Our Incredible Jesus
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus – someone who was amazingly inclusive, whose whole life said from his opening moments in that straw hut out back in the dark to the last breath he drew, that every bit of him, every hope, dream, expectation and friendship was dedicated to bringing everyone into the circle: to calling the lost and sitting down at table to eat with them, and even sleeping in their houses. He put his arms around the unclean and the broken unafraid of their leprosy and infirmity. He touched the dead and brought them back to life.
He held up women and children who had been afflicted with burdens they could scarcely carry. And he called them friends. Not parishioners or servants or believers but people in equal relationship with him -- friends. He was free to do this because he knew in every fiber of his being that he was loved unconditionally. Loved, so loved that it became his mission in life to make this love apparent to everyone he touched.
Was he dangerous? Yes. And delighted yes. And laughing yes! Especially happy when he could scandalize and terrify the comfortable. When he could demonstrate through his power that love can change hearts and heal bodies, that love can break down walls.
Happiest to heal and forgive even on the Sabbath. To share conversation and insights with Magdalene, Mary and other women (what an embarrassment), drink from the same cup as the Samaritan woman and give hope to the hopeless, the throw aways and the grieving.
He understood that the arc of the moral universe is long but that it bends toward justice. He knew separation was a delusion – that we are all inextricably linked by our humanness.
I can imagine him using the words of Mary Oliver:
And therefore, I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence, and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.
Is it any wonder we call him teacher, loving brother, prince of peace, wonder counselor? Is it any wonder that the priests called him an obnoxious shit disturber who threatened their comfortable lives of moral superiority?
Is it any wonder we are here too – each of us wanting to renew our friendships, breathe new life into our country and shout out to the world that that we have seen enough of war and famine and hungry immigrants turned away at our doors? We have had enough of smallness, of being shut out: of prisons and jails. Enough of needless suffering and unkindness. If we are boundlessly loved, let us love boundlessly. We’re ready!
We are here as our own gifts this Christmas. We are sisters and brothers who know each other so well and delight in one another. And in our little community over the past 11 years we have created a place where all are welcome, where each one is heard and where our individual gifts are treasured. We delight, we laugh. We are happy to share.
As we begin our celebration this night please put aside your papers and relax for a moment. Take a breath and place your hands in your lap and your feet on the floor.
We begin by centering ourselves in the light. Start by acknowledging we are all together for these few moments. The imagine a circle of light surrounding us. The light shines on our tiny group. The light is in the center and radiates into and through each one of us.
Breathe the light into you. And using your breath, you bring that light slowly down through your body. Through your head, neck, shoulders, stomach, legs, and out through your feet. You can imagine a refreshing light. This will fill your body with a sense of lightness. When you breathe out slowly, imagine that you are breathing out the anxiety of today. A mist of heavy charcoal sadness leaves your soul on the outward breath. The darkness us swallowed up by the light and rendered harmless.
We expand the light to include those who have come before us who have also shared their love and shown us the path to this celebration. Beloved companions, teachers, sisters and brothers. They are here with us. The light warms our hearts and we can feel our heart open to it. Delight in it.
And the circle expands:
Imagine Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus who were separated from everything and everyone they knew by the threat of violence. A new mother and father and infant travelling into an unknown future. We caress them with our light and envelop them in our love. We hold the immigrants today who have come to our borders seeking security and a new life. And we expand our love to them. The light expands.
Finally, I’d like you to think of the people you have touched in your own lives: maybe just one or two people who have benefitted from your light and your open heart. Your children, your students, people with illnesses both physical and mental. Those we have accompanied into death.
Your touch says it all: “I am here with you.” Think of the people you have reached out to... to say ... I am here with you. I am by your side. I walk with you.
I am here to listen. Let the circle expand. And now take one deep breath and release it.
The First Reading:
Jesus broke all the rules and he started early. And he became more daring and more inclusive as time went by. He learned. One of his most revolutionary acts was to listen to women and to seek them out and as active participants in his ministry.
This is a reading from Luke: Luke 10:38-42
Jesus and his disciples were visiting a town called Bethany not far from Jerusalem. It was the village where Jesus' friend Lazarus and his family lived.
His visits were always spontaneous, and Jesus loved stopping in the town to visit, listen to the people and teach.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of excitement among the people who always looked forward to these visits. It was expected that Jesus and his companions would be treated as honored guests and would need to be housed and fed. Jesus and his band were not the most organized people in the world, so it was up to various families to step up and offer their homes and hospitality.
Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary who both longed to be disciples and to follow Jesus. Martha's name in Hebrew, incidentally, means "lady" of the house. So, this lady of the house invited Jesus and his disciples into her home.
It was a big job to prepare food and hospitality for the several men and women who followed Jesus. There would be a lot of work making the fire, preparing food as well as making up all the beds – so the offer was significant.
Now Martha was relying on her little sister Mary to help her with all the preparations and to carry half the load of cleaning, cooking and organizing.
But what happened to Mary? What happened to Mary, was Jesus.
Jesus sat at table outside Martha’s home under an olive tree. He was there with his friends and many neighbors explaining the deeper meaning of the scriptures and painting word pictures so all could understand the wonders and mysteries of God’s love. There was Mary drinking it all in sitting at Jesus feet - the position of a humble new disciple. She was in awe that this teacher had welcomed women into his group of disciples and had welcomed her to sit and listen. This was never done in Jewish society. Men simply did not invite women into their circle.
That Jesus would encourage her to listen to him as he taught was radical. Women were thought of as chattel. They were exempt from the study of the Torah. Many rabbis actively discouraged women from learning. Not Jesus.
And it was thrilling to be at his feet!
Martha on the other hand is having a very anxious time. She begins to feel overwhelmed and more than a little bit envious. Here she’s cooking and cleaning all by herself when her greatest desire is to sit and listen too.
“There’s so much to do” she thinks... “Dinner will be late unless I can get help. But where is Mary? She’s sitting outside listening to Jesus rather than inside doing the work that needs to get done. How irresponsible! I can't understand why she thinks she can be out there when there's so much to do to get ready for dinner. A woman's place isn't sitting around when there is work to be done. A woman's place is preparing for her guests.”
“And really I want to listen too: I’m missing everything Jesus is saying – which makes me even madder.”
Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She walked out in a huff and interrupted Jesus...
“Jesus, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Can’t you tell her to help me!"
Very quietly Jesus places a hand on Martha’s shoulder and whispers to her. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. We don’t care that much about what we’ll eat tonight or how clean your house is. We don’t worry about where we’ll sleep. Mary has chosen what is better – to sit and to listen and to share. This experience should not be taken away from her.”
He ended with an invitation of his own:
"Martha, why don't you take off your apron and sit down for a few minutes next to your sister. Dinner can wait. There are some stories that are very dear to my heart that I'd like to share with you.” And Martha felt her heart open with the kind words. She left her apron in the kitchen and took a place next to her sister, content to listen. She understood she too was free to choose the most important way.