Luke 10:38-42; John 11:17-27
October 7, 2012
Finally! We’ve been talking about Jesus’ disciples for several weeks now and we finally get to a woman. And what a woman she is. Martha. The big sister. We big sisters are pretty special people, you know.
And if this were a different congregation. If I were invited to speak to everyone in Western District Conference or to the Mennonite Brethren or the Southern Baptists–I’m still waiting for those invitations–but if I were speaking to them, I would make a pretty big deal about Martha being a woman.
I would point out that she is the head of the household–Luke says that Martha opened her home to Jesus. And I would point out that Martha’s statement of Jesus’ identity in John 11–“I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”–sounds an awful lot like Peter’s confession of Jesus’ identity in the other Gospels. John seems to be giving Martha a place of honor among the disciples.
And if you were a different congregation, I would also share something I learned this week reading an article by biblical scholar Raymond Brown. In John 12:2, we are told that “Martha served” during a dinner given in Jesus’ honor. Which sounds like acceptable “women’s work.” But the Greek word that gets translated as “served” is diakonein. Which comes from the same root where we get our term “deacon.” And indeed, when John was writing this Gospel in the ’90’s–I guess that would be the zero 90’s?–the early Christian church already had the office of deacon–an ordained office of the church. An office which was, apparently, open to women.
There are all kinds of things I would love to bring up about Martha to certain people. But you all are not those people. So we don’t need to get into all of that.
But maybe we do need to get into something that wouldn’t be such a big deal to talk about in certain other congregations. Just like they don’t want to talk about women leaders in the early church, I wonder how comfortable we are talking about Jesus as our friend.
It sounds a bit hokey, I know. Perhaps you’ve looked ahead in the bulletin and seen that we are going to sing “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” as our prayer hymn this morning. Roger suggested that song at our last Worship Committee meeting–since Martha and Jesus were friends. It is a good suggestion. A nice, familiar old hymn. And I’m not sure if we’ve ever sung it before. We certainly don’t sing it often.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear . . . ” This is the relationship that Martha has with Jesus. She shares her sins, her pain, her griefs with him. One might even say she “over shares.”
I mean, did you hear the way she talks to Jesus? What she says?
As she cooks and cleans and her bratty little sister sits and listen, when Jesus and Mary fail to pick up on the sighing and the banging pots, Martha finally goes to Jesus and says, “Come on! Don’t you see that I’m doing all the work here. Tell Mary to help me!”
And in John. She had watched her brother, Lazarus, wasting away, sick unto death. And she had sent word to Jesus, knowing that Jesus could heal him. And she had waited for Jesus and watched her brother die. When Jesus finally gets around to visiting, she says, “If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.”
“Don’t you care that I’m working my butt off over here?” “Why the heck didn’t you show up sooner!”
Is that any way to talk to the Holy Incarnate Word?
Well, yes. Because Jesus is also Martha’s friend. And she is simply sharing her grief and pain with him.
I wonder if some of our reluctance to talk about Jesus as our friend comes from an over-sentimentalized image of friendship. Hallmark cards with hearts and roses and puppies. Notes passed during class signed “your BFF”–best friend forever. The ability to “friend” people with a click of the mouse on Facebook–and then hide their annoying game requests, even all of their posts, if we want.
For many of us, this is what we think of when we hear the word “friend.”
But really we know that’s not what friendship is about.
I lived with some friends in college–in a little house that was part of student housing. A couple of my friends ate several meals a week at the house. They cooked in the kitchen, used the dishes. I ate pretty much every meal in the cafeteria. I did NOT use the dishes. So one day I decided to make brownies. When I finished, I was a bit irritated to see that the sink was full of dirty dishes–none of which I had gotten dirty. So I set them all on the counter and washed just the dishes that I had used for the brownies. And my house mates were pretty upset with me. All of us fervently praying Martha’s prayer: “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m doing all the work around here! Tell her to help out a little!”
That’s friendship. Not friendship at its best. But still.
