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Stuck? Quit Spinning Your Wheels (July 21, 2019)

Luke 10:38-42

When I was a kid, my three sisters and I all had chores to do. I mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, mopped the floors, emptied the garbage, shook out the rugs, pulled the weeds, cleaned the bathrooms, changed the sheets on the beds, cleaned the carport, and picked up the neighborhood trash that blew against the fence. My three sisters each took a turn doing the dishes. You don’t need to check with them about the accuracy of this list; I’m sure they remember it the same way.

One day, one of my sisters, when it was her night to do the dishes, was instead sitting in a rocking chair listening to records. As a good brother, I very patiently reminded her that it was her night to do the dishes, but she continued rocking and listening. Trusting that she simply forgot, I, with the utmost gentleness, repeated to her that it was, in fact, her night to do the dishes. With eyes closed, she informed me she was praying. And she actually used this story in Luke to say she didn’t have to do the dishes. She said that her praying, just like Mary, was “the better part,” that Jesus said so himself, and that therefore she shouldn’t be required to demean herself with the unholy chore of washing dishes.

With tremendous respect and deep understanding, I compassionately offered her an alternate perspective. And as her loving brother, I cautioned her that if somehow our mother ever discovered this, she would likely not be as understanding as me, and her response probably would not benefit my sister. So for my dear sibling’s well-being, I advised, she may want to consider postponing the rest of her prayers until after this unholy chore was done. She did.

What do you do with text? Poor Martha is stuck with all the chores while Mary gets to sit in the living room with Jesus while he tells stories. And when Martha dares speak up, Jesus takes Mary’s side! I mean, I don’t care what you say, Jesus, somebody’s still gotta do the dishes.

I hope you’re not surprised to hear me say that’s not what this text is about. This isn’t a text about who has to clean the kitchen. It’s about whether or not the kitchen even needs to be cleaned, and if so,why someone would want to.

It’s like this. Have you ever got your car stuck in the snow with your wheels spinning? Step on the gas and you simply have no traction. You can step on the gas as much as you want, spin your wheels as fast as you can, you’re still stuck. The point isn’t to spin your wheels, the point is to be able to get where you’re going. That’s Martha. Spinning her wheels just because it’s doing something. Even if it’s not helping. Even if it’s actually making it worse. Just doing something for the sake of doing something.

Mary is the one who gets out of the car, looks at how deeply she’s stuck and recalls a conversation with a trucker friend who told her to keep a bag of sand and a small shovel in the trunk just in case. Now, with that information, she can give her wheels some traction so when she does gently step on the gas, she has a much better chance of getting unstuck and continue driving.

It’s not Martha vs. Mary; it’s not action vs. contemplation. It’s about understanding the purpose, and letting that purpose inform the action. And what Jesus commends Mary for is seeking to understand his purpose. Not just a random or personal purpose, but Jesus’ purpose. That’s what being a disciple is—knowing and trusting Jesus’ purpose and letting that inform the actions we take.

That’s what spiritual disciplines are about. Coming to know God’s purposes within the world as revealed by Jesus. That’s what Mary is taking the time to do. That’s what Jesus is commending her for. That’s the part Martha, in all her activity, is missing.

Our culture disagrees with Jesus on this. What we usually say is “Good for Martha. At least she gets stuff done.” Because culturally we reward busy-ness, and tend to look down on people who don’t seem as busy as we think they ought to be.

Think about that a minute. Have you ever complained about how busy you are, how you have too many irons in the fire, how you don’t know how you’re going to get everything done? And, have you ever said those things with just a little bit of pride? Have you ever heard someone complain about working 60 hours a week and felt just a little bit guilty because you only worked 55? This cultural sense of our worth being decided by our busy-ness is a priority that Jesus calls out and challenges.

When our calendars and our day planners are dictating our lives, we are stuck in the snow. When checking things off our to-do list becomes our purpose, we’ve lost traction. When church, and spiritual growth, and discovering God’s purpose in Christ become items on a list of things we’ll do if we can find time, we are spinning our wheels. We need to stop, get out of the car, and because we’ve listened to Jesus, let that inform how we get where we need to go.

