“Thomas, Martha, and Mary”
Homily of the Rev. Dr. David A. Killian
Second Sunday of Easter
Spirituality and Justice Sunday
April 28, 2019
All Saints Parish
Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; Psalm 118:14-29; John 20:19-31
Let us have a moment of silence to pray for the victims of the shooting at the synagogue in Poway, California, and for an end to these acts of violence and terrorism.
Thank you to Richard Burden, Anoma Abeyaratne, the Wardens and Vestry, Sharon Siwiec, Roberta Schnoor and everyone here at All Saints Parish who worked so hard in preparing this award and the reception that will follow our worship service. I am deeply grateful to this wonderful parish that I served for over 20 years as Rector. Thank you to friends from the Paulist Center in downtown Boston where I ministered in the 1970s and to parishes in the Episcopal Church that I served and still am serving. Thanks to lay and clergy colleagues that I served with in the past and to friends from Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries and the Massachusetts Bible Society and to all of you all for coming today.
Someone asked if I will have three points in my homily as often I have in the past. Yes, I will have three points – actually three persons, first, doubting Thomas, second, Martha, and third, Mary. These three scriptural heroes speak to me about spirituality and justice.
First, “doubting Thomas” that we heard about in today’s Gospel passage. How many of you identify with Thomas? I do because doubting is a good thing. Where would science be if researchers did not doubt previous explanations of the age and size of the universe, or the cause of diseases and illnesses? Where would believers be if they did not doubt the explanation of faith that they learned as children? Where would we be in church and society if we did not doubt and question the behaviors and statements of leaders?
My doubting sometimes got me into trouble. Thirty years ago when my wife Barbara and I were applying to adopt our children from Korea, we were required to go to the police station to be finger-printed to check if we had criminal backgrounds. Our social worker called one day to say that my finger prints were sent to the FBI and they turned up my criminal record. This was a serious matter because it could stop the adoption. However, when I explained that my crime was getting arrested for protesting the Viet Nam war in front of the White House the adoption agency thought this crime would not keep me from being a good parent – and we were able to adopt our two lovely children, Brendan and Meeya.
One of my favorite photos is of Daniel Berrigan holding up a sign during the Viet Nam war that said “Question authority!” Berrigan’s play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine” pushed me to protest the war and get arrested. Doubt and questioning are good. We need doubters like the Massachusetts Bible Society that challenge fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture that simplistically proclaim that homosexuality is wrong. One of the joys of my ministry has been to baptize the children of gay couples and to celebrate same sex marriages in this Church and to see all of this as normal. Being gay is the way one is created and is not a “life-style” choice. So I urge us to imitate Thomas. Question authority! Doubt.
My second scriptural hero is Martha, who with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary were dear friends of Jesus. In the Christian tradition, Martha symbolizes action and Mary symbolizes contemplation. When I was 18 years old, I was in a parish youth group in Milwaukee led by Father James Groppi. Father Groppi went on to become a major civil rights leader in the city. He used a methodology in our youth group developed by priest-workers in Belgium that had three parts: observe, judge, and act. Each week we observed some particular aspect of society, like racism. We then judged how this squared with the teaching of Jesus. Then we took action. One of the actions of our youth group was to meet with African-American teenagers from a parish on the north side of Milwaukee that wanted to meet with us. Later that year, I joined the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and took part in actions to end segregation. I was part of the Seminarian’s prayer vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to pass the civil rights act of 1964. Here at All Saints Parish we were members of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and currently I am active in CMM, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, which was founded in 1966 to carry on the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to build the beloved community. My activism started in that youth group with Fr. Groppi. In trying to put my faith into action, I identify with Martha.
And this brings me to Martha’s sister Mary. In the Gospel story from Luke, Jesus dines in the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching. Martha is distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus answers, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away.” Mary who communes with Jesus is thus seen in Christian tradition as the symbol of spirituality.
In 1974 when serving at the Paulist Center, a parishioner came up to me one day and complained, “You aren’t doing much here to foster spirituality!” (I have been blessed over the years by people who were not shy in telling me what I needed to do!) I was taken aback by his comment because I thought we were doing the right things, but I saw that perhaps he was right. So he and I designed an eight-week course on meditation and personal prayer. We had talks on teachers like Thomas Merton and we did four field trips — to Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi centers and then to St. Joseph’s Trappist Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where Abbot Thomas Keating taught us a form of Christian meditation called centering prayer. Today, I am still practicing centering prayer and I am part of a centering prayer group that meets on Wednesdays at Grace Church in Newton.
Abbot Keating’s teaching led us in the 1970s to found the Ruach Spirituality Institute and to host Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, whose life combines the deep spirituality of Mary and the action of Martha. A second incarnation of Ruach followed in the 1990s here at All Saints Parish where we brought speakers like Celtic poet and theologian John O’Donohue together with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other faith traditions to learn from one another and to deepen our spiritual lives. A third incarnation of Ruach continues today at Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries in its Conversational Circles where people of all faiths engage in “difficult conversations” like anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. We meet to examine unconscious racism, white privilege, and systemic unfairness in the criminal justice system.
God created each of us in love. God loves each of us passionately and personally. Since we are created in God’s image and likeness, we are called to safeguard each person’s dignity and worth. Mary is the symbol of spirituality and Martha is the symbol of justice. We need both. Martha without Mary risks burnout. Mary without Martha misses engagement with suffering humanity. Doubting Thomas keeps both Mary and Martha asking the right questions. Today, I give thanks for all three.