The scripture this evening presents us with 2 different stories, yet stories that have a lot of similarities. The first reading, from the book of Genesis, is a story of Abraham as he greets and meets visitors that come in the desert. One of the reasons why we like that story, upon reading, in perhaps a more modern context, based upon what the experience that we have been sharing.
And we may write the story very differently: rather than going into his tent to gather Sarah to prepare food for these strangers – we would have probably gone into the tent, gathered the servants, got their weapons, and prepared themselves to protect themselves from these unknown strangers who were coming into their midst.
The desert was a dangerous place. Abraham was a very prosperous individual. And so he really had no knowledge of who these 3 individuals were. Were they coming to attack him? Were they coming to seize his possessions?
But he doesn’t do that. The story is very clear. He goes out to them. He welcomes them. He tells them, “Come, let me get you a basin to wash your feet, so you might then relax from the journey. And let me have my wife, my servants prepare a meal for you, so you may eat and be nourished as you continue on your journey.”
Why? What motivated Abraham to literally operate out of what would be the normal human ambition? And you would have to conclude there were always this difference in Abraham, in respect to God. You might have heard earlier in the book of Genesis, there is again this dialogue about Sodom, between God and Abraham – very intimate with one another. Abraham even gets to bartering with God about Sodom and Gomorrah. So Abraham had a very close relationship with God. And that gave him strength to be different and to act in a different way, out of what would be the expected behavior in that circumstance, that situation.
And when you come to the Gospel, it’s again, Jesus being welcomed to a home for the purpose of a meal. The focus of the story, we hear, seems to be on Mary – Mary who chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus.
You would say, what’s so different about that? Well again, remember the culture, remember the time. In those days, as is still true in many parts of the world today, there were great differences between the use of space and the roles of people. The women’s role was the kitchen – to prepare the meal, to serve. The dining room was where the men gathered, to converse and enjoy each other’s company, perhaps to debate, perhaps to resolve problems, perhaps to explore different opportunities.
Mary seems not willing to go into that box. Mary won’t accept it, and she won’t accept it: by invading and then sits, and not only invading and then sits, but taking the role of men at that time and in that society, by placing herself at the feet of Jesus, the position of a student in the presence of a teacher. And she does sit in a concrete way, because of the love of Jesus, to give expression, to give thoughts, and attention to the Word.
And it also fits into Luke’s work. To Each His Day – a review of the commentaries – one of the things that’s noted, said this particular episode of Mary and Martha, and the Gospel that we listened to last Sunday, of the Samaritan, are 2 unique stories that Luke includes in his Gospel, but not in the other Synotics or in John. They’re only found in Luke.
What was Luke contending? What was he trying to get at by including these 2 stories in his presentation of Jesus? Now, I think what Luke was really getting at – which was the overall theme of his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles – the overall theme that God has initiated a new day, and it takes a new order that is being brought into being, and that order is premised on courageous action. It is premised on trust, the trust that we have in loving God that tells us things don’t have to be as they are. They can be different. And they can be different, because if we listen to God, to the Word of God, it will show us a new way of living. It will show us new opportunities. It will show us the excitement of realizing our human potential.
Now yesterday, even thought it was rather subdued, it was the 50th anniversary of the first human walking on the Moon. You may have caught some of the preliminaries, the work, the presentations that came, that in a sense, echo mystery.
I know people there, I can see them in the mirror, sitting with a bunch of younger people that were very into seminary back then. And we had our youth group, and we were sitting in front of the television in one of their homes, watching this tremendous achievement – unthinkable, unthinkable! – that we could leave the atmosphere of the Earth, that we could travel in an unknown dimension, in outer space, and actually land, and put our foot on the Moon. And then we come back, which is probably even a more exciting new void, the fact that we had figured out how to do this. And this began a whole new moment. It excited the world – because to show that in the midst of all of the terrible things that were going on at that time.
Remember, it was the time of civil unrest. It was the time of Vietnam and a lot of other war. It was the time of just unspeakable, unspeakable events. Yet, with this, we see a vision, we see possibilities.
You might remember that the words of the astronauts had quite the religious significance. It was, they, in a sense, trusted in God, because they were really alone. Not only did they trusted in the Lord, but they were realizing the great potential that God had designed into the new, into the new and the unknown.
In a sense, the Scriptures today are saying the same thing to us. You don’t have to do things out of fear. But if you operate out of trust with God, if you are willing to allow yourself to be connected to the Word of God, then great things are possible.
You know I wish some day, I wish you could go through the experience of a moving, a very special and momentous moment in history. How much do we miss by not doing more like that? The space race didn’t end with landing on the Moon. It opened it up for all. And it is something that we will go and reflect on. How many years now have we had a space station travelling around the Earth? And how we have sanctioned this, because it does not represent the divisions of the Earth, of the human community, but it represents the unity of the human community. Arch enemies – the U.S. and Russia – working together in scientific endeavours to improve the quality of life of human people.
Today, I would think that positive use of our potential is satisfying. Since it represents, not with fear, which is promoted at this point in time, not with fear that is being promoted at this time. But hope, hope that we learn to respect, learn to listen, learn – in a sense – to meld together our potential. We have great opportunities, great opportunities, to great commonalities, which was like Abraham did in the desert, like Mary did in that home. There are great barriers.
Open the door to the wisdom of God – the new age, the new creation, to the glory of God, all ends to the Kingdom.