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Bishop Michael Rinehart

August 7, 2016 is Pentecost 12C

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 – Yahweh condemns Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins: injustice and oppression to the orphan and widow.
OR
Genesis 15:1-6 – The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
OR
Psalm 33:12-22 – Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God. By faith Abraham obeyed. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old.

Luke 12:32-40 – Have no fear. Sell your possessions. Give alms. Be prepared like the householder and thief. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Be ready

One of the options for the first reading is Isaiah 1. Here Isaiah rails on Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah 1:10 says,

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”

After giving them a thorough chewing out for being sinful and rebellious, he clarifies himself:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

This Sunday our gospel reading picks up where last Sunday’s reading (The Parable of the Rich Fool) left off (12:32). Here is the text:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

The stewardship issue is still on the front burner. In the gospels, Jesus depicts God as an absentee landlord who is on a journey. We are stewards taking care of the ranch while the landlord is away. When he returns, what will he find? What might he expect from his stewards while he is on holiday? How should we conduct ourselves, prepare ourselves for the landowner to show up?

One cannot miss the overtones of the delayed Parousia. Luke’s community may be expecting judgment day to come any time now. We know the apostle Paul believed that Christ would come in his lifetime. These stories encourage the faithful to remain vigilant.

Last week’s message was clear. Don’t be consumed by greed. Your life is more than stuff. There is a clear, “You can’t take it with you” message here. I like to say to people, “The bad news is you can’t take it with you. The good news is you won’t be needing it.”

This week we are told that God wants to give us the kingdom. This may be a good point to emphasize that the kingdom of God is not depicted in the gospels as a place you go after you die. The kingdom of God is something that God gives us – freely. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s kingdom to come to us, not the other way around. Jarring people out of an old metaphysical paradigm might help them hear Jesus’ words freshly for the first time.

This free gift of God’s kingdom can be tied back to the first lesson (Genesis 15:1-6) in which Abraham believes God, and God counts that faith as righteousness. God’s grace is a free gift, apprehended through faith.

So if the kingdom is a free gift, given by God’s good pleasure rather than earned, how then shall we live in this interim time? Well, first of all, off load your stuff. Travel lightly. Give it to the poor. Sell it and give the money to the poor. Less is more. Instead of accumulating earthly treasures, accumulate spiritual treasures, treasures in heaven, that no one can steal. Collect the intangible things that make life worthwhile. Purses that won’t rot and that cannot be stolen. What are these intangibles? Let’s borrow from Paul in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…

Brian Stoffrefen points out the proper use of possessions [ta hyparchonta] is of special interest in Luke/Acts:

  • Luke 8:3 – women provided for Jesus and the disciples out of their resources
  • Luke 11:21 – When an armed, strong man, guards his castle, his property is safe.
  • Luke 12:15 – Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
  • Luke 12:33 – Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
  • Luke 12:44 – Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
  • Luke 14:33 – So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
  • Luke 16:1 – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.”
  • Luke 19:8 – Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
  • Acts 4:32 – Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

The author of Luke/Acts cannot imagine any following of Christ that does not care for the poor and involve some sort of constant divestment from possessions.

Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paieia series, professor at Truett Theological Seminary) offers much food for thought. “Generosity is the best antidote for greed…” When Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Parsons suggests he seems to be saying, “follow the trail of the use of money and it will lead to the heart.” There is plenty to work with here for the homilist. As I mentioned last week, wave a checkbook in the air, and say, “here is the book that reveals our true priorities, maybe our true gods.”

Then our text pivots to the “be prepared” speech. Be ready to roll. Gird your loins. Mikeal Parsons invites us to imagine one in a long robe, gathering up the fabric to the waist in order to run. Are you prepared for the householder to return? Is your soul ready? Will the poor give you a good letter of recommendation?

What will the master do when he returns? Here comes the surprise in this part of the reading: When the master returns, he will have the slaves sit down and… he will serve them. He will serve them. Classic Jesus.

“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27). As usual, Jesus turns a common image on its end. Jesus hints that he himself is the householder who is returning and serving.

And here’s the rest of the surprise for his listeners, the master is already here, secretly in the form of Jesus, watching, serving. There is grace in this passage.

So if Jesus comes to serve, what should be the church’s posture be as we await the master? What should be the attitude of those who follow Christ? When you return to your routine tomorrow, regardless of the hierarchy where you work or study, what will be your attitude? What will be your attitude toward your possessions? What will be your attitude toward those with less? What will be your attitude toward those lower on the totem pole, coworkers, or first year students?

July 31, 2016 is Pentecost 11C

August 4, 2013

Hosea 11:1-11 – Assyria will rule over Israel because they refuse to repent.
OR
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 – Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 – Consider the Lord’s loyal love. He delivers.
OR
Psalm 49:1-12 – Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.

