Hanging out with Martha and Mary on the Eve of the Republican Convention
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Proper 11C: Genesis 18.1-10a; Colossians 1.15-28; Luke 10.38-42

Listen to my entire sermon: 



Welcome one and all to Trinity Cathedral on this fine summer morning!

How appropriate that we hear this morning the story of Martha and Mary.  For the past several months, weeks and days, we’ve have had front row seats to the Martha show, broadcast live from downtown Cleveland.   I’m not talking about Martha Stewart, but rather, her namesake Martha of Bethany.

Here in Cleveland, Martha has been busy getting ready to welcome the world to our fine city.  We’re throwing parties for basketball and baseball teams, rock ‘n roll stars and their fans; Republicans, Democrats and protesters of differing perspectives; and yes, all of the media that accompanies all the action.

Here in Cleveland, Martha has been busy preparing to welcome a lot of strangers and sojourners: road construction everywhere – including my backyard; new hotels and restaurants opening up everyday; our airport torn up and put back together again; miles of fiber optics laid underground; extra security recruited and trained; and lots of souvenirs designed, produced and ready for distribution.  It’s good – I think.

Because of the Martha’s among us, Cleveland is on the rise.  No longer a mistake on the lake, we’re living in a comeback city, unless you venture behind the public eye into some of our forgotten, neglected and decaying neighborhoods.

I’ve got to say, as one who rides her bike all over this city, I’ve never seen it sparkle so much; and, I’ve not witnessed the kind pride that I see sporting the t-shirts around town.  That is good.  Moreover, from my perch, I would observe that Clevelanders are working hard at living together as one community.  If you don’t believe me, think about Wade Oval Wednesdays, the Taste of Tremont, or the million plus person parade celebrating the Cavaliers’ championship.

The best of Cleveland is emerging through hospitality – in large part, thanks to all the Martha’s in our town.  Like old Abraham and Sarah, Cleveland is as ready as we can be for this week’s visitors to appear on our new Public Square. Only time will tell if we will entertain angels unaware, and who knows what message they will deliver.

I bet, that by Friday, there will be a lot of complaining in the air: bartenders and servers who will have worked till 4 a.m. every day; outdoor vendors with sunburns; security guards will have sore feet from standing all day long; garbage collectors with sore backs from picking up all that extra trash; downtown residents and workers frustrated by security measures; and commuters frustrated by road closures.  Yes, by Friday, Martha of Cleveland, who has been distracted with her many tasks, will be tired. 

But what about Mary?  Where is she and what does she have to teach us as we sit on the precipice of an historic event with all eyes watching?

I decided to spend some time on Friday with Mary of Bethany.  And in doing so, I found myself sitting with our sister at the Lord’s feet, listening to what Jesus had to say as I re-read the Gospel of Luke.

Scholars tell us Luke’s account of the gospel was written in an urban center of the Roman Empire.  More than any other gospel, Luke’s account of Jesus the Christ was written for our times.  Here’s an executive summary of what I read.

I read about a man named Jesus who was born into poverty, lived simply, and died a poor man’s death; who avoided all temptation for earthly power and rule; who preached good news to the poor, the broken, the oppressed and the outcast. 

When the angel announced Jesus’ birth to his mother Mary, she praised God in the words of the Magnificat:  “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…brought down the powerful from their thrones…lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1.51-53)

This Son of God was born in a stable because when his family showed up to register and pay their taxes to the Emperor, there was no room in any of the gleaming downtown hotels.  Because of imperial fear, this newborn child and his family had to leave their native land and become refugees until it was safe to return home.  As he grew up, this young man witnessed the oppression of his people, complete with the empire’s own form of mass incarceration – crucifixion.

And yet, I read about a compassionate man who cleansed a leper, healed the hand of a slave, loved a woman with a questionable reputation, allowed himself to be touched by the unclean, gave sight to the blind and voice to the speechless, fed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless.

I read about a prophetic man who, in his inaugural address, claimed that he was anointed by God to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of God’s favor.

I read about a humble man who talked about himself as a shepherd seeking lost sheep; as the owner of a vineyard who paid everybody equally; as a leader who washed the feet of his followers; as a sower of seeds, a baker of bread, a maker of wine, a breaker of laws, a lover of children, a friend to many, and finally a humble and obedient servant of God, destined to die on a cross for the sake of love. 

I read about a preacher who spoke to those who would listen:
Blessed are you who are poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
For you will be filled
Bless are you who weep now,
For you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and
When they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…
But woe to you who are rich,
For you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for your will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
For you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
For that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Lk 6.20-26)

I read about an itinerate rabbi who cautioned his listeners to build their houses on firm foundations; encouraged them to forgive the debts of others; and to pay fair wages for labor done on their behalf.

I read about a leader who instructed his disciples to be servant leaders as he spoke of urgent times that demanded commitment and personal sacrifice.

I read about a pastor who condemned inhospitality and violence; who insisted upon concern for the least among us; who critiqued those who loaded others with burdens too hard to bear; and who cautioned his listeners to be aware of hypocrisy among those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

I read about a faithful man who wept when his friend died and then wept over his beloved city Jerusalem.

I read about an unjustly condemned man who forgave his enemies and offered compassion to his fellow prisoners, even from his cross of execution. 

Sitting with Jesus, and re-reading the story of his life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand through the perspective of Luke’s gospel, I found myself, like Mary, wanting to choose the better way. 

In today’s lectionary, the letter to the Christian community in Colossae invites us to be mature and gracious in our faith to reflect in our lives the fullness of God that was pleased to dwell among us in Christ Jesus. 

My hope and prayer this week and in the weeks and months to come is that we all – Republicans, Democrats and Independents; Convention delegates, candidates and protesters; and all of the Martha’s serving them – may be mature and gracious in our witness to what we believe, and may be open to the wisdom and perspective of others so that in the end, we may choose the better way.