Sunday, July 17th, 2016 – Sermon on Luke 10:38-42

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

On early Friday morning, after word was out about the truck attack in Nice, France, my brother-in-law sent me a text: You’ve got to be tired of having to write sermons about understanding why people are killing each other.

Yep. Bingo.

And you’re probably tired of pulling up the news, or trying to explain this to our youngest ones. Or maybe you are tired of coming to church seeking to understand why people are killing each other.

Now, rather than treat these tragic events as some inconvenience to me or rather than making them about me and my exhaustion from this constant narrative, we will do what we are called to do in the midst of such darkness – we will turn our attention to Jesus. Because the good news is that we don’t have to understand why people are killing each other. In fact, how could we? But rather our calling is to not be so overcome, so over shadowed by such darkness that we forget about the Light that such darkness cannot overcome. We are called to trust yet again that this devastating and evil darkness does not get to and cannot overcome the light and love of God that is enfleshed in this world. And yes, we are to see and honor and end such darkness but we are also called to seek the light of Christ, the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, that is so abundantly embedded in this world that it can be easy to miss.

So, with that, let’s seek the light of Christ and turn our attention to Jesus and our gospel reading. The story of good old, Mary and Martha.

It’s a short story. A pretty ordinary and relatively simple to understand story. Jesus arrives at the house of Martha. And being hospitable, Martha welcomes him in, and suddenly, there’s a family dispute. A sibling rivalry.

Now, if we just stop right there, one thing we might learn is that just because Jesus shows up in your life, it doesn’t mean things will automatically get better. In fact, it might get worse because Jesus has this way of turning our lives upside down. But it also teaches Jesus shows up in our life when things aren’t perfect. When we don’t have it all together. Which is good news for us all right now.

Now, what are they fighting about. Martha’s busy in the kitchen. Mary’s decided to relax and sit at the feet of Jesus, and Martha doesn’t like it. And so Martha drags Jesus into the middle, by scolding him to scold Mary. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But in response, Jesus tells Martha that she’s worried and distracted by many things, and that Mary has chosen the better part.

Now, for as short and ordinary and simple as this text is, this Gospel reading is dangerous. Because we like to do with this text the exact same thing we like to do in our culture right now. We divide ourselves into camps. This reading so easily sends us into that tailspin of dividing ourselves into the Marys and the Marthas of this world. Are you a Mary person or a Martha person? Are you the dreamer who likes to sit and listen to Jesus, to consider the lilies of the field, or are you Martha working tirelessly to do the things that need to get done to make sure the world keeps going around. And then we defend whichever side most reflects us out of fear and shame of being wrong or corrected, all the while without listening to each other. And when we do that we dislocate the body of Christ. We dislocate ourselves from each other. And the same poison is being spewed at us left and right even now. Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Are you a black lives matter person or an all lives matter person? Are you pro-black or pro-cop? Pick a side and defend it, society says. Divide yourselves. And that is sin, death, and the devil talking.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think that’s what this story is about. I don’t think this about Mary vs Martha. About a devotional life vs. a life of active service. I don’t think Jesus is against the hard work that Martha is doing. I don’t think he is against the worker bees that get things done. Because notice that Jesus never tells Martha to sit down. He doesn’t condemn her work.

And I don’t think Jesus is upholding a devotional, contemplative life of listening at the feet of Jesus over a life of action and service. After all Jesus just got done telling the story of the Good Samaritan. I think he’d prefer we care for the dying one in the ditch than sit and meditate at his feet in thoughtful contemplation.

Maybe this story isn’t about Mary vs Martha. Maybe it is about what is possible when the kingdom of God shows up. Which is not about a far away after life of golden streets but about God’s reality of love for us right here, right now.

You see, Jesus shows up at their house and Martha faithfully and dutifully goes to work on being hospitable to him. Which is good and needed work. Throughout the gospel of Luke, hospitality is being lifted up as important and necessary work for the kingdom of God. As a woman in that culture, and too often for women in our culture, it was the work that was expected of her. It was the role she played time and time again. There is no surprise here.