Colossians 3:1-11 – Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21 – The Parable of the Rich Fool. ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Building Barns: The Rich Fool

Let me start with a reminder that we are in the “travel narrative” section of Luke (roughly chapters 10-19). We are in between his earlier ministry in Galilee to the north and moving toward the events that will take place in the region of Judea and the city of Jerusalem to the south. Jesus has been rejected by a Samaritan village (Luke 9), and he has sent the 70 out (Luke 10). He has been questioned on how to inherit eternal life and drawn out the answer: Love God and neighbor. He has answered the question of “Who is my neighbor?” by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Then Jesus encountered Mary and Martha, which focused on loving the Lord. The Good Samaritan focused on loving neighbor. Last week we had the teaching on prayer and the story of the Friend at Midnight. Mikeal Parsons suggested that these were Jesus’ teachings on three classical virtues: philanthropy (Good Samaritan), hospitality (Mary and Martha), and friendship (Friend at Midnight).

This week and the next, we have teachings on stewardship, or use of wealth. I would suggest that we use these Sundays to talk about how we use our God-given resources for God’s purposes in the world. We need to have the courage to talk about one of the taboos in our society: money. If the only time we talk about money is when it’s time for the budget, people might think that’s all we care about. They might miss the reason Jesus talks so much about use of wealth: spiritual care.

Here’s the story from Luke 12:13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Our story begins with a classic triangle. We discussed triangles a couple of weeks ago (July 17, 2016 is Pentecost 9C) in the Mary and Martha story. Martha told Jesus to tell her sister Mary to come and help her. Jesus didn’t take the bait then, and he doesn’t now. He was gentle with Martha. Not so much in this story of two other siblings.

“Tell my brother to split my inheritance with me.” He has a case; his brother should share the inheritance, but Jesus will not intervene. Jesus’ response is to paraphrase, “Who made me the boss of you?” Well, he is a rabbi, a teacher, they are probably thinking. He’s too smart to get sucked into the family squabble. Too many families squabble about inheritances. It can destroy relationships. Parsons (Luke: Paieia series) says that in the Greco-Roman agrarian society, wealth was more likely to be inherited than earned. The death of a relative may be your only shot. Jesus chooses not to arbitrate a domestic dispute. He recognizes it for what it is: greed. Instead of taking sides, he does what any good rabbi would do. He tells a story.

A man has a bumper crop. He tears down his old barns and builds bigger ones, so that he can store the (perishable) crops. Then he sits back and tells his soul, “Soul, you’re set for life. Eat, drink, and be merry.” He had no idea how right he was. He had more than set for his short life, which would end that very day.

We never know when our lives will end. A friend received news last summer that he had cancer. His funeral was in April. Others will die instantly and not know what hit them. What if today was your last day? How would that affect the way you allocate your resources? Do you have a plan for how your assets will be allocated when you die? Do you have a will? If you want a say, you need a will, otherwise the state will decide for you.

The story is about greed. We know this because Jesus said so: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Be. On. Your. Guard.

Against greed.

Augustine translates it, “Be on your guard against all covetousness.”

Jesus has already warned us, earlier in Luke’s gospel, with the woes. Unlike Matthew, Luke’s Beatitudes are followed by woes (Luke 6):

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Nothing sucks the life out of our spiritual lives like greed. As Jesus will say later in Luke 12, a text that we will read next week: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If you are going to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, your money will follow. Actually Jesus says it the other way. “Follow the money.” Wherever your money goes, that’s probably where your heart is. That’s probably your god. Our spending choices reveal our priorities; more about that next week.

Life does not consist of your belongings. Life is more than stuff. You are more than your stuff. Stuff is not bad, but if it becomes the center of our lives, God is dethroned.

Jesus has just taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread: food, clothing, and all we need from day to day. He now warns them that life is more than food and clothing. Consider the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest, and yet God cares for them. Matthew uses the more general “birds of the air.” Luke chooses the raven, an unclean animal (Lev. 11:15). Coveting and greed will kill you in the end. In the next verses, which we will read next week, Jesus will offer an antidote to our ever-so-natural tendency toward greed.

Patristic commentary on this text supports this interpretation. Those who spoke the language in which the New Testament was written and lived in cultures similar to those of the authors, hear in this text a critique of greed. Our Catholic colleagues tend to reference Patristics more often than we do. Luther was immersed in them. Check out this commentary on the four gospels, if you would like to find the thoughts of Augustine, Ambrose, Cyril, Bede, and others on Luke quickly. This commentary by Thomas Aquinas takes several verses at a time, and then offers commentary by various ancient writers.

“’What shall I do?’ asks the farmer.” Gregory offers, “O adversity, thou child of plenty.” It does strike me how much anxiety we have in our culture. For a society that has so much, we seem to be in chronic distress.

Gregory also adds, “For if every one receiving what is sufficient for his own necessity would leave what remains to the needy, there would be no rich or poor.”

Basil: “Art not thou then a robber, for counting as thine own what thou hast received to distribute?”

Basil: “It is the bread of the famished that thou receivest, the garment of the naked which thou hoardest in thy chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in thy possession, the money of the penniless which thou hast buried in the earth?”

Chrysostom: “Now it behooves us not to indulge in delights which fattening the body make lean the soul…”

Let us not over-spiritualize this parable. The earliest commentators on the Bible did not.

