Over the past eight weeks, I have shared 24 wonderful vegetarian meals with members of this congregation. I have visited 12 homes, two restaurants, and shared in two community meals. And I want to say that I have felt nothing but welcome in your church home and in the homes that you disperse to, that I was hosted in. I have felt loved and taken care of and free to be myself. I have eaten at potlucks and church meals, I have sat with leaders, musicians, committee members, and a host of people who are passionate about their work here in your faith community. And I wanted to take this last chance at your pulpit to tell you a little bit about what I discovered at the dinner table.
You are a varied bunch.
The family of this church, Bethel College Mennonite Church, shares necessary and wonderful gifts with one another. There are the organizers and planners who decide if there are enough pitchers in the kitchen and make sure we have a talented member behind the PA system every Sunday. There are those among you who have passion for literature and art and see to it that your church home, your house church, has room on its shelves for Caldecott winners in the children’s library and room on its walls to share the gifts of the visual arts that spur thought and wonder. There are those here who tend the books, crunch the numbers, and gather receipts. There are funeral-cookie bakers, organ players, circle leaders, committee chairs, committee members, prayer warriors, Bible studiers, healers, authors, poets, and preachers. And every one of the many parts played in this ministry by every member, including the ones we are welcoming into our midst this morning, make it what it is today — your church — your church family.
As I was thinking about how I wanted to share with you about my time of fellowship here at BCMC, I began by looking over passages in Scripture that detail a time of breaking bread together. Obviously there’s the recounting of the Lord’s Supper, the feeding of the 5,000, manna from heaven in Exodus, but this passage in Luke called to me from my memories of convention.
On the first night of the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City last July, I had the pleasure of listening to Michelle Armster speak on the strong female characters present in the first 24 or so chapters in Luke, and I just loved what she had to say about Mary and Martha. On that very first tension- and excitement-filled evening when she shared with us — and this will not have nearly as much sass as Michelle — but she shared, quote:
“Now, traditional interpretations of this Scripture have pitted the women against each other. And — that’s not right. What I saw, and what you could see too, are two women, both committed to the house church that they are a part of, that they were running. And people met in their house. Each woman being differently gifted, but both gifts being needed by the church, these women greatly loved Jesus and Jesus was greatly loved by them. They opened their homes, they welcomed others, they learned the teachings of Jesus and are sent beyond that house church, to shape the memories of Jesus, and to actively participate in this Jesus Movement.”
I love this new interpretation, this new life given to a piece of Scripture burdened by old ideas. And I love the idea of this not being one woman versus another. Martha who is a workhorse and frustrated by her lazy sister vs. Mary the perfect one who understands Jesus more intimately. No.
These are both women who deeply love Jesus and want to be a part of his work in the world and we find them in the midst of his presence. It’s only that Martha needs a little reminder of the reason for their gathering.
When I was 15, I lived in Indonesia for a semester, living with family friends. This adventure was a homecoming for me. I had lived on the opposite side of Papua earlier in my childhood with my own family and found belonging in the highland rainforest where my parents worked. There is a simplicity to life in the non-Western world that I found such a comfort in. In Papua, the Indonesian word for this way of life, this disregard for time, this casual relationship with appointments, parties, and deadlines, is Jam Karet or, in English, “rubber time.” Time here is flexible. We do not have to contort our lives, our needs, our conversations to the limitations of time. Instead, time will stretch and mold and move how we need it to. Many Westerners have great difficulty with this attitude towards time while living in non-Western cultures.
If we’re asked to come to a meeting at 7, we should start at 7, because that’s what we told others we would do.
What if people have other places to be or other things to do?
And there is value in both of these perspectives. But I think what we find in Luke 10 is Jesus is calling Martha to be a part of rubber time
Here I believe we see Jesus not just chastising this woman who should know better, but instead, saying to his dear friend:
The dishes can keep.
We will always have tasks that need attending, food that needs cooking, floors that need cleaning, but come and sit with us and talk. I have words that will fill you up and live in your heart for a very long time.
Jesus’s simple reminder here is: What is the point of all of this? What is the point of hospitality and keeping a house and working hard if we cannot just sit here together and share fellowship in the light of our God, reflect on truth, and learn to love?
I sat over meals with many of you and talked about what brought you to this community. Some of you came from far away because you found God’s presence in these pews in this place. Some of you came from across the street, because this was literally the ministry of your neighborhood. I heard across more than one table that the steadiness of BCMC, the liturgy that could be counted on, the connectedness of the worship service, the wisdom and education that your leaders have gathered in their minds, that these are things that make many of you feel at home. The “high church-ness” of Bethel College Mennonite Church is in large part what gives your community the ability to be what is. All of the gifts that come together in this place help you continue to support one another at Kidron Bethel and Schowalter Villa, to support young ministries such as Casa Betania that are just learning how to walk on their own, to reach out to college students and families, and to praise our Lord with beautifully planned music from organs and bell choirs.
And while these are gifts that should be cherished, I’d like to bother you a little bit this morning with my casual, rubber time, hand-raising, barefoot, jeans to church, evangelical Protestant self.
In this, your house church, the place where you work with your church family for the good of the Jesus movement, I want to encourage you let your hair down, take off your shoes and sit at the feet of Jesus. When sitting around the table at meetings, speak your mind about the devotions that open your time together, say loudly “AMEN” as a prayer is finished. If you feel a spark of joy, a jump in your spirit, don’t be afraid to lift your hands in worship. When someone asks how you are, leave your dignity at the door and answer honestly. Though a response of “I’m fine” would suffice and be more time-efficient, isn’t it better to speak honestly with our church family? Call a church friend for no reason at all. Find time to sit and talk together, even when it is unscheduled. Celebrate in the joys of life and cry together, really weep together, in the same room, when the road is hard — because it is. Jesus was not a leader of the dignified. He walked in the dirt, he ate with prostitutes and swindlers, he left the dishes undone so as to sit and talk with his friends, he wept aloud at the news of his friend’s death, he got on the floor like a servant and washed the feet of his followers.
Sometimes I think that we can get caught up in trying to bring our best to the table, trying to lay down all the doilies, pull out the china, plan the perfect menu, and while all of this is good and important, I think we also need the reminder that Jesus calls us to flexibility. To pull out the paper plates and the leftover beans and rice. He calls us to lay bare our untidied lives in front of the people we call our spiritual family so that we might grow closer to one another and more deeply experience community and love in the work of our Father.
And so I wonder if I could ask you to join me in a moment of blessing for all the meals we have shared together, both of food and of the Word of God. If I could ask you to take the hands of the people next to you, and it’s OK if you have to scoot closer to one another, and it’s OK if you don’t know one another.
This is your church family. This is your house church. This is uncomfortable, but it is closeness. This is forgetting what needs to be done and remembering why we are here: to listen to the Word of the Lord and work for his Jesus movement.
“Grace After Meals”
from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
by John O’Donohue
We end this meal with grace
For the joy and nourishment of food,
The slowed time away from the world
To come into presence with each other
And sense the subtle lives behind our faces,
The different colors of our voices,
The edges of hungers we keep private,
The circle of love that unites us.
We pray the wise spirit who keeps us
To change the structures that make others hunger
And that after such grace we might now go forth
And impart dignity wherever we partake.