But what no one expected is that Mary would take the position of a disciple, seated at the feet of Jesus.[1] This, as you might know, was seen as the men’s work – discipleship, learning from the teacher. So that Mary would see herself as worthy to sit alongside the men at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. That’s the surprise of the story. That Mary could see a new possibility for herself, for her life – of actually doing something different, or being something different.

This is about what’s possible when the kingdom of God shows up. Because in the kingdom of God the world gets turned on its side and nothing is as it seems. Up becomes down. Bad becomes good. Death becomes life. In the kingdom of God, those two words, “good” and “Samaritan” can be used side-by-side. Words that never met before in the faithful Jew’s mind. In the kingdom of God, new possibilities open up to who we could be despite who we’ve always been. In the kingdom of God, Mary didn’t have to be marginalized to the kitchen but could see herself as worthy disciple, welcomed at the feet of Jesus.

As a woman, over and over again, Mary had probably remained in the same role that was expected of her, without ever questioning it. But in this moment, with the kingdom of God come near, Mary has discovered for herself a new possibility, by not remaining the same role that was expected of her and she grabbed a hold of it.

And I think the question to ask is: Can you see a new reality for your life? For our community, for our country, for our world? Or do we just want every body to get back to their assigned roles? Can we see the world through the lens of the kingdom of God where what seems impossible becomes possible? Where we are not bound by the way that things have always been, but rather that there is an open future in which God can bring life out of death? The kingdom of God never says, “This is just how things are and how they will always be.”

And that’s the hope that I find in this text. That Mary could see a new possibility for her life. To make this about Mary vs Martha, a contemplative life at the feet of Jesus vs a life of hard work is a distraction. This is about what’s possible when the kingdom of God is near. And in light of world right now, I pray we can be like Mary. That we can see a new reality, a new possibility for our life and for how we choose to be in this world. That we can trust that the Spirit of God is at work in all of this and that in the midst of such darkness we will continue to turn to Jesus and listen for that voice of guidance and hope.

You know, from living in the tension of this past week, a new possibility opened up for me. I’ll admit I’ve been a little uncomfortable with knowing how to engage with the protests and the rallies around lately. I see my pastor friends outside the governor’s mansion and I’m jealous, because I want to be a social justice pastor on the front lines fighting for people’s right and lives. And at the same time, I know I would’ve felt like a poser. Like I was trying to be someone else for the sake of my own reputation. Because I don’t think I know enough about Black Lives Matters and my own racism to get up there and protest and speak out as an advocate.

But then my dear friend Laura opened a new possibility for me. And I’m a little embarrassed at perhaps how obvious of a possibility it was but here goes. She told me she went to the governor’s mansion. And I said, “Oh yeah, to protest?” And she said, “Well no, more to listen to the Black community.” And in that moment a light bulb went on. Oooooh. I can go to just listen and learn. You mean I don’t have to have my own sign or my own stump speech ready to deliver? Hmm…going to listen to the marginalized and the oppressed…what an idea.

But then she told me about a speaker there. She said there were a lot of people at the rally and everyone was spread out. And this man got up to speak. And he noticed that everyone was so far away from him. So he said, “you’re all so far back and spread out – come on in. We can’t afford to be afraid of each other. Turn and hug a stranger. Do it!”

And for moment, every turned to each other and hugged. And it changed the whole gathering, my friend said.

For a brief moment this man saw a new possibility for the world. A new opportunity a new way, a new path forward. And he heard the voice of the Spirit say, “This is the time!”… so that the people there could catch just for a moment a glimpse of a new possibility when we weren’t afraid of each other any more. Even as strangers.

We cannot be afraid of each other any more. Because that’s been our reality. That’s been the reality and the patterns that we’ve fallen back into time and time and time again. For a brief moment, he tore that down. And my friend caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God, here in the present moment. And it was stunning and beautiful. The kingdom of God is like strangers hugging each other on the street in front of the governor’s mansion.

We cannot be afraid of each other anymore. That’s the new possibility that I want to risk stepping into. And change starts with us, right? So maybe this morning, maybe we can be like Mary, and we can see a new reality, for ourselves and our community, to no longer be afraid of each other.