Commentary

The rich farmer wants to store perishable crops, but it is he himself who is perishing. He would have done better to share his bread with the hungry. God calls him a fool.

Hearse with uhaul

So what are you doing with your wealth? How are you giving to the needy, whom Jesus constantly brings up in the gospels? What do you do when you have a “bumper crop”? That is, what do you do when you get a bonus, a raise, or a significant job opportunity that pays more than your current job?

It stands, of course, that the preacher must lead by example. Our preaching about generosity, sharing, simplicity, and attending to those in need will sound hollow if our lives preach a different message.

One last thought.

Does Jesus discourage saving? It may seem like it at first brush. The Scriptures as a whole, however, encourage it. Joseph is commended, in the Genesis story, for interpreting the dream with the seven fat cows and seven lean cows. He is praised for saving during the time of plenty, so that the people have food during the ensuing seven years of famine. If we are called to care for the poor, we need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Jesus does not say anything bad about saving. He does, however, have a running critique of materialism. Save, but then use your resources to bless the poor. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus does not criticize the rich man for having wealth. He criticizes him for not using his wealth to bless those who suffering, right in front of his nose. Jesus is not addressing saving for a rainy day, in my view. More likely, Jesus is critiquing hoarding and materialism. So don’t ditch your 401k just yet. If you’re following Christ, make sure you are serving those in need.

July 24, 2016 is Pentecost 10C

Hosea 1:2-10 – Hosea marries a prostitute name Gomer and has three children: Jezreel, No-Pity and Not-My-People.
OR
Genesis 18:20-32 – God agrees to not destroy Sodom if there are ten righteous.

Psalm 85 – Will you stay mad at us forever, O Lord?
OR
Psalm 138 – I will give thanks with all my heart.

Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) – Continue to live your lives in Christ. In him the fullness of deity dwells. You were buried with him in baptism, and raised with him by faith.

Luke 11:1-13 – The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Be persistent. The friend at midnight.

Prayer: A Friend at Midnight

Have you ever felt that justice was so long delayed that perhaps God had fallen asleep? This may be the question with which to start reflecting on this week’s gospel reading from Luke 11.

Let’s begin with a reflection on the first reading from the Hebrew Bible.

The first option for the Old Testament lesson is Hosea 1, in which Hosea marries a prostitute named Gomer, and they have three children named Jezreel (a valley where a massacre took place), Lo-ruhamah (no-pity, rejected, or abused) and Lo-ammi (not-my-people.) These are symbolic, not actual names. Israel was not restored by Assyria, as Judah was by Babylon. They felt rejected and no longer God’s people. Those who cannot see the Scriptures as allegory will struggle with this one. The text says, “…the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’”

J. Clinton McCann, professor at Eden Seminary in St. Louis, warns us not to apply this passage to 21st century marriages. The historical Hosea is an enigma. What we have here is an interpretive retelling, not a biography.

If you are preaching on the Gospel lesson, Luke 11, you’re probably better off using the Genesis 18 passage for the Old Testament lesson. Abraham persistently begs God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. The theme of persistence in prayer is helpful when considering Luke 11.

Sara Koenig, professor at Seattle Pacific University, suggests we start the text a few verses earlier. Our pericope begins with verse 20 in which Abraham asks God if sweeping away the righteous along with the unrighteousness makes sense. In verse 17, God is talking to himself, something God does in Genesis. Keep in mind the plural of God in Genesis 1: “Let us make humankind in our image.” God: “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abe?” God “Nah. After all, I chose him so that his descendants will do justice and righteousness.”

The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

God is just and righteous, so destroying a city with righteous people in it isn’t right. Abraham models one way to pray: Arguing with God. Even Jesus pushed back: “Lord, let this cup pass from me.”

God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. Again, a complicated God, perhaps monotheistic (or becoming so in Israel’s evolving theology) but nevertheless multifaceted.

By the way, your congregation thinks it knows what Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin is, though it is not ever spelled out here. Koenig points out neither Genesis 19 nor Ezekiel 16 are in our lectionary. We need to study them. The theme of Genesis 19 is the city’s mistreatment of its divine visitors. As we will discuss below when we tackle the gospel reading, hospitality is sacred duty in antiquity. One must provide food and shelter to travelers (who are possibly divine visitors) or God will allow calamity to come upon the community. When an earthquake or volcano destroys a city, it is assumed they had a divine visitation and rejected the visitor. Likewise, failure to care for the poor, the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow, could incur divine wrath.

Ezekiel 16:49 spells out Sodom’s sin quite clearly,

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Jaqueline E. Lapsey says Abraham appeals to God’s better nature. “The better angels of our nature,” another Abraham once said in an inaugural address. Abraham pleads/prays, and God responds in Genesis 18:25-26:

Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake…’

Notice he does not say he will spare the city. Just forgive it. They may be one and the same; they may not.

Then Abraham bargains God down. Fifty? How about 45? 40? 30? 20? Bargaining with God is often maligned, but perhaps it is an important part of life. Perhaps it is a legitimate form of prayer. Persistence is the theme.

On, then, to the gospel text.

Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I will rely heavily upon two phenomenal, and quite different commentaries on this text, Mikeal C. Parsons (Luke: Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament) and David Lyle Jeffrey (Luke: Brazos Theological commentary on the Bible).

Jesus talks a lot about prayer in Luke and is also found praying frequently. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John has taught his disciples to pray. A teacher might give his followers a common prayer to pray together and in their daily prayer as well. Jesus responds with what was most likely already a formulaic and liturgical prayer by the time the gospel are written.

This prayer appears in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There are few differences as the comparison in two columns below shows. This text does not appear in Mark or John, so it is part of what scholars often call Q (from quelle, meaning “source”), a collection of the sayings of Jesus, from which both Matthew and Luke draw, but which has been lost to history.

What strikes me about Jesus’ prayer is its brevity. This is in line with what Jesus teaches in Matthew about not heaping up empty words.

The version of the prayer in Protestant Churches, includes a doxology from 1 Chronicles 29:11:

Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Matthew 6:7-13

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:1-4

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Jeffrey helpfully points out that almost all of this prayer is drawn from prayers that would be familiar to the Jewish community of Jesus’ day. Indeed, the Kaddish calls for God’s name to be made holy, and for God’s kingdom to be established. The sixth of the “Eighteen Benedictions,” says:

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed… for You do pardon and forgive. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who is gracious, and does abundantly forgive.

The only phrase which does not appear in Jewish literature, Jeffrey tells us, is “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who sin against us.” Luke uses “sins,” which Matthew uses “debts.” It is fascinating that this prayer is not a request for God to bless us alone, it is a prayer which calls us to bless God, to pray for God’s reign to break into our world, through us, to forgive and love our neighbor, and to stay out of trouble. This is an outwardly-focused prayer.

God’s name is already holy, by itself. We pray that it might be holy among us. God’s reign will break in whether we pray for it or not. We pray that it will break in through us and among us. These are points that Luther makes poignantly in his short commentary on the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism, which is in many ways just a reflection of St. Augustine’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer in Sermon IX.

The Lord’s prayer in Luke is then followed by the story of the friend at midnight. In this story, a man goes to a friend at midnight as pleads. He has visitor, but he has no bread. This ties back to the sacred rules of hospitality. When one has a visitor, one must provide food and shelter. The person in the story has no bread, so there is a big problem. The entire community is at risk if he fails at his duty of hospitality.

The friend, however, is settled. The door is locked. The kids are in bed. “Go away.” This is horrific behavior by the first century standards of this society. Today, in our society, it is perfectly acceptable to not answer the door. This community would find the “friend’s” behavior reprehensible. Why would Jesus compare God to such a rude friend, asleep when there is a pressing need?

The word “friend” (philos) is used four times in this story (vv. 5, 6, 8). Parsons points out that Luke has, in succession dealt with three Greek virtues: philanthropy, hospitality and friendship. Philanthropy was dealt with in the story of the Good Samaritan. Hospitality was dealt with in the story of Mary and Martha. Now, in the story of the friend at midnight, we hear about friendship.

Friendship, he explains, is a set of unlimited duties to a limited number of people, your friends. Antiquity is filled with stories on good friends, and bad friends. Philanthropy, by contrast, is a limited number of duties to an unlimited number of people, the needy.

What does the story mean? Fortunately, Luke explains it to us.

Imagine you are asleep and a neighbor comes knocking. You may resolve to not answer the door. The neighbor, however, keeps knocking and knocking, persistently. After a while, you realize you aren’t going to be able to go back to sleep until the knocking stops. The only way to stop the knocking is to get up, even though you don’t feel like it and help your neighbor.

So is God like this? Is Jesus saying that God is asleep? Is this the reason that injustice seems to keep cropping up? This week we saw video of the shooting of two black men, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and one in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Black men get shot by police much more often than anyone else. A study in New York showed that black men were three times as likely to get stopped as white men. Even black police officers out of uniform report getting harassed by police. Why this injustice? Is God asleep? Five police officers got gunned down in cold blood in Dallas. Their families and their children are left to weep. Are you watching God?

This cry is nothing new. It is not heretical. In fact, it is the cry of many of the psalms. Psalm 44:23-24:

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Wake up! Do not reject us forever! Why do you look the other way, and ignore the oppressed and mistreated?

This is the lament that we hear in Job. Even the cry of Jesus from the cross, taken from Psalm 22 echoes this lament: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The answer here seems to be that we should demand justice. We must be persistent, like story of widow that is coming up in Luke 18. She demands justice from a corrupt judge. The judge is not inclined to help her, but she wears him down until finally with exasperation; he gives her what she wants. Is God like an unrighteous judge?

Then there is the story of the unjust steward in Luke 16. He’s about to be fired, so he cuts his clients debts, so that they will help him when he is jobless. The master praises him for being so shrewd. The gospels are filled with these kinds of stories.

There may be clue for us at the end of this passage. If your child asks for a fish, would you give a snake? If you who are evil know how to treat your children, then don’t you think God does too? The point is not that God is evil, asleep, or indifferent. The point is, if you can get justice from a lazy neighbor or a corrupt judge, by persistence, then certainly you can get justice from God if you are likewise persistent.

