In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This story of Mary and Martha that we just heard – I don’t think we are able to hear just how extremely radical it is in its context. You see, it is situated in the Ancient Near East, in a place and a time where and when women didn’t count for much more than property – property to be sold or traded in marriage. Women were veiled in ways not unlike how women in traditional Muslim culture are veiled today, and women’s interactions with males were severely limited. One of the daily prayers of an observant Jewish male in Jesus’ culture was to give God thanks he was born a male so that he could pray to God and study Torah. (Even today in some orthodox Jewish communities, women are not welcome to sit together with men in the synagogue.) At any rate, I could go on and on about the objectification and exclusion of women in Biblical times, but I’m hoping you’re getting the picture. Women weren’t even second-class members of the culture in which they found themselves, so it’s radical and scandalous in the extreme that we hear of Jesus being at dinner with two women – and, gasp, no mention of other males being present. This was most certainly not done! And the notion that one of these women should be being taught by Jesus the things of God – well that was absolutely unthinkable. That God from God, true God from true God would choose to go to the home of two women – well that’s not how God is supposed to work. That God should encourage a woman to listen to the Good News from God – that’s not how God is supposed to work. But here you have it – the story singles out women for special inclusion.
Women’s lives, says the story, matter.
The Gospel of Luke, however, does not only single out women in general as mattering. In choosing to be born of a Galilean peasant girl from the backwater village of Nazareth, God says that the life of a woman of low degree and from a suspect town matters. In choosing Elizabeth to be the mother of John the Baptist, we come to know that the life of a childless woman beyond childbearing age matters. In the Magnificat of Mary, we hear that the lives of the poor, the downcast, and the hungry matter. In the Christmas story we hear God single out shepherds – a suspect class if there ever was one – God singles out shepherds for inclusion in the salvation of the universe. In Jesus choosing to raise the son of the widow of Nain, Jesus says dead lives matter, the lives of widows matter. In choosing to heal the sick, the blind, and lepers; in choosing to feed the hungry, Jesus says that the lives of the sick, the blind, the lepers, and the lives of the hungry matter. In choosing to be among the Samaritans – in choosing to make a Samaritan the exemplar of mercy, Jesus is, in effect saying Samaritan lives matter. In choosing to gather little children in his arms, Jesus says children – not well-thought of in his culture, time, and place – Jesus says children’s lives matter. Not only do they matter – one enters into the reign of God as one of these.
Now, does Jesus’ singling out of certain groups mean other lives don’t matter? Don’t the lives of traditional males matter? Don’t the lives of those who can see matter? Don’t the lives of the healthy and wealthy matter? Don’t all lives matter? Of course they do – but in Scripture – and especially in Luke’s Gospel – Jesus singles out the lives of certain individuals and classes. But on what principal? On the exclusionary principal. Those whose lives are singled out as mattering are those who have been somehow excluded from mattering – those who are on the outside, those who do not have the advantages of those who are comfortable, those who are traditionally marginalized.
The Gospel is about including those who have not been included by religion, society, culture, what have you.
We at St. Paul have a welcoming statement – our welcoming statement gives special consideration to those whom the church has traditionally singled as being unwelcome. As a community we acknowledge the church has been less than a welcoming place for some, whether intentionally as in the case of LGBTQ people, or unintentionally as in the case of physically challenged people.
And we at St. Paul are specific and intentional in noting that we have as a tradition excluded people because of age, race, socio-economic or marital status, physical or mental capacities, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This, however, is not to say people not belonging to one of the aforementioned groups are unwelcome; it is rather to admit that certain people have indeed been made unwelcome — and in some cases, not only unwelcome but singled out for persecution.
You do hear what I’m getting at, right? Black lives matter. My profile picture on Facebook features those very words – “Black Lives Matter.” And the letters of those words are each a collage of the names of black people who were excluded, who suffered and sometimes were tortured and killed at the hands of the dominant white culture. Am I saying that other lives don’t matter? NO! What I am doing is saying that we need in these United States to single out for special attention the lives of those who have been singled out for special inattention, who have been singled out for discrimination and prejudice, who have been singled out for downright persecution. And if you doubt black lives have been singled out for unwelcome in this white-dominated culture, let me ask just how many of you white folks would trade places with someone black in these United States. My hunch is that not many white folks anywhere would choose to be born and raised black in this country. (That’s not unlike asking a room full of traditionally gendered heterosexual folks if they would choose to be gay or transgender. Given our culture, still no one in his or her right mind would choose to be gay or transgender, right?)
Now, we take as our warrant for saying that black lives matter Jesus’ own choice to single out certain people and classes of people for inclusion in the kingdom of God. That doesn’t mean that all aren’t a part of the kingdom. What it does mean is special welcome to those who were culturally, traditionally singled out for unwelcome. It is then our civil righteousness to single out the lives of people of color in this country – people whose lives have been singled out in the past as excluded from the advantages and privileges of this country – whose lives are still being singled out systemically and institutionally for exclusion – and if not intentionally, then at least in very fact.
We are now about to come to the table of the Lord. We say all are welcome. But we must say there are some of you who are especially welcome to the table – namely you who are especially excluded by religion. And who are you? The ungodly, the unrighteous, the poor in spirit, the spiritually dead, those who mourn, those who doubt, those who are burdened down by sin and the weight of the world, those who want nothing to do with religion, and those who are unworthy.
You decide who you are. And come.
And then go back out into the world and do what needs to be done to bring in that day when none shall be excluded from the riches of this good creation.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.