Monday, July 19, 2010

8 Pentecost, Year C, July 18, 2010

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Old Enough to Choose, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney

Sixty-seven years ago today my parents had their first child. They named him Peter, no middle name. None of their children got middle names because my father hated his first name. They chose generic Anglo Saxon names for their three children and hoped that we could live with those names since there was no other choice. We have all lived happily enough with our parents’ choices.

On my 43rd birthday in 1986 Debby gave me a birthday breakfast at a nice restaurant in Virginia Beach. I hugged my colleague and friend Father Mike Vermillion goodbye. I never saw him again as he was killed on the way to the church conference.

I am a lot older today and a bit wiser. Father Mike never got to be old. I suspect he wouldn’t have missed some of the stuff that has happened in the meantime.

Still, I am getting to get older and he isn’t. For quite a few years now people I admire and who offer me friendship are older than I am. It has occurred to me that I am beginning to run out of people older than myself.

It happened to Abraham and Sarah. They were really old. They were older than almost anyone they knew. They had no children so there were no close relatives with grandbabies to admire. Tradition holds that God had a special plan for them.

God communicated this plan directly to them. He didn’t send a letter or an email; God sent a committee of three. Usually committees of three bear bad news. This one didn’t, it carried ridiculous news. Old Sarah was going to have a baby.

The committee politely asked Abraham where she was. It was polite for after all they had received generous hospitality from Abraham prepared by unseen minions now out of sight.

“Where is Sarah, your wife?”

They knew perfectly well where she was. Out of sight; out of mind.

“She is in the kitchen,” Abraham declared. Right! Cook. Scullery maid. Housewife. Typical woman. Knew her place. In the tent.

Tents, even in the desert are not soundproof so Sarah overheard this conversation. And she giggled. She chortled. She hiccoughed a few times too. Old Sarah. So old she knew almost no one older. She was going to have a child. Then she thought of the geezer Abraham. I suspect that is when the real hysterical laughter started.

All we know is that nine months later Isaac was born. No laughing matter this.

Things hadn’t changed 1,000 years later. Women were still in the kitchen providing hospitality while the men smoke and drank coffee. Martha, like her ancient ancestor Sarah was making nice. Well at least on the outside she was making nice. On the inside she was feeding a huge resentment. Her no-good, shiftless, lazy, show-off, know-it-all, high-brow, look-down-your-nose, sorry excuse of a sister was sitting with Jesus. This pitiful mess swanned it up while she Martha, hard-working, knew-her-own-place, self-less, generous, brought-up-right, Martha did all the work.

Martha tried what usually worked for her, some triangling and manipulation. Martha attempts to triangle Jesus into shaming Mary into doing the dishes.

Jesus, of course, does not bite. He knows the rules, the rules which applied to Sarah in the tent, still apply to all women. He ignores them. He doesn’t ridicule the rules. He just changes them.

We can be sure that this story about Jesus and Mary and Martha came out of the life of the church where some uppity women were doing bible study instead of the dishes. So the church remembered a story that showed that doing dishes was a good thing and so was bible study. Anybody, any man, any woman could do either or both as the Spirit gave utterance as St. Paul says in I Corinthians. Anybody could do either. Whichever choice anyone made was OK. There would always be someone who wanted to wash and others who wanted to study. What Jesus and St. Paul were at pains to demonstrate is that both were good.

No one had the right to enforce some hierarchy of goodness about the choices. Yes, we all know some people who would benefit from more bible study and less cooking and vice versa. We know that, but people make their choices. If they can stand them, so can we.

What the Gospel proclaims is that we make the choices, not someone else. The choices are ours. Things we have no choice over such as age, religion, gender, social class, regional geography do not make the choices in the Kingdom of God. Please join me in working for that kingdom all God’s children have more choices that most people did in Sarah’s or Martha’s time.

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