1st Scripture Reading: Amos 8:1-12 and Psalm 52
“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.”
A secular society doesn’t sound so bad when you say it quickly – but what does it really mean, and how does it play out? Last week we talked about the plumb line – the gold standard God dropped into the vision of Amos, the standard by which we can measure our own behaviour and that of our communities.
In this weeks reading we see what that might mean – we are alerted to the kinds of behaviour that are not pleasing to God. “Hear this you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
In our land today, seniors are being regularly and relentlessly scammed out of their savings by schemes both local and international in scope. Many of the goods we purchase in good faith last just to the length of the warranty period and then fall apart! Forcing us to buy that product yet again, when it could be built to last a lifetime. Our food is corrupted with chemicals we don’t even know the name of, or grown on soil already stripped of all it’s goodness. Clean water and clean air, absolute necessities for life on this planet – these are now commodities to be “negotiated” by the rich and powerful with no regard for the public good. And by the way the”pubic good” is not the same as the “national interest”, which is after all another way of speaking about the economy of the nation.
The prophet Amos could have been talking about us, about the world today. There is a famine going on, friends. The public good, the necessities of a good and harmonious life, are being traded away for profits that benefit only a few, leaving the rest of us to cope with water that is unsafe to drink, air that hurts our lungs, and an environment so degraded that very little will grow. The weak and the old and the poor have become inconsequential – basically an annoyance, an inconvenience in all this, and many are now homeless in one of the richest countries in the world. Affordable housing apparently, is a luxury we cannot afford, preferring to step over the bodies of despair on our way to purchase more and more of things we don’t really need.
And God is doing what God promised: leaving us to it. We have lost sight of the gold standard, caring for one another, preferring to slug it out for the biggest piece of the pie. God is not destroying us. We are doing that to ourselves as we resolutely forge ahead making choices that are not life-affirming.
People of God, if there is a God, God surely weeps.
Hymn #78 MV “God Weeps”
2nd Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:24-29 & Luke 10:38-42
Luke 10: 38-42
Sermon: “The Heavy Muffin Blues”
A few days ago, as I was thinking about this sermon, and humming the hymns I thought might work, I was also making muffins for my sweetie. I mixed everything up, the flour, sugar, and salt, the spices, mixed in the yogurt and egg and oil – whoops! And don’t forget the raisins! I filled the muffin pan, and as I popped it in the oven I noticed that the muffins didn’t seem to be as big as usual. I did a quick mental check. I had everything on the counter that was supposed to be in the muffins, so I set the timer and started to get ready for my bath. A few minutes later I looked at the muffins and saw that they were about the size of funny shaped hockey pucks - they weren’t rising! I had forgotten --- the leavening! I didn’t put in the baking soda or the baking powder. So they were just sitting there, little solid brown lumps of good ingredients that were never going to rise up to become edible muffins.
I felt terrible. I had a knot in my stomach and I felt the hot flush of shame rising up in me. I had wasted all that good food. I had not paid enough attention to what I was doing. There had been too much “Mary” going on, and not enough “Martha”!
But Jesus said: “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.”
Mary and Martha. I often find myself looking at my own behaviour in terms of this story. It seems I struggle daily with how best to express myself in the world. On the one hand I want to be Mary. I want to withdraw from the world and all its concerns and just sit at the feet of the Lord, and drink of his wisdom and love. On the other hand are the calls of service to family and friends, and to those who are ill or needy in some way – making me feel very much like Martha.
Now Jesus loved both Mary and Martha. So why did he answer Martha with these words, “Mary has chosen the better part” when Martha just wanted a little help in the kitchen. After all, somebody had to take care of feeding all those people, and Martha takes this responsibility to heart. Now I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad when somebody graciously receives me into their home and feeds me a scrumptious meal! I mean that’s a kind of love, isn’t it?
So why has Mary chosen the better part? I puzzled over this for days, until the day of the muffin fiasco. Being too much Mary caused me to miss putting in the ingredients that would make my muffins rise and become the delicious treats they were meant to be.
But what if the leavening which makes the muffins rise is really about the awareness of the presence of God in my life – the Presence which raises me up above worldly cares and responsibilities, and fills my life with light and love and joy.
Do you think perhaps that this story was aimed at women and mothers because we are so easily seduced into believing that all we have to do is love and care for our families and friends, and add a little bit of charity work on the side? And it’s not like that isn’t a lot of good work to do! Women do an incredible amount of volunteer work in the community, keep the hospitals and orphanages and churches running – but if we don’t take some time to sit at the feet of our Lord and study his teachings, we’re missing out on the best part – we’ve forgotten the leavening!
So we have amongst and even within ourselves the Marys and the Marthas, don’t we? Too much “Mary” and we spoil the muffins or neglect our friends and families. Too much “Martha” and we have no leavening – no joy or hope or true love in our lives. Men or women, if we allow ourselves to be totally focussed on the distractions and the busyness of life, we will find ourselves wandering far away from any awareness of God. If we allow that to happen.... For in every moment of our day we are choosing to be closer to God, or farther away from God. We are choosing – make no mistake – the choice is ours. God is ever faithful - always right there, longing for our return.
Can we take a quiet moment to look at where we are in our own relationship with God? With Jesus? Pause. How long since we did some Bible reading? Have we prayed a prayer of thanks or of praise today? Hymns are good too –for raising us up!
If we can learn to keep God’s faithful presence front and center in our lives, then we will succeed in doing both parts of what Jesus commanded us to do: first, love the Lord your God, and second, love your neighbour as yourself. For Jesus in this story warned us never to forget, that Mary had chosen the greater, more important part, the first part, love the Lord your God.
So – what can we do?
We could promise ourselves to find ways to make our love of God more prominent in our lives. We could, each of us, choose to spend more time walking and talking with God, so that the leaven of God’s love can raise us up to be part of the body of Christ. It’s a choice.
And what about me and my muffins? Was I right to feel guilty for forgetting the leavening? Or was Spirit trying to tell me something really, really important: “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken away from her.” These days I’m trying to listen harder and not get so easily distracted by the busyness of the world.
Let’s take a moment of prayer.
Ever Faithful and Loving God,
Help us to be faithful too. Help us to want to be near you, to listen attentively to your words and then to act on what we have learned. Help us to be who you intend us to be, and to do what we are called to do in the world. Help us to love one another as Jesus loved us, and to love you, God, the Source of all love. Amen.
Hymn #178 MV “Who is my mother?”