What this comes back to is God’s purpose in the world right now. The One who created this world in the first place knows how it ought to run, knows what the priorities should be, knows what actually will work. And Jesus reveals that purpose with absolute clarity. Discovering that, growing in that, discussing that, putting that into context here and now takes deliberate intention. It requires some time sitting in the living room with Jesus. It doesn’t happen automatically just because we’re making sure the dishes got done.

Remmy Mateo is being baptized today. God is including him in Christ’s purpose in the world. What his mom, his sponsors, and this congregation are promising is that we will sit with him at Jesus’ feet and help him grow in that purpose. And let that inform his decisions and how he lives his life.

Bad news for my sister is that the dishes still need to be washed. But what my sister may better understand is how that is part of God’s purpose in the world.

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Posted by on July 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Today is the Day of Hope (Dec 23, 2018)

Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Part of this text is called “the Magnificat,” sometimes “the Song of Mary.” Mary, pregnant with Jesus, rejoices in the promises of God being fulfilled, including justice for the poor and the lowly, feeding of the hungry, and help for all Israel. God’s justice, she remembers, includes God bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away with nothing.

That’s a pretty bold statement of hope in any situation, but it is even more so in Mary’s particular context. The Roman Empire was vast, powerful, and unforgiving. Historians write about a Jewish rebellion around 4 BCE, which triggered a massive military response from Rome. A village about 4 miles from Nazareth was burned to the ground. Those Jews who were found were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived that were left with nothing. Mary was certainly well aware of this cruelty of Rome’s power, it having occurred so close to her town of Nazareth.

Yet in the face of Roman power which reached to the ends of the known world, Mary sings this song of hope. Not of hope for the future, but hope present right now in the world.

For Mary, today is the day of hope.

For Jews in that day, the only hope for justice wasn’t found in government or military or revolution. Hope could only come from God keeping God’s own promises of justice, of mercy, of compassion for all people.

For Mary, today is the day of hope. Her hope is that God would rule in the world the same way God rules in heaven. Her hope is that her soon-to-be-born son, the promised Messiah, would bring God’s justice—bringing down the power-ful and lifting up the power-less.

For Mary, today is the day of hope. Mary sings this song of hope into the very face of overwhelming helplessness. She sings this song of hope in situations like this: From NBC news Tuesday:

While the executives who presided over the bankruptcy of Sears and Kmart will ring out 2018 with news of $25.3 million in bonuses, laid-off worker Ondrea Patrick will be using her unemployment check to pay for new brakes on her 2000 Dodge Durango.

Patrick, who lost her job when the Kmart she worked at in Rockford, Illinois, closed in October, had been hoping to use the money to buy her kids . . . something new for Christmas.

And it infuriates her that they’ll be getting hand-me-downs and relying on charity this Christmas while the people in charge are handsomely rewarded.

“Those top people and (Sears CEO Eddie) Lampert are having a wonderful Christmas,” Patrick, 36, told NBC News. “They got $25 million in bonuses. Me? I’m late on my bills. The electric company is threatening to shut me off. And I don’t have anything left to spend on the kids this Christmas.”

Patrick, who worked part-time for Kmart for nine years, is one of the thousands of workers whose lives were upended in October when Sears Holdings, more than $5 billion in debt and unable to compete with Walmart and Amazon, declared bankruptcy.

“I was making $10.50 an hour when they closed my store,” Patrick said. “I got my pharm tech license and was working at the service desk. All my life we struggled and I finally felt like I was making it.”

On Friday, a U.S. bankruptcy court judge allowed Sears Holdings to hand out the bonuses after the company successfully argued that it would lose its top people if there’s nothing in their stockings this Christmas.[1]

Mary sings this song of hope into the very face of overwhelming helplessness. She also sings this song of hope in situations like this:

This week a judge in US Federal Court allowed four women with their children, who were fleeing abuse and violence yet were turned away at the US border, to re-enter the US and reapply for asylum. 

It’s in real-life situations that Mary sings her song of hope. For Mary, today is the day of hope. In the coming of Jesus, the promises of God’s compassion and justice are present in the world. Right now.

Advent is a season of hope. Hope in our lives, hope in our church, hope in our neighborhood, and hope throughout the whole world.

