July 17, 2016 — Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Guest Preacher: The Rev. Deacon Bob Zito
Get On With It
“Get on with it man.” These are the words that were spoken often by Father John Andrew. His friends called him JA. JA was British. He served as Chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey before his ministry here in the United States.
I met John in the early 1980s when I first moved to New York City. I was a young lawyer then, easing my way into corporate America and working long hours at a Fifth Avenue law firm. Attending Sunday services at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, where John was the Rector, was a welcomed and reviving retreat from a relentless lifestyle of billable hours. I remember sitting in the back pews at St. Thomas and listening to JA preach. My work schedule prevented me from becoming too active in parish life, but I loved to listen to John preach. And it was his preaching that changed my life.
I had many dinners with John. He loved to cook and I love to cook, so we traded home and away games and tried to outdo each other with a new or classic recipe.
After the meal and more than just a couple of glasses of wine, I would always turn the conversation to something that was bothering me. One of my problems in life is that I let a lot of things bother me, everything from major injustice to petty urban inconveniences. John was someone you could talk to, someone you could confide in. And his counsel was always the same: Get on with it man. John was telling me be faithful, to stop worrying about things.
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Today’s Gospel is about faithfulness. We meet Martha and Mary in their home directly after Jesus has preached the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is conveniently placed in our lectionary for last week. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, this story of Martha and Mary is unique to the Lukan Gospel.
No mention is made of either Martha and Mary having a husband. And it would have been odd during that time for two sisters to have lived with each other. Commentators offer three possibilities: First, they are orphans who could not be married due to the lack of a dowry. Marriages were arranged between families, not the couple to be wedded. Without having a family to make the arrangements, a woman could not be married. Second, Martha and Mary could have been widows who had not yet remarried. Thirdly, Martha and Mary could have been part of an ascetic religious cult like the Essenes who had a colony in Bethany, the place where it is believed this story takes place. If these are the same Martha and Mary in John’s Gospel, they have a brother named Lazarus. But Lazarus is only mentioned in John’s Gospel.
Martha is the one who welcomes Jesus into the home. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of hospitality, the women would have felt compelled to make Jesus a meal. Martha’s “many tasks” referred to in the story probably are associated with the tasks of making a meal. You can imagine the hectic nature of this hasty preparation for perhaps an unexpected guest. And who hasn’t been in that position? Even planned parties have a last minute touch to them. I don’t know about you, but there hasn’t been a get together I’ve hosted that I didn’t wish could be delayed for another half hour. Where are those napkins? Is it too early to start cooking the food? Do we have enough ice? Do we need both Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke?
And what is Mary doing through this melt down? She’s hanging out with the guest doing nothing, that’s what she’s doing. Who doesn’t feel for Martha? Who hasn’t been a worker bee in the midst of people who just watch, or better still, give advice about how you might be doing your job a bit better. I can recall so many Bible studies in which the participants crucify Mary for her apparent laziness.
But Mary is in a different zone. Mary wants to be with her Lord. And for a woman to be learning at the foot of a rabbi was radical for the time. Mary is listening to every word Jesus is saying, she is savoring every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every syllable. She is mesmerized by her Messiah. She can think of nothing else. Mary is being faithful.
Meanwhile, Martha is clueless about what is going on. She tries to enlist Jesus, and get him to tell Mary to get up and help her. It’s all about her.
Jesus speaks some poignant words: Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.
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Aren’t we all like Martha? We go through life distracted by so many things that we forget that we are children of God, we forget that we are always walking in God’s sight we forget that God is the one who is really in control.
Being made in our creator’s image, we cannot help but try to play God. We try to control our lives. And it starts the moment we are children, through the choices we make or the choices our parents make for us.
In New York City today, parents are fiercely competitive about the career track that needs to be designed for children as early as age 3. I hear parents talking about not only the best kindergarten, but the best pre-school and the best pre-pre-school because if the child is not accepted there, she will never get to Harvard Business School and that trophy job at a prime investment banking firm like Goldman Sachs. And if that doesn’t happen, if that doesn’t happen, the child will turn out to be a failure.
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.
As a partner in a Wall Street law firm, I can’t tell you how many nightmares I have had in the deep darkness of the night over my 35 year career. What if the judge asks me this question, what if the client doesn’t pay the firm, when am I going to get a new client. And yet when the morning comes, the fears I had in the middle of the night are never nearly as bad as though hours earlier. And these moments are always associated as a great light, by Jesus, the light of the world, who comes to me to assure me that I am loved and that things are in control.
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.
This week was marked by still another act of horrific violence and terrorism. And it is easy to be terrified as a result. In this post 9-11 world, we spend too much of our lives being constantly worried and distracted by the anxiety of the next act of terror. We are worried and distracted about the possibility that the next time, the next time it will come home, the next time, a loved one, the text time it could be right here.
But God never lets us down. God always come through in the end and shows us that God, and not terror, not evil, not darkness, prevails.
I live less than 10 blocks from Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site. 9-11 is my birthday. And when those towers came tumbling down on that fateful day, I never thought I would recover. I was out of house and home and my neighborhood looked like a scene from the movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. But Jesus eventually came to me. He came to me in the face of the first responders. Night after night, I saw the first responders tirelessly working on the pile. Night after night, I saw them on their way home looking exhausted, but never giving up, never giving into terror and fear. God was with them.
It is easy to be worried and distracted by these times. But faithfulness provides. Faithfulness is our only compass and guide through a stormy sea.
I can still hear John Andrew talking to me: Get on with it Man, God is in control.
Thanks be to God.