The Adventurous Lectionary – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016 July 9, 2016

The Adventurous Lectionary – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42

No doubt you’ve seen the battle of bumper stickers. A popular evangelical bumper sticker proclaims, “Honk, if you love Jesus.” To which a contrasting bumper sticker responds, “If you
love Jesus, seek justice. Any fool can honk.” Today’s lectionary readings encourage a holistic spirituality, embracing prayer and protest, study and social involvement, contemplation and creative transformation.

Amos would have appreciated the theology of the second bumper sticker. Faith and ethics are intimately connected. Worship is dead – in fact, deadly – if it is divorced from concern for the poor and from practices that promote the well-being of society’s most vulnerable members, so says the prophet Amos, who proclaims that God blesses our worship when we “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) This is surely a matter of personal ethics, but for Amos and the prophetic tradition, it is much more than individualism. It also involves citizens committing themselves to creating a just political and economic order.

Amos 8 is terrifying in its prophetic realism. Those who trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land will experience a “famine of hearing the word of God.” They will have beautiful worship services, lively praise music, mega-buildings, properly performed sacraments, and think themselves orthodox, when in fact God has abandoned their houses of worship. Such words leave me feeling, as Thomas Merton notes, like a “guilty bystander.” Like most Americans, even among many of those who think they are disenfranchised, I benefit from unjust business and investment practices, taxes that benefit wealthy corporations and individuals, and practices that destroy the ecological infrastructure.

Recently controversy emerged about whether or not Donald Trump had accepted Jesus as his savior. While I am in no position to judge Trump’s inner spirituality, it is appropriate to ask if his faith has changed his attitudes on race, gender, and refugees. It is also appropriate to look in the mirror, as the preacher, to explore our own apathy, hopelessness, or contentment with political and economic practices that destroy families and communities and our delicate ecosystems. We can ask ourselves, “Is there a famine on hearing God’s word in the United States?” Despite our numerical religiosity, some of the most religious among us are also the most racist, sexist, polarizing, and hateful toward outsiders or members of the LGBTQ communities. Just look at the invective from certain pulpits following the massacre at Orlando At the very least, we need to live in the pathway of Jesus, beginning with a respect for those with whom we differ and a willingness to recognize the finitude of our own positions.

Psalm 52 challenges those of us who take refuge in our riches. The Psalm does not exalt poverty, but in anticipation of Jesus’ words about how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter God’s realm, the Psalm reminds us to put God’s way first and let it be the standard for our personal and political lives. Economics matter to the poor, and they matter to God. While our quest for justice will be messy, we can look for ways to be faithful citizens in a religiously pluralistic society.
The words of Colossians connect theology, ethics, and hope. Christ is the creative and unifying power in the universe. The reality present in Jesus reveals the moral order of the universe, an order that seeks to reconcile and unify all creation in its wondrous diversity. In Christ, we are reconciled and have left behind evil. Living Christ-like lives involves for us behaviors that reconcile others. The wall of separation has been broken down: words and actions, whether by politicians, in daily life, or Facebook, that polarize are not worthy of those who proclaim the fullness of God in Christ. But, in the midst of messiness and our imperfect efforts at creative transformation, there is hope – there is a great mystery, “Christ in us – the hope of glory.” God’s glory is ours, not just in the future but now. Let us live as saved persons committed to saving the world as God’s healing companions.

The story of Mary and Martha is almost too well-known, and requires the preacher to go beyond superficial interpretations that polarize these two beloved friends of Jesus. Mary is the contemplative, listening to Jesus, giving Jesus her full attention. Martha is busy about many things, feeling anxious and alienated from her sister. Yet, there is more to the scripture than this. The activist Martha is in need of a Sabbath. She needs to let go of perfection to welcome her friend. Yet, Martha is absolutely necessary to healthy spirituality and social concern: Martha gets things done! Martha is on the picket line and protests injustice. We need Martha’s in church and community. Mary is near to God, but there is the temptation that “she will be so heavenly minded that she is no earthly good.”

Mary and Martha together represent a holistic spirituality. Faith and works go together. Faithful spirituality embodies daily life with holiness. Committed works brings holiness to our social and personal relationships. We would benefit from the wisdom inscribed on a bench at Kirkridge Retreat and Conference Center in Bangor, Pennsylvania, “picket and pray.” Each of us has gifts, and our spiritual orientations need to be honored. Still, spiritual maturity invites us to deepen both aspects of the Christian journey – contemplative prayer and acts of love. We need, in our congregations, to nurture the Mary within the busy Marthas and encourage Martha to come forth in contemplative Marys.

Justice and earth care require prayer and action, and the willingness to hear the cries of the poor, and sacrifice for the well-being of all creation. Today’s passages challenge us to move from self-interest to world loyalty for our own good and for the good of creation.

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  • masmpg

    Wonderful analogy until I got to the new age idea of contemplative prayer which Jesus never practiced not taught. Jesus gave us the perfect example of prayer, very simple and to the point without any kind of repetition nor excessive meditation into the inner “self”.
    Contemplative prayer started with Ignatius Loyola, the catholic priest who created the jesuit order. The jesuits are the military arm of the vatican and do all the deception involved to bring the world into the catholic church. I was raised catholic and love the catholic church but the hierarchy is far from biblical let alone Christian.

    • jekylldoc

      masmpg –

      I am surprised at your eagerness to dismiss “Contemplative Prayer” as “new age” and “started with Ignatius Loyola.” In fact it goes back much further than Loyola, to before Constantine, and while new age movements may have embraced it, its appeal does not come either from militant catholicism or from any of the various new age beliefs that we Christians can reasonably object to.

      If you really expect to be at all persuasive in critiquing it, it would be a good idea both to inform yourself and to stick to what problems you have with the actual practice (is it excessive meditation into the inner “self”? how can someone tell? what is the problem with that?) and stay away from sources who are busy trying to label it and put it in a scary-sounding box.

  • jekylldoc

    Expansion to “encourage the Mary in the [natural] Martha’s and the Martha in the [natural] Mary’s” is a big step in ecclesiology. Acknowledging varying gifts is vital, and most churches hardly get that far. Gifts being given for the upbuilding of the church, meaning for the other people who walk the way with us, is even more challenging. Then to further take some care for the wholeness of each other, well that is still further.

    Yet it makes sense, doesn’t it?