the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Tag: episcopal

“All lives matter”–Martha

I prefer to think of Martha in slightly more generous terms than the Gospel credits her with today. Luke writes that Martha was “distracted by her many tasks,” but I don’t feel that truly honors Martha. Instead, I think of Martha as being focused. Focused on the tasks at hand that needed to be accomplished. Focused with a level of attention to detail that ordered her world. A level of attention that demanded that work was ordered to be done first, before leisure and relaxation could be had.

Perhaps, I want to think of Martha as misunderstood because I know exactly where Martha is coming from. In fact, without any context given in the story, I instantly think of Martha as the older of the two, with ne’er do well Mary, that irresponsible carefree sister, obviously representing the younger child. Now, this probably says more about myself and my own sibling relationship, than anything that is explicitly mentioned in the story but it strikes me that I would order them so. I find myself in Martha. I find myself respecting her commitment to the work that needs to be done. I find myself empathising with her request for assistance to fulfill the work that needs to be done. I understand her sense of responsibility, both her own, and the responsibility that her sister needs to honor to their relationship and their home in fulfilling her tasks. This responsibility comes out of a set of expectations for behavior and work, expectations that are thought to be shared, expectations that one feels must be met before time for rest, for sitting, for listening to a traveling teacher.

And, like Martha, I find that my singular focus is often misplaced, or at the very least, misguided, keeping me from seeing the moment for what it is, keeping me from seeing what is unfolding so graciously in front of me, keeping me from taking in a special moment in life. When your focus is misplaced, you often miss what is directly in front of you. When your focus is misplaced, you fall into the trap of being so singularly focused that you forget that there is more than one path, you forget that the journey can be just as important as the destination, you forget that the work of man is nothing if you don’t recognize Christ in your midst.

And, shockingly, you can learn something from your younger sibling. Mary does not just sit at the feet of Jesus and engage in idle conversation. Mary does not shirk her supposed responsibilities to take a break and chill out with a cool guy staying the night. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. She listened with intent. She listened to the presence of God in her midst, she soaked up the experience with all that she had. She didn’t forget her responsibilities to her sister and their home, she just knew that this greater responsibility trumped any other tasks that could wait a day. Unlike Martha, Mary hears Christ, recognizes Christ, listens to Christ, and intimately knows Christ with immediacy, absorbing his teaching with the same passion and devotion that Martha holds for the responsibilities they have for their home.

When Martha sees this, she short-circuits a bit. Confused, frustrated, perhaps embarrassed at the gal that her sister would have to simply sit and listen to Jesus, Martha asks Jesus to admonish her sister, direct her back to the work at hand, direct her to fulfill the responsibilities that she has. But Jesus does no such thing. Instead, Jesus commends the actions of Mary, while drawing into focus the misplaced focus of Martha. It is not an admonition of Martha, but rather a reminder that in listening, we have to hear what is being said, not what we want to hear being said. It is a reminder to Martha that for all of her focus, intention, personal responsibility, she will miss life as it passes right by her if she cannot realize those special moments in life that are occurring right in front of her. She will miss life if she cannot open herself to truly hear and absorb what is being shared, rather than staying on the single-tracking of order, tasks, commitments, expectations.

When we fail to absorb, fail to truly hear what is being said, when we stay on our singular-track instead of sitting at the feet of someone desperately hoping to reach us and teach us a piece of their experience of the world, then we miss our chance to grow and be shaped by this world. Once again this week, Black Lives Matter has been answered (perhaps genuinely) with a retort of All Lives Matter. All Lives Matter is the retort of Martha. All Lives Matter is the retort of a singular-tracking mind that is focused on a certain order, responsibility, on fulfilling certain expectations. All Lives Matter is the retort of misplaced focus, misplaced importance. It is the result of failing to sit and listen. It is the result of misguided care at best, and you’d be hard pressed to not see it by now as downright negligence and even willful ignorance. Because, the Black Lives Matter campaign is not about black lives above all others. It is not even about specifying one group vs another, and claiming superiority therein. Rather, if you truly listen to what is being said, you will hear that Black Lives Matter is because for too long in this country black lives have not mattered, at least no where near as much as the lives of others in this country. It is because All Lives Matter that it is important to denote that Black Lives Matter too (and no one is saying that only black lives should matter), due to the fact that this does not appear to be the case yet in our society.

