The sermon actually got written early this week:
“As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.”
I speak with you today in the name of the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
I’m going to take a bit of a risk this morning. See, I don’t like to make assumptions about scripture. I believe that old adage about what happens when one assumes things is especially true in regards to scripture. The things we say about scripture should at least be present in scripture, even if most of the time we have no clue what they mean. Therefore, with your prayers of support, here is my assumption: the prophet Amos, dear, dear Amos, had to have friends.
I know that does not sound like too risky of an assumption, but I read the entire book of Amos this week and there is not a single reference to another person that we could even remotely consider a friend of Amos; enemies of Amos, yes; people extremely annoyed by his presence and prophecy, yes; but friends…not so much.
However, he must have had friends. Surely he must have had someone close to him that could pull him aside and say, “Dude, cheer up a little bit. I mean, come on man, every time you make one of these prophecies it’s all doom and gloom and the day of the Lord is wrath stuff. Don’t you know that you could get a lot more publicity and airtime if you tell the people what they want to hear?” Surely someone had to come to Amos and give him a heads up.
However, if someone did try to clue Amos in as to how things get done, the way things are, and how the game is played, Amos apparently did not listen. Amos is relentless in his denunciation of the powers that be: the ruling authority, the religious authority, the rich, and powerful. We hear a bit of that in our reading today which comes from the 8th chapter of the book. He writes, “The Lord said to me: the end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day says the Lord GOD; ‘the dead bodies shall be many cast out in every place.” This isn’t some random out of character blurb for Amos. No, Amos has been ranting like this for seven chapters already and he has got a whole other chapter to go after this.
What is his reason for this protracted, expressive, colorful, and extensive diatribe against the nation of Israel? We hear a little bit of an answer in verse 4 where he writes, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.” This is a short verse, but apparently, there was a whole lot of trampling on the needy and ruining of the poor going on.
It was kind of like a best of times and worst of times situation back in Amos’ day; the best of times for a very few people and the worst of times for a whole lot of folks. The northern kingdom of Israel was experiencing a time of military security and economic prosperity. Trade relations with their neighbors were opening and the prospect of material gain turned the powers that be towards constrained self-interest. This led, as the commentator R.K. Harrison has noted, to the destruction of the middle class within a generation.” Y’all know what happens when the middle class is destroyed. The gap between the rich and poor becomes insurmountable. Systems of government, law and order become corrupt and weighted in the favor of the powerful few instead of the common good. Policy decisions and enforcement maintain the status quo rather then progress society towards justice and peace. In short order the religious system becomes domesticated by the powers as well, another pawn in the protection of the powerful. Ultimately God becomes domesticated by the religious system as well. Here, however, like Moses before him and many after him, is where Amos comes in.
It is because the powers that be had turned from the protection given the poor in the Law of Moses, because they had turned from the proper way of responding to God’s gracious liberating love that Amos delivers the prophecy of doom. They had turned to wealth and productivity as their idol instead of worshiping the free God who had freed them. Because they were so caught up in their attempt to domesticate God, they failed to hear Amos’ reminder that God is truly free. God is free even to direct God’s wrath upon God’s own people for their neglect, apathy, oppression of the poor, and idolization of wealth.
Now, we should not be too hard on the people of Israel, for indeed in every age and time, in every institution, society, and culture there is idolatry. If we look close enough we can see it in our Gospel passage today. Martha has welcomed Jesus into her home and she immediately dives into what the dominant culture of the day expects of her as a women. She is to produce and that is where she finds her value. She can not imagine any other way of responding, or that there might be anything wrong with the way she acts. She doesn’t know that she is deluded. Biblical Theologian and Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann describes this as the royal consciousness, where we are too caught up in doing what the fallen powers that be expect of us that we lose the ability to even imagine another way of being. It is into this befuddled, unaware, unconscious submission to the dominant culture that Jesus continually steps in and delivers a swift kick of Christian love.
Would Jesus have loved Martha any less if there was one less dish for dinner, or the plates weren’t placed in just the right spot? Would Christ have judged her if she burned the matza? Of course not, what is important to Christ is for Martha—and, by extension, us to be positioned as disciples that is to say “to sit at the Lord’s feet” as Mary does. For Mary to be a disciple, which is what is meant by the phrase “sat at the Lord’s feet” is an incomprehensible role for a woman in their day and age. It is out side the box of who women were supposed to be. However, Jesus, as he does over and over again in the Gospel of Luke, says that our roles as humans are to be proscribed by him not by the fallen powers that be. We saw it last week with the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells the lawyer not to allow cultural limitations and fear to define who his neighbors are. In our Gospel today he tells Martha not to be a slave to productivity.
I use the phrase slave to productivity deliberately, because I am afraid. I am afraid that American culture, our dominant culture, our form of the royal consciousness is forming us all into a rabid bunch of “Marthas”, running around desperately trying to accumulate more profits and possessions. I am fearful that the corporate idol of the bottom line is dulling our senses and suppressing our ability to imagine a different reality. Unwittingly, we are making bricks for pharaoh instead of living for Christ. I am certainly not immune to this temptation, which my addiction to caffeine and mile high to-be-read and to-do-lists evidence.
So what are we to do? Are we destined to be mechanical runners of the rat race attempting to finish the maze of life with more toys then our neighbors? Are we destined to continually make bricks for pharaoh with no hope of liberation?
No we are not, if we have the ears to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No we are not, if we are willing to sit at the Lord’s feet, willing to be disciples. We can be liberated from the powers and indeed call the powers to repentance if we continually come to this table not merely for a sedative, not merely to be comforted that everything will be okay, not merely for some pithy “self-help techniques to take the edge off of our rat-race lives”, but come here for a vision of what could be, a vision of the kingdom of God. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims is near to us all the time.
Come to this altar not for appeasement but for motivation to bring about the kingdom. Come to this table for that One Thing. Come to this altar to sit at the feet of the Lord. Come for communion. Come for the feast. Come receive the body and blood of Christ to be the body and blood of Christ. Amen!