July 21, 2019
Luke 18: 38-42
Lunar Communion Sunday
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what is humanity that you should be mindful of us? The children of the earth that you should seek us out?” Psalm 8:4
From the stories of creation in Genesis to this very day, we have wondered about our relationship with the cosmos — we have been both humbled by the awesome magnitude of the universe and prideful of our capacity to understand and control aspects of it. Fifty years ago on this day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lunar landing module and onto the dusty surface of the moon — Tranquility Base — but before they stepped out, Buzz Aldrin invited all who were listening in, to contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.
He silently read from John 15:5: “As Jesus said: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in Him, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.’” He then took out the bread, chalice and wine and offered thanksgiving — the first communion on the moon. He later shared the details of this story and reflected on the profound sense of presence in the vast emptiness of space.
During those heady years of space travel, I had the opportunity to meet and hear two of those early astronauts as they shared their personal faith stories. The humility and grace they exhibited reflected the profound sense of being connected to the realm of glory that surrounds and enfolds us. This fiftieth anniversary boggles my mind and as I look around the room, I am reminded that those of us who are more than fifty-five years old, remember the moment Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon. We watched and listened — who can forget Walter Cronkite’s voice!
Remember what you remember! These moments are written on the heart, the soaring moments of accomplishment, compassion and sacrifice and, the dreadful moments of chaos, destruction and death — we remember with a clarity that holds the moment frozen in time and space as long as we live.
Today’s gospel reading from Luke is such a moment for Mary and Martha. Only Luke includes this tiny story, placing it just after the Parable of the Man who Fell Among Thieves (the Good Samaritan), tucked away between that parable and his teaching on prayer. Luke’s Gospel was written approximately fifty years after the events of Holy Week — there were still early followers of the Way of Jesus living, those who were witnesses to the teaching, the journey to Jerusalem, the chaos of the final week and then meeting Jesus in a new way in the resurrection appearances. Perhaps even Martha and Mary were still living witnesses to all that had transpired. Perhaps, they too, had continued in the prayers and the breaking of bread and offering of wine in Holy Communion.
These deep connections and threads of memories that hold us together are cords of love, that quantum entanglement of love or perhaps like branches of the vine, grafted on the rootstock of Jesus the Christ. And today’s tiny story of Martha and Mary, placed where it is, helps us remember the power of love that has connected all of us through these two thousand years!
Martha, unlike the priest and Levite of the parable, does not deliberately avoid her duty to be hospitable, she is simply overwhelmed by so much serving; there is simply so much to do. When Martha then turns on her sister Mary, she sounds more like the elder brother in the Parable of the Loving Father (Prodigal Son). Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious (entangled with life in the world) and are putting yourself into an uproar!”
How familiar does this sound? How much of my life has been squandered with misdirected busyness? How often have I felt overwhelmed? How often have I become disconnected from the very source of life. Mary has chosen the better part, she has chosen to be present to the guest and she has received the very lifeblood of his word. So here’s the challenge of this passage. We are tempted to set up a false dichotomy of Martha as the human doing and Mary as a human being or, in other words, the false dichotomy of contemplation being better than action.
But reality is this — we are called to lives of action and contemplation, doing and being. I believe we are invited into a life of expressive action, into a life of the present moment. Mary’s good portion is not that of inaction or even contemplation but of living in the present moment. Mary followed her heart and acted expressively, doing what was right in the moment. She was connected and in relationship rather than reacting to the expectation of others.
Martha was living in the world of instrumental action, doing what she thought was expected of her. It is the way most of us live, most of the time. In fact, we think it is the way we must live.
Last week’s parable was all about expressive action versus instrumental action — the Samaritan, an outcast, identified with the man who was beaten and left for dead and enters into a relationship and connects with the man. He acted expressively, doing what is the right thing in the moment. He acted with compassion, he entered into a relationship where he suffered with another. The priest and the Levite, followed the rules and avoided the unclean man and felt justified that they had done the correct thing.
Martha is following the rules of hospitality but for all her busyness, she failed to actually be present to her guest. Mary has violated the customary rule that did not allow a woman to sit at the feet of a teacher but didn’t allow convention to drive her. She followed her heart. She and the Samaritan become our two models of discipleship. They show us a way of expressive action in a realm where there are only two rules: love God and love one another.
Jesus is the cord of love who connects us to the life source at the heart of the universe; Jesus is the power source. This is Jesus on the way to Jerusalem pulling all humanity with him and in the ultimate act of love, showing us the way of life. This is the mission of the church — to be living signs of this love — the life energy of love flows through us if we are connected. This is the true nature of prayer.
This life together in the present moment is quite simply, a life of continual prayer — love flows to us and through us, like a two-pronged plug, two laws of the universe: love God and love our neighbor, one another — prayer is not about religious language but about a constant flow of energy and it has been given to us as a gift. The easiest image is a plug — I can carry this cord and plug with me but unless it is connected to a power source, it is useless.
Our corporate prayer is expressed in Eucharist with the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the heart of our worship. When we gather here around this table, we are lifted up to heaven to celebrate the feast. Today, I would ask if you might watch me at the table as we celebrate this communion of bread and wine. Bring your eyes, ears and hearts to this table, for you, too are celebrants at the feast. And at the end of the prayer, I will wait for the great AMEN.
And finally, when strangers come into our midst, do they see the Body of Christ, do they encounter people of expressive action, people of love? When we, as individuals, meet the stranger in the market place or the farmer’s market, do they see Christ’s love in you or in me?
Fifty years ago, a man on the moon remembered to give thanks to God for the tremendous gift of love that was for us all. And the greatest story ever told, continues even today. It is not that we landed on the moon but that the very creator of the universe loves us still. Thanks be to God.