Old Testament: 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.
The Response: Psalm 52
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.
The New Testament: 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 Gospel: 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. Mike Kreutzer
The two sisters, Martha and Mary, are not mentioned at all in the gospels according to Matthew or Mark. In John’s version, they are close friends of Jesus; and they have a brother named Lazarus. But here in Luke’s account, it seems that they are the only two in their family and that they have just met Jesus, as he and his companions are passing through their village. Up to that point, they’ve never seen or met him.
Many sermons on this passage have focused over the years on the contrast between the active work of Martha and the more contemplative approach taken by Mary. But there are other ways to approach this very brief story. Among them is to look at one of the most important values of biblical culture, namely hospitality. We see that value exemplified in stories like that of Abraham welcoming three mysterious travelers, one of whom turns out to be God, and in such familiar passages as the second half of the 23rd Psalm, “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, my cup is running over.” Both of these present positive examples of hospitality extended to strangers.
But today’s gospel story shows Martha failing in hospitality in two important ways. First of all, she is busy doing all sorts of things for her guest, but she fails to do the single most important thing that a host needs to do for a guest, the one thing that is needed: to pay attention to him. And, if that were not bad enough, she commits a major faux pas by trying to put him in the middle of a family dispute: “Tell my sister to help me.”
Hospitality is an important value in biblical culture. It is also an important value for a parish, as well as for individuals. And I am reminded of two situations in which St. Mark’s has extended hospitality to strangers over the years.
The first occurred about 20 years ago, when a couple, two young men, walked into my office to talk with me. They wanted to know whether and how the people of this church would react to them as a same-sex couple. I assured them that they would be warmly welcomed here. I mentioned that St. Mark’s Church had not struggled nearly as much as many other churches had with issues of human sexuality. And I explained that a large part of that was due to the fact that at least three long-time and very active families in the parish had family members who themselves were in committed same-sex relationships. Knowing other people as individuals, rather than just as members of some separate group, makes all the difference in the world.
Those two young men became regular, active members, participating in different ways in the life of the parish. A couple of years later, when one of them took a new job out in the Pacific Northwest, they came to see me once again before they left. They reminded me of our first conversation and talked about the experience that they had had, visiting multiple churches in multiple denominations before they came to us. They reflected that, in some churches, they were obviously not welcome. In a few others, they were tolerated at best. But at St. Mark’s, for the first time, they were actually welcomed. They added that, when they settled in their new home, they were definitely going to find another Episcopal Church to be their new church home.
There is a postscript to their story. Several years later, I unexpectedly met one of them at a church conference. Since their time at St. Mark’s, he had become an Episcopal priest and was now serving a small, rural church which previously had had no priest; and he was serving as the chaplain of a small hospital, which until then had had no chaplain from any denomination. And, he noted, it had all begun because St. Mark’s welcomed them when they came as strangers. Hospitality can do wonderful things.
The other story of St. Mark’s extending hospitality to strangers came much more recently – as in this past week. As I mentioned last Sunday, we served yesterday as the site for a wedding. The couple attends an Anglican Church which is too small for their wedding, and so their priest presided at their wedding here.
Last Sunday afternoon, I met with the priest from their church and another priest who was part of the celebration. Now, the two churches that they serve consider themselves to be Anglican, but emphatically not part of the Episcopal Church. They had broken away from our denomination over our embrace of a critical approach to scripture, over issues of human sexuality, and over our welcoming of an equal role for women in all the ministries of the church. Many of their churches will have nothing to do with the Episcopal Church.
But last Sunday, as we talked and toured our facilities, as I told them about St. Mark’s long history of welcoming many non-church groups into our Community Building each week, and as I explained to them all that we were doing and were willing to do to help this couple and them with the wedding, they were amazed. The older of the two priests continued remarking over and over again about what he considered to be the surprising hospitality of this church. Their churches had rejected us, but we were welcoming them and even going out of our way to help them. Genuine hospitality can touch people in ways that mere words of welcome can never do.
As I mentioned earlier, hospitality is an important value for churches, as well as for individuals. But it takes focus. It requires us first of all to pay attention to the guests who come to us. Doing all the things that need to be done in a church is essential. But when guests visit us, our focus needs to be on welcoming them, helping them get to know us, and enabling them to feel welcome and maybe even a bit at home here.
That’s something that’s easy to say, but sometimes hard to do. We can get so caught up with our own interests, with doing whatever parish business we need to do on a Sunday morning, and with talking with the people with whom we feel the most comfortable, that our welcome gets pushed to the side — and our visitors along with it.
This last half of the summer often seems to be a time of year when people are looking for a church home, or for a new church home. And so it is especially important at this time to remember the role that each of us can play in helping visitors feel welcome. It is a key element in touching people’s lives and in helping to build up the Body of Christ. You never can tell what wonderful things a little hospitality can do.