A Reading from the Book of Amos (8:1-12)
This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.
1 You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
2 You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
3 You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
5 Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
6 The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Colossians (1:15-28)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (10:38-42)
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
It was good to be away from here on vacation for the past two weeks; but it’s also good to be back with you once again. Thanks to all who stepped in to keep everything going while we were away.
Last Sunday, when Jack Koepke presided and preached, the gospel story was a familiar one. A lawyer came up to test Jesus, asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus challenged him, the man recited the two great commandments from the Torah: love of God and love of neighbor. “To justify himself,” Luke says, he then asked Jesus “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
While today’s story is a different one, involving different characters, and supposedly taking place in a different location, the two passages are closely tied together. They are actually the opposite sides of the same coin. St. Luke often does that in the way that he arranges his narratives. The story of the Good Samaritan is addressed to someone who apparently has listened to, and could quote, the word of God; his problem was in doing the word, in putting it into action. The words that Jesus spoke to Martha are addressed to someone who was apparently great at doing, but who apparently was not so great at listening: at taking the time to hear the word of God and allowing it to form the basis of her actions. To the lawyer, Jesus says, “Go and do.” To Martha, Jesus says, “Sit and listen.” Both responses to God’s word are emphasized. Both are necessary, and they complement each other.
As often happens in life, some people like to pick one story over the other. Those who are inclined to the doing side of the coin like to cite the Good Samaritan as one who was living his faith – and he was. On the flip side of the coin are those who are inclined to a more contemplative approach to their faith; they hold up Mary as an example of those who are really attentive to Jesus’ words – and she was. Luke juxtaposes the two stories, not so that people can pick whichever one seems more attractive to them, more closely aligned with their personalities, but so that we might see them, not as contradictory to each other, but as complementary to each other.
But there is still at least one other layer to today’s brief gospel story that we sometimes miss. It has to do with hospitality and with our attentiveness to the people who are an ongoing part of our lives or who, at one point or another, enter our lives.
If you had asked Martha why she was rushing around doing so many things, she would probably have told you that she was trying to be welcoming to her guest, Jesus. She was getting all sorts of things ready to serve him, making sure everything was exactly the way that she wanted it to be. The problem was that, while she was being “worried and distracted by many things,” she was, in fact, ignoring her guest. She was trying to be welcoming to Jesus; but, in the way she went about it, she was in practice paying no attention to him whatsoever. Worse than that, she was being inhospitable by trying to put him into the middle of a family argument: the one between herself and her sister. Her actions were getting in the way of her intentions. Instead of serving as ways to welcome her guest, they had become obstacles to that welcome.
I wonder how often that happens in our lives as well as in our life as a church: how often we allow the means to get in the way of the ends. We sometimes get so wrapped up in the details, getting “worried and distracted by many things,” that we forget why we are supposedly doing them to begin with.
As parents, for example, we want the best for our children. We want to love them and nurture them and bring them up to be happy and responsible adults, sharing the values and practices that we have found to be most important in life. And yet, all too often, we parents come to focus so much on the things that we are supposedly doing for our children that we come to focus less and less on the children themselves. We work more and more to provide them with material possessions, often ones that we ourselves never had. We allow them to get involved in so many activities that they rarely, if ever, have the unstructured down-time that they need, including time with their family. But we forget that some of the most important times that our children have are the times that we parents spend with them, simply listening to them and talking with them in a comfortable, un-businesslike, loving and accepting atmosphere. All the things that we supposedly are doing for them can all too easily get in the way of the most important things of all.
And what about churches? Our diocesan mission statement states that our mission is “to form and transform disciples of all ages to know Jesus and put the Gospel story into action.” Simple. Straightforward. As a diocese and as individual parishes, we set out to do that in a variety of ways, using different approaches to accomplish our goal; but all too quickly our projects and programs take on a life of their own to such an extent that they end up distracting us from, or even getting in the way of, our mission itself. Some of those details are important and can contribute to the accomplishment of our mission. (That’s why, for example, we’re having a special Vestry meeting after this service to finalize the details of our floor-replacement project.) But, if we forget our mission, the purpose for all that we do, we end up simply “worried and distracted by many things” when “There is need of only one thing.”
That’s why we need to keep coming here, week after week: to be reminded of why we are doing whatever it is that we do, to ensure that our focus is on the reign of God and how we might effectively make that reign more and more a reality in the world. We come here, asking, in the words of our Eucharistic Prayer, that we might be delivered from coming to this table “for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” We come to give thanks for all that God has accomplished through us and through others in the past and to be renewed by Word and Sacrament for the work that lies ahead.
Our gospel stories about the Good Samaritan and about Jesus, Martha and Mary serve as reminders of the dual nature of our call from God. Like Mary, we are called to stop and listen to God’s word. Like the Good Samaritan, we are called then to go out and put that word into action. Both are critically important, and the two of them complement each other. As Fred Craddock observes (Luke, p. 162): “If we were to ask Jesus which example applies to us, the Samaritan or Mary, his answer would probably be Yes.”