“Sitters and Doers” – July 17, 2016

“Sitters and Doers”

9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C – July 17, 2016

Melody Beattie in her book “Co-Dependent No More” writes: “Many of us have heard the Biblical parable about Mary and Martha.  While Mary sat and talked with Jesus and His friends, Martha cleaned and cooked.  Before long, the story goes, Martha started banging pans, accusing Mary of being lazy.  Martha complained that she had to do everything while Mary relaxed and enjoyed herself.  Does this sound familiar?  Jesus didn’t let this go by.  He told Martha to hush.  Mary knows what’s important, He said.  Mary made the right decision.

Jesus’ message might be that Mary made the right choice because it’s more important to enjoy people than it is to cook and clean.  But I also believe there’s a message here about taking responsibility for our choices, doing what we want to be doing, and realizing how we become angry when we don’t.  Maybe Mary’s choice was right because she acted as she wanted to.  Jesus helped many people, but He was honest and straightforward about it.  He didn’t persecute people after He helped them.  And He asked them what they wanted from Him.  Sometimes He asked why, too.  He held people responsible for their behaviour.

Beattie goes on to say, “I think caretaking perverts Biblical messages about giving, loving, and helping.  Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to do something for someone, then scratch his or her eyes out.  Nowhere are we told to walk the extra mile with someone, and then grab the person’s cane and beat him or her with it.  Caring about people and giving are good, desirable qualities – something we need to do – but many co-dependents have misinterpreted the suggestions to “give until, it hurts.” So says Melody Beattie.   

The timeless story of Martha and Mary shows that practical works void of contemplative depth produce little more than frustration and anxiety.  While Martha busies herself with vital works of hospitality, the kind of works symbolic of Christian outreach, Mary is the one who gets the highest commendation for her attentive listening at the feet of the great Teacher.  The contemplative life is not superior to the active life, but both are features of an abundant life!

Here we have Martha, the elder sister, the head of the household.  Her traditional role was not, however, a place of honour.  For a Jewish woman of the first century, this was a sign of great tragedy.  It meant she was either a widow or had never married.   It also meant that she had virtually no position in society.  Her situation was generally seen as a sign of God’s displeasure.  Such women were expected to be as invisible as possible, and to cling quietly to what little life their culture offered them.  By receiving Jesus into her house, Martha is, in her own way, selling everything and buying the pearl of great price.  It is a bold and reckless action that struck at convention, ignored propriety, and was totally scandalous.  She saw an opportunity of great value, and she reached for that, ignoring all that stood in the way.  Her actions are both courageous, and a little bizarre.

Meanwhile Mary – the other one –  had been watching all of this, no doubt with great interest.  Imagine Mary, early in Jesus’ visit – she sees Martha busy in the kitchen, and she hears a few words from Jesus.  Now it is Mary’s turn to make a decision.  It is a big decision.  The issue was not housework versus Bible study.  The issue actually pulled at the very fabric of society.  You see, there were only a few things a woman could do that were worse than inviting a strange rabbi into her house.  Being taught by such a rabbi was one of them.  There was one contemporary rabbinic saying that Mary surely knew: “It is better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman.”  For a woman to listen to someone teach the Torah was just wrong.

But – Mary had been watching her sister, and Mary had discovered in Jesus the same power, the same draw, that Martha had.  So, Mary sat down and began to listen, to hear the word of Jesus.  For Mary to do this was unthinkable.  It was a bold and reckless action that struck at convention, ignored propriety, and was totally scandalous.  She saw an opportunity of great value, and she reached for that, ignoring all that stood in the way.  Her actions were also courageous, and a little bizarre.

You see, Martha and Mary are not just symbols, or types of people.  They are also real people, interesting, gutsy women who were very much alike, and who were willing to risk much for an opportunity to be with Jesus.

Martha demonstrates the call of the Gospel – go and do.  She risked everything to be in service to Jesus.  Hers was the ethical response.  Nobody, including Jesus, could refute her integrity.  And yet it was Mary who got to the heart of the matter.  It was Mary who exhibited attentive listening in the presence of Jesus.

Martha may have demonstrated the directive of the Gospel.  Mary, however embodied the intention – the “better part” that can never be taken away.

Faithfulness begins with intent, which in turn, leads to the action.  In other words, being gives rise to doing – but not the other way around.  Who we are in Christ is not something of our own making, but what we make of it later on becomes our gift back, our sign of gratitude.

We live in this crazy, mixed up world that places an inordinate value on productivity.  Our churches, synagogues and mosques are affirmed when we open up soup kitchens or housing initiatives.  We get all excited when we do good for others.  And yet – and yet!   Perhaps we need to spend more time in meditation.  Possibly we need to carve out time each day to devote to prayer.  Maybe, we need to sit at Jesus feet. 

In the book, ”A Woman’s Book of Days,” by Donna Sinclair, she writes: “I need time and silence to slow thoughts that curl heavily in my brain. Time to let reflection unvoiced, unsaid in sentences, stretch my mind, growing until one day when I will write them down and discover what I know.  It’s summer, the right time for this.”   Amen.

“Peace to This House” – July 3, 2016

“Peace to This House”

July 3, 2016 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C

Peace to This House!   Peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to this house!  To each of us, let us draw in a deep, long breath and delight in knowing that peace dwells deep within.  With that assurance come the equally comforting proclamation “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  We rest in the profound grace that God’s kingdom is as close as the air we breathe and the hugs we share.  The peace that rests in our bones, is deep and abundant.  We are lavished with grace upon grace, and delight upon delight.

