This was given at my sponsoring parish in Madison, Indiana, Christ Episcopal Church.
Sermon 9th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
So I do not know about you, but I love having people over for dinner. I do not invite people over for dinner nearly enough, but when it does happen it is quite a production.
The food, as much as possible, will be homemade from scratch, organic, and the herbs will likely come from the tiny herb garden behind the house. Often I will get Annie to make fresh bread to serve with baked Brie or homemade hummus or pesto.
And of course to begin the evening… cocktails, something fun that requires a bit of showmanship and right brained thinking to prepare. Then, if you have come to our house for dinner, you will likely spend the next twenty to thirty minutes being entertained by my lovely wife, because inevitably, I still have some cooking and general dinner preparation to complete in the kitchenIf I am grilling dinner, unless you grab your drink and come outside, it may be an hour before I reemerge. I do not hide in the kitchen because I do not like having people over or because I do not want to relax and enjoy conversation and witty banter with our guests. I am in the kitchen or next to the grill because I love you, and I cannot think of a better to show that love to you than a delicious, home cooked meal.
These are my actions if I know that you are coming over to the house. You can imagine how I respond when I have no idea that you were going to pop over for a visit.
‘Hey it is great to see you, have a seat here on the couch, let me grab you a beverage, we have a couple types of beer, I do not have any white wine cold but I can pop some in the freezer. Are you hungry? It is no problem, just give me a minute and I will whip up a quiche or perhaps a pasta salad.’ All while I am scouring the cupboards and the refrigerator to see what bits and bobs of food we have laying around.
‘Maybe a cup of tea? I have some biscuits and could put together a couple small sandwiches if that sounds better. What do you think Earl Grey, breakfast blend, or I have this delightful Mountain High Chai, I think you would like?’
If you have not figured it out yet, I am totally Martha.
Eventually, I want to sit down with you and have a chat, but I need to make sure that you are not wanting for anything when you come into my house.
So naturally I have a bit of sympathy for Martha in our Gospel lesson today. Maybe you do too? Maybe when guests come over you find yourself all in a flutter, moving about the house like a hummingbird, flitting to and fro, never staying in front of the flower long enough to notice the beauty that it holds.
Our friends do not come to visit because of the delicious food we will make or the fine selection of wines and teas that we have in the cupboards. They come to visit because they want to be with us. They want to rest in the gentle embrace of friendship and hope.
This is the choice that Mary made. She recognized the uniqueness and desire of her guest. She recognized a weary man in need of a bit of calm and a respite from the walk. She recognized the child of God, who desired nothing more than the presence of her and her sister.
The Marys of the world have chosen the better part, which cannot be taken away from them.
To sit at the feet of our friends and to bask in the beauty and majesty of their presence and wisdom, to stare into their eyes and to recognize not only ourselves but also the image of God as it shines forth from this created being before us.
This moment of pure bliss in the embrace of our creator is exactly where we were created to be.
In this story there is something even more difficult than being Mary, something much harder than being Martha. It is the image that we are meant to imitate.
This summer, as many of you know, I took the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I began in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port in France and thirty-seven days and just over one thousand kilometers later I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Thirty-seven days is a lot of time to think and to pray and to make a few decisions that you wish you had not made.
There is one day for me that stands above all the rest. One day that I wish I could do over. One day that still seems to be unfolding in my life.
It had been a long and somewhat difficult day on the Camino. For about a week our very tight group of eight had been slowly losing members. Not everyone had the time to walk to the entire Way and so life and other commitments were stripping our family down to a smaller and smaller group.
This day we ascended to the heights of Cruz de Ferro. It is the second highest point on the Camino. We had packed a picnic lunch and were going to have one final meal together before Matthew headed north to catch his flight to Geneva.
Cruz de Ferro is also the place where you leave a stone or picture or some other token of your pilgrimage. It is a very holy place. A small iron cross stands atop a thirty-feet tall wooden pole. At the base are the stones and tokens carried by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to this point.