If you still need convincing, one of my favorite explanations of this Martha/Mary conundrum in hearing what is truly being said, in recognizing the world as it truly exists in front of you, rather than the world as you want to see it, comes from a webcomic addressing this issue. Two houses stand side by side, as one burns on fire. There is a cartoon character with a fire hose who states that All Houses Matter and thusly all houses should be treated equally regardless, and proceeds to douse the house that is perfectly fine as the other continues to burn. When you say All Lives Matter, no matter your intention, you are stripping away the fact that we should take special note of the lives of our black brothers and sisters in this country, lives that face greater risks as they try to go about their daily life. When you say All Lives Matter you fail to follow the example of Mary, you fail to open yourself to truly hear the teaching of Christ, you fail to open yourself to truly hear the teaching of Christ that comes from your neighbor.

all houses matter

And we must desire to open ourselves, open our hearts to hear each other truthfully, honestly. When we open ourselves to hear, when we let go of our single-tracking Martha selves and embrace the different responsibility we have to listen as illustrated by Mary, then we can truly hear the pain in another’s voice, hear the sorrow in their story, hear the joy in their journey, hear the teaching of Christ that comes through them. This teaching is enlightened through their sharing fully of themself, a sharing that can only be done when they know that they have a captive and engaged audience, an audience that is prioritizing the teaching that they are receiving in that moment over the general responsibilities they have on a regular basis. These are responsibilities that are not forgotten, simply reprioritized. These are responsibilities that can wait.

As Mary sits at the feet of Christ, she radically alters our understanding of where we need to put importance in our lives. Her radical act does not forgo all responsibilities for the rest of her life. Her radical act does not even say that those other distractions are unimportant in the big picture. But, it is in this special moment that Mary recognizes that sometimes we need to change our focus. We need to see the forest for the trees. This doesn’t mean that we should stop caring for the trees, but rather, we need to understand what our work is for. We need to understand that stopping and listening to Christ, listening to Christ in each other, enables us to see the bigger picture. It enables us to recognize that Christ is present amongst us. It enables us to take the opportunity to open ourselves, open our hearts, to truly listen to the message of Christ that is at work in this world.

It is sharing that message when we stand in solidarity in proclaiming Black Lives Matter. It is sharing that message when we actively challenge the Martha’s of this world that wish to proclaim All Lives Matter. It is sharing that message that All Lives matter has never been an acceptable response because it maliciously misses the point. It misses Christ’s call to this world. It is a distraction. It keeps us from recognizing Christ as he sits in our home, teaching, while we do the busywork of that home around him. It keeps us from learning, from growing, from being made whole with our neighbor through Christ. That should be our goal. It is attainable. If only we remember that our chance to be a Mary can come at any time, in any place, and we just need to accept this and listen to Christ in our midst.

Amen.

oneness, not sameness

a sermon for the seventh sunday of easter, John 17:20-26 

One God. We are Trinitarian people. Our faith in the Creator God, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Advocate in the Holy Spirit, is foundational to our understanding of our faith, marking us as Christians with a certain understanding of how we relate to God and how that relationship with God manifested and manifests itself in this world. We believe in a certain type of oneness. A oneness that expresses a sense of unity. Unity in the understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oneness, unity, in our sense of Christian community that we experience here in this place. Oneness, unity, in the message that we receive here, and in the message that we take out into the world from here. It is a oneness, unity, that comes from the heart. That is based on love. That has an understanding that surpasses all understanding. That informs us and leads us forward in our relationships with our own selves, with each other, and with God. And the beauty of this oneness is that it is not sameness.

Sameness tells us what and how we believe. Sameness strips away creativity, or at least the creativity to exist outside what is appropriate. It is sameness that blurs a unique identity. Sameness that demands uniformity, consistency, perfection. Sameness that leaves little room for doubt, pain, new ideas, fresh expressions. Jesus Christ and God are not the same. Jesus speaks of their oneness, I am in you and you are in me, for theirs is a shared reality, a shared understanding, a unity that connects God to Son. This unity, this oneness enables God to experience doubt, pain, new ideas and fresh expressions. Their oneness is predicated on the understanding that Christ is not sent to teach the exact same way that God has attempted to reach creation in the past. The message itself does not change, but through Christ’s freedom to be in unity with God, to be one with God, and to express that in new ways, we hear anew the message that God has been sending to us. This message is picked up, built upon, followed because Christ was not in sameness with God. This message continues to this day because Christ and God where in oneness with each other, and we were invited into this.

