Fr. Andrew Armond – The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2022
If you’re anything like me, you probably were paying attention this week to the photographs that have come out of the James Webb telescope, NASA’s newest tool for discovering what lies beyond. Besides the images themselves, which are truly stunningly beautiful, what’s even more amazing is that these are the first images the telescope has taken, before the telescope has even been fully calibrated and prepared. And yet they are amazing. We are seeing hundreds of millions of light years away, and hundreds of millions of years into the past. What we may see will challenge our assumptions and blow our minds. At the very least, we continue to realize that God has created and placed us into a vast universe that defies comprehension.
Looking at these images, I was reminded of the lines from our Eucharistic Prayer C, one that is used less frequently, sometimes affectionately called the “Star Wars” prayer. There are several hymns and prayers that come out of the late 60s and early 70s that express wonder and awe at the transition from earthly exploration to space exploration. Prayer C says:
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.
Part of the wonder and joy of our faith is in its bridging the gap between that which is cosmic, universal, above and beyond our comprehension, and what is intimate, near, immediate, and ordinary.
We find Jesus today in one of the most immediately recognizable settings in the Gospels. In fact, it’s so recognizable that it seems pretty ordinary. This may be one of the Gospel stories that is most relatable, because it feels so familiar. A home, a houseguest soon to arrive. An important houseguest, in fact. Someone we might want to impress, or at the very least, someone we want to feel welcome.
Like the Mediterranean culture of the first century, ours, too, is a culture of intimacy and hospitality. I still remember, as I’m sure you do too, what it felt like to have guests in our home after the worst of the pandemic had passed. It was strange, but good. And of course I remember the tasks, all the big things, but especially all the little things, that you try to do before the guests arrive, sometimes all the way up to the last minute.
If you arrive to someone else’s home, one of the first things that you notice and comment on is the smell. “It smells delicious in here!” To welcome a guest is so important that we use all five of our senses–the house looks nice, it smells good, we serve food that our guests get to taste, we hear background music, laughter, the sounds of cooking and serving, and we offer touch through a hug or a handshake.
What was Jesus’s experience like walking into that home? Many of the stories in the Gospels are so readily identifiable because they hit us at a very human level. Maybe the home was on a hillside. It probably looked like homes you’ve seen in New Mexico or Greece–a rectangle with a window or two, a simple door.
It probably had a handful of rooms, two or three at most, with an outdoor clay oven. When Jesus arrived, he probably smelled the bread Martha was baking. Maybe a servant washed his dusty feet, giving him ideas about the way he might serve his own disciples later.
Everything about the scene fills our senses, gives us a very human picture of Jesus. It’s a story just about conversation, after all, no miracles, no bright and shining clothing, no walking on water. Just Jesus, in a house, as a guest, with two friends, one of whom is distracted and discombobulated, focusing so much on the preparation of the home for the guest that she forgets to literally welcome the guest, to spend time with him, to enjoy his company.
And we identify, across the span of time and culture, with a character like Martha, who is pulled apart, torn into as many different directions as we are. Pulled apart, forced to reckon with the questions we all are. How much is too much? When do we need to unplug and disengage from certain parts of our lives? What do we need to pour our energies into? Are there good things we are engaged in that nevertheless could be stopped or slowed down simply to make more room for Jesus? To make more room in our lives to sit at the master’s feet?
We are reminded that there are ways of welcoming Jesus into our homes and into our hearts. And even the good things we might think are necessary to welcome Jesus will one day be burned up, discarded, thrown away, or left behind.
There is one thing needful–to sit at the feet of Jesus, to hear his voice, to silence the distracting voices that call us away from God and the things of God.
In drawing us to himself, to the one thing needful, Jesus reminds us that he is, as Colossians says, not merely the human face of God, not merely the prophet and teacher after whom we pattern our lives. He is also the cosmic Christ, the one who makes all things One, the One who brings all things together, pulls together that which is scattered, in pieces, distracted. He is the One who pulled together the planets from dust and gas, the one who created and is still creating a beautiful world beyond our knowing, beyond our understanding.
As Paul says in Colossians:
Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
The joy of our faith, and the miracle of our faith, is that we are indeed talking about the same person.
The Jesus who made the sun, the moon, and the stars; the Jesus who is a “stamp” or “image” of the invisible God; the Jesus who is the Word of God, Light from Light, True God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father; the Jesus who is the beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega; the Jesus who reconciles to himself ALL THINGS, everything in the entire universe: this Jesus is also the Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Palestine 2000 years ago. The Jesus who walked into Mary and Martha’s house and smelled bread baking is the one who became the Bread of Life for us. The Jesus who sees us, pulled apart and distracted by many cares, is the One who invites us in, to sit, to listen, to do nothing. He is the One who makes us One. He is the One who puts us back together again.