Monday, July 22, 2013

Sermon; 9 Pentecost/Proper 11; Gen. 18:1-10a & Luke 10:38-42

This is a year of connections.  This year in Ordinary Time I have asked you to look for the connections between the First Lesson and the Gospel.  As we’ve discovered, there have been some weeks when this has been easier than others, but the point has been to challenge you to listen more closely to the two readings and listen for how they might possibly connect.  I am hoping that you found the connection between today’s readings relatively easy to make.

Our first lesson is the story of the annunciation of Isaac.  The Lord visits Abraham and Sarah and tells them that they will have a child in their old age.  Just as the births of John and Jesus were divinely announced, so is the birth of Isaac.  But this is more than an annunciation story; this is a story of hospitality, especially when linked with today’s gospel reading.

The Lord comes to Abraham’s home and he welcomes his visitor(s) by asking them to rest there awhile, and he then instructs Sarah and a servant to prepare a feast.  While they are busily baking and bbq-ing, Abraham pretty much does nothing but stand by the visitors while they eat.  In short, Sarah labors in the kitchen while Abraham stands idly by listening to them talk.

If you were paying attention and made the connection, something very similar happens in today’s gospel reading.  The Lord comes into Martha’s home.  In this similar story, Martha spends all her time performing a variety of domestic tasks, while her sister spends her time doing nothing but listening to the Lord.

The connection between the two readings is unmistakable.  The Lord visits a home, one person spends all her time working and another person does nothing but listen.  The connection between these two stories is that they are both about hospitality.  They are about inviting people into our midst, providing food and shelter for them and listening intently to what they have to say to us.  Our brains might immediately go to deciding whether we are Sarah/Martha or Abraham/Mary:  do we tend to work to make sure everything is taken care of, or do we tend to ignore work and listen intently to our guest?

But as I’ve said before, this Ordinary Time is about connections.  Almost every week I’ve asked you to look for those connections.  What is it about the first lesson and gospel reading that connects the two?  I do this because I want you to come to church expecting to have to think and be engaged.  Worship involves our heart, body, mind and soul, and to come to church without participating fully is disingenuous to both God and yourself.  So I ask you to fully participate by paying attention to the readings and thinking about the connections between them.

And speaking of heart, body, mind and soul, I want to connect back to last week.  Last week you heard the story of the Good Samaritan.  In that story, a lawyer asks Jesus to define who his neighbor is.  This is what lawyers do – they try to eliminate as much gray area as possible so everyone has clear expectations.  In response, Jesus tells this story and commands him to go and do likewise.

Go and love your neighbor as yourself.  Go and risk helping those in need.  Go and stand up for the oppressed, speak for the voiceless and use your resources for the benefit of those who have no resources.  Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly.  Go and do likewise.

Just before I left on vacation, I was up in Salem for a convocation deans and presidents meeting with the Bishop.  We spent some time with last week’s gospel and what we heard in it.  One of the things that struck me was the lawyer’s response to Jesus’ question of how the lawyer interpreted the law.  He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind.” 

I told the group that I struggled to be four dimensional.  It’s easy to do one or two things and think we’ve got it.  The challenge is to love God and others in a four dimensional way.  The challenge is to love God and others so completely that the entirety of our lives is a reflection of God’s love for every person; not just those whom we deem acceptable.

And this is why these connections I’m asking you to make are so important.  This exercise allows us to connect various readings together.  It allows us to expand our vision of what the Bible is and it allows us to look for context.  It challenges us to move beyond simply knowing a few verses here and there and saying, “The Bible clearly says X” about a particular topic.

Context and connections are incredibly important, and we do harm to ourselves and the Bible if we don’t pay attention to it.  It’s too easy for us to find one or two verses in the Bible that can be used to defend our position.  It’s much more difficult to read the Bible in its entirety and listen for what it might be telling us.  And if you doubt that, notice how people who say, “The Bible clearly says X” generally have a limited focus, and limited verses, about a particular thing they see as sinful and are trying to eradicate.

Context and connections are incredibly important.  It’s too easy to take today’s lesson from Genesis and say, “See, the Bible clearly says women are to be subservient to men,” or, “Women are clearly meant to stay in the kitchen.”  It’s too easy to take today’s gospel and say, “See, Jesus clearly says people don’t need to worry about housework,” or, “It’s obvious that Jesus wants people to spend time listening rather than doing.”  These miss the points of the stories and they miss the overall context and connections of the Bible.

The best way for us to avoid being verse-focused and to become Bible-focused is to continually look for context and connections.  Today we hear that hospitality is paramount.  Today we hear that listening intently is paramount.  Last week we heard that loving and caring for our neighbors is paramount.  Offer hospitality.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Go and do.  Stay and listen.

The more we look for context and connections and the more we try to be four dimensional in our faith, the more we will hear God speaking to us and the less time we will spend trying to make God into our own image.



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