Tuesday, July 20, 2010

8 Pentecost--Proper 11C

8 Pentecost--Proper 11C sermon
July 18, 2010
“There is a lovely story of a man exploring Africa [that is written in the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]. [The explorer] was in a desperate hurry on a journey through the jungle. He had three or four Africans helping him carry his equipment. They raced onward for about three days. At the end of the third day, the Africans sat down and would not move. He urged them to get up, telling them of the pressure he was under to reach his destination before a certain date. They refused to move. He could not understand this; after much persuasion, they still refused to move. Finally, he got one of them to admit the reason. This native said, ‘We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to wait to give our spirits a chance to catch up with us.’” (Anam Cara John O’Donohue Harper Collins: New York, 151)
In reading today’s gospel passage, it is of utmost importance to remember that this story of Mary and Martha and their encounter with Jesus is coming right on the heels of last week’s story in Luke’s gospel—the story of the lawyer whose encounter with Jesus resulted in Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We must remember what that lawyer’s initial question to Jesus is, because that will help us in how we read this story. The lawyer has asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus asks him what is written in the law, the lawyer responds that it is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” The two then embark on a continued line of questioning about who is the lawyer’s neighbor and Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan; the lawyer answers Jesus’s question of who in the story is the victim’s neighbor; the lawyer answers “The one who showed him mercy,” and Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Then our story for today picks up. So many people have read this story as the dichotomy between the active life and the spiritual life and they say that Jesus is clearly promoting contemplation over action. But I’m not so sure that’s what’s going on here. Maybe it’s partly because I feel really bad for Martha. It makes sense to me that she’s stressed out. She’s giving a dinner party, and she really wants things to be nice for Jesus and his companions. And there’s her sister sitting on the floor at his feet, when she could be up helping her.
I know what it’s like to be Martha, to have the million little items that need to have attention chasing around in your head like squirrels; to be so very busy and more than a little bit resentful and jealous of someone who has the leisure to sit at Jesus’s feet and just listen. But what’s important for me to hear in this gospel is this. Jesus does not gently scold Martha for being busy. Instead, he says to her, “Dear Martha, this isn’t about your sister; it’s about you. You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” He holds up a mirror before her to let her see that the problem isn’t that she is busy and her sister isn’t helping. Her real problem isn’t her sister. It is her. It is that she is worried and distracted by many things and there is need of only one thing.
What is this one thing? CS Lewis said it this way: “There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” Other theologians have written that “the chief act of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Perhaps most well known is scripture, how Luke articulates the one needed thing. It is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind….”
It’s what Martha is missing. She’s so caught up in her worry and distraction that she has lost sight of the Lord who is sitting right there in front of her, and she can’t even take time to talk to him without being caught up in her own worry and distraction. It’s what the explorer in Africa was missing when the Africans sat down in protest and refused to go. It is why we are here; it is what we are always looking for but which we cannot see for our worry and our distractions.
So what does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? How do we glorify God and enjoy God forever?
We start with this one moment, this one time and place of Sunday morning. And we name those things which keep us worried and distracted from glorifying and enjoying God. Is it your health or your family or your finances? Is it your loneliness or your need for perfection? Is it your own vision of how things should be, which distracts you from fulfilling God’s vision? Is it that you are so drowning in the details of your life that you are not able to live and love freely? What are your worries and distractions? After we name them today, we are called to lay them at the feet of our Lord, before his altar, where he will then free us and feed, that we may spend our life glorifying and enjoying God.
And then, when we leave this place and go back into the world, back into our lives, we listen and pay attention to our lives. When we or someone close to us realizes that we have moved so quickly that we have left behind our souls, that we are worried and distracted by many things, and none of them is the one needed thing of loving and enjoying God, then we sit down for a while, lay down our baggage or worry and distraction, and we wait for our souls to catch up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10C sermon