So, I’m going to ask you to do something. And some of you are not going to like it. And that’s okay. But for a moment, I want us to see if we can remove a brick from that walls that can be built between us. All I want to you to do is turn to someone near you that you didn’t come here with. Someone you don’t know or someone you don’t know well. And I want you to do one thing – just tell them something about yourself. Tell them something about yourself that they wouldn’t know, just by looking at you. We do this because the kingdom of God is a place where we aren’t afraid of each other anymore.

Here, I’ll go first: I don’t have the nose I was born with. If you want to know more, you can talk to me later. But for now, please turn and share something with your neighbor.

May the seeds of life that have been shared here among us grow into new possibilities for the sake of the kingdom of God that is both on it’s way and even here now, breaking in through each of us. Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-9-c-an-invitation-to-more/

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Sunday, July 10, 2016 – Sermon on Amos 8:4-7

You can listen to the sermon here.

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the living God. Amen.

“Injustice distorts us all.” Whether you benefit from it or suffer underneath it, injustice distorts us all.[1] Those are the words of a friend and a colleague, spoken in the shadow of this past week.

You know, after inhaling all the articles and the posts and the bloody videos like they were the only air around me. After having my thoughts and my opinions change with the wind of every new blog post and every new tweet. After being told by celebrity theologians that I as a preacher had better preach a meaningful sermon today and lead you all to a great awakening. After being told to proclaim that black lives matter (which they do), and told to proclaim that cops lives matter (which they do), and told to proclaim that all lives matter (which they do). After hearing that these black men were murdered and then hearing that we don’t know that yet and we cannot rush to any judgment. After the call rang out to rise up and be angry and fight and after the call rang out to slow down and be calm and to love. After accepting the ever-present sickness in my stomach and after verbally processing the heck out of these events with numerous friends. After weeping in that office over there yesterday, clueless as to what could possibly be said to all of you today…those words of my friend were the ones that finally got to how I am feeling.

Injustice distorts us all.

That is how I feel. Distorted. Twisted. Caught. Bound up. Immovable. Paralyzed.

And really….scared. Because all of what’s happening doesn’t feel like a blip on the radar screen. It feels like it’s really important. And we have to do something to solve this. And I don’t have a clue as to what that is.

And all of this is a pretty privileged position I realize.

It’s a pretty privileged position to be in when I’m not part of a whole community of people who is afraid of not surviving a routine traffic stop.

It’s a pretty privileged position when I’m not the one with a badge getting crooked looks from people or the one hearing sniper fire ring out around me and seeing my colleagues fall to the ground.

But that’s where I’ve been in the past few days. Feeling distorted. And maybe you can relate.

And I ask myself, “When will this be over?” When will this panic, this fear, this distortion, this confusion go away? When will things go back to normal?

I don’t know if you noticed, but the same question is being asked in our Old Testament reading from Amos. The context is much different, but I think it connects. You see, Amos, God’s prophet, is speaking to the people of God who are causing injustice. “Hear this,” Amos, says, “you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land.” Which rings out for me because while yes we are trampling on the poor and the needy, it feels like we are trampling on everyone. It feels like we can’t stand up for anything without standing on top of someone else.

But so Amos calls out those who are trampling others, so all of us need to listen up. Amos says, “You who say, ‘when will this new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale. We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the sweepings of wheat.”

What’s Amos saying here? He saying that the people of God are asking, “When will this be over?”

When will what be over? The Sabbath, when no one is to work.

Why do they want it to be over? So that they can get back to business as usual. Back to cheating the people through corruption.

You see what God’s people are doing, what the sellers in the marketplace are doing is cheating their customers by using different weights and measurement (the shekel and the ephah) to sell their products in a way that benefits the seller. The people of God looked forward to “buying the poor with silver and the needy with sandals,” which meant the people of God were looking forward to enslaving those in debt, even those who only owed a pair of sandals. And the people of God were looking forward to selling the sweepings of wheat. But here’s the thing, you weren’t supposed to sell the “sweepings of wheat” because that was supposed to be left for the poor and the hungry. But they sold them anyways and filled their pockets with cash.

