Sermon Notes 9Pentecost3
My friends in Christ, Saint Benedict of Nursia is one of my favorite saints. This is what the book “Holy Women, Holy Men” (formerly known as Lesser Feasts and Fasts) says about him:
“Benedict is generally accounted as the father of western monasticism. He was born about 480, at Nursia in central Italy, and was educated at Rome. The style of life he found there disgusted him. Rome at this time was overrun by various barbarian tribes; the period was one of considerable political instability, a breakdown of western society, and the beginnings of barbarian kingdoms. Benedict’s disapproval of the manners and morals of Rome led him to a vocation of monastic seclusion. He withdrew to a hillside cave above Lake Subiaco, about forty miles west of Rome, where there was already at least one other monk. Gradually, a community grew up around Benedict. Sometime between 525 and 530, he moved south with some of his disciples to Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples, where he established another community, and, about 540, composed his monastic Rule. He does not appear to have been ordained or to have contemplated the founding of an “order.” He died sometime between 540 and 550 and was buried in the same grave as his sister, Scholastica.”
I first became interested in Benedict when I was a young man. Plaintiff went to nursing school at the College of Saint Scholastica, a school “up on the hill”, as we said, in Duluth, MN. As was noted in the above from Holy Women, Holy Men, Scholastica was Benedict’s sister. The Sisters of Saint Scholastica ran the school and a large nursing home on the campus which was adjacent to the monastery.
Our diocesan clergy have met, many times, for retreats at Conception Abbey, a RC Benedictine Monastery about 2 hours north of downtown KC. The abbey has a beautiful basillica attached. The grounds are peaceful and reflective and the monks cook really well. They truly believe in Benedictine hospitality.
For a long time this ornery deacon has worn a Saint Benedict medal. For those who believe, it wards off spiritual and physical dangers, especially those related to evil, poison, and temptation. It is also an assurance of a happy death. This cross I wear on Sundays is a cross with the Saint Benedict medal on it.
Some of you may be surprised to know that there are Episcopal nuns and monks. They are active in many large cities, but some of them run retreat centers and offer spiritual direction. There are Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine orders in the Episcopal Church, as well as other orders. Here in West Missouri we have some members of the Brothers and Sisters of the Holy Spirit, as well as the Rivendel Community.
The Order of Saint Benedict in both the Roman and Anglican/Episcopal traditions has a simple motto: Ora et Labora. Translated from the Latin it means “Pray and Work.” The Rule of Saint Benedict, the “way of life” that Benedictines follow begins with these words: “LISTEN carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart…” That’s from the Book of Proverbs, but I find it interesting that the first word of their Rule is: LISTEN…listening, and working and praying tie in with our Gospel today: a very busy Martha invites Jesus into her home. Her sister Mary sits at Christ’s feet to listen to what he was saying. Martha is busy, and she complains to Jesus about this. Jesus says to her: “Martha, 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 from her.”
As I reflect on this story that everyone knows, I find it less than coincidental that it comes right after the story of the Good Samaritan. This suggests that the Samaritan story is about loving your neighbor and the Mary/Martha story is about loving God.
My friends in Christ, as a woman, Mary did a bold, unheard of thing for her time: She sat down to listen to the rabbi. In a time when women were considered property, her action was scandalous. Martha did what women were – “supposed” – to do in that time.
Mary and Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, were dear friends of Jesus. In John’s gospel, when Jesus hears from Mary and Martha that their bother Lazarus has died, we read that “Jesus wept.” One of the commentaries I read notes: “…the Greek language says, “Jesus sobbed,” that Jesus “bowels burst,” he cried so hard. In other words, Jesus truly loved Lazarus deeply.”
You can imagine that when the rabbi came for a visit, Mary and Martha would set the best table and prepare the best feast for him. When Jesus arrives, Mary sits down to hear his words. Martha is upset. I imagine her standing in the doorway indicating for Jesus to come and talk to her. She complains about it and is mildly reprimanded by the rabbi, who tells her that, yes, she is busy…but that Mary has chosen the better part: to listen.
I’m sure that an asking for hands would show that most of us consider ourselves as the Marthas of the world. We DO serve others, whether it be volunteering, working 9 to 5, mowing the lawn, raising our children, cooking, or a thousand other ways. Where would this place called Trinity be if it weren’t for all that Marthas on the altar guild, on the cook team, on the vestry, on various committees, and in the pews?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, please know this: Jesus did not fault Martha for being a servant – she was too busy to listen – too distracted to sit at his feet and absorb his presence – too busy living life to quietly hear what Jesus had to say – too involved with all her activities and actions that she didn’t find time to first listen to the voice of Christ.
We all have Martha in us. We all are servants – to each other and to the community around us. We also must have some Mary in us. A Mary that reads scripture, a Mary that sits at the rabbi’s feet, a Mary that listens. Christ is correct, Mary has chosen the better part. We must be a Mary first and a Martha second. We must listen first, then act. Jesus says that we are to be “hearers AND doers of the word” – always in that order and never reversed. I think Mary knew that Jesus would be pleased with the table that was set. That’s why she sat to listen.
As Christians, we need to know in our hearts and minds that Jesus loves us no matter what! Through all the fussiness of our lives, whether here or when leave this place, we must listen first then minister. It’s hard to listen. It’s hard find silence. It’s hard to sit in silence and listen. It’s hard to read scripture, let alone find the time to do so.
Benedict, who I remind you was NOT ordained, said pray AND work. Not work and pray. We all have Mary and Martha in us; today’s gospel is a simple reminder that we, like Mary, need to choose the better part.
As we strive to choose that better part, with God’s help, let the church say AMEN!