So the point is, keep at it until you are blue in the face. Never, never, never give up. Keep shouting from the rooftops, like Isaiah 58. Sound a trumpet. Justice cries aloud in the streets!

I believe this is what we must do. We must keep shedding light on the darkness. We must keep calling out what we see. We must announce it from the rooftops and call for justice. We must insist. Knock until your knuckles bleed. Seek until you are exhausted. Ask and ask and ask, and keep asking. This will open doors. In fact, be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.

This is what it means to have the faith of a child. It is to wish upon a star and even more. It is to repeatedly wish our deepest wishes before God, even the impossible ones. And hopefully our wishes will mature as we grow.

I leave you with this thought from Frederick Buechner’s “The Magnificent Defeat.”

“If that is really the question, if we are really seeking this power, then I have one thing to say–perhaps it is not the only thing, but it is enormously important: ask for it. There is something in me that recoils a little at speaking so directly and childishly, but I speak this way anyway because it is the most important thing I have in me to say. Ask, and you will receive. And there is the other side to it too: if you have never known the power of God’s love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it-I mean really asked, expecting an answer.

I am saying just this: go to him the way the father of the sick boy did and ask him. Pray to him, is what I am saying. In whatever words you have. And if the little voice that is inside all of us as the inheritance of generations of unfaith, if this little voice inside says, “But I don’t believe. I don’t believe,” don’t worry too much. Just keep on anyway. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” is the best any of us can do really, but thank God it is enough.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A sermon in the wake of last week’s shootings by Pastor Angela Shannon, Associate Pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas and LSTC grad and fellow Valparaiso classmate.

Luke 10:25-37

July 10, 2016, Pentecost 8

Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ who gives us the power to become children of God and from the Holy Spirit, God’s active and generative spirit in this world. In the name of the blessed and Holy Trinity, I greet each one of you praying God’s highest and holiest intentions for your lives. Shalom.

The musician plays, “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood,” theme from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Many of you will remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a children’s show which aired on PBS from 1968 until 2001 And for the youngsters, who may not remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was what Sesame Street, Wild Kratts, Barney and Peppa Pig is to you. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood aired for 895 episodes. Each one started with his theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood.” He sang as he peeled off his sports jacket, hung it in the closet and put on his zip up cardigan sweater. Taking off his shoes and tossing it from one hand to another, he continued to sing and put on sneakers.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Fred McFeely Rogers, (I know McFeely…) was a Presbyterian minister and clearly a teacher. He was conveying to children a far deeper truth that we have yet to fully embrace. We are neighbors and keepers of each other. When that truth is not embraced and lived out we can expect this kind of societal disintegration. Last year I stood in front of you and preached about the McKinney pool incident in which Officer Casebolt swung a then 14-year-old child Dejerria Becton like a rag doll. One week later, I stood in this pulpit weeping that a Lutheran who was marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit opted to ignore his baptism, enter an African Methodist Episcopal Church, infiltrate a Bible study and then kill nine fellow Christians all because they were African American. A little more than one year later, here I am again, preaching in light of the past Worst. Week. Ever.

In the course of two days, two black men have become hashtags in deadly officer involved shootings.

#AltonSterling was killed by an officer of the Baton Rouge Police Department for selling bootleg CDs. Unlawful. Indeed. Worthy of death, no. At the very worst, he should have been arrested without incident.

#PhilandoCastile was killed by a St. Anthony, MN police officer. This community is not too far from Luther Seminary. It was a police stop which should have never escalated to the point of death.

Philando Castile was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and their four-year-old child. Another citizen dead but this time in front of his girlfriend and their

Four
Year
Old
Child.

Not only did Mr. Castile die but a four-year old little girl’s innocence died along with him that day. Imagine the trauma, that child will continue to process well into adulthood. No child should bear that burden.

Both deadly officer involved shootings caught on camera. This horrific footage is circulating on social media. Then Thursday July 8th came and rip through the collective soul of Dallas. There was a Black Lives Matter demonstration to decry these officer involved shootings which are becoming commonplace. Overall, the demonstration was peaceful. There are mixed reports of some demonstrators taking selfies with law enforcement officers and some reported incidents antagonism. A word about Black lives matter: This phrase should not be inflammatory. To say Black lives matter is not to say only Black lives matter. It is an affirmation of Black and brown life in the face of that which would deny our humanity. Somehow, we lost our way because the world would have us believe if I celebrate my humanity then yours is diminished. When the truth is when I celebrate my humanity, I can take delight in yours. I want to believe that my life matters to you. Your does to me. After all, Jesus said, love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Every once in awhile someone says to me, “I don’t see color.” I see color in all its vitality! God has gifted humanity with diversity and a multiplicity of cultures. One of my colleagues insisted God does not see color.

I said, “Yes, God does.”

He said, “No God doesn’t!” We went back in forth until I finally said, “Oh yeah? Why God made flowers.”