When will this be over, they asked. When will the Sabbath be over so that we can get back to business as usual? Which is daily corruption and oppression. And the prophet Amos is calling them out on it.

When will this be over, I ask. When will this sickness and this fear and this worry be over so that I can get back to business as usual? Which I fear is putting my head in the sand around the ways I contribute and benefit from everyday racism and privilege. Which I fear is putting my head in the sand to the everyday dangers that police officers are exposed to. And maybe this feeling is God calling me out on that. On these injustices that are distorting not our reality but our humanity. An injustice that distorts us all.

When will this be over? You know, I don’t want this to be over. Yes, I want the shootings to be over, but I don’t want this feeling to go away. I don’t want the distortion and the sense that something is really wrong to be over. I don’t want to be set free from this moment of feeling bound and caught and paralyzed. I don’t want someone to simply cut the cord that is wrapped around me so that I can stretch out my privileged limbs and let the ache fade away. Because I think the Holy Spirit is trying to speak through it all. And I want to listen. And that doesn’t mean that I have to know what the Spirit is saying in a span of 48 hours so that I can post it on Facebook.

You see that is the other problem, I think. In these days of instantaneous news, it feels like we all have to have an instantaneous, well thought out, well-crafted, definitive opinion on what’s happened, and a solution for it. Which only exacerbates everything. We are talking about long systemic racism with a long reach back into history. We are talking about complicated and dangerous and human-based (meaning flawed and broken) situations that needs no rush to judgment or decision-making, but only heartache and more love. This is long steady work of the church. Of listening and expressing and I don’t think we can make it happen instantly.

So, I don’t want this feeling to be over. Because the media will fade. The names will fade. But I pray that this feel won’t. Because I think God is trying to wake us up and get our attention. And what God is saying is not very clear yet, except that God is saying, “My people are dying and I will never forget this moment.”

Did you hear that voice of God at the end of Amos? After Amos calls out those who are trampling on the needy and the poor, it says, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

Which is to say that God will never forget what we’ve done to each other. Which can sound like a threat, but today it sounds like good news to me. Because to say that God will never forget what we’ve done to each other, yes, means that God will never forget what we’ve done. But it also means that God will never forget what has been to us. And I use that word “us” as meaning all people, all the children of God. The body of Christ. Because what hurts one part of the body hurts the whole body. Which means God will never forget the scars on the human body, of lives cut short by prejudice or rage or fear.

God will not forget because this matters to God. You matter to God. Every single person beyond these walls matters to God. And this grief we feel is the grief of God. Heartbroken over people destroying people. And God will not abandon us in it. God will not forget, even when we do. God will never stop working on this, to bring resurrection out of this crucifixion, to bring life out of this time of death. God the potter will never stop re-shaping our self-distorted image back into the image of God we were made to be in the first place.

God will not forget, even when we do. But I hope this feeling won’t be over. Because if we chose to and if we are in a place to, we can partner with God to heal this in faithful love for the world. As our catechism says, the kingdom of God is coming whether we pray for it or not. But we pray that it would come to us and through us.

Which means we can do something. We can love each other like crazy.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by googling campaign zero and reading what the Black Lives Matter movement is seeking. To see that the protestors are not just trying to disrupt your commute by lying in highways. But that this movement has very real requests for us to look into in our own communities, that are worth learning about and exploring.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by inviting our own police in to talk about Northfield policing policies and how we can support them in the work they do.

If we chose to, we can love our neighbors by feasting on the little resurrections abounding in this life that bring us hope and fill us up. We can celebrate babies being born and baptized. We can rejoice together that Andy Nelson is cancer free. We can be overjoyed at our congregation being paired with a refugee family of 9 people finding refuge and love and support here in MN and in our care. We can weep with gladness over people who will bike across the country to raise $12 million dollars for people with disabilities (bikers who rolled through Northfield this past Friday). And once we’ve refueled on the daily graces of this life we can get back to facing the injustices of this life and heal this distortion, all in the name of God who loves us as we are and loves us too much to leave us that way.

Now, if there is anything of God in the words that have been spoken, may they settle and take root in our life.

Amen

[1] Said by Eric Barreto in a digital conversation.