Our thanks to Bishop Jim Gonia for being here for this 4th week of Advent hope, and sharing with us his reflections on God’s hope revealed in our world. In the coming of Christ, our hope is real. The world’s hope is real. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can be among those who reveal God’s hope just as it is revealed to us.

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/while-sears-executives-get-25-million-bonuses-laid-workers-struggle-n949446

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Not Qualified? That’s the Point (December 17, 2017)

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Have you ever wondered why God picked Mary to be the mother of Jesus? What were her qualifications? Did she have some special piety or righteousness? Was her faith above other girls of her day? Was she better able to protect this Messiah she would raise?

It doesn’t seem so. Luke goes into much more detail about Mary than any other gospel, yet even here there’s nothing other than she’s a young, poor, powerless girl with no real experience at much of anything.

Yet God’s messenger Gabriel visits her, tells her she’s favored by God, that God is with her, not to be afraid, and tells her again that she’s favored by God. Then he goes on to describe in some detail this son she is being asked to bear whose kingdom will never end.

Mary is confused, suspicious, and has doubts about this whole plan. She also points out an obvious flaw around her becoming pregnant. She may be young, but she knows where babies come from, after all. What she is, therefore, is just kind of normal.

Gabriel tells her that this isn’t any kind of obstacle for God. Take a look at Elizabeth, who’s never been able to have children, yet now in her old age is six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible with God.

Can you imagine, though, how frightening that must have been for her? Would you want that responsibility? “By the way, Mary, the salvation of all humanity is resting on this baby. So, don’t mess this up.”

What if she is a terrible mother? What if the baby gets sick? What if, instead of being a savior, he turns into a terrorist? What if, because of her, this bizarre plan of salvation doesn’t work?

What if she’s not competent enough?

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” says the angel. “God is with you.”

What’s fascinating about Mary is not how qualified she is to be the mother of Jesus. It’s that the only qualification she has is that she’s favored by God.

What in the world does that even mean? Is Mary like the teacher’s pet? The favored child? Does God now play favorites? What is it to be “favored by God”?

The word translated as “favored one” is rooted in the word for “grace,” and implies not something she’s done to make God like her more, but that she is the recipient of grace—God is with her. Which doesn’t separate Mary from the pack, but makes her part of the rest of humanity. God is present with us all.

Now, I don’t want to be disparaging of Mary the mother of Jesus, but according to Luke’s account here, the only qualification she really has is the same qualification each one of us has too. God is present with her.

Even if she has weaknesses that get in the way, even if she doesn’t have all the answers at her fingertips, if she can’t do this perfectly, that’s all OK. Because God has promised to be with her through it all. She is favored. God’s grace is given to her. God is with her.

Just like God is with us. We, too, are blessed. We, too, are favored. We, too, have the presence of God with us.

And just like Mary, being favored by God means you are chosen for something. Not being the mother of Jesus—that job has been taken already. But like Mary, you too have found favor with God. God notices you and has something in mind for you. And God will be with you through it all.

That’s not how we’re used to thinking, though. We tend to be so concerned about messing it up, that we generally avoid doing things God has in mind. I think we’re so worried about failing, doing it wrong, that we believe our efforts would be more sinful than helpful. We better avoid sinning, so we neglect to consider that God might still be asking us.

And the angel says to you, “You have found favor with God. Do not be afraid. God is with you.”

God isn’t asking any of us to do big things in the reign of God because we’re competent, or qualified, or so much better than anyone else. It’s not like our resume is so dramatically impressive. No, just like Mary, we’re asked to be part of God’s work because God favors us, God’s grace comes to us, God is with us. That’s our qualification.

  • What might God be asking of you? Are you not thinking about it because it might be just kinda normal things? They probably are. But you are still the favored one.
  • What might God be asking of you? Are you not considering it because you don’t have special “Godly” qualifications for it? Too young, don’t know enough. Don’t go to church enough. Not spiritual enough. You probably aren’t qualified. But God is with you.
  • What might God be asking of you? Does even the thought of messing it up, doing it badly frighten you? Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.

What might God be asking of you? Remember, nothing will be impossible for God. Even accomplishing amazing things through you. May  we answer with young, poor, powerless Mary, “Here we are, servants of the Lord; let it be with us according to your word.”

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Sermon

 

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