Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28 Luke 10:38-42
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It seems that we are picking up where we left off last week, when Jesus says to Martha “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things”. It therefore is still a good message for this week. We do get tied up with a lot of stuff to the detriment of our spiritual wellbeing. Amos in our first reading tells us how we can get that way. We have a wonderful world, it is symbolised in the reading by a basket of Summer fruit. We are enjoying that right now, the strawberries, the peaches, the watermelons all beautifully refreshing on these hot days, but with Amos God was using it as a warning to the people of his time. They were losing direction and were getting involved in bad practices; they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could get out there cheating people and treating people like dirt. They were too busy with too many other things to waste time thinking about God. With the Retail Business Holidays Act we don’t even wait anymore for Sundays to be over. On the odd chance that some of our society attended Church, the rest are off to the races, or the Mall, as soon as they can get going. They are not too interested in the Word of God and consequently God is not amused. They will fall on hard times because they are distracted from the good way of living, God will not punish them they will just get themselves stuck in the mire. Worst of all God says “The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it”.
What happens then to us in similar circumstances ? Well first there is a terrible period of a dearth of Christian devotion but because all is never lost a time of purification follows. Many times in our history the Word of God has been missing in the Church, and then a saintly person or movement has shaken things up and the Church reformed. In the Middle Ages, often called the Dark Ages, the monastic movement saved the Church, it kept the light shining in that dingy ignorant world; then came the Great Schism when the catholic church split into two, from which came the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then came the two different Reformations at about the same time, one in England and one in Europe, fed by such leading lights as John Wycliffe in England and Martin Luther and Calvin and Zwingli on the European Continent. The relatively newly formed Roman Catholic Church was thus divided into four, the Roman Church as it is today, the Church of England, that is Anglicans throughout the world, the Lutheran Church and a number of Protestant churches, whose number is even larger today. This whole thing runs almost like clockwork because the cycle repeats itself roughly every five hundred years, folks we are due, or like the ‘Big One’ on the San Andreas Fault we are overdue. Who knows what the next shake-up will be, no one knows, except the Master at the Helm. So in this time when we see poor attendance, church closings and the Word of God disappearing, do not give up hope, there is always someone who chooses the better part and revives the Spirit in the people. Don’t worry, we are not in charge of the Church, God is in charge and if we do His bidding all things will turn out right sooner than later. This next century will be a time of real revival, you are in on it at the ground floor. Don’t hold back on your faith then because there will be hard times ahead, but out of that will come great things; great things always have when God is steering the action.
There is a good lesson in the Gospel today that can help us through these times. I think we can all identify with Martha, sometimes we feel that we have been left to carry the whole load while others just sit around and gawk. Often intellectual things and things of the spirit are given second place to physical work. It’s far more socially acceptable to be seen doing stuff than what seems to be just sitting around when in fact you are thinking about a problem, planning an action, trying ardently to determine what is right or wrong or creating a philosophy of life. It of course takes second place to pumping out the basement or putting out a fire, they are urgent matters, but first of all deciding on a plan of action may save a lot of damage and promote the physical actions necessary and make them more successful, quicker. Thoughtless action is always counterproductive. Thought and action both have a role to play, they are complementary and should be in a Rule of Life for us all.
Martha, bless her soul, is too busy to stop and think, an error common to many of us, she goes about asking for Jesus’ help but in the wrong way. She asks for a particular outcome that is that Mary will help her, and she gives Jesus the instructions so that He can respond properly to her wishes ‘tell Mary to help me’. Worse she blames Jesus for the way things are ‘don’t you care she has left all the work to me ?’ How many of your prayers fit that model ? Martha forces Jesus into an awkward spot, He has to defend Mary, at the same time feeling sorry that Martha is so upset. So the only thing is to be blunt to Martha and tell her that her priorities are a little off base.
Next time your prayer does not seem to be answered examine what you asked for and how you asked it.
Just suppose if Martha had said ‘Lord, I’m trying to make sure everyone eats soon, so I’ve been in the kitchen preparing lunch, I hope cucumber sandwiches are ok. But I’d much rather listen to you. I’m torn between doing two good things, serving you and being with you. What can I do ? Please help me’. Knowing Jesus who can feed five thousand at a time from His kitchen, He would say ‘Come and sit down Martha, listen with your friends and family. I’ll take care of lunch’. Or He might say ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have take-out’ or He might say ‘Let’s go to Tim’s or to Jim’s Lunch to eat’. There are more options in play than the one Martha chose or the ones we might choose.
It’s a good lesson in prayer. Tell God your problem, how you are conflicted about a situation, and give the problem to God. He is quite a bit wiser than us so He knows the solution and can implement it and perhaps already has. Many of our prayers fail because they go counter to God’s plan. God will not go against His better judgement and contradict Himself, but if you persist in doing opposite stuff He will revise His approach to get around the obstacle you just placed in His way. Sometimes my wife calls me “Are you busy ?” I answer “Well, I’m doing nothing right now honey”. She says “Can you help me with this then ?” I respond “No, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m busy doing nothing !” That often goes over like a lead balloon but I think God wants us to answer ‘I’m doing nothing Lord, because I leave it all in your hands’. God’s ok with that I’m sure because then He can put us in the right place at the right time to do His will and bring about His outcome the way He wants, not ours. God will do something unexpected to answer your prayer and often through other people I have found. That’s what we’ve been talking about these last two weeks, which leads us to a very simple Rule of Life. Now a Rule of Life can be daunting, some commit to reading a chapter from the Bible first thing in the morning, followed by an hour of prayer, always saying Grace at mealtime, fasting one day a week, prayers at noon and before bed, and more Scripture reading. That kind of Rule is for monks and nuns, and those specially called. For mere mortals it can be impossible to sustain, so we skip it once, then again and then again, and then always, leading to feelings of failure as a Christian. ‘Christ died for me’ we say ‘and I can’t do this little thing for Him’. Discouragement and shame loom and you start not going to Church because ‘Everyone there is better than me’ not so, I know ! So I am asking you to adopt a very simple Rule of Life, so simple you don’t actually have to do anything just ‘Let go and let God’. Even better than not having to do anything, it actually works. Amen.