A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen
A woman’s place is in the kitchen. While I do not remember being told this in seriousness, I was taught it by example from my earliest days. At my grandmother Devine’s house, family gathered every Sunday after church for dinner and every holiday. The women would get to work in the small kitchen and the men would gather in the living room and talk about “important” things. And just so you have the full picture – my grandmother worked full time in a factory, did all the house work and raised a garden. By the time I was born, my grandfather was a retired farmer and spent his time in his workshop.
As the only granddaughter among 8 grandsons, my role was not as clearly defined. I grew up playing with my cousins until the women had the food ready. Once the food had been blessed by my grandmother, all the men and the children went through the line. Once we all had our seats with full plates and drinks, the women got to fill their plates. But they were always ready to jump up in case someone needed some butter for their biscuit or a refill on iced tea. It was not until I was married, that I faced a dilemma. Should I stand with the women and serve my “man” or should I continue to take advantage of my “only-granddaughter” status? — Everything changes when you get married. I could no longer assume my parents would pay my bill at the restaurant, add my name to the birthday and Christmas gifts, and I could no longer pretend I was a child. Wanting to be helpful but also a women’s libber, I helped in the kitchen until the food was ready but then I went through the line with my husband.
Martha was doing what she had always been taught – “women should be in the kitchen.” Mary was the women’s libber, the one pushing the boundaries. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, where the male disciples sat to learn important things from Jesus. The men lounged on low couches talking about politics and religion while the women worked to have all the food ready and hot on the table at the same time. Mary was relaxing with the men while Martha was slaving in the hot kitchen.
When John-Mark and I were newlyweds, I quickly learned that John-Mark had the habit of inviting people over for dinner. He grew up in a home where there were frequently guests at the dinner table. He grew up with a mother who was always able to stretch a meal to feed any strangers who showed up at dinner time. This open table hospitality was new to me and to be quite honest it stressed me out. Instead of enjoying the company of the many people who visited us at meal time, I would stay in the kitchen like Martha. I would wear a smile on my face but inside I was irritated and stressed. It took some time and marital discussions for John-Mark and me to learn how to wade these waters. He learned to give me more advanced notice and to offered help. I learned that I had a pretty bad attitude. I was not choosing the better. Instead of focusing on the blessing of guests, the blessing of serving, the blessing of friends and food and fun, I was distracted by the tasks. Over time, I began to accept help from my husband and from guests and I learned to leave the dishes until later in order to join in the conversation. I was not powerless and I was blessed. Overtime, I was able to choose good conversation over dishes and friendship over distraction. I was liberated. Not only did Jesus allow Mary to sit with the men and learn and grow in faith, he celebrated her choice. She chose the good, she chose the better. Jesus was also a women’s libber.
Notice that in this passage Jesus did not chastise Martha for working to prepare the meal, he does not tell her to stop and come and sit down. He was, after all, probably hungry and looking forward to the meal she was preparing. But he did call her attention to the fact that she was distracted and worried. She was not focused on her blessings, she was not “in the moment.”
In every situation, we have choices. We are never powerless, for at least we always have the choice to be in the moment, to find the holy, to notice and celebrate the blessings, to make the best of the situation.
Since I am more of a Martha than a Mary, I have many times through the years wondered how Martha could have handled the situation differently.
She could have taken a deep breath, counted her blessings and found joy in preparing a nice meal for Jesus and his friends.
She could have set out some appetizers in the kitchen and invited them to move the conversation so that she could join in.
She could have served a simple soup with bread, cheese and olives instead of a big meal.
She could have made the most of the situation, prepared the meal and then left the clean up for the next day.
Martha could have suggested that they all go out for dinner. While there were not as many restaurants in Jesus’ time as today, they did exist.
Martha’s sin was not that she was cooking instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet, Martha’s sin was that she was distracted and worried, not in the moment, not connected to God. And how often is that true for us?
There is so much that can distract us from the moment, from each other, from the beauty of creation, from God. For Martha it was worry about getting the meal prepared without help, about the lack of fairness of Mary sitting with Jesus while she worked. Many, if not all of us, know what it is like to allow thoughts to distract us from whatever is happening. We know what it is like to stew. We have carried out many conversations in our heads where about the injustices we have endured.
