The Parish of Indooroopilly: The Church of Saint Andrew, the Apostle
Sermon – 21 July 2019 – Pentecost 6 Year C
Colossians 1: 15-29
Luke 10: 38-42
We’ve been hearing the strong words of the prophet Amos in the past few weeks. Amos was speaking to the people of Israel and Judah in the 8th century before the Common Era at the height of the nations’ prosperity. While they appeared to be blessed, this prosperity was held by an urban elite who controlled property and manipulated systems of debt to deprive farmers of their land and freedom, leaving them impoverished and enslaved.
Accordingly, Amos’s prophesy starts with a vision of abundance – that basket of delicious looking fruit – but the truth is in the Hebrew for summerfruit: the word ץ׃ִי ָֽ ק) qayits) invokes the sound of the word ץֵ ק) qet), meaning end.
That luscious bowl of fruit that looked like abundance was in fact the way to the end. The powerful can’t wait for God’s time to be over so they can get back to their commerce, to cheating people. But what is coming is worse than they can imagine:
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.
God won’t pass.
Amos tells us a land without God is worse than a land in famine. Worse than a land without water. And the cheating elite are ingesting the end by reaching into that deceivingly beautiful basket of fruit. The basket itself points to the consequence. The Hebrew word for basket – ובּלְּ כ) keluv) – also means cage (Linville, 151). Without God, it’s the end. It’s reaching into a cage, into imprisonment. It’s exile.
Which leads us nicely to the letter to the Colossians. 1 After starting with a beautiful hymn to Christ, the writer goes on to explain to how without Jesus, without God, the Colossians were estranged, hostile in mind and doing evil deeds. It sounds a lot like our Amos reading today –to be lured by an empty abundance to become trapped in a cage without God.
Now, the writer reassures the readers that they have been drawn out of that exile, that lack of relationship, and are right with God so long as they continue securely established and steadfast in the faith. They’re out of the cage, and there’s a requirement to work towards becoming mature.
But what does it mean to become mature? How do we reach a full and abundant life in God?
If you were to take the story of Martha and Mary superficially, you might conclude that maturity arrives from retreating to God. But that is to miss the fulness of the story of these sisters. 2
Martha was doing something really important – she was offering hospitality. In the sermons you’ve heard recently, we’ve talked about Luke’s focus on care and hospitality in his Gospel. Last week, we heard Jesus tell the story of the Samaritan, whose heart went out to the needs of the injured man. In the preceding week, we’ve heard Jesus require that the disciples accept hospitality, even at the risk of breaching purity code.
Martha wisely invites Jesus into her home, Jesus accepts that hospitality, and in doing so, he builds relationship. Jesus draws Mary close, into the circle of the disciples and the gospel reading today tells the story of Martha being invited to put aside distraction, and to likewise come near.
The verb περισπάω (perispáo) – translated as Martha being distracted in this reading – has a multilayered meaning in Greek. It also means that the person was contained, turned around, was worried, or was dragged off. I know there have been many times in my life that I’ve felt circumstances have dragged me away from where my heart wanted to be. The problem for Martha wasn’t that she valued hospitality, it was that her heart wasn’t where her hands and feet had taken her.
How beautiful was Jesus’s correction? It was both an invitation to Martha and a promise to Mary. Jesus promises Mary that what she has chosen will not be taken away. She has chosen real abundance – she drew near to Jesus, to learn, and will share in the work of evangelism as one of the disciples. That promise is for Martha too.
We don’t know is what Martha did next, but something shifted. Let’s think about when we meet Martha again in John. When their brother Lazarus died, Mary stayed home while Martha ran out to meet Jesus. She acted again, but this time we see a deepening in her faith. Like Peter, she recognised Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. Of course, then she pulls a Peter, and after that astonishing confession, when Jesus goes in to the tomb to resuscitate Lazarus, she misses the intent of the moment and fusses about the smell. But she’s on her way to maturity – a work in progress like all of us.
None of us are a Mary or a Martha. Martha and Mary are not like a devil and angel sitting on our shoulders. This story doesn’t value rest above hospitality, knowledge above work, or leadership above servanthood. Nor does it imply we need to choose between these things. It’s about how we can have an abundant life: it must begin by prioritising our relationship and time with God. It’s about ensuring our tanks are full, so we can do the work of God. It’s about shedding busyness and strategically working towards God’s word and will. That’s how we mature. And it starts with the better part – with God.
Like Mary and Martha, we are invited to sit in Jesus’s company, to listen, and learn and that will not be taken away from us. From that foundation, we can go on to follow the example of Jesus and do the work of God.
Jesus said: “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
When wondering if we need to attend to work or quiet, the test begins with remembering we should be to love God first and our neighbour as ourselves. Have we given God the time God deserves? Have we spent enough time listening to God to know how to care for God’s people? To retreat to God is good. To listen to God is good. To share God’s love is good. To act for God’s people is good. Feeling dragged away, distracted, and put upon is the sign that the balance needs to change.
1 While the authorship of this work is contested, if not written by Paul, it was likely written by one of his disciples during his life or shortly after. An interesting development happens in this work – in Colossians, the writer presents a belief that the followers’ lives were completely transformed in the present, where previously there was a tension in Paul’s writing about the partial revelation in Christ and an expectation of complete salvation with a future resurrection.
2It’s important to the story that these women were sisters – they are closely related and have helped shape one another over the years. In the writing style of the time, that tells us that we should identify with both women.
Bird, M. (2009). Colossians & Philemon : A new covenant commentary (New covenant commentary series).
Bumpus, M. (2010). Awakening Hidden Wholeness: A Jungian View of Luke 10:38-42. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 29(3), 229-239.
Linville, J. R. (2008). Amos and the Cosmic Imagination. Ashgate Publishing, Limited: ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest
Sumney, Jerry L. (2008). Colossians. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au/lib/acu/detail.action?docID=3416775.
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