7th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 10C
July 11, 2010
I wonder what it was like for the lawyer in today’s story from Luke’s gospel on the day after he had his conversation with Jesus? I imagine him tossing and turning most of the night as he relived the encounter and the story it provoked.
He would start with the beginning, how he started out to test Jesus, but in his effort to test him, he asked Jesus a question of deep concern to him, one that he thought he had already figured out: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
When Jesus posed his own question, the lawyer was pleased because he knew this one; he could even recite the Scripture by heart. “What is written in the law? Why it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
He knew it was right when he answered, and Jesus affirmed him, patting him on the shoulder and telling him if he did this then he will live. But suddenly, in that moment, being right and knowing the law just weren’t enough anymore. Instead, he felt something. Was it doubt? Uncertainty? A fear that maybe he didn’t have this whole salvation thing figured out after all and sewn up in a nifty slogan? Maybe it was discomfort or a hunger for something more, something deeper? Suddenly, in his insecurity, he needed justification from this man that he had set out to test.
So he opened his mouth and asked Jesus the question that would truly change his life, transform and haunt him. “Who is my neighbor?”
Thinking back on that moment, he especially remembered the look on Jesus’s face. It was a such a strange and disarming mixture—with the glint of singleness of purpose in his eye coupled with the softness of love and compassion that framed his eyes and mouth like parentheses and the peace that stretched through the expanse of his brow and cheeks.
Then Jesus began to tell him the story of a man, much like himself, who was attacked by robbers while traveling a lonely road and who was beaten, robbed, and left in a bloody heap on the side of the road.
As he lay there, two men witnessed his suffering, his humiliation, and each passed by on the other side of the road. Finally a third man stopped and the lawyer again felt his initial unease as he heard Jesus say that this third man who stopped was a Samaritan. To good Jews, Samaritans were despised as being heretics and breakers of the ceremonial law. They were looked down upon and treated with great contempt.
He remembered his discomfort as Jesus described the familiarity of the Samaritan’s ministrations to the man, the care and affection that was poured out upon stranger by a stranger. He was even shocked at the lengths to which the Samaritan would go to help the man, how he not only paid money on the front end but promised repayment of whatever was spent on the man’s care, as if they were family—father and son or brothers, instead of bitter enemies.
He remembered the moment when Jesus asked him, “which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
And he paused in his struggle to answer. He remembered thinking that if it were him lying bloody and helpless in a ditch, then he’d rather die than receive help from a Samaritan, let alone receive such an abundance of compassion. And he thought that he’d rather die than have to reciprocate such for one he despised.
So when Jesus asked him the question, again, he knew the answer, but this time he couldn’t simply say it. He couldn’t answer “the Samaritan” because it was just too hard, too impossible, and the words stuck in his throat. Instead of naming the hated Samaritan heretic as the one who was fulfilling the Jewish law, the lawyer found a loophole and answered, after his long, tortured pause: “The one who was a neighbor was the one who showed him mercy.”
And he would never forget until the end of his days how Jesus nodded and looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Go and do likewise.”
It wasn’t until he was at home in his own bed that night trying to sleep when he realized that he had been transformed. When he’d thought he’d had all the answers, had the path to eternal life all figured out, suddenly Jesus sneaked up on him and he was faced with more and more questions about his life and his faith.
What is this mercy which Jesus has called me to replicate? And how do I show it to people whom I distrust, dislike, and even despise?
Again and again, he remembered Jesus face as he looked at him; he remembered all the times he had prayer to God asking for mercy…
And he knew in the deepest depths of his being what mercy is….that it’s not just the forgiveness of a debt or an offense or the flip side of justice. It’s about “blessing and unwarranted compassion as well as leniency. It’s about pardon, kindness, strength, and even rescue and generosity.”[1]
An offer of mercy, he discovered, is an offer of kindness, care, risk, and even intimacy, and it may be willingly and joyfully received in a way that transforms both the giver and the receiver, or it may be rejected. In mercy, we give of ourselves and we are unprotected, defenseless. Mercy is moving and active; it is intervening and interceding, and it always results in a change of relationship, a change of status.
“So that’s mercy,” thought the lawyer, “but how do I live into that? Where on earth do I start?”
And as he looked outside to see the pink edges of dawn creeping across the face of the world, he remembered Jesus’s parting words to him: “Go and do likewise.”
Go…and do likewise.
[1] Lord, Jennifer L. Reflections on the Lectionary. The Christian Century, June 29, 2010, p 19.