Besides worrying about fairness, we also worry about our jobs, we make lists in our minds of the things we need to do while around us people are talking, desiring our attention and input. We worry about our finances, about our cars, about our dirty house, about what we can do to save our loved one from totally destroying his or her life, about where we can buy a cool jacket or hat or shoes like that person has on, about how we will make it to the other side of town in time for the meeting, about the pounds we have put on…and while we are busy worrying, life passes us on by and we lose each and every moment like sand through our fingers never to get them back again.
Today another common distraction comes from anything electronic. The television does a good job of distracting us. “Tell me later, MY show is on.” Surfing the net, checking email, returning a very important text, having to take this call – we have played phone tag with all day, having to finish this game or I will lose my level, listening with ear buds to my favorite song…technology can be wonderful but if we are not careful, it can keep us from being in the moment. Electronics are good at distracting us from the better part, from the good, from God. Gone forever is that hour, gone forever is the excitement of the child who wants our attention, gone forever are all those moments we spent distracted– disconnected from the moment and the people in that moment and God.
There are many things I admire about my mother, but one attribute that I have come to appreciate (that I did not used to appreciate) is that she engages with people wherever she is. She talks with people, asks them their names, where they are from, learns their stories and connects with them through her life story. When my mom walks into a nail salon, people call her by name and she can tell you all about them. She knows the pain and hardship that they endured and she knows their joys as well. By the time we left a hotel recently, she knew the hotel maid and greeted her by name. When she is in an elevator or in the checkout line at the store, she notices who is around and she begins to talk to them. Some of you are like this too.
Gary Anderson does this. In one December on a Saturday morning, Anderson noticed a woman in McDonalds crying. While most of us would just walk on by allowing her to have her moment in solitude, Anderson walked right up to her and asked her why in the world she was crying. She told him it was because the bad weather was going to keep her from spending Christmas with her family for the first time in her life. When he learned that her family lives in Maysville, he offered to take her on Christmas Day.
Whether they do it on purpose or not, whether they are conscious of the fact or not, my mom and Gary Anderson and all the rest of you who do this, look for Jesus in every person and in every moment.
Each moment IS holy; each person created in God’s image. When we are distracted, we miss sacred words, laughter, rain, tears, smells, and silence…
Most of you know the song “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. It is a song in the voice of a father who when his son was just born, had much to do – planes to catch and bills to pay. The father missed his son’s first steps and first words. For his tenth birthday the boy received a ball and asked his Dad to teach him to throw. But the father said, “Not today, I have much to do.” The father in the song was distracted and he missed his son’s childhood and through his example, he taught his son to be the same way. When the father was old and wanted to spend time with his son, his son was too busy, too distracted. —
Our culture is a culture of scarcity – there is never enough of anything. We do not have enough of anything, but especially time! We never have enough time to get it all done: our work, our chores, or even sleep. We don’t have time to exercise, to have dinner with a friend, to take a walk, to keep the Sabbath,to pray.
And we never have enough stuff – enough clothes, furniture, cars, a bigger house, electronics…and the stuff we have and the stuff that we want becomes so important it distracts us from the sacred things, the holy things. We come to believe that our stuff is so important that we need to protect it, with a weapon if necessary. As a society we have come to believe that our homes, our cars, our neighborhoods, “our stuff” is so important that in the right circumstances, it is okay to take a life in order to protect it. – Our culture is a culture of scarcity.
I have really struggled with what to think about the Zimmerman trial verdict. I believe the jurors followed the instructions and carried out Florida’s law. After this sermon was written, something caused me to wonder what would have happened if instead of George Zimmerman, my mom or Gary Anderson or one of you had been there that evening. It was raining and Trayvon was carrying an iced tea and a bag of skittles. I imagine that Gary would have given him a ride home and invited him to church. My mom would have asked him about his life and told him that she has a grandson who is 17 named Elijah. My mom and Gary would have been in the holy of the moment and would have looked for Jesus.
We worship a God of abundance where there is always enough – even enough time… God invites us to count our blessings. God invites us to be IN the moment, to discover God in creation and in each other – even strangers, to find the sacred in every moment and in each other and to discover Jesus, to sit at the feet of Jesus and choose the better thing – choose the good.