But then a sniper Micah Xavier Johnson, in the same spirit of Dylann Roof, the spirit of rank hatred shot 12 law enforcement officers leaving seven injured and five dead—five new hashtags created by hatred:

#Officer Brent Thompson
#Officer Patrick Zamarripa
#Officer Michael Krol
#Sergeant Michael Smith
#Sr. Corporeal Lorne Ahrens

Policing is a noble and honorable profession. And those who kill police officers must be brought to justice. Much in the same way, police officers who kill citizens must be brought to justice. Lives were lost. Families are fractured. To say Black lives matter does not say Blue lives do not matter. When we do that we engage in the Oppression Olympics. Nobody wins. In fact, the Oppression Olympics distract us from the real work of reconciliation. Its tough work but it is healing work. It does not happen overnight either.

I am numb. I am afraid that if I give myself over to the sorrow, I will never stop crying. My soul is grieved as I am certain yours is over all of this.

We know the story of the Good Samaritan. Why do we call the Samaritan “good” in the story? Because Samaritan were highly despised among Jews. The bigotry of the Jews against the Samaritans was blistering. So in their minds ALL Samaritans were bad. Samaritans were of Jewish and pagan ancestry. They were therefore “impure.” They were different on quite a few fronts except their worship of God. Jews looked down on Samaritans. So good Samaritan was a scandal.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The persons or people you least expect or even like are our neighbors.

What? You mean that police officer is my neighbor? You mean that black person is my neighbor? The ones that I think the least of? The one I would call the “good” Black person because I know the majority of them are bad is my neighbor? You mean the one that I would call the “good” police officer because the majority of them are no good is my neighbor? Blech!

You see the lawyer was looking for the loophole. He’s not alone. Love my neighbor? But “whoooooo” exactly is my neighbor? Jesus takes the question from him by basically saying, the one you can’t stand is your neighbor. In fact, they can be a blessing to you. In other words, like it or not every one of us are neighbors.

Neighbors, the days ahead are going to be rough because it is easier to give ourselves over to our base instincts to be immobilized by this general zeitgeist or communal spirit of fear, distrust and despair. Resist and do not give yourself over to it. Remember who we are we are. We are God’s people made one in the waters of our baptism in Christ. Our baptisms not only make us one. It makes us family to each other and neighbors in this world. We are equipped to repair this tremendous chasm of our own creation.

Unlike the lawyer in the gospel text trying to figure out who is the neighbor so he would know who is in or out of the bounds of acceptability. Let’s be like Mr. Roger. Let’s embrace this world looking for our neighbors. Can you see yourself asking the one who differs from you in every way?

Would me mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t be my neighbor?
Won’t you please?
Won’t you please be my neighbor?

The Battle Hymn of the Republic


Julia Ward Howe’s poem, intentionally written to be sung to the familiar folk tune we all now know, was written in 1861 and published in 1862. Howe’s poem had a sixth stanza that The Atlantic Monthly did not print:

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,

He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,

So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,

Our God is marching on.

The tune started as a folk hymn developed in religious camp meetings during the early 1800’s, with lyrics that varied, such as, “Oh! Brothers will you meet me… On Canaan’s happy shore?” And chorus:  

There we’ll shout and give him glory.

There we’ll shout and give him glory.

There we’ll shout and give him glory.

For glory is his own.

This refrain ultimately morphed into “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” 

By 1856, it was a well-known marching song about the abolitionist John Brown (supposedly created by a troop who had a Sargeant also named John Brown).

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

His soul is  marching on.

Glory, glory hallelujah!

Glory, glory, glory hallelujah!

Glory, glory hallelujah!

John Brown was a white abolitionist so horrified by the sin of slavery, he tried to start a slave revolt by leading a multiracial party to raid the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Brown lamented that peaceful resistance to slavery had proved ineffective. He believed he was the instrument of God’s wrath to punish people for the sin of slavery. After losing to an overwhelming force, he was convicted of treason and hanged. Some considered him a traitor. Others, a martyr. The song said that though John Brown’s body lies rotting in the grave, his soul, and his truth is still marching on.

Two years after the revolt at Harper’s Ferry, Julia Ward Howe

A very bright, intellectual Julia Ward Howe was raised by wealthy, Puritan, Calvinist parents. An independent thinker, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s rights, she would later convert to Unitarianism. When she married Samuel Howe, her wealth became that of her husband. He forbade her to work outside the home. She would not get control of her wealth or vocation until his death in 1876. Such was the circumstance of women in the 19th century. 

The couple separated in 1852. In time, against her husband’s wishes, she published Passion Flowers, poems about intimacy and infidelity that challenged a husband’s authority. Sam felt betrayed. 

Sam and Julia were both abolitionists. Like John Brown, Sam was frustrated that the Republican Party’s peaceful attempts to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery had failed. Sam used his (wife’s) considerable wealth to fund John Brown’s slave revolt. In 1859, when John Brown was captured, Sam fled to Canada to avoid prosecution. 

