Sermon delivered on Sunday Trinity 8C, July 21, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH. You can listen to the audio version of this sermon by clicking the badge at the end of the text.
Lectionary texts: Amos 8.1-12; Psalm 52.1-9; Colossians 1.15-28; Luke 10.38-42.
In the Pauline letter to the church in Colossae there is a beautiful exposition of the person of Jesus the Christ. This letter helps us understand what it meant to be the church and who it is that we follow. That is Christ in you the Hope of Glory.
“Not only that, but the epistle also tells us that all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
This is a wonderful image of the nature and work of the Christ; unified diversity creating beauty.
Yet, the dynamic power of this scripture is that the writer moves from the work of Christ to the work of the community of faith at Colossae. The writer says they understand this vibrant harmony that Christ’s death enables, because they have experienced that death with Christ. It is from this transformational experience that they have been fit together to continue this harmonizing work. And, it is clear that this faith-life is something that needs to be worked at with all their mind, soul, and strength in the present moment among the people of God.
According to this letter the oneness is a deep concern for God’s people and in the suffering of Christ.
The Message ends the passage this way: ” The mystery is this: Christ in you, the hope of Glory” this is to say Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.
Today’s reading from Amos continues God’s proclamation against the injustices found in Israel.
God asks Amos what he sees, and the response is a basket of ripe fruit. It is the end of God tolerating the unjust practices of the powerful in Israel and will be the end of God’s word for them.
The passage gives a very clear description of what has gone wrong. The most vulnerable people are being crushed and discarded. The holy days are waited through impatiently with only an eye to making money at the first opportunity. They even sell the “sweepings of wheat” which should belong to the poor. It is these actions that have sealed their fate and will bring destruction to their lives.
The theme that emerges in this portion of the book is one with which is familiar and may make us quite uncomfortable. Amos saw God’s judgment against Israel as a course of action that was already underway, one that was impossible to reverse. As our Fr. Kevin mentioned last week about what the Governor said concerning the poor, I agree with him for sure that their poverty does not necessarily mean they are lazy. Standing for the right of the vulnerable in the society is the reason God has changed us so that we can make a difference for him in the face of the world He loves.
Today’s psalm is a good complement to the reading from Amos. This psalm also condemns the rich and powerful for their abuse of the righteous of God. The psalmist calls upon God to bring a day of reckoning to those who have brought evil and destruction to God’s faithful people. They are described this way:
“See the one who would not take refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
The psalmist affirms that trusting in abundant riches is a way of destruction for all concerned. For me, this description sounds like many people in our world. There are multiple examples in our world of those who trade a God-life for wealth. In our world today there is continued abuse of the earth to drag riches from it and this has left millions with an unlivable environment.
Sometimes it seems as if those with power and wealth always win. But, in the psalm, the righteous are defended by God and they praise God for their salvation. This is a good reminder to us that Christ in us is our hope of Glory.
The Gospel from Luke is a good match with the Epistle lesson. These few verses in Luke tell a simple story of the supremacy of Jesus’ teaching.
Often when we read discussions of the story of Martha and Mary, there is a lot of defense of Martha’s busyness. There was work to be done to extend hospitality to the invited guest and Martha is doing that work. However, This pleasant story takes a sharp turn when Martha, distracted by her many tasks, comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me” (10:40).
Many who read or hear this story may cheer for Mary in her inversion of traditional roles. Many may also empathize with Martha’s resentment of her sister for leaving her to do all the work. Jesus’ response to Martha seems less than empathetic, chiding her for her distraction and worry, and praising Mary: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing, Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (10:41-42).
The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. Certainly Jesus commends this kind of service to the neighbor many times, notably in the parable of the Good Samaritan that immediately precedes the story of Mary and Martha. The problem with Martha is not her serving, but rather that she is worried and distracted. The word translated “distracted” in verse 40, periespato, has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions.
Martha’s distraction and worry leave no room for the most important aspect of hospitality — gracious attention to the guest. In fact, she breaks all the rules of hospitality by trying to embarrass her sister in front of her guest, and by asking her guest to intervene in a family dispute. She even goes so far as to accuse Jesus of not caring about her (Lord, do you not care…?).
Martha’s worry and distraction prevent her from being truly present with Jesus, and cause her to drive a wedge between her sister and herself, and between Jesus and herself. She has missed out on the “one thing needed” for true hospitality. There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus! So Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
Jesus’ words to Martha may be seen as an invitation rather than a rebuke. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. The one thing needed is for Martha to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words, to know that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God.
In a culture of hectic schedules and the relentless pursuit of productivity, we are tempted to measure our worth by how busy we are, by how much we accomplish, or by how well we meet the expectations of others.
Many of us today most likely identify with Martha. Feeling pulled in different directions, feeling worried and distracted by many things — these seem to be common threads of life in our fast-paced world. And yet, as Jesus says in Luke 12:25, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” We know that worrying does no good, and that much of what we worry about is not so important in the larger scheme of things, and yet we cannot seem to quell our anxious thoughts and frantic activity.
It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from the noblest of intentions. We want to provide for our families, we want to give our children every opportunity to enrich their lives, we want to serve our neighbors, and yes, we want to serve the Lord. Indeed, where would the church be without its “Marthas,” those faithful folk who perform the tasks of hospitality and service so vital to making the church a welcoming and well-functioning community?
And yet if all our activities leave us with no time to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, we are likely to end up anxious and troubled. We are likely to end up with a kind of service that is devoid of love and joy and is resentful of others.
Both listening and doing, receiving God’s Word and serving others, are vital to the Christian life, just as inhaling and exhaling are to breathing. Yet how often do we forget to breathe in deeply? Trying to serve without being nourished by God’s word is like expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted. Never forget this Christ in you, the hope of Glory
Luke’s story is left suspended. We do not know what happened next – whether Mary and Martha were reconciled, whether they were all able to enjoy the meal that Martha had prepared, whether Martha was finally able to sit and give her full attention to Jesus.
We do know that Jesus invites all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service. There is need of only one thing: attention to our guest. As it turns out, our guest is also our host, with abundant gifts to give. Christ in you, the hope of Glory.
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