Sermon Archives

We Are Enough

Lexi Boudreaux
Sun, Jul 21

 

Will you please pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, oh God, our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

 “We are here today because of our faith. The gospel compels us to act.” These are the words of Sister Ann Scholz, the associate director of social mission for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is one of many who joined a coalition of 15 other Catholic organizations at the Russell Senate Office Building in D.C. on Thursday to demand an end to child detention at the border. At that protest, 70 Catholic sisters, clergy and parishioners were led away in handcuffs.  Pictures from the protest capture nuns and laypersons sprawled on the rotunda floor with pictures of the children who have died in US custody on their chests. As people walked by the protester’s bodies formed the shape of the cross on the marble floor.  Individuals from many different faith traditions are engaging in protests for children’s safety across the country --and --I bet if Martha was living among us now, she would have been one of them.

Our gospel passage from Luke this morning focuses on a brief moment between Martha and Jesus. Her sister Mary is referenced, but drawing from multiple translations of the text it is unclear if Mary is actually present at the time of the conversation. Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus were frequent hosts of Jesus and were some of his closest and earliest followers.

When I imagine this conversation in Martha and Mary’s hometown of Bethany I think of a scene comparable to any one of us coming home after a long day of work. As we walk through the door one of our best friends call us up and tells us that they are coming in from out of town last minute. At first, our heart’s flutter with excitement at this wonderful surprise, and then the worry seeps in about the list of tasks we know we can’t get to in time for their arrival. But of course we clear our schedules and welcome our beloved person anyways into our cluttered kitchens, into our living rooms strewn with books, the dog’s toys and whatever else we promised ourselves we’d pick up when we had a spare moment.  We invite our person into our mess, into the unedited version of our lives. We show them parts of us that not everyone gets to see because we know that one of the blessings of that relationship is that we don’t have to perform, that this person embraces our humanness.

That is the kind of intimacy I believe we are getting a glimpse of in this passage from Luke.  That is the kind of intimacy that makes what happens in this passage possible. These few verses in my opinion can be read as speaking to the value of vulnerability in our relationships with God and with each other, that Martha’s exchange with Jesus let’s us know a little bit more about what a relationship with God looks like.

Many sermons have been written about how this text proves Jesus’ radical inclusion of women in equal discipleship with their male counterparts. Many sermons have also been written using this passage to limit women’s ministry in Christian communities to a role of silent obedience to male leadership. We see the effects of these interpretations in the current Christian church even now. Some congregations have a legacy of women ministers going back decades while some still limit women’s roles in leadership to this day. I could talk about how a friend of mine at the end of last semester felt defeated as churches in her denomination weren’t hiring women to fill pastoral leadership roles.  I could talk about how I sat on the phone with her as she tearfully wrestled with what her call was and the societal limitations of living out that call in the church she grew up in. I could talk about how one of my colleagues this summer shared that her validity was dismissed in an interview because she boldly told her interviewer she believed in women’s ordination or no ordination at all in her tradition. I could even talk about how in the beginning of further exploring my call to ministry I had wondered for even just a moment if I could step into my place in the pulpit, if my voice would be valued and heard. While these five verses have done immense work in attempting to form a picture of a woman’s place in the church I think there is something to learn here that can speak to the broader condition of being a person of faith.

 To be honest, I’ve always had mixed feelings about this small section of Luke. On the one hand I get excited for this window into what some of our female spiritual ancestors were like. On the other hand this passage brings to the forefront a lot of questions that don’t seem to have clear answers. One surface interpretation goes like this: Martha is too focused on the things she needs to accomplish while Mary prioritizes learning from Jesus. Jesus chastises anxious Martha to be more like her sister who is choosing the better way to live. Be a Mary, not a Martha, some people have said. In this scenario, for Mary to win Martha has to lose. 

Does this have to be the case? Is this really what the spirit is telling us? This way of reading the text constructs what I believe to be a false binary of Mary equals a good diligent, obedient disciple and Martha equals a bad whiny, bossy disciple. This binary establishes that our worth as followers of Christ and as humans is a zero sum game. From what we know about life, things are not usually black and white, but they occupy a space of grey. And, I trust, knowing what we know about God, that this is not a story of pitting two women against each other. This is not even a story about what kind of person is better than the other.

These verses, I think, instead provide a brief intimate glimpse into the lives of Mary, Martha, and Jesus, and like most of our sacred scripture things aren’t quite as straight forward or as clear as one might think.  We come to this part of the story directly following the parable of the Good Samaritan, an illustration from Jesus explaining how to love our neighbors. Biblical scholars indicate that the preceding story of the Good Samaritan and our text for this morning need to be understood together. That the story of Martha, Mary, and Jesus in Bethany and the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrate the two commandments that Jesus tells us are the most important for us to follow. Jesus says in chapter 12 of Mark: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” So the question is, how is the story of Martha, Mary and Jesus showing us how to love God?

