July 21

A Basket of Summer Fruit

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 10:38-42

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A Basket of Summer Fruit

Beloved, it is so good to be back in Marsh Chapel. My deepest thanks to Dean Hill for the invitation to stand in this pulpit again, to Ray and Heidi for the logistics and hospitality, and Jess and Victoria and Justin for their leadership and organization of the liturgy this morning. It is good to be worshipping with you again as we meditate this warm summer morning on a basket of summer fruit. 

You might have memories of summer fruit, of those ripened, sunburst, sweet moments of summer joy and delight. Call them to the mind’s eye for a moment. 

My memory wanders back to when I was a kid, and we would spend a few precious days every summer in Wells Beach, Maine, staying at my grandmother’s small cottage at the end of a dead end road two short blocks from the beach. Our days were filled with swimming and boogie boarding in the icy waters whose temperature hovered right around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (sounds nice on a day like today, right?) My parents and aunts and uncles would allow all of the cousins to swim until our lips turned blue or our teeth chattered. Then, we would be yanked out of the water and warmed up in fluffy beach towels until we had pinked up enough to splash right back in. We would walk along the beach, searching for sand dollars in the shallows. We would carefully crawl around tidal rocks, peeking under barnacled stones to see snails and starfish. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, we would retreat to a flat boulder we called the boat rock, begging to stay long enough to be splashed by the seawater as it rushed around us before retreating to higher ground. We would track sand back to the cottage, hose down our feet, and scarf down hot dogs and fried clams, and, for one single glorious meal each year, a shiny red lobster, which we would crack into with messy delight. We would spend hours curled up in an old slip covered chair reading the best in children’s fiction. I met Aslan in that chair, learned the secret about Severus Snape, followed a hobbit to a misty mountain, all bathed in the warmth of the summer sun. 

Once, perhaps twice, we would wrangle some quarters from an adult and would walk to the shockingly painted teal blue arcade, to trade those quarters for a few precious tickets, which we would pool and save and never spend, hoping for that day, untold years hence, when we might have the 3,000 tickets to buy the giant stuffed animal or cheap electronic device. Once, perhaps twice, we would pile into the car and run circles around the giant wooden sign at the Scoop Deck, which listed some 50+ homemade ice cream flavors, and we would shriek from delight and from the sugar high as we devoured waffle cones the size of our heads, piled high with peppermint stick ice cream or triple chocolate fudge and eating our way down to the delicate mini marshmallow at the bottom of the cone, which held the ice cream in and kept the whole contraption together. We would make a tremendous mess. Once, perhaps twice, we would wander the halls of an antiques hall that held about as much junk as antiques. We would stare at old tools, and mishandle vintage toys, and gawk at costume jewelry, and we would try to restrain ourselves from touching anything too breakable. Once, perhaps only once, we would light sparklers after dark and dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light at the end of our fingertips. 

When you call to your mind your own sunburst moments of joy and delight, what summer fruit comes to mind? Perhaps it is a quiet lake, a wooded path, bursting forth to a mountain view. Perhaps it is a field of strawberries, plucked, and a warm kitchen of jarring jam. Perhaps it is the strains of an outdoor concert and the comfort of a blanket spread on the ground. What comes to mind that looks, smells, sounds, tastes, like a basket of summer fruit?

These moments are precious because they seem, because they are both endless and terribly fleeting. A basket of summer fruit. Amos understood this in choosing the image of summer fruit at the outset of a prophecy about divine judgment for unfair labor practices, condemning those who trample the needy, boost prices, and cheat with dishonest scales. We don’t see it as clearly in English, but there is a word play in the Hebrew here between the word for summer fruit and the end. They are a half a thought apart. So, too, are fruit and fruition, ends and eternities. And we know this from experience to be true, right? This is just the time of summer when we both bask in its endlessness and begin to feel that creeping sense that it is somehow, already, almost over. Children know this, deep in their bones; they can feel when school looms. Tiny sun-filled strawberries fade quickly, sunburst wild blueberries wither, peaches and nectarines overripen into mush. 

