Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pentecost 8 - Year C

If you know me, you know that I don’t like taking vacations. At least not extended ones. I just need a day or two with a couple good books or a few Family Guy DVDs and I’m ready to be back in the office.

While a vacation is supposed to be relaxing, rejuvenating, and restorative, to me it descends into boredom…and the blahs.

Last year I found the week long ChristCare Training more energizing than a week at my in-laws (due respect to my wife’s parents).

And last summer I found the time in Mexico with our young people more relaxing than spending a week in Ontario enjoying my mom’s cooking (sorry mom).

I just get bored if I’m not doing something.

So, for me, it’s not about being virtuous, or claiming to have a superhuman work ethic. I don’t stand in moral judgment over those who actually LIKE to get away and go camping or whatever. I just find that twiddling my thumbs for four weeks a year causes more me stress than it relieves.

And I know I’m going to get hassled for saying this. I always do. People are rightly concerned that if I don’t take care of myself and my family I won’t have anything to give in my job as your pastor.

I know that clergy and church worker burnout has been a concern for Bishop Mayan. Other than him looking out for the well-being of those under his care, he’s also looking out for the future of our church. His fear is that people won’t be interested in ordained ministry if they keep seeing pastors quitting because of their work load.

It’s not just church workers that are being strained. I’ll bet each one of you can tell some pretty harrowing stories of 60 hour weeks and deserted families. Just as most people are working longer hours, there is a small cottage industry of resources helping us overworked souls from collapsing under the weight of our industriousness.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot books being published on the neglected art of Sabbath keeping. This has nothing to do about whether we should stop in at Wal-Mart after church, or if we should go back to the Lord’s Day laws making it illegal to shop on Sunday. At least not directly. But Sabbath keeping is about taking time for prayer and rest one day a week. It’s about connecting with the one who is connected to us through baptism.

It’s about being Mary instead of Martha.

It’s easy to get angry at Mary. Especially if you’re a Martha. Martha was action-oriented, she was a doer, she was the one you called upon when you wanted a job done right.

Mary was the dreamer, the philosopher. She just liked to sit around and think great thoughts. Some may even call her a slacker.

So, who do you side with?

If you like to get up early and get things done, then you’re probably with Martha.

If you are looking to change the world one conversation at a time then you sit down with Mary.

But folks probably didn’t know what to make of it when Jesus took lazy Mary’s side. “Martha, Martha,” Jesus said after Martha told him to ask Mary to get up off her butt and do something useful.

“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 away.”

So, is Jesus telling Martha to chill and take a vacation or she’ll burn herself out? On the surface that’s what it looks like. And certainly many preachers have interpreted this passage that way.

But I’m not convinced.

Because the key to unlocking this passage is hidden in plain sight.

The story says, “Martha had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”

What on earth was a woman doing sitting at a place where only the disciples were allowed, what was she doing thinking that a great rabbi – or ANY rabbi - would want her as his student, especially since women weren’t allowed to be educated? Why would he waste his time and energy with this woman who was just going back to the kitchen anyways?

That’s why Martha was ticked. She didn’t want to come right out and say it, although that’s probably would everyone else was thinking, except for Jesus.

It’s like she was speaking in code. “Um, Jesus, that’s not where she’s supposed to be. Guys only, remember. She needs to come back to the kitchen with me.”

Jesus picks up on the code, “Relax, Martha, you can be here too if you want. You can be my disciple as well.”

The other disciples, the ones with proper anatomical make-up probably weren’t impressed with any of them. Martha kept interrupting Jesus’ lesson. Mary sat where she didn’t belong. And Jesus didn’t do anything to stop any of it.

It’s easy to say that this little interaction was a cultural thing. That in today’s enlightened 21st century world, women don’t have those sorts of problems in the church.

Well, last year when Katherine Jefferts Shori was elected on the fifth ballot to be National Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US (“Episcopal” is what Americans call “Anglicans”) there was an outcry among certain factions:

“Leave it to the Episcopal Church to elect a WOMAN as bishop!” one church commentator spewed, as if electing a woman as bishop was some sort of moral outrage. He wasn’t alone. Many church journalists and bloggers openly criticized the choice of Bp. Schori simply because she was a women. “It’s a liberal conspiracy!”Of course, anytime a woman is elected to a position in the church, it has to be motivated some politically correct plot. It COULDN’T be her resume, could it?

But such attitudes aren’t reserved for American Anglicans. We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada or ELCIC haven’t completely gotten over women in leadership either. Even after 30 or so years of having women pastors.

When Rebekah arrived in Halifax to be installed as pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection a few folks who didn’t like her particular chromosomal make-up left the church and asked another Lutheran body to send a missionary to the Halifax area to start a church, a church where they didn’t have to listen to a woman pastor. So our membership received phone calls from this mission pastor inviting them to join this new “biblically faithful” congregation. Nice, eh?

And we know that our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has elected Pastor Susan Johnson to be our National Bishop. Another controversial choice among certain folks.

When I was talking with a group of Lutheran pastors in southern Alberta about who we wanted as a bishop, one of my colleagues asked “Would we be okay with a woman as bishop?” A bizarre question, no brainer, I thought.

But one of my other colleagues said “No way!” He then went on to complain about there being “too many women in leadership” positions already. And he moaned about what he called the “feminization” of the church, too many women in the pews chasing men away. The church isn’t manly enough. We have too many women as it is.

To me that sounds odd. As a man, I like having women around.

Here at Good Shepherd we’re working on getting a men’s group going. And if some of the literature on getting a men’s ministry happening is to be believed, then my friend is right. These men’s ministry experts say that women in leadership positions scare men off and that we need mainly men as leaders if we want to attract men here at Good Shepherd.

But I don’t think the literature is to be believed.

But what this passage comes down to is this: “Who can be a disciple of Jesus and who cannot?” That’s the question that Jesus is throwing down at our feet. Jesus decided that Mary and Martha could be disciples even though they didn’t fit the biological job description.

And this question doesn’t just affect women.

This evening, Cathy, Wayne, and I are heading to Red Deer for a special synod gathering that Bishop Ron called to talk about the same-sex blessing motion that was narrowly defeated last month in Winnipeg.

A controversial issue to be sure. Some folks say this issue is about biblical authority, while others say it’s about social justice. Some say it’s about defending the traditional family and others say it’s a case of human rights.

I see it as a discipleship issue. We are being asked who can be a disciple of Jesus and who cannot. And what does that discipleship look like when it comes to ministering to and with gay and lesbian people?

We have people in our synod and in this congregation on both ends of the spectrum: folks who seem to think homosexuality is the unforgivable sin and there are folks who believe homosexuality is a special gift from God, and everywhere else in between. We couldn’t be more divided on this ONE issue.

So, we need your prayers. Pray for the special synod. Pray for Cathy and I. Pray for each other. Pray for those who share your position and pray for those with whom you strongly disagree. Pray for your friends. And pray for your enemies. Pray for wisdom. And pray for compassion for those you think are wrong.

Maybe this is the time we can learn from Mary and sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to the voice of the saviour, so that we can live together as disciples of Jesus, to help each other choose as Jesus says, “the better part which will NOT be taken away.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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