By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
This week we celebrated our new sexton Tyrell’s birthday. For some reason while eating cake with the staff, I remembered my the cake from my 5th birthday. It was an ice cream hedgehog cake my mother made. Why a hedgehog birthday cake? It took me a minute but I remembered that I loved the book Miss Jaster’s Garden which featured a kind old lady and a hedgehog living in her garden. My sweet mother had not batted an eye when I asked for a hedgehog cake. It was a creation of chocolate, mocha and coffee ice cream layers with slivered almonds as the hedgehog’s prickles. I called her to talk about it and we laughed and remembered the story together. It is for certain the BEST birthday cake I’ve ever had. More than loving the book or hedgehogs or birthdays the thing that lay at the core of that memory was how much my mother loved and adored me. Stories can cut through to what is most true.
We come here today to remember our shared story of God’s love. Today we will welcome Libbie into this love story and we will honor our beloved Mike Koschak’s place in our story at St. Mary’s. This is one of the things I cherish most about being part of the church, this getting to share our stories together. To hold up what is most true together
Today’s lectionary offers us two of my favorite stories from scriptures. The stories of Sarah and Martha and Mary.
The Old Testament story unfolds just after Abraham, Ishmael and every male in Abraham’s house, had fulfilled a promise to God and have all been circumcised. I cannot imagine it was a particularly upbeat day around the camp. Abraham and Sarah are in the tent when strangers arrive. Abraham sees three men, but clearly recognizes that this is a holy visit from God. He runs from the tent to greet them. He tells Sarah to make some bread and runs to the herd to choose a calf to be prepared (this seems like a lot of running on this day). While these holy visitors are eating, Sarah overhears that come next spring she will have a son. Sarah has a fantastically cheeky response. Go look it up at home in your Bible. Genesis 18:11 -12. Sarah laughs out loud. No way at her age and stage in life is there going to be a baby boy next spring. God hears Sarah laugh and asks what she finds so funny. Why would this be out of His ability to provide for them. Sarah denies laughing and God says back very clearly, “No, but you did.”
Sarah, defensibly had some cause to laugh, to doubt the possibility of what she has heard. She was really old. And she and Abraham had not really known God for a long time. They were still pretty new to understanding how big and loving and expansive God is. They had followed God with the promise of their descendants being many and Sarah still had not one son of her own. The story of living in God’s unchanging and amazing love had not had a chance to fully root itself in yet in her heart. She laughed in her disbelief of what was possible with God. Fair enough. I find myself in this spot too upon occasion. So sure that there is only one way for my story to go, and then it doesn’t. And my story goes so far beyond my imagination or expectations that I know it is only God who could have written it. This is what happened for Sarah. She did have a son, named Isaac, which means laughter.
In our Gospel story, Jesus arrives at the home of Martha. Her sister, Mary is there as well. Martha sets to work, presumably to be a good hostess and provide for Jesus and the disciples. But, Mary, chooses to sit with Jesus and listen to him as he speaks. Martha continues working until she is just torn up with anger at her sister who is not helping. Enough so that she turns to Jesus and asks if he cares that she has been left to all of the work all by herself.
Jesus addresses 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.“ I can imagine Martha gasping at hearing this response. It stings. Cuts deeply. The story does not go any further. We do not know if Martha had a retort or if she broke down. Or if Mary jumped up to help her sister realizing how angry and alone she felt. Or if she got mad and told Jesus that Martha had always been bossing her around like this her whole life.
Just like I think so many of us can identify with Sarah’s disbelief, I think it is a short trip for us to identify with Martha’s anger. I doubt many of us have not felt like we are the ones shouldering the load, holding things together, alone. Jesus surely knows that is how Martha feels too. But his call is clear. Martha needs to quit hustling for her worth. She’s not going to find it doing the dishes or making a grand meal. It is waiting, waiting for her to claim right there at the feet of Jesus, to listen to his voice, to follow him, to join into the story of love he is sharing with Mary and the others gathered around. It’s as clear as God calling out Sarah and saying, Oh yes you did laugh. Things that seem impossible with me are possible.
What a gift it is that we share these stories together. When one of us is so sure that there is no other ending to our story but ruin and doom, we can be reminded of Sarah. When one of us is in neck deep and cannot see where to turn our focus, we can be reminded of Martha. I don’t know exactly when one would use the story of Abraham running around after some minor surgery, but I am sure there is an occasion.
And what is at the heart of these stories is the unchanging, persistent and pervasive Love of God that we all have to keep working at to understand. Our shared story of God’s love is full of people who struggle and misinterpret and fall into doubt and get sideways and then get turned round right again.
The late writer and brilliant lover of souls, Rachel Held Evans, said of this life in God’s love we share…
We live inside an unfinished story, a story that began with the Spirit of God hovering over the primordial waters at the beginning of time and which took a dramatic, climactic turn two thousand years ago when that same God became human, lived among us, and beat death once and for all.
We share this story with Sarah and Martha and Mary… We share it with those who are in doubt and those who are certain. We share it with those who are angry for a bit and those who have settled in at the feet of Jesus for a time.
We share it with Libbie. It is a blessing to all of us that we are here to witness the beginning of Libbie’s story with God. We pray this is the story that she leans into when she finds herself in trouble or sorrow or questions her place in this world and that she always knows she is beloved. We share it with Mike who has graciously and kindly offered us his gifts and talents and brought so much to our church life and to the daily lives of our staff. He has become a part of our little shared story of God’s love here at St. Mary’s. What a treasure he is.
And what a treasure it is to watch and bear witness with you as we all live into this unfinished story together. You all are beautiful writers and your unfinished stories are incredible. May we always hold this story of love most true and remember that it will never be taken away.