Jesus visits his dear friends Martha and Mary in their home. Martha is upset that Mary sits listening rather than helping her with the work as host. Some hear this as about work versus prayer or balancing action and contemplation.
This story come just after the lawyer who tries to test Jesus by asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus ‘Then who is my neighbor?’”[i] Paul Borgman says the lawyer and Martha are both anxious and trying to justify themselves.[ii] I am doing what is right. I know and follow the law. “Who is my neighbor?” I am upholding our virtue of hospitality. “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
Jesus replies to the lawyer with a story of a man robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite both pass him by, but a despised Samaritan stops to cares for him. Which one was a neighbor? Not our religious leaders. The one who showed mercy. Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.”[iii] Jesus replies to Martha. “You are worried and distracted by many things. … Mary has chosen the better part.” What does it mean to inherit eternal life? Listen to Jesus like Mary and be a good neighbor like the Samaritan.[iv]
Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a prominent theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture which surrounds us. That was a radical statement to make, but what was even more shocking and unexpected was his insistence that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight’s liturgy, I think, can help us understand why this is true.
Tonight, we watch in wonder as the only begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Tonight, we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around his waist, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. Tonight, the King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples.
Today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel, though brief, just four verses, is significant, because it captures some of the essential qualities and characteristics of God. In this encounter between Jesus and leper, we see again the nature of God, and God’s desire for all humanity.
…a leper … came to [Jesus] and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
What stands out for me this morning, is not only what is said, but also what is done, for Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. While leprosy is contagious, it is not necessarily contracted through touch, as was once believed. That Jesus touched the leper, is significant, and in itself demonstrates something about God. In that one action, we see that nothing is beyond the touch and reach of God.
What is also significant is the dialogue. Lord, if you choose … I do choose….
The essential quality, characteristic, and nature of God is one of healing, wholeness, and life, for the God who in Jesus came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly, is the same God who reaches out and touches, saying I do choose. Be made clean.
Yet while it is God’s nature to choose to reach out and touch us, our nature runs in the opposite direction, as we choose to hide, to turn our backs, and to reach out for what is forbidden. In our pride and arrogance, we choose to stretch out our hands, not to God, but to the forbidden fruit, thinking that by eating it, we will become like God.
The paradox is that we become like God, not by stretching out our hands in pride, but by choosing to stretch them out in humility and loving service, just as did Jesus.
The fruit that makes us like God, is when we choose to stretch out our hands in loving service, touching the untouchable, and bringing to them the healing, health, wholeness, and life which God chooses and desires for all humanity.
This passage, though brief, is significant, because it reminds us what God is like, and what God desires for humanity: healing, health, wholeness, and life. In choosing to reach out and touch, Jesus invites us to do that same. When we do, we become like God, whose very life and nature is bound up in acts of humble, loving service.
Lectionary Year and Proper: Friday, Year 1, Proper 7
 Matthew 8: 2 – 3
 John 10: 10b
 Genesis 3: 5
Phillipians 3:4b-14; Matthew 20:17-28
What comes to mind when you hear the word “servant” or “slave”? Most of us imagine a person who is not free to do what he pleases, one who lacks the power or freedom or resources to direct his own life, one who must work to fulfill the desires of another. We think of a servant or slave as powerless in relation to his superior. His station in life demands that he constantly set aside his own desires to fulfill the desire of his master. For most of us, it is not an enviable position. How many of us would willingly sacrifice our independence and autonomy to become the slave of another person?
And yet this is what Jesus asks of his disciples, that they imitate him as one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v.28).
In his letter to the Christians at Corinth, St Paul writes, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (I Cor. 4:1,2) “Think of us in this way,” says Paul, “as servants of Christ.” He says this with pride, not shame. He is not embarrassed that he has been reduced to the role of a servant; he does not regret that he is no longer free to do his own will and is compelled to do the bidding of another. Nor is there any suggestion that he has been forced to become a servant – in fact, the opposite is true: Paul has voluntarily chosen to take up this role. He sees it as a glorious privilege to be considered a servant of Christ. He sees it as a blessing to live no longer for himself, but for Christ. He is honored to have been entrusted with divine mysteries, and feels both an obligation and a desire to be found trustworthy in this responsibility.
Feast of Christ the King: Proper 29A
Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23
Matthew 25: 31 – 46
We all know that a shift has taken place in the world, and we see it most clearly in last year’s election in this country and the BREXIT referendum in the UK. The shift appears to be away from a global, universal outlook to a more individual, nationalist one. Me First appears to be the watchword, and that has become true about nations as well as individuals. We see this in foreign as well as domestic policy, ranging from trade, to immigration, to security, to health, to education, to gun laws, to the environment, to civil and human rights. We see this as society becomes more stratified and neighbourhoods and communities more uniform. We are losing, or perhaps have lost, our concern for the other and appear to live in a culture that says that I can do whatever I want, and the other person, or neighbourhood, or nation, simply doesn’t matter. Some political commentators see evidence of this, not just at one end of the political spectrum, but at both ends. And some argue that this isn’t a recent phenomenon, but has its roots back several decades.
But this Me First attitude is in stark contrast to the kind of life we are trying to live as Christians, and as a Christian community. It is such a stark contrast, that I have spent some time pondering what it is that sets us apart from the world, and shapes our life as Christians in a fundamentally different way, so much so, that not only are we set apart from the world, sooner or later our values as Christians will set us in conflict with a world where a Me First attitude is king. And that, I think, is the key for us, at least for today: who or what is king over our lives? Who or what rules supreme in our lives? To whom or to what do we owe our ultimate allegiance?
On this day, in 1961, there was a plane crash in Central Africa and it took the life of Dag Hammarskjöld, who was the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was an extraordinary man, and in the calendar of the Church we keep him on this day. He is kept as a memorial in the Church firstly because he was a man tirelessly committed to the cause of peace, who was willing to undertake the greatest personal sacrifice on its behalf. In fact, the plane which crashed in Africa was taking him on a very dangerous mission and most of the people in the UN didn’t want him to go, but he was very brave. He was going to negotiate a ceasefire between warring factions in the Congo.
The second reason Dag is remembered and honored in the calendar of the Church is because of what was found in his apartment in New York shortly after his death. It was a manuscript and it was full of journal entries. He wrote in it every day, and there were poems, and they (i.e. the journal entries) covered a period of several decades and revealed a rich, hidden life. No one knew it existed – and no one knew that this was what was going on deep within this man, within his inner life. They revealed a man of deep faith, whose courageous life of self-sacrifice was a direct result of what went on in those times of silence, often very early in the morning – times of passionate (prayer), sometimes wrestling (with God), sometimes commitment to God.