our contemplative life, we must remember that they are both together, one thing.  A friend was quick to point out that Mary was supposed to have been praised by Jesus for being interested in ‘higher’ things, but that Martha made everyone feel welcomed and well-fed; in most anyone’s book, we should always consider our actions regarding hospitality as things that bring people together so we can all become aware of the ‘higher’ things.     
        When I am in good spiritual form, I do working prayer through ‘mindfulness,’ when my hands and mind are God’s tools on earth.  I feel this most directly as I clean up after a Wednesday night Eucharist, when I am my own Altar Guild.  This is one way I can both serve and sit in God’s presence.
        There are times to do, when there are too many things to accomplish, and then there are times to just be, which can be too few and far between to fully appreciate.  What Jesus challenges in this story is the attitude of doing, not the actions of serving.  When Jesus says, “Martha, 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.”  This is more a commendation of Mary’s posture as a disciple than it is a condemnation of Martha’s busy activity.  Never forget that Jesus repeatedly said that he came to serve!  (Luke 22:27)
      And there are also calls to act.  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)  Events here in America in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, and abroad at Nice and in Turkey show us that the dangerous cycles in our world challenge us the find the will to make changes to the better.  It is not easy!  It is hard work, but we must tend to it. 
        Where do you feel the call to be a Martha?  Is it hospitality, reaching out to those you do not know, making room to learn more about the stranger in your midst?  Is it service, volunteering to be part of the efforts to make the world a better place for those who have less than you do?  Is it reconciliation, working to begin conversations with groups that have been estranged from mainline society?  Will you speak out against racism and work to eliminate discrimination?  Is your call to be a witness, to march for those who are oppressed?  Can you beat back biases, put away prejudice, and help bury bigotry?  I believe all of us must look at Martha and see her example, not for her worry but for her dedication to our Lord.  Martha just got up and did it all.
        So we are also invited and encouraged to take the better way and sit with our Lord.  To abide with Jesus as he abides in us.  Where do you feel the call to be Mary?  In Bible study, to see where your service might be needed?  In prayer groups, to focus on the many, many needs of our world?  In listening sessions with those from other groups who want us to understand the world from their perspective?  The mission is to strive through negotiation to seek reconciliation through good spirited thoughts, words, and deeds.
        No, the President is NOT Jesus, but I do believe he is calling us to exhibit our very best nature by working for a common humanity and a shared dignity.  In Dallas, he referenced the word of God spoken by the prophet Ezekiel (36:26), “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
        Jesus calls us to the ways of both Mary and Martha.  As I said, this is not a competition, but rather it is two sides of one coin.  As we gather around this table today and then go about our own things and ways, we should ask God in Jesus Christ to help us to be attentive to his presence, available to his Word, ready to follow his Way, and minister to others in his Name.
          In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.     AMEN.