The life of faith lived in community teaches us to appreciate those summer moments of joy, both endless and always ending. This is the lesson that we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Mary’s meditative focus on the joy of encounter with the divine. To savor our summer fruits.

The life of faith lived in community also teaches us about the labor it takes to enjoy such summer fruit. This is the lesson we learn in Amos and in Luke, too, from Martha’s labor to make space for joy. There is another way to tell the story of this idyllic, childlike wondrous scene. You who have been what my fellow millennials call #adulting for a little or a long time know this well, too. 

After all, that two block jaunt to the beach required lugging supplies to keep us kids happy and healthy; chairs, towels, sunblock, boogie boards, umbrella, more towels, snacks, drinks, a cooler, plastic shovels and buckets for playing in the sand. Our tiny arms could carry some things, but the adults often ended up checking the list and carrying the majority of the burden. An adult, too, without the circulation of the very young, would need to freeze alongside us in the ocean, splashed with that 60 degree Fahrenheit water, to make sure that we didn’t swim too deep and that we didn’t catch hypothermia. An adult, too, would have towels ready and then remind us to reapply sunscreen. An adult would precariously balance alongside us on the tidal rocks, tending to scrapes from the barnacles and protecting the wildlife from being permanently transplanted from their homes. As the tide came in and the beach became smaller and smaller, an adult would patiently move all of the beach luggage, once, twice, thrice, away from the water, and ultimately, would wade waist deep to rescue us from the boat rock as the tide became too high and our shrieks of delight turned to shrieks of fear. An adult would beg us to rinse off our feet and spend an hour sweeping all of the sand that made it in the house anyway at the end of the week. 

Those hot dogs didn’t cook themselves, and someone needed to stand in line at the lobster pound and the ice cream parlor, to clean up the detritus of the seafood feast and the dribbles of melted ice cream, and someone had to do all those dishes. So many dishes. Grown-ups, too, would want a few precious moments to read in the warmth of the summer sun, or to wander around an antique shop without worrying whether they’d need to pay for a broken vase, and maybe, once all of the above work had been done, they too, could enjoy the taste of summer fruits. 


Martha and Mary, Mary and Martha. There are two ways that this gospel story is usually preached. Sometimes these two followers of Jesus are abstracted into ways of living in faith. Mary the contemplative, Martha the activist. Both are needed.

But sometimes these two women are treated as stereotypical characters in a vacation drama. After all, this story falls in the middle of the Lukan travel narrative. There are pitfalls ahead for the lazy preacher on a lazy summer Sunday. Mary and Martha are too easily pitted against one another, rivals for Jesus’s attention and favor. It’s too easy to portray Martha as an overworked housewife, complaining about Mary not helping out in the kitchen. In too many sermons, I have heard this story preached in this way, with the final message, geared far too often to women, “Don’t worry so much, everything is fine, try to relax and not stress so much.” 

Women who hear this story preached in this way often get frustrated. Feminist biblical scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza paints a vivid picture of how women hear these lazy exegetes. When women hear sermons like this, women who make a congregation run, especially in a church that is so often sustained by women, who teach vacation bible school, brew coffee, clean altar linens, plant flowers, organize fundraisers, call those who are shut in at home, who “do all of this often without ever receiving a ‘thank you,’ [they get frustrated.] They therefore identify with Martha who openly complains. They resent Jesus who seems to be ungrateful and unfair in taking Mary’s side. But they repress this resentment [it is Jesus after all] and vent it against other women who, like Mary, have abandoned the traditional feminine role.” 

To preach this passage as a “chill out” message to women too busy with household chores is a misreading of the text, a myopic telling of this story as only about Martha and Mary’s gender, and a misunderstanding of what it means to find faith in community. Instead, we need to reconsider what this pause for respite, this moment of hospitality, can mean for the life of faith in community. 

