Year C — The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11)

Commentary for July 21, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Dr. Mark Scott

Amos 8:1-12
Amos is “hot” in today’s text!

Well, I suppose it’s actually God who is hot; Amos is, after all, just a prophet. He must deliver the message that is given to him by the Spirit of God. 

The message for today is bound up in a bushel of “summer fruit.” As Dr. Scott points out on today’s Lec Lab Live podcast, the translation could be “ripe fruit” — the idea is that it would be wonderfully tasty if you could eat it today, but if you wait any longer, it will be ruined.

Since God’s people have failed to repent, their “expiration date” has been reached and there is about to much wailing and gnashing of teeth (well, at least there will be wailing over the many dead bodies!)

Why has God waxed so wroth? Verse 4 is the key: “You have trampled on the needy and brought ruin to the poor of the land.”

Are we listening?

Psalm 52
Psalm 52 reinforces the message of Amos; in fact, there is a “wicked awesome” reverberation set up between these two texts. 

We must not be complicit in the “mischief” done against the godly; we cannot abide the love of lying more than we hunger for the truth!

Genesis 18:1-10a

Strains of the gospel song, “Do Not Pass Me By” are wafting through my brain as I read this text. (Actually, the song is “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” by Frances C. “Fanny” Crosby; check it out here, as performed by the London National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.)

Abraham does not want to miss the blessing of the presence of God; he runs from the entrance of his tent to meet the visitors. A striking comparison to the way most people enter church to worship God, no? 

(I don’t know if Abraham ever “sauntered” or “sashayed” — much less wandered aimlessly while carrying on several conversations at once!)

God delivers a message of promise and hope to Abraham on this day. Could it be that the earnestness of the man of faith had anything to do with the greatness of the blessing of God?

Psalm 15

It would be easy to read the question-and-answer of vv. 1-2 and say, “Oh, shoot — I don’t know anybody who can do these things; I guess none of us are going to dwell with God on God’s holy hill!”

Of course, this is kind of the point. None of us are righteous enough of our own accord to live in God’s presence. But — God’s righteousness is made available to us, and dwells within us. Living in God’s right ways leads to all kinds of positive results. God’s people living in God’s ways will not be moved, despite the shifting sands and shore-battering storms of life.
Colossians 1:15-28

My colleague, friend, and bubba Dr. Chilton is fond of discussing Paul’s “liturgical bent,” particularly as he opens his letters. These words from Colossians are, indeed, high liturgy and praise. There is much to be said for worshiping the One who visibly and tangibly shows us the invisible things of God — who “holds all things together.”

A great exercise in worship would be simply to read this text and list everything it tells us about Jesus — then to build our own liturgy of praise of all the things we’d like to say back to Jesus as we give him thanks and praise.
Luke 10:38-42

Poor Martha — she gets the double tsk from Jesus for becoming so distracted. 

We can all appreciate that she wants to set a good table, and to be sure that everything that is supposed to happen to honor Jesus’ visit to her house does happen on schedule and is well-done (no pun intended — well, maybe a little one!)

Mary may not be the beacon of sisterly responsibility here, but she does illustrate the ability to focus on the most important task at hand — listening to Jesus. How do we find the balance in our lives between having time to sit with Jesus and accomplishing the daily tasks that must be done?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago, a Jennifer Whitcomb of Fairfax, Virginia told this story in Reader’s Digest:
“I was in line to receive communion one Sunday when the cell phone of the woman in line ahead of me went off just at the moment the priest was giving her the wafer. Without skipping a beat the priest said, ‘Tell them we don’t do takeout.’ ”
Distractions.  Life is full of distractions.  Phones, cell phones, smart phones, TVs, computers, kids.  No place is safe from distractions.  Not even the communion line.
We sometimes think that distractions are a recent problem, a product of the modern age of technology and industry.  But they are not.  Look at our gospel lesson.  They key word here is distracted.  (Verse 40) “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks . . .”
The Greek word here is perispao, which means to be overly occupied with a thing, to be obsessive about a task and all the details involved; like the bride before a wedding, or a director on opening night of a play, or perhaps a priest in the run-up to mass.
Jesus has come into Martha’s village to preach and teach and Martha has invited him into her home for a meal.  Jesus sits down and begins to talk with those who are gathered there, including Mary, Martha’s sister.
Martha looks over the scene and begins to count noses and count glasses and to check the wine supply and tries to figure out how many plates they still have from the good china and sends a boy out to buy fresh fish and is there enough flour to make enough bread and would you look at the mess in this kitchen and how many of these people will be staying and is there room in here or will we have to eat on the patio and where is that tent and oh my goodness, there’s no wood for the fire and WHERE IS MARY?
Martha has become obsessed with the details of being a hostess and has become distracted from the purpose of Jesus’ visit.  She interrupts Jesus to complain.  Verse 40 continues, “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 so annoyed with the whole business that she has managed to indict both Jesus and her sister in the same sentence, “Do you not care . . . ”
Well, actually, Jesus doesn’t care; at least not about the things Martha is fretting over, (Verse 41) “Martha, Martha, you are distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
At this point, had I been Martha, I think I would have been tempted to whack Jesus one over the head with whatever cooking pot was handy; and then to hand him the cell-phone and a take-out menu and tell him to take care of feeding this crowd himself.  I’m just saying.
Seriously, Martha had a point.  They had guests.  Things needed to be done.  Chickens don’t cook themselves.  But Jesus, and Mary, had a point as well; first things first.  And there is a great unspoken implied here.  Can’t you hear Jesus continuing by saying, “Martha, you don’t have to do this now or do it alone.  Let’s talk for a while and then we’ll all pitch in and get it done.”
In July of 2001, the Lutheranmagazine featured a story about a group of retired men in Spokane Washington who gather around 9:00 AM on Thursdays to do repairs around the church or to help in the community.  They are well-known for their bright red caps with the logo “Happy Helpers.”
One paragraph in particular grabbed my attention.  “The men use the hour before they tackle repairs to support each other.  Their founder, Seward Besemer, says, ‘I always tell the group not to lose track of the thought that the first reason for life is fellowship.’ “
“The first reason for life is fellowship.”   It is doubtful that we will ever be able to eliminate from our lives those things which can draw our attention away from God.   But, we can learn to be more like Mary, able to sit in the midst of distractions while ignoring them in order to pay attention to the one thing that is needed; what God is saying and doing in our lives.
Participating in a religious community is one way to beat back the distractions.  Just as Mary sat with others at the feet of Jesus; we are invited to gather with others around Word and Sacrament on Sundays; with others around prayer and study in small groups; with others around faith and fellowship as we join in doing God’s work with our hands in the communities in which we live.
We Lutherans like to talk about the “priesthood of all believers.”  While serving as the “pastor-in-charge” of an Episcopal Church I have relearned something I had forgotten.  Every priest is also a deacon.  One is first ordained a deacon and then, after a time, is ordained as a priest.  But every priest is still a deacon, always and forever, just as every bishop is still a priest.  Perhaps we Lutherans should remember that to call ourselves a “priesthood of believers” is by definition, to call ourselves “a deaconship of believers.”  A deacon is one who serves, who is called to a ministry of word and service.
Our call today is to be a community of Marys and Marthas, a “deaconship of believers,” a divine fellowship of those who hear God’s word and do God’s word as an active force for good and gospel in the world.

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11)

  1. Pingback: The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Proper 11) | The Lectionary Lab

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