Sermon by Brittany Mangelson
July 21, 2019
Our scripture for today comes from Luke 10: 48- 52 “Now as they went on their way, he entered into a small village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. She had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.’ But the Lord answered her. ‘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 from her.’”
So, I can just picture this scene. Martha and Mary catch wind that Jesus is on his way. And this is the moment they have been waiting for. Who wouldn’t want to put their best foot forward? Who wouldn’t want to live out their discipleship through hospitality for Jesus, for the one they have been waiting for. We know Jesus has been traveling. We know that he has not been well received everywhere he’s been. We know that he has just charged the 70 or 72 of his disciples to go out and spread the good news. And we were just recently reminded of who our neighbor is and how we should encounter our neighbor. Jesus is going around performing miracles, proclaming peace, and he is coming to Martha’s home on his way to Jerusalem. Martha in this story appears to have no male companion. So, she is being portrayed as a property owner who has the ability to support herself which means that she has resources to support Jesus in his ministry. This probably means that Martha had the ability to hire help, to have people clean up her home to be prepared for Jesus. The Greek word, which I will not pronounce, signals to us that this was a planned and formal visit.
So, Martha is doing what she knew how to do. She is opening her home. She is preparing her home for Jesus. She is the one showing up. She is the one doing the work. She’s not doing anything wrong. She’s showing her love and devotion as a a disciple the best way that she knows how. So, when Jesus enters her home, Martha is expecting him to notice all the work that she is doing. But, what happens? Mary comes along and plops herself down, and I assume that Jesus, bless his little heart, probably doesn’t notice what Martha is doing. It doesn’t sound like Jesus said, “Oh, thank you Martha, look at this meal. Look at this clean home.” He just sits down with Mary and they start talking. He starts teaching. So, I can feel for Martha. In fact, I’m reading a book I must confess titled, “Fed Up.” It’s about the emotional labor of women and how in society we often are expected to contribute financially to our home and yet the bulk of domestic work and child care often falls on us. And as a full-time working Mom of three young kids, sometimes I can think, “Martha, your little salty attitude was completely justified, ‘Why was my sister in there sitting at your feet? Tell her to come help me.’”
So it’s hard not to feel the sting when Jesus replies. Not only does he think that Martha is too worried and distracted, but that Mary is choosing the better part. Again, I want to emphasize that Martha is doing nothing wrong. Some scholars say that this encounter has much less to do with remedial housework as it was with Martha’s concern for mission. Jesus was probably not traveling alone. The bulk of of the work was falling on Martha as she was choosing to have this be the way that she showed hospitality. So, Martha seems a little frazzled. And Jesus’s ministry is picking up, and that’s intense.
I only have three kids. I only have a few people over for dinner if we ever have guests. And I live in the modern world where conveniences are many. So, the work that Martha was doing was very taxing. And we all know that the bigger that a faith community gets, the more likelihood there is for stress and burn out. But either way, whether the story is talking about hospitality and gender roles inside a home, or whether it’s about being concerned for Jesus’ new ministry that’s going on, one thing is clear. Martha is a concerned disciple, and Jesus was telling her to find balance, to pause, and that pause was okey and that pause was good.
Now, I don’t think that Jesus was telling her that one task was better than the other. No. I believe what Jesus was saying was that what she was bringing to that table was enough. This isn’t an either/or Mary vs. Martha story. That oversimplifies it too much, and to be honest, this story has been used to pit women against each other and to keep women in their place. While on the other hand, some scholars and theologians have used this to bolster up women. And so there has been this tug of war back and forth. But what I think the story is really getting at is a reminder that whole life discipleship includes stopping, resting, working, and devoting our whole life to God. And that includes taking care of ourselves and not getting bogged down in all the details and the muck that sometimes ministry can bring.
So, this morning I’m assuming that preachers all over the globe are trying to give some kind of pastoral advice about having balance in your own life. I cannot preach to that. And so, what I want to focus on is balance of congregational life.
When I look around congregations in Community of Christ, I see so many congregations that are struggling to put on church. They’re struggling with programs. They’re struggling with questions of attracting more people. So, when I read this scripture, I think about our faith community and that includes my own community in Salt Lake. So, this is where I must confess that I gained a little bit of a reputation in this church, and it’s a reputation that I’m willing to embrace. And honestly, I don’t think I’m ever going to get rid of.