On November 6, 1860, a prairie lawyer named Abraham Lincoln won the presidency on an anti-slavery platform. On December 20, South Carolina became the first slave state to secede. The act specifically mentioned “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.” It accuse the Northern states of denying “the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution,”  denouncing “as sinful the institution of Slavery,” and theft, by assisting thousands of slaves to escape their “homes.”

Not long after Lincoln took office, Julia was in a coach with a Unitarian minister. Union troops marched by singing John Brown’s Body. She was so moved, the minister suggested she write new lyrics for the tune. The very next morning, in the grey twilight she awoke with the words in her head. Scrambling in the dark for a pen, she wrote the words many of us know by heart. This song united the troops around a higher cause. 

Her poem unmistakably drew upon Isaiah 63:

Isaiah: Who is this that comes from Edom,

    from Bozrah in garments stained crimson?

Who is this so splendidly robed,

    marching in his great might?”

Yahweh: It is I, announcing vindication,

    mighty to save.

Isiaah: Why are your robes red,

    and your garments like theirs who tread the wine press?

Yahweh: I have trodden the wine press alone,

    and from the peoples no one was with me;

I trod them in my anger

    and trampled them in my wrath;

their juice spattered on my garments,

    and stained all my robes.

For the day of vengeance was in my heart,

    and the year for my redeeming work had come.

I looked, but there was no helper;

    I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;

so my own arm brought me victory,

    and my wrath sustained me.

I trampled down peoples in my anger,

    I crushed them in my wrath,

    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.

Isaiah chapters 56-66 form a section of Isaiah that speaks of a Suffering Servant, a Messiah who will come to judge the nations for their sin, and usher in salvation. Chapters 60-62 focus on Israel’s salvation. After this, Isaiah 63:1-6, which never appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, sits as a lone section, reminding Israel that their redemption will not come without bloodshed. Isaiah, The Watchman, interviews the regal warrior, who returns from battle in blood-stained gear.

Isaiah has been transported in an eschatological vision to the end of an apocalyptic battle in which the nations, in this case Edom, will be pu hairs for their sins. Note that one of Edom’s sins is participating in the bloodshed, and the carrying of Judah’s people into slavery. 

Julia Ward Howe used imagery from Isaiah (and Revelation) to evoke a cosmic battle of good against evil. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

The hymn is often played at Republican and Democratic events. It will undoubtably be heard at the upcoming Republican National Convention. It was played at the 9/11 memorial service, and at the funerals of Nixon and Reagan. It was one of Winston Churchhill’s favorites, and played at his funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1965. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at President Barack Obama’s Second Presidential Inauguration Ceremony on January 21, 2013.

Martin Luther King’s last public words were “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” in his sermon I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, on the night before he was assassinated.  Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) and Updike (The Beauty of the Lilies) were inspired by it. 

This hymn lies at the intersection of church and state. It proclaims the truth and justice of God that marches on in spite of human hatred and injustice. It announces an apocalyptic justice that is coming in the fulness of time.  

July 17, 2016 is Pentecost 9C

Amos 8:1-12 – God’s judgment. Listen, you who trample on the poor and cheat the needy: You will rot like a basket of summer fruit.
OR
Genesis 18:1-10a – The Lord appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, in the form of three men.

Psalm 52 – Why do you boast about your evil plans you powerful?
OR
Psalm 15 – Who can live on your holy hill? Those who do not lend money at interest, take bribes, testify against the innocent.

Colossians 1:15-28 – The Christ Hymn. Most scholars believe that Paul is quoting a hymn here. If so, it would be one of the earliest hymns about Christ ever written. Amazing how the divinity of Christ emerges so early in Christian theology. The creed derives much from this passage. Through him all things were created. And one of the earliest statements of the church was that God was in Christ, reconciling himself to the world. To all things (ta panta).

Luke 10:38-42 – Mary sits. Martha serves.

Mary and Martha

This week’s gospel reading is five verses: Luke 10, verses 38-42. Five short verses. This story, like The Good Samaritan, is unique to Luke’s gospel.

Mikeal Parsons (Luke, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament) lays the text out as follows:

  1. Martha extends hospitality to Jesus (10:38).
  2. Mary listens to Jesus’s teachings (10:39).
  3. Martha attends to the duties of hospitality (10:40a).
  4. Martha complains that Mary has neglected the duties of hospitality (10:40b).
  5. Martha asks Jesus to instruct Mary to help her (10:40c).
  6. Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the better activity (10:41–42).

He points out that travel narratives often focus on ancient Mediterranean customs of hospitality. Kindness is to be shown to strangers as a social and religious obligation.

38 – “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.”

A certain village: John tells us the village is Bethany (John 11:1), but Luke does not, though he does mention Bethany twice later in his gospel.

JewishAnnotatedIn The Jewish Annotated New Testament (JANT), Amy-Jill Levine points out that this is clearly Martha’s home: “Martha welcomed him into her home.” Martha is a householder. Jesus has a running critique of householders. Mary may have lived in the house with Martha or in another house nearby, but in either case, the text makes it clear, we’re now in Martha’s domain.

