Choosing the Better Part

Jesus, teach us how to live like people who have chosen the better part. Amen

 So, yesterday afternoon I was really wanting to finish this sermon and was getting all stressed out about how little time I had left, and the house was trashed. So there I was folding laundry in that kind of angry way and thinking about how I should just give up on everything I do because I am such a complete failure. And I was irritated with Adin because he kept interrupting me and I said a little prayer –“Jesus I don’t know what to do. How can you want me to follow you? Surely you don’t want me going around saying your name. Me? I was horrid to Adin this afternoon, and really Jesusl, do you want somebody who gets frustrated with her kid, and is always doing everything at the last minute? and spins out? really?

 So there I am, I’ve just loaded the dishwasher, AGAIN. I am folding all this laundry, AGAIN. and I’m grumbling to myself and finally it was like Oh Jesus. I’m Martha.

Dang it.

Right before I was supposed to get up here in front of all of you, who are probably doing way better than I am right now.

See, I was going to write this really awesome sermon that was going to illuminate the biblical text in a really fresh way, and instead I feel like I am still at the very beginning. I really want to be further along on my spiritual journey but sometimes it’s really hard.

Because sometimes that better part is so far away.

It’s hard because we know there is a better part. We can feel it. We long for that better part with every ounce of our being. We hunger and thirst for the better part.

Both the Old Testament lesson this morning and the Gospel are stories of hospitality.

Mary, Martha, and Abraham all engage the question, “How do we be gracious hosts of God?”

Of the three I think Abraham may get closest. Give all we can, sit down and listen.

I don’t think the goal of this gospel story is to pick the right sister and then you get a gold star. Martha is judgmental and snippy and Mary is shirking her work. We do both things all the time. We neglect to help our sisters in their time of need and we burn with the injustice of doing more than our fair share. We avoid our responsibilities and we harbor grudges. The tricky piece is that Martha is doing pretty much what we think of Jesus as wanting the rest of us to do. Offer hospitality, feed people, all that good stuff.

If we hear the lesson from Genesis this morning there can be no doubt that God loves hospitality, the angel does not say Abraham, Abraham, Abraham, you are worried about many things, and he does even more running around getting ready than Martha. The whole lesson is nothing BUT Abraham in a rush making ready for his guests. and there is no problem whatsoever. Because he starts with seeing the guests and ends with him listening.

But, Martha doesn’t see Jesus. She thinks she is being hospitable, but all she can see is the word in relation to herself. The Bad news here is that this is all of us. Every time we think Jesus is the way for us to do our things with the added bonus of being “spiritual.”

I think we do it honestly enough. We see a need and respond, but that response becomes our posture. We confuse our offering with the world’s need, and that can make us mean.

Guess what? Jesus didn’t come so that we could make people do what we want them to do.

Jesus, you tell that lazy sister of mine to help.

Jesus, take my side.

Jesus, don’t you care?

That’s what this is all about. Mary is willing to hear what Jesus has to say and Martha wants to bring Jesus around to her way of seeing things.

Do we want to shape or be shaped by the gospel?

What we need to do is admit that life is overwhelming and complex and we (by we, here I mean I) are so deeply sucked into the illusion that getting it all done is the goal.

That somehow on a painfully deep level I really think I can be perfect. And guess what, I can’t. I cant even get close enough to start pretending.

 Why did we come to church this morning?

Because if it was out of obligation I suspect that we just might be wasting our time.

 “Martha – you are distracted by many things, like worrying more about what other people are doing than yourself, like judging your sister, like picking fights, like keeping score and having a sense of justice and fairness with you at the center.”

We are more than willing to bicker among ourselves about the details, from what kind of music is acceptable on a Sunday morning to whose turn is it to make the coffee. But where really is Jesus in our discussions of church polity, worship styles and change? Where is Jesus when we talk about church, where is Jesus when we are anxious about Sunday mornings?

Is he still sitting quietly teaching in the corner as we rush around trying to get everything right?

Martha tries to get Jesus to take her side.

Jesus has already taken all of our sides. That’s the whole point of incarnation.

Jesus doesn’t have any problem with doing work and feeding people. He loves it. What Jesus doesn’t seem to like is trying to make him take sides to satisfy our need for self righteous satisfaction.

The better part is not judging, the better part is welcoming your guest not only with your home but with your heart. To make space for those God sends your way. And if they do things differently than you, or they do things wrong, remember with relief this is not your house this is not your party.

This is God’s house and this is God’s party and we are all guests. And every week we are invited back to this table.

Jesus’s good news, his gospel, is that the kingdom of God Is at hand. In so many ways this seems absurd to everyone he meets. The whole Journey of his ministry is full of Jesus sharing the good news that a new reality of radical love has dawned. And the time is now. And that is why we are here, that is why we do this.

That is why we came to church this morning.

Because we believe it. We believe it deeply, because it is true. And on the days when I am at my worst, I believe it most of all. That better part? It’s one thing-


 The good news is that love is stronger than death. God is love, and we are beings created by love, with the purpose to love. I believe that darkness and despair and loneliness and inadequacy are real, but they are not the ultimate reality. And I don’t know anywhere other than church where we say that, sing that, preach and pray that.

What I want for myself is to start really living as if the kingdom of God is at hand. I want to throw myself at the feet of Jesus and spend the rest of my life listening to what he has to say.

Kerlin Richter

July 18, 2010


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