But I can be an outspoken advocate for what we call Latter Day Seeker ministry. This is the ministry that welcomed me into Community of Christ, and I’ve seen it change countless lives. So, a lot of times when I am with other congregations, some of the questions that I get asked are, “What can we do to attract more Latter Day Saint Seekers? What can we do to support Latter Day Seekers? How can we be more engaged in that ministry?” And to be honest, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I don’t know if there are answers to those questions or a list of what you must do.
I do wonder however if sometimes we make invitation and hospitality more complicated than it needs to be. How many of us think that if we just had more programming, we would get more young adults in the church engaged in congregational life? Or “I know what we need to do to jazz up our worship service. Contemporary music. Drums, a rock band, that’ll get people coming. Our pews will be filled on Sunday morning.” And we go on and on and on, and when those things don’t work, and we don’t get the results we want, we take it personally. And we think we are doing some things wrong. So, my question is, “How does this distract us from true discipleship? How does us thinking we need to provide more for others really stop us from what Christ’s mission is all about? What if we are getting caught up in the wrong question that’ll cause our eventual burn out? What if the simple answer is that seekers and young adults and millenials, young and old, just want relationship? What if they just want validation? What if they just want time at Jesus’ feet to be heard and to be valued and to be loved without all the bruhaha that can come with congregational life? What if the ‘but we’ve always done it that way’ is stopping us? And what if those are the things that seekers don’t really care about?
So, I want to tell you a story about my friend named Michael. I interviewed Michael not too long ago on the Project Zion Podcast. Michael is an American who has been living in Italy for just under 20 years. Currently, Michael is the only member of Community of Christ in Italy. And by that, I mean the Italian flag has never flown at World Conference which means that Michael is the first member of Community of Christ in Italy. Michael’s story is pretty remarkable, and I would urge everyone to go listen to it for yourselves because hearing it from him is much better than my brief summary.
But basically, several decades ago Michael felt pushed out of his faith community and eventually became a part of this growing spiritual but not religious group. This was working for him pretty well, but Michael admits that he always missed church. He was a church boy and he missed sitting in the pews. But Michael being a gay ex Mormon, he was never able to find a church that fit his needs. So again, I don’t have time to deep dive into Michael’s story, but essentially what happened is he found Community of Christ on a completely unrelated internet search, and this article popped up and he read this story about this church that kinda, sorta, maybe sounded famliar, but then also looked dramatically different. And it sparked enough interest, and he spent hours combing through it to figure out what this church was, who this church was, and what they believed.
So, he got in contact with church leaders to see if there was any church in Italy that he could go to. And disappointingly, there was not, there was not a Community of Christ presence in Italy. So, after awhile of communicating on line with these ministers, an apostle and the president of Seventy went out and visited Michael for the first time. And it’s so funny to hear Michael talk about this because he was scared out of his mind. He did not think that they were going to send an apostle to go and visit him. And so, on this trip, these three men met in a hotel room, and they had communion. And this was the first time that Michael has ever been able to take communion in his memory where he felt worthy of taking the Lord’s Supper, where he felt worthy of sitting at the feet of that table, and where he felt worthy in partaking in this spiritual religious ritual that had been barred from him for so long. Michael wept, and I wept. There was no shame in taking the sacrament, and he felt no shame in that motel room, only unconditional love for the first time in his life.
From there Michael was connected to an on-line ministry out of Europe that meets together from several countries. It’s called Community Circle, and it’s a simple group. Michael was told, “We’re really casual. We’re really easy, but we go deep.” And Michael shared his severe hesitancy. He thought, “How in the world can people do church on the internet? What does this look like? I’m a ‘sit in the pew’ type of boy. I want to have a hymnal, and I want to sing… you know.” He was really nervous to jump on, but he said the first time that he joined Community Circle he knew instantly that these were his people, and this was his church. He realized that he didn’t need the programming of church to be able to connect with community and to connect with God.
