Centered - Reflections 7-17-19

Assigned Texts for Sunday July 21, 2019
6th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 18:1-10
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Hospitality was a big deal in the ancient Near East. The cultural norm was that you would offer all your guests, expected and unexpected, an opportunity to rest, to wash their feet, and then food and drink. A lot of those “unexpected” guests were not even people you knew; many were “foreigners” just passing through your country. But if they were in your neighborhood, you provided hospitality. Period.

If you look at the definition for hospitality it is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”. Among God’s people, it is even more than that. Hebrews 13:2 says Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Matthew 25 takes it a step further and says when you have welcomed the stranger, you have actually welcomed Christ.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham demonstrates how it is done (go ahead, read it – it is great). He runs over to meet the three men and then invites them to rest and wash their feet, then he offers them a bite to eat. At that point, you have to smile at the frantic preparations “behind the scenes”. Then, you can imagine him blowing out a deep breath just before he casually steps out of the tent to serve the meal. These guests were welcomed graciously and properly. The focus was on their comfort and not on the host.

We move far forward in the story of God’s people to the Gospel of Luke. Jesus stops at the home of Martha and Mary; hospitality is still a big deal culturally. There are several things we don’t know – was Jesus a stranger, or had he visited before (in the Gospel of John, the family are very close friends)? Was his stop expected? Had they invited him or was it more like the Abraham story, did he just show up?

What we do know is that Jesus was welcomed into Martha’s home. She gets Jesus sat down; it doesn’t say so, but I’ll bet you she had water for his feet. She then, like Abraham, rushes away to prepare “a bite” for this traveling preacher. 

Bustling about with her meal, she realizes someone is missing in the kitchen…. Mary, instead of helping with the task of hospitality, sits and listens to Jesus… SITS and listens to Jesus. I can imagine Martha banging pots and making noise, certain that her sister will rise to the occasion and help. Or maybe Jesus will hear her clunking around and suggest to Mary that she go help. She is quite distracted by her sister’s absence and worried about the meal for Jesus.

Before Jesus says anything, I want to pause and take a look at the origin of the words. Worry comes from an Old English word (which came from West Germanic roots) that means “strangle”. Wow. I’ve felt some worries strangle me, haven’t you?  And distracted, from Latin, is to drag or pull apart, being separated with force. Again, I get it. 

Martha was strangled with concern about hosting this rabbi and was dragged away from her initial warm reception of Jesus by her frustration at her sister. She lost focus.

With that in mind hear Jesus say “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things”. Now that could sound compassionate, right? Please note that she is not “rebuked” for her cooking, cleaning, or hosting. Jesus has helped her name the split within. Mary, on the other hand, is focused completely on one thing: Welcoming the Kingdom of God. If Martha remains centered on the gift of her welcome, she, through her generous and warm reception of Jesus, also welcomes the Kingdom of God. 

What distracts you from welcoming the Kingdom of God around us?

What anxieties strangle or pull you away from taking notice?

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245