The Rev. Shepard Parsons is a white 66 year old cisgender man who recently retired from parish ministry having served churches in Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Milford, Shelton and Woodbridge. He’s blessed to be the husband of Karen and father of Eli, Iris and Charis. Since retirement he has read more books in the last year than in the ten preceding. He continues to enjoy hiking, tending their garden, playing Wordle and painting. Most joyfully, he continues to wallow in the love of God.
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
“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.’”
Reflection: Practicing Hospitality as Jesus’ Disciples
I recently retired from parish ministry. I love spending more time with my family, reading for pleasure, hiking, gardening, and painting. I also enjoy getting up on Monday mornings no longer worrying about what I will say on Sunday. I figure the lectionary has handed me this passage about twelve times. The words I spoke Sunday mornings depended on how well I was listening to the Holy Spirit and how much sleep I had the night before.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the Spirit might be saying to us and how to preach in such a way as to be meaningfully received by the congregation. On each of those Sundays I interpreted the passage as best I could taking into account our changing lives and world. I’ve struggled with Luke’s apparent prioritization of a contemplative life over one of labor and that women’s work is less important than men’s. Writers and theologians devoted to the liberation of all God’s people have seen in this story Jesus raising women to full participation in the world community. By using the same word to describe Martha’s work and the title given to Jesus’ innermost circle, Luke may well be saying that hosting a pot-luck is equally important as preaching. By placing Mary and Martha’s story between the telling of the Good Samaritan and Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, perhaps the writer is telling us that listening to and doing what Jesus says are two moments in the same thing: practicing hospitality as Jesus’ disciples.
Practicing hospitality takes work and it can be more or less difficult depending on the circumstances. Perhaps there was more to Martha’s stress than overcooking the lamb. Who’s coming to dinner, what’s happening in the world around us and how we are feeling all effect our hospitality. Martha was upset that her sister was not helping out. What else might have been going on? Was this the spark that ignited a growing anger? Perhaps she was concerned about the occupying Romans. What kind of risk was Martha taking by inviting the rebel Jesus into her home? Was this the first time Mary had left Martha in the lurch or was there a pattern? Was there a sibling rivalry? This wouldn’t be the first time such conflict was part of the Bible’s story. For all we know Mary just decided she wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet and plopped herself down. Was Martha doing what she felt she had to do instead of what she wanted? And when she complains, Jesus doesn’t invite her to leave the kitchen, but urges her not to worry about her preparations. He seems to say Martha’s work is important to honoring their guest while Mary gets to listen to what he has to say. Martha’s stress, though, has distracted her from the presence of Jesus.
Being a disciple of Jesus, practicing hospitality and just being a person unavoidably comes with worry and distraction. Jesus knows this and is with us even in our worrying. And he implores us not to let these things distract us from what is really important: the presence of the loving mystery of God in our lives. Listening to and caring for others, and ourselves, is to be a Disciple of Christ.
I can imagine if Jesus was a woman she would have arrived with a bottle of wine in hand and gone to the kitchen to see how she could help. After all, isn’t that where the party really begins?
Let us pray. O Holy One, Lover of Life, Mother of Mystery, Creator of the Cosmos, teach us in our lives of worry not to worry so much that we are distracted from your presence. Help us to remember that you have come into the world and worry with us. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war
- For those grieving or suffering due to the over 22,500 gun violence deaths in the US this year, including the people of the Highland Park, Illinois, July 4th parade shooting, and of the Copenhagen shopping center shooting July 3rd
- For those feeling overwhelmed and stressed because of the challenges brought on by the pandemic
- For hospitality workers affected by economic injustice
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For those who are practicing hospitality as Jesus’ Disciples
- For those raising women to full participation in the world community
This Week in History:
July 9, 1962 (60 years ago): Bob Dylan records “Blowin’ In The Wind” -- regarded by some as the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement. [History]
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
July 11, 2022