July 17, 2016
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
This morning’s scripture readings reminds me that there are only two books in the whole of the Bible that describe how God’s ways are different than ours, and how our expectations of the world have to be flipped on their heads for us to start to see things anywhere near how God sees them. Only two books: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Amos and Luke’s Gospel tell us, in two very different ways, that business as usual is not God’s business. God does a new thing.
In Amos, it is about a country, a nation. In Luke, it is about individuals. In both, our expectations are going to be challenged.
Amos is still prophesying the downfall of Israel, still challenging the status quo. It starts off with a strange story. The Lord places a basket of summer fruit, like grapes and figs and pomegranates, before Amos and asks him what it is. And then the Lord says the end is coming for Israel. There is a pun here in Hebrew that is lost in translation. The term for “summer fruit” is “qayits,” while the term for “end” is “qets.” (The two words would have sounded even more similar in the dialect spoken in the northern kingdom of Israel.) And the image of beautiful ripe fruits and the destruction of the land is supposed to be jarring.
But why is Israel bound for such a fate? Amos lists the problem
- You that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
- “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.
That is very Biblical language. Maybe we could understand it better this way:
- You trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, (This one needs little translation)
- You complain that obedience to God is getting in your way of making a profit
- You rig the scales, fix prices, cheat on measurements
- You treat the poor like any other commodity to be bought or sold, used and discarded
- And you pretend the food that is sold is good and nutritious.
God’s economy does not look the same as stockholder profits at the expense of all else. But how hard is it to add ethics and sustainability to the mix? How difficult is it to make sure that we are caring for the earth and the employees as well as the board of directors?
In Amos, the Lord says that such things are not optional. The poor are not an add on to the equations of the market. How we care for the least of these in our midst is the measure of our faithfulness.
In Luke, we have the story not of nations and markets, but of two sisters, Mary and Martha.
It is a big job to put on a family dinner. It is not clear how many of the disciples they are hosting along with Jesus. It might have just been him. But so honored a guest means more work. And instead of helping, Mary sits down at Jesus’ feet while Martha keeps working.
Before we go further in the text, we need to acknowledge that we live in a culture where women are shamed for going out into the work force because they are not staying home to nurture their family; and women are shamed if they are stay at home moms because they are somehow not living up their potential. Like birthing, parenting, feeding infants, and so many other things, no matter which way women try and do it, someone will tell them they are doing it wrong.
And correct me if I am wrong, but women are often the harshest critics of other women. Until it gets to the point that women become their own harshest critics. Like the old definition of Calvinism: “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
And by sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary has probably doubled Martha’s work load.
But there is something more going on here.
When Jesus calls the men from their fishing boats and their nets, they drop all of their work, all of their family connections, all of the expectations of society, and religion, and community.
And in our story this morning, Mary does the same thing. She stops doing what everyone else expects of her, and follows Jesus. It has been said that Jesus was one of the first feminists. In the Gospel this morning, we read of a woman, sitting at his feet, where a disciple would be, a role previously limited to men. She has set aside the expectations of family, community, religion, society, for the sake of being Jesus’ disciple. And rather than Jesus putting her back in her place as a woman, a sister, a hostess, a person defined by her location and gender and relationships, Jesus praises her.
This is not easy for us to hear, whether we are male or female.
- How often do we define ourselves by our relationships?
- How often do we judge ourselves based on the expectations of others, the expectations of our family, our culture, our community, the roles we had in our family for as long as we can remember?
- How often do we assume the expectations of the world and those around us are the way things not only have always been, but the way they ought to be?
- How much angst is caused by the speed at which the expectations of life that we grew up with seem to be falling by the wayside?
Martha is serving. The word for serving like a hostess at a dinner party and serving like a disciple who goes out and preaches the Good News, is the same work. She is ministering to them. She is doing ministry. And Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening.
Which one does Jesus praise?
If we are going to do ministry, if we are going to serve others, if we are going to be the Good News to our neighbor, if we are going to be the church, we need first to stop all our busy-ness, for however long it takes, and just sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him.
When we are worried and distracted by so many things (and we are, aren’t we?), let us remember that there is only one thing that is needed. Sit and listen to Jesus. And this will not be taken from us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.