Two lessons from Luke help us to read this passage to sustain and nourish the life of faith lived in community. First, since we are in the Lukan travel narrative, we need to remember that the disciples are sent out in pairs; at the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus was sending out the seventy to teach, heal, and preach. Disciples come in pairs in Luke, and they are not sent out as polarized lessons for the church pitted against one another, they are sent out to work together for the sake of the gospel. So the story of Martha is not about a hostess too busy in the kitchen to enjoy her Jesus party; no, these are two disciples doing the work of discipleship. Martha has questions about the work of faith. To be sure, she is anxious about that work, but this is not only about worrying about who does the dishes, no she is anxious about about the partnership of ministry, about hospitality, abut diakonia, about the service work that makes the community of faith the community of faith. And her question to Jesus, a fair one, is how to work together in partnership to accomplish all that needs doing for community to thrive. Jesus’s answer, then, is not a rebuke of the work, this is no patronizing reminder to chill out, but rather, a reminder that making space for transformative divine encounter is the point of the community of faith. Martha’s question, too, reminds us that on this earth and in this life, it takes labor to make space for joy.

Which brings me to my second point. I’ve always wondered in this passage where all the other disciples were. After all, where were the rest of the disciples, anyway? They seem to follow Jesus just about everywhere. They were there just a moment ago reporting on their work and having a little tête a tête with Jesus. They’ll reappear again in just a moment, in just a few verses. just in time to be taught the Lord’s prayer. So where are Peter, and James, and John, and the others? Were they off in the backyard drinking a beer while dinner was made and the dishes were done? If you look through the gospels, you’ll find that the male apostles seem pretty helpless, especially when it comes to fixing meals. Jesus himself has to step up more than once to put dinner on the table, whether that is through miraculous multiplication of loaves, or grilling the fish on the shore after the resurrection. Jesus shares in the labor of the community of faith, but the disciples often don’t. Can you imagine the disciples can’t even cook breakfast for themselves and Jesus after the resurrection? This passage, and the glaring absence of the disciples, reminds us that we need the whole community of faith to do the work to make space for joy. 

So sometimes, I picture in my mind’s eye this scene from Luke 10:38-42. Mary is speaking with Jesus, and Martha is stuck with all the work of hospitality, all of the work of discipleship, all of the work of the community of faith. Desperate for a little help, she comes through the doorway, squints as her eyes adjust to the outside light, and asks Jesus for Mary’s assistance. Jesus reminds her about the joy of divine encounter. “What Mary has chosen shall not be taken away from her,” he says. Martha stares, a small furrow forming at her brow, ready to ask a follow up, but Jesus continues, “Martha, you are worried, there is only need of one thing.” And Jesus stops and stares, pointedly, through the door, at Peter, and James, and John, and the other disciples laughing inside. They fall silent. Jesus repeats, a little more loudly this time “There is only need of one thing.” The disciples get up, put down their drinks, and begin to set the table for dinner and start doing some of the dishes. Martha smiles, and Mary laughs. 

Beloved, there is only need of one thing. Transformative divine encounter. The role of the community of faith, the life of faith lived out in community, is to make space for the joy of divine encounter. And, beloved, it takes work to make space for the joy of divine encounter. That is the work not of any one of us, but of the community. Faith in community makes space for all of us to share both the joy and the work of divine encounter. To share the labor and the harvest of a basket of summer fruit. To share in the endless and always ending sweetness of this life in preparation for eternity. 

I now know, as an adult, just how much work went into those sunburst summer vacations in Maine. But I also know, as an adult, how to see, if you looked at just the right angle, the same childlike joy in the faces of the kids and grownups alike. Joy would spread like wildfire among the adults while watching the kids dance alongside the fireflies, drawing circles of light with their sparklers. And sometimes the whole family, even the adults, would dance alongside the children, if only to keep them from burning their fingers. Beloved, that is faith in community.  


-The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Quigley 

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