Saturday, 16 July 2016

The time is now

Genesis 18:1-10
A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.

Colossians 1:15-28
The Supremacy of Christ
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Paul’s Interest in the Colossians
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he 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. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Sometimes one of the biggest challenges in preaching is to find a link between the readings of the day. And I have to confess that, on occasion, I give up and just concentrate on one text and ignore the others. But, today, praise God, not only do these texts, speak into one another - they speak powerfully into the world in which we live, the world splashed across our TV screens and in our newspapers today  - a world of hatred and of conflict, a world of racism and white supremacy, a world of hierarchy and oppression, a world where people hanker after things that do not satisfy, taking things they do not own and denying others the status bestowed on them by the God of all creation, the status of beloved children, created in the image of God.
All of this breaks God's heart.
And we, the people of God, are called to engage with, to speak into and to live out the good news wherever God's heart is broken today.
To speak good news into violence and racism.
To speak good news into Xenophobia.
To speak good news into extremism and terrorism.
To speak good news. 
Our texts today, I believe, give us some clues as to how we might do that:
Beginning with Abraham.
Abraham who, at the age of 75 set off on a journey with God.
Becoming a stranger in the land to which God has called him.
But Abraham was open to hospitality.
A stranger himself, he welcomes three strangers who seem set to pass by. And goes all out to ensure that they are fed and watered before they continue their journey.
Abraham - on the lookout for strangers, not to detain them, but to bless them.
And, as we read, it was Abraham who was blessed - blessed with the unlikely prophecy that Sarah would bear a son. That even at their advanced age, they were going to fulfil the promise of God and become parents to a great nation.
Abraham welcomed the strangers and knew God's blessing in offering hospitality.
I love the old Celtic Rune that says:
“I saw a stranger last night. I put food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place, and in the sacred name of the Triune, he blessed myself and my house and my cattle and my dear ones. And the lark said in her song, ‘Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.’     
Hospitality for the stranger brings hope for our world in all its brokenness.

And then the letter to the Colossians reminds us of the Supremacy of Christ.
Reminds us that, in Christ, all things are held together.
Supremacy - a word and a status so often abused and used to oppress finds a new meaning when viewed from the perspective of Jesus.
Jesus, the true image of God, in whom all things were made, by whom all are brought back to God, showed his supremacy  - by living in service to others.

And that's why the story of Martha and Mary has always rankled  a bit with me.
Because it doesn't seem to fit with that image of Jesus who came to serve.
Why would Jesus the servant not unreservedly honour one who served.
 This story has so often been read in isolation.
And taken out of context as an admonishment not to be so caught up in doing stuff that we forget to sit at Jesus feet and listen.
How often have you heard it preached that way?
But even a cursory read through Luke's gospel tells us that Jesus does not undervalue service.
Jesus encourages hospitality and service.
So why does it seem in this passage that he is critical of Martha for wanting to be a good host?
I want to suggest that it's to do with timing.
That there are times, however well brought up we are, however programmed to serve we are - there are times, when we should let go of our notion of how we should behave.
Times when we have to reassess priorities and demands.

Some of my clergy colleagues in the states are caught up just now in speaking good news into complex race struggles.
Black Lives Matter has become a slogan for a cause in the face of overt discrimination, intimidation and murder of people of colour.
But it's more than a slogan or a hash tag.
It's a call to bring about the justice of God.
And there are always folk who take exception to justice - especially when it threatens a livelihood and a way of life built on injustice.
Some people have tried to dilute Black Lives Matter by proclaiming that all lives matter.
Of course all lives matter.
But, at this time in history, more than ever before, God demands justice for those oppressed by centuries of injustice.
Black Lives Matter - is not saying that all lives don't matter, but, for this season, at this time in history, in order to address years of systemic racial violence, it is important to affirm that Yes, black lives matter.
And it is possible to affirm one thing without denigrating everything else.

Without in any way reducing the importance of the Black Lives Matter campaign, I think that over the years, this gospel passage has undergone the same divisive treatment.
People have interpreted Jesus words as saying that sitting at Jesus feet takes precedence over practising good hospitality.
Jesus is commending Mary's listening, not condemning Martha's service.
Even a cursory reading of Luke's gospel demonstrates how Jesus values service.
But Jesus always spoke, uncompromisingly into whatever he saw, whatever was right for the season.
Seeing the poor, Jesus said: Blessed are the poor - not to condemn the rich per se but to highlight the plight of the poor and encourage a response of giving and serving.
So it is here.
Jesus does not condemn Martha for wanting things to be perfect, for wanting to practice exemplary hospitality but speaks into the moment and the reality of time.
Jesus has already set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Time is running out.
The opportunity to sit at his feet is limited.
For that moment, Jesus' company was a rare gift to be cherished.
Mary recognised that while Martha didn't.
Jesus' words spoke into that moment.
As he speaks into our every moment today.
Is it time to serve?
Is it time to listen?
How does Jesus speak into our lives today?
To what does Jesus call us?
I believe we are still called to hospitality, to welcome the stranger in our midst.
We are still called to justice, to act for those being oppressed.
In the UK
In the USA
In Nice
In Istanbul
In Israel
In Palestine
In the Sudan and in all the places not even on our radar.
We are called to compassion.
We are called to speak and we are called to listen.
And, informed by that listening, we are called to serve.
Amidst all the change - global, national and local, we are called to bring good news into all that breaks God's heart today.

Martha and Mary
Sisters who welcomed Jesus
Martha by offering hospitality
Working tirelessly to ensure he had everything he needed
Martha - Distracted by all her tasks, the text tells us.
Yet wasn't it Mary who was the distracted one?
Distracted from all that she'd been brought up to do
by what the hour demanded.
Mary distracted by seeing before her
a man with angst and passion written all over him
A man whose course was steering him inexorably
into the hands of the authorities
who were already out to get him
Authorities, violent and corrupt
who couldn't risk Jesus
being let loose any longer.
Martha did what she knew.
Mary did what she saw
and took the opportunity
to cherish him
and be cherished by him
while there was still time.
And perhaps today
we are called
from what we know
from what is socially acceptable
to do what is right for this time -
To fly in the face of convention
To welcome the stranger
To speak up for the oppressed 
To act irrationally in our compassion 
And to bring about
the justice of God.

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