After we had eaten lunch and were sitting in the shade chatting and enjoying some local vino tinto, I snuck away from the group, retrieved the stone that I had plucked from in front of the chapel at the Seminary of the Southwest and made my way over to the base of the pile of stones.
As I sat in the Spanish sun and held that rough stone in my hands praying, I could feel the presence of God and those who had gone before me. I stood slowly with the stiffened muscles of a day’s hard walking, climbed to the base of the wooden pole, kissed the rough surface of the stone and laid it gently with the others.
As I made my way off of the pile of stones, I took notice of the pictures of beloved family members, rosaries, and ribbons each covered in the prayers of some weary pilgrim.
Our group, my beloved family members, made our way off of that mountaintop smaller than we arrived. My heart was heavy and grieved for the time that I had shared with those who would not continue on with us.
In our guidebook we had read about a refugio run by Brother Thomas, the last Templario. No power, solar heated shower, outdoor facilities, and a communal meal and blessing. Perfect. A bit of austerity never hurt anyone.
So off we went. Four of us. Ready for a respite from the heat of the day and a bit of good will and kindness to wash the heaviness from our hearts.
Brother Thomas’ refugio was beyond what any of us had imagined. The solar heated shower was a tank of non-potable water in the sun with a couple of basins so that you would wash your feet and your face. The outdoor facilities were the abandoned buildings across the street. There were 20 tiny mattresses in a stiflingly hot attic, covered in dirt and fleas and most likely bedbugs. Flies flew around like squadrons of B-52 bombers.
It was disgusting. Basic hygiene and cleanliness was nigh on impossible.
Brother Thomas was a combination of Martha and Mary. He wanted to serve his guests and to hear your stories. He was so very happy to have pilgrims stop by to enjoy his refugio. Thomas believes himself to be a Knight’s Templar, a member of that ancient order charged with protecting and caring for the pilgrims across Christendom.
His vocation in life was to serve those who walked for God.
But we could not accept his hospitality, we did not see his vocation, we could not acknowledge and accept that with which God had charged him.
So after about an hour and a half we grabbed our things and began the nine kilometers walk to the next town. He gave us hugs and bottles of water as we left. And as our weary feet hit the road, he rang the bell four times, once for each of the pilgrims that walked away.
He meant each strike of that bell to be a blessing up on our journey, but each strike of that bell was like a dagger in my heart. I felt the shame and embarrassment of a man who could not accept what God had offered.
Each step of the next nine kilometers felt like a step that I took further and further away from God.
When we arrived in the next town, there were four beds left at the albergue run by the local parish church. They were about to sit down to dinner. The sweet older sister who was in charge that evening fussed over us and said that she would find more seats and food for us. She told us to wash our faces and our hands and to join the rest in the dining room.
Of course we resisted, ‘no, no, please do not go to any trouble. We can make our way to the café and have dinner there.’
“It is not any trouble, wash your hands and join us for dinner.”
All that she desired was for us to join them for dinner, to sit and to be loved.
There it is brothers and sisters: the role that is more difficult than that of Martha or Mary, the role of the weary traveler who is received into the loving arms of a friend, the role of Jesus.
There is the lesson, there is the example for us to imitate. Being Mary is certainly the better part, but it is in the imitation of Christ that we will most fully be who we are called and created to be.
To be seen for what we truly are, beloved children of God. We have enough trouble recognizing that fact in our own being. So we can be amazingly uncomfortable when others recognize it in us.
We can be quite at ease sitting in the presence of others, but the lesson from Jesus is that sometimes we have to be that presence that others sit in. We have to be that presence that heals and comforts those who are hurting and sick.
Your presence, brothers and sisters, is a sacrament.
Your presence, dear friends in Christ, is a gift from God.
Your presence is the presence of none other than God.
So be present to each, love each other, be with each other.