I’m not good when it comes to secrets. I’m not good at keeping silent when there is a proverbial dead elephant in the room. Here in Minnesota people attribute my “directness” to having spent most of my life in New England. That’s a part of it. The other part is that I grew up in a household with far too many secrets. We had a whole herd of those elephants lying around while everyone pretended they didn’t exist.
My personal way of coping was to seek after perfection. I made every effort to be the perfect child. I was an over-achiever who started babysitting at nine years old, volunteered full-time at a special needs day camp the summer I was thirteen, graduated from high school days after turning seventeen, and was ordained to ministry at twenty-five. The problem is that I nearly died trying to be perfect, distracting myself from all the things that were too painful to face head on.
Now, reading the story of Martha, I see my younger self bent on getting everything right and pleasing those around me. There’s a time and a place for Martha, of course. Now, though, is not the time. Not only do I see myself in Martha’s worry-worn face, but I see so many well-intentioned church folks, particularly white church folks. We have hunkered down and kept working. We’ve worked to maintain our buildings. We’ve worked to balance our budgets. We’ve worked to keep our doors open. Some of us have even worked for justice for immigrants, for LGBTQ+ people, for prisoners, for those in need of food and shelter, and a myriad of other people and causes. How many of us have taken time to sit still and really listen well enough to be able to make real changes?
Why are there so many surprised faces when Black Lives Matter shuts down major highways in order to be seen and heard? Why are there so many surprised faces when gunmen open fire at protests, in churches, in mosques, in theaters, or in schools because no one noticed they were not well enough to own firearms? Why so many surprised faces when Donald Trump gathers so many supporters with his hate-speech and fear-mongering? Why so many surprised faces when we recognize that we live in a society that endorses solving problems with violence? Why so many surprised faces when too many youth express feeling hopeless about their futures?
The list could go on, but I will stop here. The church has also been distracted by these things and the more internal preoccupation with who is saved, the historical Jesus, the authority of scripture, and a few other divisive topics. We’ve lost track of our call to embody Christ in the world. We’ve succumbed to human concerns and have forgotten the truly sacred ones. How is it that a people called to love have allowed ourselves to be filled with so much hatred and fear? We have been distracted by things far more egregious than Martha’s household tasks.
Now is the time to sit and listen. Listen to the cries of our neighbors. Listen to the demands for justice. Listen for the words that will move us beyond our fears. Listen for the words that will convince us to act with more mercy than judgement. Mary knew where to turn in the tumult of her day. Surely, we can do the same.
It’s time to clear out the dead and decaying elephants from our church communities. The Civil Rights Movement changed things on the surface but not much deeper. Since that movement ended, there have been many opportunities for people of faith to be merciful and demand justice for all our neighbors. Mostly, we have remained silent. We cannot be silent anymore and remain faithful to a God who commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
So listen for a while. In that silent stillness, do you hear God’s call to speak truth to the powerful and privileged? Do you hear God calling you away from the distractions of everyday tasks and foolish excuses into acts of mercy, love, and justice? It’s all well and good to eat at Christ’s table but if we aren’t embodying that same bread and cup to those who hunger and thirst for justice, we might as well have gone through the local drive-thru.
RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
Amos 8:1-12 with Psalm 52 or
Genesis 18:1-10a with Psalm 15