Jesus appeals to God to enable us to be in oneness just as He and God are in oneness with each other. Our oneness is part of the oneness that Jesus and God share. Our oneness is a continuation of that relationship between Father and Son, between Creator and Creation. Our oneness is our call, and we need to do some serious work to live into this reality. Our understanding of our identity as a Christian, as a believer, needs to be built upon this sense of oneness that is exhibited by Jesus and God. We have to live into the reality that we are all connected, that we all possess God, that we all possess Christ. If we can grasp this reality, we can share that oneness with the world. If we can grasp this reality, then we can work to that understanding of being completely one.

Looking around Spokane, around Washington State, around this country, it may be hard to see how we can be made completely one. Hatred has become an acceptable form of public policy in our country. Smug superiority has been its opponent. Hatred has allowed entire states to declare that transexual people should not be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender (with politicians declaring how that gender is to be defined). Hatred has allowed bigotry, violence, xenophobia, Islamophobia, to become the primary issues in our election for President. Smug superiority has fanned the flames of this hatred by decrying how uneducated, how privileged, how dumb those expressing hatred are. Smug superiority posts critical think pieces on facebook and then attacks with so-called sardonic wit anyone they see as not following their enlightened view on twitter. When we look at the fractured world we live in, it is clear that the oneness of God, the expression of God’s love that was taught us by Christ and made our expression of faith, has been replaced by the cult of independence. We are told time and time again that our independence is the most important thing in the world. We are told time and time again that our independence trumps the rights of others. We are told time and time again that our independence is the virtue that most clearly expresses our identity. And it is easy to see how this fracture has occurred.

It is hard to say who we are. I know I can list who I am not. I am not conservative, I am not a fundamental Christian, I am not someone who turns from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I am not afraid to speak my mind, I am not humble, I am not one of those. Even when we can string together some examples of who we are: I am a man, I am a husband, I am an Episcopalian, I am socially progressive, I am a foodie, there exists an inherit “I am not” in contrast to what I am (I am not a woman, I am not single, I am not eating at a chain restaurant). We are so focused on defining what we are not, who we are not like, what we don’t like, what we distance ourselves from, that we forget to find who we really are, regardless of what others may say or think. When we define who we are, we often do so in a manner that expresses how we are not like someone else, how we are not part of that other group of society, how we are a unique individual following the latest trends in fashion, food, and entertainment, at least the cool ones (with coolness of course being a factor determined by my social group). So, how can we experience oneness, being completely one, with each other, if our identities are focused on being not like someone else. How can we turn our focus from this sense of otherness to one of oneness.

If we are striving for oneness, for that hope of being completely one with each other and with God through Christ, then how must we define ourselves. Who are you, if you are in oneness with the world. I am a beloved child of God. I am the unique creation of God, formed each day by those whom I encounter, formed by the experiences I have and I share with others. I am who God has called me to be. I am hopeful that we can have oneness and be completely one with each other and with God through Christ. And, I want this, because through it, the world may know that God sent Christ, that God loves us as God loved his only Son.

It is this sense of identity, an identity that looks to the oneness of God in Christ, the oneness that we too can have, that can begin to heal the fractured world we live in. We know that this message has reached people. There are a multitude of expressions of faith, Christian or not. Our call is not to be the same as each other. Our call is not to have Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists expressing their faith in the same way. However, we are called into oneness with God and Christ. It is in this oneness that we must express the love of God. We must leave behind the fractured identities, the identities that state who we are not, in order to live into the identity of who we are, in God, in Christ, in oneness with our neighbors.

This is an achievable goal. Christ has opened the door for us to accomplish this, if only we listen to the teachings that have been left behind for us. And, in order to spread this message, we must educate through action. We must educate through identifying ourselves for who we are without the baggage of labeling who we are not. We must live into this oneness before we even have it because it is only through an example of striving for that oneness, of striving for the same relationship between Father and Son to be fully realized between Creator and Creation, that we can show others what it means to be in oneness, how it is not sameness, how it is based upon mutual love for each other, just as Christ and God love us.

It will only be through working towards this oneness that the world may truly come to know God. It will only be through working towards this oneness that our differences will necessarily be left behind, that the man-made social constructs that we have built up around us and ours to keep away them and theirs, will be by necessity torn down, replaced with the love of God that keeps us in communion with each other, that respects our differences but loves us anyways. If you can answer the question Who am I without stating who you are not, then you are beginning this work of oneness. If we can begin this work, then we can make this a reality, if we are willing to live into the radical departure from the current social order. If we can begin this work of oneness, then we can begin to truly experience the full power of God’s love working in and through us out to the world. Let us begin.

Amen.