39 – “She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying. JANT points out this is much like the synagogue. Keep in mind most synagogues were small – a few families – and they met in homes. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning. Jeffrey (Luke: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) says that women were not permitted to sit at the feet of a rabbi. She is a follower, a female disciple. This would not have been lost on Luke’s hearers.

40 – “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.’”

Martha is distracted with “pollen diakonian“, literally, “much serving.” Luke’s first listeners would have understood Martha to be doing the right thing. She is tending to the duties of hospitality. Serving is a good thing. Jesus tells us to serve God (4:8). When Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, she immediately begins to serve them (4:39). He reminds us we cannot serve both God and money (16:13). So, some tension is created in the story.

We all know that serving, like all good works, can become an end unto themselves. They can create a sense of moral superiority. They can distract us from loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. We can create a veneer of service without loving God and neighbor a whit. But is this what Martha is doing?

Like Martha, we can become very distracted by our tasks. We can be driven by the tyranny of the urgent. Such business can drive us from love of God and others. I am reminded of a mother I knew once who coached, drove her kids around, and volunteered for every school committee. She was a supermom. She loved her kids. Thing is, one of the kids, who was in my youth group, confided in me that she hardly ever saw her mom. Her mom was so busy coaching, leading, and volunteering “for her kids”; she was too busy to spend time with them.

This is a phenomenal lesson for those who are leaders in the church. We can become so obsessed with doing “God’s” work, we lose track of God. If I’m so busy working for God, I may not be able to find time to spend with God. We all too easily neglect prayer, listening, and centering. As a chronic workaholic, this passage is like a punch to the gut. I recall Bill Hybels saying, you know there’s a problem when doing the work of God is destroying God’s work in you.

I have discovered that people experience faith in different ways. There are those whose faith finds its deepest expression in serving. There are those whose faith finds its greatest expression in prayer and worship. The apostle Paul says that we should offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, for this is our spiritual worship. People who are wired this way find sitting in a room quietly (navel-gazing), a bit hypocritical. One can sit in a room singing Jesus songs and never be about the world-transforming work to which God calls us. Jesus didn’t sit around navel-gazing. He had a vigorous itinerary of preaching, teaching, and healing. There is, however, an extreme on the other side. We can work like crazy, serving the wrong people, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, because we weren’t listening. But is this what Martha was doing?

What we have here is a classic triangle. “Jesus! Do you not see what is happening? Isn’t it awful? Isn’t it terrible what she is doing to me? Tell my sister to help me! Send her back to the kitchen.”

No one can be in ministry long without experiencing this. “Pastor! Open your eyes! Can’t you see what’s happening? Isn’t it terrible what they are doing to me? What are you going to do about it? What kind of pastor are you? What kind of church is this that lets such things happen?” How easily we get manipulated into others’ drama.

John Jewell, in Lectionary Tales, has a piece on telling other people what to do:

Jewell: Judith Orloff M.D. in her book, Emotional Freedom, writes, “People who feel out of control tend to become controllers. Deep down, they’re afraid of falling apart, so they micromanage to bind anxiety.”

41 – “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” 

He doesn’t take the bait. He responds directly to Martha, without getting pulled into the triangle.

Repeating her name twice might be an attempt to comfort her. There, there, Martha. This sounds to me like the way one might comfort a child, though this is conjecture on my part. Parsons confirms that in this time and culture, repeating the name (conduplicatio), is a rhetorical device to convey compassion or pity.

Distracted (thorubazay) again and this time worried (merimnas) too. Μaρθα Μaρθα, μεριμνaς καὶ θορυβάζn περὶ πολλά.

The preacher needs to turn this back on his or her listeners: What has you worried and distracted today? What has you so worried and distracted that you don’t have time to listen for God? Sit at Jesus’ feet? Perhaps listening to Jesus is a way to cope with our worries and distractions.

Paul uses the same word for “worry” in Philippians 4:6.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul sees prayer as an alternative to worry, fear, and anxiety.

42 – “there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” 

In Luke 12, someone will attempt to triangle Jesus again. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” It seems people are always trying to manipulate Jesus. He didn’t take the bait then either. “Who made me the boss of you?” (12:14)

He’s nicer to Martha. “Martha, Martha…” Don’t worry. Just do what Mary is doing. She has made the right choice, the “better part.”

Listening to Jesus precedes serving.

It’s interesting that this story falls right on the heels of the story of the Good Samaritan, a story whose point is that the hated enemy, the Samaritan, is my neighbor whom I am called to love. This is made clear through the Samaritan’s serving the injured man. First a story of serving, and then a quick reminder about listening.

I believe Luke recounts this story to send a message to his church, the church to which he is writing: Serve, but don’t get so caught up in your serving that you lose sight of the One whom you serve. When we don’t listen to Jesus, we just might find ourselves feeding the naked and clothing the sick.

One thing matters. And that one thing is paying attention to Jesus’ teaching.

One last analogy. On the high seas, one could get so busy swabbing the deck, washing the nets, and trimming the sails that one might forget to check one’s bearings. Before long, the ship inches off course. The crew might get lost. “I don’t understand. We were working so hard!” We must always be keeping an eye on the horizon.

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