So, Michael took frequent business trips to the US, and whenever he would go, he would attend a Community of Christ congregation. And in our interview, he shared several stories of when he would go to different congregations. And sometimes he was quiet in the back, and other times he would gain a little more courage, and he would say, “I’m a gay man, and I’m going to marry my financé. Are you okey with that?” And he would look the pastor in the eye and see what the split-second response was. Every time, Michael expected to be let down by Community of Christ, and Community of Christ showed up for him. So ultimately Michael found a home with us while being all alone in Italy. He was baptized and confirmed in a bathtub in Rome.
His baptismal service was broadcast all over Europe through Community Circle. This service was broadcast to people he had never met but who he considered family. So, this happened a few weeks before World Conference. Not apparently enough time to get an Italian flag. But Michael was able to come to World Conference and meet so many people from Community Circle and from World Church and from the different congregations that he had visited. And he felt like he was coming home.
So, when I think about what’s emerging in Community of Christ and when I think about the future, and when I think about what this church is going to look like for my children, I think of the dozens and dozens of Michael’s who have not found us yet. I believe that we have a message that is relevant. We have scriptures that Seekers consider holy. We have a prophetic impulse that we need the world to experience. God is not through with us yet. Michael sensed that and his life has been changed forever. Like Mary, all he wanted to do is sit at the feet and hear the words of Jesus even if he was all alone. With almost no face to face support in Italy, he was able to make that happen. That is how much he loved our Enduring Principles. That is how much he loved our community. He wanted to be a part of it, even if it was just him in front of his computer. In fact, Micheal at the end of our conversation called Community of Christ a joyous, joyous place to be.
And I must confess that in that interview, I had myself muted that whole time because I was hysterically sobbing. Because I have a building. I have a congregation. My kids have classmates in their classes. We have camps. We have the programs. And yet what drew Michael to Community of Christ was our identity. It was our DNA. It was the things that we believe and the way that we tell the story of Jesus. So, Michael’s story reminds me that in my Martha moments when I am concerned with getting everything right, my moments when I think that my congregation is not doing enough, and that I should just take one more thing on my plate, it’s those moments that remind me of a more holistic approach to ministry and discipleship.
Both Michael and Mary were invested in the Word. They were invested in the pure love of Jesus and the pure love of God. They didn’t need to be impressed by anything else. The gospel message was important enough on its own. It was worth risking something for. It was worth breaking social norms or sitting at the feet of a teacher or doing church over the Internet with a bunch of people that you have never met. I believe that we have everything we need to share the same message of peace. It doesn’t take much.
Jesus’s message for Martha was the same message for us. It was an invitation to slow down and have intentionality in how you live your life. Hospitality, ministry and the path of discipleship doesn’t always need one more program. We don’t need to be overly concerned with numbers. Our scriptures tell us that. Just a few vibrant witnesses can transform the world. We are a quirky little church. That’s also part of my reputation. I’m known to call us “quirky” and I think we are. It means something to me. We can’t solve all the world’s problems. But we can focus on restorative healing and justice right where we are. And we can make a difference.
And again, I want to be clear that what Martha was doing and what we are doing in our Martha moments is not wrong. This isn’t an either/or—we can add more programs, we can keep going to camp, we can keep some buildings. That’s not wrong. But the radical hospitality and invitation of the love of God transcends all of that. And in a moment of seeing all the injustices around the world, do our programs matter, do our buildings matter, does the work, the mundane work of ministry matter? When we’re faced with children at the border, when we’re faced with climate change, when we are faced with questions all over the place, what really matters? Is it the love, the hospitality, and the welcome, or is it the way we’ve always done things? Of course, disciples are called to “do” and congregations must be engaged in work. But in addition to that, being followers of Jesus as individuals and as congregations, it’s important to find that balance, to stop, to pray, to listen, maybe wander in the wilderness for a little while. And to be attentive to other aspects of mission. When we let go of the shame around our small numbers or our shrinking camps, we can be liberated to live the gospel and to be invitational in a way that we haven’t before. That is grace. That is why I am here. It’s the boundless love that brought Seekers to Samish this weekend and the peace that will carry me into the future. I truly, truly believe that we have what it takes. And that we are enough and that you are enough. Let us not get distracted is my prayer.