Proper 11C / Ordinary 16C / Pentecost +9
July 21, 2013
July 21, 2013
Every sermon is a lived experience. Shaped by the moment, by the priest, by the priest’s preparation, by the gathered congregation--influenced by such things as that imprudent third or fourth cup of coffee, visitations by neighborhood cats, and even the weather (we are all grateful for shorter sermons on hot days in unairconditioned churches), and the acoustics of the space! When asked for texts of my sermon (and I always text them) I am well aware that the text does not have the life, the breath, the energy, of the preached sermon.
There is a wholeness and a dynamic that only exists in relationship and in the moment--in the call and response (in the Episcopal church that is often the body language I notice in the pews!), in the nodding heads and folded arms. There is an element of movement, of sound and of life that I find lacking in the solitary, silent reading of someone’s sermon. The come holy spirit come, that races through my mind in the moments before I step into a pulpit or into the center aisle--the sermon lives.
Which is part of the reason that I find this story of Mary and Martha so compelling. So much of what we experience of Jesus is through the written word--the scholarly study of scripture, the reading of the text--this commentary, that commentary. But, it is the application of the story to life, to life lived in the here and the now that brings life--and whenever I read this text I am well aware of the power of the living story.
When I was undergoing my first unit of clinical pastoral education--a required component of my seminary training in which I served as a student chaplain on the geriatric psychiatry ward of Maine Medical Center--I met a woman who was there because of the severe depression she had fallen into as her Parkinson’s disease progressed. A vibrant woman, her life had centered on the doing--caring for her husband, children and grandchildren; participating in the life of her church; working and volunteering, fixing and preparing.
And yet, bit by bit, as her disease progressed, she was no longer able to “do”. As I grew to know her, I was stunned by her passion, her concern for others, and her desire for God. And, in a moment that I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit, it occurred to me...she was in the midst of a Mary time.
Throughout our lives, our callings and our ministries shift and change--times of doing and times of listening. Times to be active and times to be still. And, for this woman, after a life in which she had been very much a Martha (doing things that needed doing and appreciated for what she was able to do), she had the opportunity to sit as Mary--listening to Jesus and being present to his teachings, his story. She embraced this image, and found meaning in it. Her eyes lit up, and it was this moment that turned her literal weeping into joy as she began to see that Jesus was still speaking to her, she only needed to listen to hear his voice.
And, in that I can see the reality that Christ is indeed in the world. That Jesus is still speaking and that the world offers to us the opportunity to encounter Christ again and again. From the page and lived in the flesh--what we learn in the listening matters in the world.
Our world emphasizes the action--indeed, an entire book of scripture exists in praise of the Acts of the Apostles! That said, why, why does the author of Luke feel that this story needs to be included as part of the Gospel? What is so important about listening?
If we think about it, without those who listened, who set aside their tasks and agendas to just listen...where would Christianity be? How far would Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God have travelled if folks had not listened?
Jesus lived in an oral culture, grounded in stories that conveyed messages and meanings beyond themselves. We exist as a community of faith because somebody listened to the stories.
Whether it was those who received the prophecies of Amos or Paul’s description of himself as a “servant of the Gospel”, or the moments woven throughout salvation history in which the Israelites appeal to God and God listens and responds--it is clear, that the act of listening is central to the biblical narrative.
In the afterword to the collection of essays, “Listening is an Act of Love” the editor, Dave Isay describes the reaction of a man who’d been interviewed about his experiences living in one of the last flophouses in the United States. Upon seeing his words in print, the man started dancing around wildly, proclaiming “I exist! I exist!”
Listening gives meaning and shape--gives “realness” to anothers life in a way that nothing else can. Listening gave life to our faith and it enables us to give life to each other. And, I wonder if that was part of what was so important to Jesus about Mary’s presence there as a listener--if in being listened to, he was being given the gift of knowing that he exists--that his story and his legacy, would continue.
When we listen to others we are given the chance to move beyond the written and into the real. The real moment of connection, of life lived, of relationship--listening is an act of love.
And while our deeds may fade...it is the love that remains. Scripture is clear, love never ends--and perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he described that “which will not be taken from her”. Love.
This brings me back to the halls of the geriatric psychiatry ward--and it occurs to me, that in being given the chance to listen to that woman to understand her and grow to know her, I was given the chance to sit at the feet of Christ. In listening, in presence--she and I found a love and purpose. And, I hope, that on some level she knew, that her ministry would be remembered.
And, as a thank you for sticking with me...an actual picture, of our actual baby!