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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA July 21, 2013.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Year C (RCL): Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

If you could invite 4 people you've always wanted to meet to your home for a dinner party, who would you invite and why?  They can be historical figures, famous celebrities, even Joe Schmoes.  They may be living now or long since dead.  Real people or imaginary characters.  Assume that everyone would be available and that they would all come.  These are not necessarily people you haven't met, but people with whom you'd like to have a good, long, relaxed conversation over dinner.  Who would you invite?  Would anyone be willing to share one or two names?

Whenever I’ve been around folks who entertain this thought, it’s very rare that people mention Jesus.  I wonder if today’s gospel has anything to do with scaring people off from wanting the Son of God to grace their tables.

BTW, my list would include Joe Gibbs, National Football League Hall of Fame Coach who notched three Super Bowl trophies; Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon; Tom Hanks, actor, producer, director, philanthropist who began his career as a standup comedian; and that other David Crosby, rock n’ roll icon and sometime notorious individual.

The church, even in its best days, is never ‘all ears.’  Yet, we know and believe that our Almighty Lord exhorts us repeatedly, as the faithful people of God, to ‘listen up’ - “Let those who have ears, Hear!”  We are called to heed that Word which issues forth from above.  So it was with both Abraham and Sarah, with Amos to the people of Israel, with Mary and Martha, and with the early church at Colossae.  And so we, too, are called today as we join that holy assembly to listen to and hear the Word of God, which are truly words of life.

In the reading from Amos, we hear the prophet announce God’s judgment upon the people of Israel, whose sin is the oppression of the poor and engaging in deceitful business practices.  In this lesson, Amos employs a Hebrew wordplay, for the basket of summer fruit (qayits) symbolizes the end (qets) of Israel.  That end will be known through a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord.  Wordplays are very popular in Hebrew Scripture.  They are designed for a HEARING audience, more than a reading one, calling everyone to listen more and better.

In Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, he often preachs with great attention given to profound theological ideas.  However, in today’s reading, Paul offers a more mystical teaching, saying that the great mystery of God is ‘the Christ which is found in you and me.’  Because Jesus Christ is present in and to the church, Christians professing the faith will share in his life, suffering, and glory.

Finally, in Luke, Jesus uses his visit to two sisters, Mary and Martha, as an occasion to remind his disciples that an important aspect of obedience is single-minded presence to Jesus and his word.

Let’s think about presence in our lives today.  All the technological tools we have at our disposal (iPads, iPods, Macs, & Droids) may suggest to us that we are now more fully present to everything and everyone.  We may be always available, responsive, ready with an answer, a quote, some music, even the BIBLE, with different translations!  We may feel they allow us to go, Go, GO throughout the day and night to maximize our potential and fully use our time, talent, and treasure.  Yet, today’s gospel reminds us of the struggle to be in the ‘here and now’ and set aside our calendars, to-do lists, and ongoing pressing duties.  We are challenged to simply rest in the presence of God that has come near to us.  We are encouraged to listen to what God may be saying to us, and doing for us.

The tension is present in Luke's gospel as Jesus addresses the compulsive busyness of Martha to “do” mirrored up against the calm steadfastness of Mary to “be” with him.  Martha seeks to serve and Mary wants to learn.  That is not to say that serving and learning are not compatible, but that action can sometimes distract from the hearing.

How do we manage to quietly ‘sit’ at the feet of Jesus when this full life overflows with distractions?  Rather than worry about how our active life competes with our contemplative life, we must remember that they are, together, one thing.  A friend of mine is quick to point out that Mary was supposed to have been praised by Jesus for being interested in ‘higher’ things, but that Martha made everyone feel welcomed and well-fed; in most anyone’s book, we should always consider our actions relating to hospitality as things that bring people together so we can all become aware of the ‘higher’ things.

In his book In Constant Prayer (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, p. 6), Robert Benson writes, “There are those among us for whom the life of prayer, a life of close communion with God, a life in which there is a simple faith and a simple conversation that goes on with the One who made us, takes place in an extraordinary way.”  This seems to capture the essence of what Jesus means when he tells Martha that Mary ‘has chosen the better way.’  In the midst of our hectic, often distracted lives, how can we learn to follow Jesus’ instruction to focus on things which give us ‘true life?’

Jesus is challenging us to balance our lives and our duties.  Before we gather around a table for dinner, there are things to be done.  There is, of course, preparing (or procuring) the meal, the setting of the table, perhaps the lighting of candles, and the requisite washing of hands.  We are called to examine how we ready ourselves for all things, whether it be a family meal at table, a family outing to the ballpark, the family gathering at a gravesite, this family assembling for worship, and where and how we will relax and rest and rejuvenate (or re-create) ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be able to do it all again.

People like to ask the question about who we might invite to dinner, because it points to such relaxation and rejuvenation of our lives.  At such a dinner, we spend time really exploring what is we might share and learn about and from each other.  Just imagine what dinner with Jesus would be like!  I just bet he was able to make the word of God alive and very present for all his table-mates.

The explication this week from The Rite Lite: Reflections on the Sunday Readings and Seasons of the Church Year opens with “The term ‘liturgy’ has two meanings: time spent in Christ’s presence and time spent in service to others.  If our lives do not express both of these activities, then we are failing to celebrate the liturgy (the work of the people of God) which is the mark of being a Christian.

There are times to do, sometimes with too many things to accomplish, and then there are times to just be, which can be too few to really appreciate.  Take the better way and sit with Him.  Lord, as we gather around your table today and then go about our own ways, help us to be ... attentive to your presence, available to your word, and ready to follow your Way.


                      Choose the Better Way