The word says, “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.” In this exchange Martha is desperately overwhelmed by expectation, expectations that she provides what is needed. Martha is trying to be her very best in the ways she knows how. Martha’s mistake isn’t that she is focusing on doing her ministry, or “tasks” as in this translation. Martha here might be operating from a place of feeling like what she is doing isn’t good enough, that she needs help from someone, anyone to improve her ability to get through. Perhaps, her worry about her work comes from a fear that she won’t be enough for the challenge set before her. A part of her might be getting caught up in how she should be, in how she should fulfill the expectations set forth for her by society, maybe even by the people who love her. The self-doubt creeps in, an inner critic whispers to her, “Maybe you can’t do it, maybe you weren’t enough all along for this work. Maybe Jesus wants more than you can give him, wants someone else besides you.” This little whisper is what Berne Brown, a psychologist and qualitative researcher who has been made famous by her TED talks, identifies as the feeling of shame.  Shame, or the feeling of unworthiness, of not being enough plagues our culture. Mental health among students on college campuses is at an all time low. Even as early as middle school and high school young people are crippled by this pressure to be the best, to have no faults, to always be achieving. Unfortunately, this feeling does not go away as we grow into adulthood. Especially as adults we oftentimes feel like we are alone in feeling like we aren’t enough compared to others. I bet we can all remember a time when we didn’t make the cut for the soccer team, a loved one didn’t make us feel appreciated, or our boss gave our co-worker the positive feedback we so desperately needed to hear ourselves. When it becomes too much, on our lowest days we ask ourselves, “Am I really enough?”

Berne Brown often discusses how our capacity to be vulnerable with one another alleviates our sense of shame. In reference to being vulnerable she says, “its not about winning, it’s not about losing, it’s about showing up and being seen.” Martha shows up fully in all her feelings of frustration, in all her messiness and is willing to be fully seen by her teacher and friend Jesus. In doing so, she learns of her own beloved-ness, she learns that Mary is enough and so is she.

Jesus meets Martha’s cries with compassion. He addresses her with a gesture of intimate friendship calling her by name not once but twice: “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.”   Jesus was not chastising Martha to be more like Mary. In the Greek text the words in the passage translated, as “the better part” (τὴν ἀγαθὴν μερίδα) can also mean “a good portion.” With that translation Jesus isn’t valuing Mary’s state of being over Martha’s. He is pointing out that Mary’s portion is also good.

We never find out what happens or what the resolution of this conversation was. Did Martha ask follow up questions? I sure would. Did Jesus offer to help Martha with her ministry? Or invite her to take a break and cherish a moment of peace in his presence? We never find out explicitly what the phrase “there is need of only one thing” really is referring to. Perhaps, Jesus is saying that the only thing that we all need to recognize is that however we love God, it is a good portion and that it will not be taken away from us.

 I’d like to think that Jesus’ response relieves Martha’s shame. In that moment he not only accepted Martha’s frustration, her humanity, her messiness, but he also pointed to the goodness of Mary without taking away from the worth of Martha. In John chapter 11 verse 5 it says, “Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.” It is clear that Jesus loved them both as they, along with their brother, are the only people mentioned by name that Jesus was said to love in that gospel. There is goodness in both Mary and Martha.

As the 14th Century Christian teacher, Meister Eckhart, said so well, “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God.  Every creature is a word of God.” Martha’s feelings of inadequacy prevented her from seeing that she is also so full of God and also her honestly with Jesus about her deepest needs and desires shows that she “spoke the truth from their heart” as the psalmist from our first reading claims is necessary for someone to abide with God. Her ability to be vulnerable in this interaction was her way of loving God “with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind and with all her strength.”

So, as the text of psalm 15 inquires, “who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill God?” I’m not sure we can easily answer this question by categorizing people into Mary’s and Martha’s or even better or worse disciples. When we are vulnerable and embrace all of our emotions, however imperfect or inconvenient they are, we start to love and learn from the parts of ourselves we push out of view. We allow God to embrace us in the very margins of our hearts: The parts of ourselves we deem as just not good enough. Jesus invites us into the fullness of who we are and tells us that we are enough just by virtue of our existence and our trust that God will hold us gently even when we are angry or overwhelmed by burden. Jesus compassionately reminds us that there is only one thing needed: our willingness to show up and be our full selves, to love God by inviting God into our living rooms filled with our books, dust bunnies, and unfiltered feelings.

Mary and Martha appear only a few times in the Bible, but their influence on the Christian church has been far reaching. In Catholicism they are counted among the saints and according to Mary Ann Beavis, “a popular medieval French legend portrays Martha, Mary, and Lazarus as missionaries to southern France, where Mary preached and performed miracles and Martha saved the village of Tarascon from a dragon, taming it with a cross and holy water.”            

Both of these women are clearly multi-faceted, complicated, flawed and beloved disciples who worked for God throughout their lives, choosing a good portion of ministry for their unique talents with open hearts. As they lived for God they knew that every part of them was indeed enough. Let us all go out into this hazy summer day with our open, vulnerable hearts, knowing that when we reach out to God for assurance when we feel overwhelmed, that God will call out to us by name, as many times we need, and love the parts of ourselves that make us so fully human. May it be so.

 

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