Sunday, July 17, 2022

6 Pentecost, 2022-C: Rhythms of prayer and action

 Lectionary: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42 

En el nobmre de Dios que es creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

An interesting feature of our humanity is what is called, “selective attention.” The marvel that is our brain, specifically the visual cortex, filters out information deemed irrelevant.

A famous example of this is the gorilla video from a 1999 study on selective attention. In this study,
“subjects are shown a video of a basketball match, and are asked to count the number of passes that happen during a game sequence. During play, a person dressed in a gorilla costume crosses the shot. When asked to report on what they saw… subjects could report the number of passes observed, yet, incredibly did not report seeing the gorilla... In fact, people appear flummoxed when they are told the gorilla [was in the video], and are astounded when they watch the video back” and see it. (Source)  

Our story from Amos is about selective attention. It begins with a teaser about a basket of fruit, but quickly takes a darker turn with God saying: The end has come upon my people Israel.” Reading our sacred texts means being willing to prayerfully discern and share the Good News within it because it’s always there. So, where is in this story?

It might help to know that the “basket of fruit” reference is a wordplay in Hebrew. The word that translates as basket of fruit sounds like the word that translates as “the end.” God asks Amos, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ Amos says, “the end.” (No, that isn’t the good news yet.)

Remembering from last week that God is the plumb-line in the midst of the community, this story from Amos shows us that God sees what’s happening on the ground. God repeats, “I will never pass you by” which is interpreted to mean, I am in the midst of you I am in the midst of you (Ah, there’s the good news). Being in the midst of you, God says, what I’m seeing from you is not just, not compassionate, and not right.

Hear this, God says: [I see] you trampling on the vulnerable, and oppressing the powerless. I see you practicing deceit with predatory lending so that you can build your own wealth. I see you selling junk food and passing it off as nutritious.

I see all of what you are doing, God says, and though I am the true vertical among you, you don’t see me. So, I will watch and wait while you bring yourselves to the only end you’ve made available to yourselves: your own undoing. When it starts happening, you’ll realize how wrong you’ve been and you’ll look for me to save you, but you have made me irrelevant so you don’t see me.

The psalm picks up the theme of calling out the tyrants for their cruelty. “You love lying more than speaking truth. You love all words that hurt.” O that God would hear our prayer and demolish you utterly…”

I admit this Psalm has been my prayer for a while now. I am not God, but I see these very issues playing out in our world today, and if social media is any indicator, I’m not alone in this. My recourse, our recourse, is to pray – to go into the presence of God where our hearts can be moved from “demolish them utterly” to “I trust in the mercy of God for ever.(More good news)”

The news has been so disruptive to my peace lately. In my busy-ness I’ve had to be intentional about stopping to pray and rest in the love of God, to listen for my Savior’s voice of comfort be strengthened by it and led back into peace – into Christ’s peace. I’ve had to make time to sit at the feet of my Redeemer, like Mary did in our gospel story, or risk being sucked down into the whirlpool of the chaos of the world.

The story of Mary and Martha in our gospel from Luke is often discussed in ways that pit Martha against Mary in a competition for holiness. I often hear people say, “I’m a Martha” or “I’m a Mary.” The truth is, we’re all both. We all have our gifts to offer in our ministries, and there are times we must all stop and sit at the feet of Jesus for the renewal of our souls.

The other biblical stories of Martha and Mary illustrate that these sisters possess a great gift of hospitality. They are a team – and their home is a center for hospitality and friendship. Martha’s frustration in this story is that her teammate, Mary, isn’t doing her part, leaving the burden of the whole ministry to Martha who tries to hold it up alone, but finds herself bitter and resentful about it.

Jesus responds with a soothing: Martha, Martha… you are worried and distracted by many things, but there is only one thing that really matters. Look, Mary has chosen the good part. Jesus’ word was relevant for her and claimed her attention.

Why our translators changed the word here from ‘good’ to ‘better’ escapes me and is part of the reason we hear this as a competition. Mary didn’t choose a better part than Martha. When Jesus called Mary’s choice good, he was saying it was admirable, deserving of respect and approval, and he gave it all of that.

Jesus was clear that Mary’s choice would not be taken from her. Choice is a sign of our freedom. Mary had the right to choose for herself. We all do (well, maybe not so much anymore if you’re an American woman, anyway).

When I picture this story, I see Mary sitting with the other disciples having a conversation with Jesus. They all seem happy and relaxed. Martha is not in the room with them. She’s visible through a doorway to another room where she is preparing food. Her back is to Jesus which means Martha can’t see Jesus, and as the story from Amos teaches us, when we can’t see God, we can’t move in justice, compassion, and right relationship.

To all of us who are worried and distracted by many things, Jesus assures the Martha within us, and it sounds something like this: Y’all know me well enough to know that I don’t need a fancy dinner, just time with you and our friends in your home. Be still sometimes, all you Marthas. Just be with me. You have no praise to earn, no expectations to meet. You are already beloved. Come and be with me. I will fill your emptiness, restore your hope, and prepare you for your work in ministry. (Yet more good news)

As we head deeply into summer, we have the opportunity as a church community to rest and be restored by sitting at the feet of our Redeemer and listening to him. It’s easy to get distracted and busy preparing for the fall program year, or advocating for justice in our world, but Mary shows us that Jesus respects and affirms our choice of making time to sit at his feet and receive the one thing we need before we attempt to engage in our outward ministries.

It’s like breathing. We can’t breathe out our ministries until we have breathed in Jesus. It’s all about balance. We can’t just breathe in or out without passing out. We must have a rhythm of both.

One of the things I love about Emmanuel is that there are deeply spiritual people here, prayerful people, and also passionate advocates for justice and peace. While all of us have both qualities, some among us may be more inclined to advocacy than to centering prayer, others to prayer over action, but as a whole community, we have it all. Our task is to keep a balance of inward formation of our spirituality and outward opportunities for service.

This place is our center of holy hospitality. Each week we breathe Jesus in together. We make and share the holy food of Holy Communion with our friends and ministry teammates. Then, strengthened and restored by Word and Sacrament, we are sent into the world to love and serve in the holy name and loving way of Jesus.

There is so much injustice, insult, and damage to life out there, but if we try to serve without making time to sit first in God’s presence, we may end up doing more harm than good. So, for this moment, let us rest at the feet of our Redeemer, where we will receive the only thing that really matters. Amen.

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