Blue Mountains Franciscan Church
Homily for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: 17th July 2016
I had a dilemma when I read the Scriptures for today’s service, because there is an alternate reading from the Old Testament. And this alternate reading is from the book of Genesis. It’s the visitation of the Angels to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre. Of course that whole visit in Christian theology, we see as the visit of the Trinity.
And it is part of one of my favourite passages because a little later Abraham has that argument or conversation with God much like Moses used to do, when he says “no Lord you can’t do that”. But it was only the alternate reading, and as this is a reading for Trinity, I decided to stay with the reading from Amos. The other reason I did that was that we don’t often hear from Amos. He’s one of those prophets we just don’t seem to hear about very often.
As I read the passage I am reminded that it can also be read as a Messianic prophecy. Amos says God:
9 will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
For me, that’s the events at the crucifixion. And the disciples of course, are having a feast and then suddenly he’s dead. It’s not a feast anymore, now they are mourning, and they’re in fear and they fled.
Amos says God 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.
So the people weren’t listening anymore. They were starved for the words. Hidden as St Paul says:
26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.
Then there that really strange passage about the basket of summer fruit. We could be forgiven for asking what has a basket of summer fruit got to do with the rest of that passage? But then the basket of summer fruit is really an analogy for what is coming. Summer is followed by Autumn and then into the depths of winter and nothing grows in winter. It’s like a drought, like a famine.
Then the lectionary compliers took us to Paul. This is one of those passages where we need to spend months unpacking these 14 verses of scripture. They are so theologically dense we literally take one verse at a time. If I just take verse 15,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
How can he be the first born of all creation, when he was here 2,000 years ago? So when we begin to unpack this scripture we see that Paul was saying that Christ was there at the creation. Ok but in Genesis we read that God breathed over the face of the waters and we accept this as the movement of the Holy Spirit. But here Paul is saying that Christ was there as well.
We remember that Christ said to the people that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, we are one and the same, his essential claim to be God, and so it makes sense that he is there first. But when you first read the part “the image of the invisible God”, well Jesus tells us that God is spirit. Ok so that makes him invisible, so how can he be the image of God, if God is invisible?
One of the things Paul is saying here is that Christ is at the head. He’s giving us illustration or proofs, if you will, about how important Christ is. He’s the head of the church. He’s the firstborn raised from the dead. The theology runs that Adam’s sin caused the fall of humankind and from this fall came death. So Jesus’s resurrection was the defeat of death. So therefore he is the second Adam, because he has overcome the guilt of Adam’s sin and therefore he is the firstborn from the dead. Paul says:
18 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.
If we continue to unpack this, we see that Paul is saying that Christ is first and has been there from the beginning. And the blood of his cross was the redemptive action. Paul again:
, 20 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.
Paul goes on to say that he, Paul, is committed to making this message known to the Gentiles. He’s given up on the Jews, he’s left them to Peter and others and he has focused his attention on the Gentiles. Which is interesting if you think about it, because Paul was a very good Pharisee. Before his conversion he lived devoutly by the law for all of his life, he probably would have avoided the Gentiles as they would have made him ritually unclean.
But here he is, the Apostle and the missionary to the Gentiles. Not only did his conversion experience at Damascus make him a Christian, but it also took him out of the comfort zones of his Jewish tradition and took him to Gentiles who probably did not want to hear anything about what he was saying. He says:
“25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.”
Which makes us all saints, as it has been revealed to us. Here we see that Paul is pointing to that mystery. It is something which needs to be explained, as it is unexplainable on first hearing.
Now this brings us to the Gospel, and I must confess I always feel a bit sorry for Martha. I think sometimes Martha has had a raw deal out of all this. Here she is slaving away in the kitchen and her sister is sitting at Jesus’s feet listening. Martha is doing all the work and Mary is sitting there.
There’s a wonderful painting called “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha” painted between 1610 and 1622 by Vincent Adriaenssen, which has Mary sitting with an open book (probably the Bible) looking serenely up at Jesus, while Martha stands at the end of the table, with a dish and ladle remonstrating with Jesus.
Martha is outraged and upset because her sister is not sharing the workload with her. I think Martha expected Jesus to say, ‘now Mary go and help your sister’. But he didn’t, he said ‘oh Martha, Martha you worry about everything. Mary is doing the right thing; I’m not going to tell her off.’ It reminds us of the passages a few weeks ago about, those who put their hands to the plough can’t turn back. Let the dead bury the dead. I’ll follow you Jesus but let me go and do this first. But Jesus says; no if you’re going to go do that first, then I’m not interested.
And in many ways this is the same. Mary is learning and hearing the good news of the gospel. Martha is so busy, she’s not listening. She actually has not got the time to listen and hear what is being taught. Why? Because she is worried, she’s being distracted. How many of us are Martha? I think at times we are probably all Martha. We just get swamped by everything we think we have to do. As Jesus said, ‘worried and distracted’.
When we become worried and distracted then we can’t do what Mary did. Mary is listening and learning and following the path which is laid before her. When we become distracted, we don’t follow the path, we allow other things to take over.
As the passage in our liturgy from St Clare; “we will not let the false delights of a deceptive world to deceive us”. But that is what is happening here isn’t it. Martha is being deceived and being taken away from listening by all this work, which she thinks is more important than listening. Jesus says:
42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
We don’t get much more of this interaction, but I like to think that Martha said, ‘oh, wait a minute, that was bit of a wake-up call that one wasn’t it, so maybe I should just come and listen.’ When we’ve heard and learnt, then we can go and do other things. Time management and prioritising things really, isn’t it?
If you’re letting the world interfere and letting things get in the way of what listening and learning, then we are distracted and the ‘false delights of a deceptive world’ will ‘deceive us’. The focus should always be on hearing the message and on following the path. Remember before we were called Christians we were called ‘followers of the way’. And I think this s nicer way of describing a gospel life. It is a way of life. Paul says it is a calling. He says:
“25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,”
He’s been called to do that job. He says:
” 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
One can’t see Paul being a Martha, really can you. Paul is more of a Mary. He knows what he is doing. He’s out there doing it and that’s what we need to do. As you know I sometimes like to leave you with a challenge for the week ahead and I haven’t done that for a while really.
So here is my challenge for you this week. Think about when you’re being Mary and when you are being a Martha and ask yourself, what’s the difference and how did you manage to become Martha, when perhaps Mary would have been more appropriate. Amen.
Br Luke Koller efo
Quotes from Scripture are from: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’
Image 1 File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg – Wikimedia Commons. 2016. File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg – Wikimedia Commons. [ONLINE] Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg. [Accessed 22 July 2016].
Image 2 Copyright Source: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vincent_Adriaenssen_-_Christ_in_the_House_of_Mary_and_Martha.jpg
Attribution: Adriaenssen, Vincent, 1595-1675. Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RcC=56209 [retrieved July 22, 2016]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vincent_Adriaenssen_-_Christ_in_the_House_of_Mary_and_Martha.jpg.