Blessings flow over you like a gently cascading river pouring droplets of abundant love and mercy over your dry skin.  You soak it up.  You delight in the feels good.  You know it is for you.  You experience God’s overflowing peace.  This is a place of sanctuary where you find refreshment and new life.  God’s kingdom abides deep within you.  Peace to you!

It is out of this place of deep grace that our hearts are open to respond to and hear Jesus’s call to share that peace and Good News with others.  So Jesus called on a group of 35 pairs of folk to go into towns and villages and do just that.  They didn’t need anything special – just the wonderful opportunity to talk and heal in God’s name.

Imagine that you have received the Word and are nudged to go up and down the Okanagan Valley and offer peace to all who will be open to you.  Perhaps it is not so far as the towns and villages of the Valley, but rather right here in Penticton. You will not carry your purse or a bag, but simply your most basic self.  When entering a house your blessing of “Peace to this house” will come from a deep place of calm and grace.  If food and drink is offered, you will partake.  Cure the sick.  A gentle hand of caring can bring about much healing.  The spirit seeks the delight of knowing that the kingdom of God has come near to those you visit.

However, some will not welcome your message.  Yet, even then, God is near.  Rejecting the awesome abundance that God offers seems so strange to us.  Yet, there are untold numbers of people who are rigid in their refusal to receive the transforming grace that Jesus brings to life.  His message is one of delight and beauty and unconditional love.  And that is why he sent his beloved followers out into the hillsides and the towns and cities to prepare the people for his transforming way of life.  Jesus reveals life of wholeness where healing, acceptance, and forgiveness is granted to his followers.  What a gift of grace!

On Wednesday of this past week and Friday June 3rd I had the wonderful privilege of presenting bursaries to 9 tremendous grade 12 graduates.  I attended the Pen High grad a month ago and Princess Margaret’s grad this past week and saw incredible gratitude and awe as $185,000 3worth of bursaries were distributed to grateful recipients.  I listened to fabulous speeches offered by principals, the Director of Education, Valedictorians and others of the community.  They reinforced the importance of service to others, and making a difference.  As each graduate walked across the stage I became a proud Mom or at least guardian of each of these fine young adults.  Their incredible honesty and vulnerability was touching and admirable.  They have dreams and they are going to make a difference in our world.  The teachers have done an amazing job of helping to build self-esteem.  But it is the parents and guardians, grandparents and aunts and uncles, neighbours and Sunday School teachers and friends who are significant influences on these young folk.  They are the ones who model for them how they are to step out into the world and bring peace.  We are the people that our young people look to for example and support.  We are Christ for them.  We cannot fail them.

As many of you are aware, we have an interesting collective of Pen High students who love to hang out on our front steps and gather in our window wells and fire escapes.  When I come in and out of the building I try to engage them, sometimes with more success than other times.  A recent conversation with 4 grade 10 students told me about how they liked seeking refuge here because no one picked on you.  You weren’t bullied here at Penticton United Church.  We are a place of Peace.

Recently I met with a bereaved family and learned that their Mom’s involvement in the UCW did wonders for her self-esteem and sense of belonging.  Mom had struggled all her life with not feeling good enough.  But because of the UCW she knew peace.  She belonged. 

In one of the churches I previously served they had a Monday gathering called “Sip and Serve.”  A group of about a dozen folk would gather at 9:00 in the morning and pick up brooms, dust clothes, toilet scrubbers, and screw drivers and went to work cleaning and repairing the church building.  At precisely 10:30 they would stop and gather for coffee or tea and conversation.  It was then they would learn who was ill and needed a visit, who was in a new relationship and they celebrated, who was having financial difficulties and needed referral to one of the service agencies and the conversation and socializing continued, until the call to return the cleaning supplies to their proper places was heard, and this led them to the door to their cars and trucks.  They understood that the kingdom of God was near.

If God wrote a want ad perhaps it would read like this: “Kingdom workers needed immediately.  Urgency of task and shortage of workers makes it mandatory that we expand our labour pool immediately.  Recent resignations have left many openings.

Frequent absenteeism will force us to make unwanted cutbacks in services unless we expand work force immediately.  Ability not as essential as availability plus an excellent training manual is available.  Training manual has been tried and proven over the past two thousand years.

We hire regardless of sex, race, or age.  Diverse backgrounds welcome and even helpful.  In the past we have used peasants and poets, kings and fig pickers, fishers and doctors, harlots and queens, young lads and wise old women. 

Main qualifications:  firm faith in Christ, a soft heart and a thick skin.

Work not suitable for everyone.  Must be able to withstand criticism of fellow workers and shirkers who often insist on their rights while ignoring their responsibilities.”

I have great faith that peace abides here in Penticton United Church.  I also have great faith that there are many kingdom workers.  You have heard Christ’s call to live out peace in all you say, do and are.  You are committed to being peace-seekers in bringing the kingdom of God to all with whom you encounter. 

And so I say again “Peace to This House!   Peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to you – peace to this house!  To each of us, let us draw in a deep, long breath and delight in knowing that peace dwells deep within.  With that assurance come the equally comforting proclamation “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  We rest in the profound grace that God’s kingdom is as close as the air we breathe and the hugs we share.  The peace that rests in our bones, is deep and abundant.  We are lavished with grace upon grace, and delight upon delight.  So be it!  Amen.