Sermon 21/7/2019 “What the ….!”
Sermon 21/7/2019 “What the ….!”
The Journey – Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
Luke 10:38-42 : Mary and Martha
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
I went to a course a few months ago, on Disaster Chaplaincy. There were people from lots of different denominations and faith positions present, all wanting to develop their skills in this area. A lovely woman sat next to me, and as you do, we got to know one another over the 3 days. It turns out she had been an Anglican priest for 25 years, in a church near where her family ran a farm in the north east of WA. She and her husband recently retired from the farm and moved to another town close by. Once there she went to the Anglican Church to see if she could be an active leader there, and suddenly she were transported back to the 5thcentury! No, she was told, you cannot practise as a priest here, as we don’t believe women can be priests or leaders in the church. It is not for you to proclaim the gospel, it is only a man’s job. So, take off the collar and sit in the pew! (Sorry, that’s my paraphrasing of the exchange). It turns out this particular area of the northeast belongs to a very conservative diocese linked to Sydney which has the overarching power to decide who can be priests and who can’t.
Honestly, I could not believe what I was hearing!! Maybe these Sydney Anglicans read a different bible to me!
I think todays reading says it all. The story of Mary and Martha from the Gospel of Luke.
Before we get to the story, lets clarify some things. There are a few different Marys in the gospel accounts, but the two most prominent, excluding Mary, the mother of Jesus, are Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. We know that Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus and lived in Bethany, in the region of Judea and that Jesus loved them all, like family. But they were more than family. Mary used to sit at Jesus feet to learn from him, and since this was the posture assumed by a disciple, or at least a follower of Jesus, she certainly was equal to the men. We hear this in today’s reading. Later she anoints Jesus when he is dining at their home, revealing her devotion and love for him. After that she does not appear again in the accounts, although in some post canonical literature she is said to be present at the tomb.
On the other hand, Mary Magdalene, as we have seen when we looked at the gospel of Mary, became a disciple par excellence, a faithful follower and supporter of Jesus. She is said to have witnessed Jesus’ death, accompanied his body to the tomb, was the first to see the tomb empty and was the first to see the risen lord and announce it to the other disciples.
So two Marys, maybe even two disciples!
There has been some conjecture that these two Marys are one and the same, and historically they have been combined, particularly by the Catholic church. But most scholars seem to think that Mary was a pretty common name and they were separate strong women. They are certainly not the unnamed sinner used to label them prostitutes and fallen, mentioned in Luke.
What is most significant, however, is that we have either one or two women at the forefront of the Jesus movement, and that Jesus trained women as much as men to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. He called both men and women to the service of the gospel.
So the reading we have today is very significant. Because it reflects this.
Martha is fussing about trying to be the good hostess to Jesus, while Mary takes up her position next to him. Already there is the contrast of roles, remembering that in Jesus time women were not seen as particularly useful or smart and not regarded as capable of great deeds. They had their place and they were to stay there. Martha gets a little upset about it all and suggests Jesus should get Mary to help. But instead he tells her to stop fussing. You can imagine him saying, “Martha, you are also an integral part of changing the world. The most important thing is the kingdom and my teaching! Come and sit”
Now I am not suggesting we devalue hospitality or caring for the home, but about the choices we can and are allowed to make. But secretly I love Jesus message since I am a pretty poor housekeeper at the best of times. Bill Loader suggests that Martha should go on strike and join Mary.
But more than that, I love that Mary is bold, and takes her place besides the men. And I love that Jesus does not see the strict gender roles that society sets for not only men and women, but those who are poor and outcast, those whose occupation is unclean in some eyes, and those who are foreigners.
I sometimes think that we place some 21stcentury ideas and values on Jesus, which maybe aren’t there. But his response to women is not one of them. Both Marys, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdalene play vital roles when Jesus was alive. He would be probably horrified to see how some parts of the church operates today. Maybe he would come in and turn a few tables over.
Luckily for the female priest I met at the course, she went to the Uniting Church down the road, who is inclusive of women and she now leads worship and is an integral part of that community. Suddenly the Uniting Church didn’t seem so bad.
But it’s not just women in worship that I want to speak of today, it’s women who speak out in other areas of our lives, proclaiming the gospel in our society and our world. If you think the gender battle is over I think you are denying the reality. We need bold and outspoken women in all aspects of society, to pronounce the kingdom of love and justice that Jesus died for.
I met many at the Common Dreams conference I recently attended, and there will be time soon to look more closely at them. But one woman in particular was incredible. Dr Anne Patel Wright, an indigenous scholar, theologian, activist, and prolific writer from the Bidjara/ Kari Kari peopleof Queensland. Anne has worked tirelessly for her people, calling not only for reconciliation, but a treaty and restitution for the incredible injustice done to the first peoples of this land. She spoke with passion, with love, and with heart about the need to recognise, apologise and act. And she challenges not only us as individuals but as the church. Boldly.
The Common Dreams participants have developed a public statement, which reflects the many years of work by Anne and many, many others, including Normal Habel.
I leave copies on the table for you to peruse. (I will post it after this).
So in conclusion, and I apologise that my 3 min sermon has gone a bit longer,
Women are called to have equal voices in our mission to transform the world. To offer an alternative way of living, an inclusive, just, loving way. Sometimes as Rex Hunt says, they and we have to be outspoken, behave boldly, be feisty, even if people and particularly men don’t like it.
I would say to them get over it. Jesus did!