Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

"Choosing the better part?"

Rev. Kealahou Alika

Amos 8:1-12 & Luke 10:38-42

It was many years ago that I sat at the feet of Papa Henry Auwae, a kahuna laʻau lapaʻau or practioner of Hawaiian medicine. Many others were there the morning that we gathered near the Ahuʻenu Heiau across from Kamakahonu Beach in Kailua, Kona.

Kamakahonu was the residence of Kamehameha I. Ahuʻena was built by Kamehameha I as a temple of peace and prosperity sometime between 1812 and 1813. It served as the king’s personal refuge and was his home for the last years of his life.

I just returned home to Hawaiʻi after having lived away in California for 16 years. There was much to learn about the cultural traditions and values of our Hawaiian elders.

Papa Auwae was invited to share his manaʻo, his thoughts, about his own work as a kahuna – as a practitioner of Hawaiian medicine and Hawaiian spirituality. I listened intently and though our time together was brief, what he said that day has shaped and reshaped my years of Christian ministry.

As I read the story of Martha and Mary from our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, I thought about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him speak. In a way, I felt like Mary that day when I sat at the feet of Papa Awae.

But I must confess there are many times when I am a little more like Martha. My hunch is that in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke this morning, some of us may look upon Martha as – “the model of the active and busy Christian worker” – while others of us may look upon Mary as - “the one who is the model of the contemplative and reflective Christian” (Preaching through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 345).

In his account of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary, Luke does not make a choice between Martha and Mary and who is to emulated. He does not ask us to accept one and reject the other (Op. cit.). Rather, he is asking us to recognize “when to do the one and when to the other” – when to be Martha and when to be Mary. There are times when we may find ourselves busy preparing and serving others and times when we may be sitting and listening at the feet of those whose wisdom we value.

Friends gathered here yesterday to share their stories and memories of someone who recently died. I had an opportunity to meet with family several weeks ago as we prepared for the gathering.

It was during our time of preparation and during our time together yesterday that there were expressions of anger and despair, sorrow and grief over the loss of a friend and loved one. When it was time to share their stories and memories, someone began by saying, “All of our lives are connected through Dan and I want us to take a moment before I share my stories with you to be in a moment of quiet and to be aware of that connection.” Like Mary, there was time to be still and then to listen.

But like Martha, there was also time for many other tasks as friends helped with preparing for the reception that followed - setting up tables and chairs and preparing drinks and food for people to share. And afterwards there was a need for friends to help with cleaning up and putting things away.

I found myself in the kitchen being busy with what needed to be done but thankfully there were others who were also helping. I must confess I did take on the Martha side of all the work that needed to be done much too seriously.

I realized later that my zeal for cleaning up did have an unintended consequence that affected at least one person. Andrea, our Administrative Coordinator, informed me at the end of the day that someone had thrown out a zip lock bag of grapes that belonged to her. “Oops!” I confessed, “That was me. I thought it was leftover from last week.” She was kind. She laughed.

Some will point out that the Bible makes clear that Jesus seemed to favor Mary when he said, “She has chosen the better part – to sit and listen.” “If Jesus seems a bit harsh with Martha, [we] should remember that this story follows the sharp turned toward Jerusalem in chapter 9, verse 51, after which Jesus’ words are rigorous and demanding. The cross awaits all of them on down the road” (Op. cit.).

But we must not dismiss Martha’s concern. After all it was Martha who receives in Jesus into her home and it is Martha who knows well the importance and significance of extending the hospitality of her household to Jesus. It is Martha who goes out to meet Jesus while Mary sits in the house (Luke 11:20. It is Martha who serves the dinner while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39).

The lesson in the story remains and that is to recognize when we are being Martha and when we are being Mary. There are many ways to pray and sometimes our prayers become meditations focused not only on God but on ourselves. I invite you now to join me in such a prayer.

E pule kākou. Let us pray: Sometimes, O God we behave like Martha. We get distracted in our routines so busy with our daily chores that we forget to take the time to stop and breathe, to look up and to notice the creation you have given us and the way it speaks about your love and compassion for all people.

We do not take time to listen for your words while reading the Bible, while listening to music, while talking to friends, and we become worried and upset about many things. And sometimes, O God, we behave like Mary. We devote our time to looking up, thinking that everything we are commanded to do is love God, and we forget to serve our neighbor, and to commit our time to the work and witness of the church, forgetting to get our hands dirty.

Help us, O God. Forgive us when we do not know when to work and when to listen. In your mercy heal our worries and our judgments, so that we can, indeed be your faithful servants in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Kimberly Bracken Long, Editor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2013, pages 91-92). Amen.

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