I had another friend in college, Brad, who volunteered to drive me to town for a medical procedure. I was just having a scope of my stomach. But apparently I neglected to tell him what exactly was going on. This kind and proper and engaged to be married to someone else young man. Just driving a friend to the doctor. When I finally regained my senses after the procedure, he told me about the crazy things I had said under the influence of whatever it was they gave me. And he sheepishly gave me the pictures of the inside of my stomach. Which apparently the doctor had shown to him–except he didn’t really know what part of me he was looking at. Poor Brad.
That’s friendship. A better version of it, to be sure.
And I know you all have stories about friendship; stories that do not involve many hearts or roses or puppies.
A few weeks ago at our quarterly congregational meeting, there were some friends who upset each other with their words. After the meeting there were hugs and apologies and the friends still standing in the parking lot talking when I finally headed home.
Many of us walked with our friends Lola and Ken through Lola’s cancer–going with her to dialysis, cleaning their house, taking them meals, singing around her bed . . . finally comforting Ken at the funeral, and still.
Carol Greib asked me last week for scriptures that might be a comfort to her friend, Cindy. Cindy who is loosing many of her physical abilities because of Huntington’s disease. Cindy, who is receiving care from her sister, Gwen, and others in the church. Cindy who, when she was still able to come to church, shared in our friendship by giving hugs and asking how people were doing.
Friendship is hard. It is hard because we are human and we hurt each other. It is hard because life is hard and we have to watch people we love suffer in ways that seem not at all fair.
“What a friend we have in Jesus.” It’s really not a trite or mushy sentiment.
Jesus as our friend means that there is love and intimacy and risk. It means we can be honest with Jesus about how we feel and what we want and what we’re mad about. It means that there is forgiveness when we screw up. It means that Jesus is present with us not matter what–when we are sick and vulnerable and weak; when we are grumpy and manic and mean and petty.
“What a friend we have in Jesus.” In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.” Jesus is our friend. It is true. And it is a gracious gift.
Last weekend I went to a conference in Wichita on Christian spiritual formation. We talked about what we can do, how we can be people who are becoming more and more like Jesus. And it seems that accepting Jesus as friend is part of this formation.
Because a friend is someone we talk to and spend time with. A true, good friend is someone we want to talk to and spend time with. We might meet our friends at the coffee shop or play racquetball with them or chat on the phone or sit around and knit or go on hikes. It doesn’t matter so much what we do, so long as we are able to listen to each other and deepen the friendship.
So Jesus, as our friend, should be someone we want to talk to and listen to and spend time with. And different people do that in different ways. Some of you have regular Bible reading plans. Some of you have regular prayer times. Some of you meditate or journal or read devotional books or go on retreats. Some of you get outside and experience God in creation. Some of you dwell with God as you create artwork or music. Some of you prepare Sunday School lessons or children’s times or music or the front table or sermons for this community. Some of you–scratch that–all of you have come today to pray and listen and worship.
Martha’s relationship with Jesus gives us a glimpse of what it means for Jesus to be our friend. Her desire to see Jesus–she invites him into her home; she goes out to meet him as soon as she hears that he is in town. Her willingness to be open with Jesus about her feelings–her anger and frustration and sadness.
We can learn some things about friendship with Jesus from Martha. And we can also see that friendship with Jesus is different from friendship with other people. Because part of what it means to be friends with Jesus is that we also acknowledge Jesus as Lord. “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who is coming into the world.”
When your friend Jesus tells you to open the grave of a man who has been dead for four days, your first response is the response you would give to any friend who suggested such a thing: “Are you crazy?! He’s been rotting away in there for days. It will stink to high heaven!”
But, when the friend who tells you to open the grave is Jesus, your second response is a different response than you would give to any other friend. Because when Jesus, the resurrection and the life, says a grave should be opened . . . well, eventually that grave is going to be opened. As Jesus’ friend, you’re going to do your part to roll the stone away.
And you won’t be disappointed.
Astounded. And maybe confused. Perhaps a bit terrified. And grateful. But never disappointed.
What a friend we have in Jesus. Indeed.