The One Necessary Thing. July 21

The One Necessary Thing

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; July 21, 2019

 

Martha of Bethany won the Golden Halo this year. The Golden Halo is the prize for the winner of the Lent Madness competition, held online each Lent. The competition is among saints of the church. Each year two Episcopal priests create a bracket of 32 Christian saints and pit them against one another. Voting happens daily until one and only one saint earns the Golden Halo on the Wednesday of Holy Week. It’s mostly in fun, though the saints and their accomplishments over the centuries are certainly real. This year the Lent Madness season began with a sibling rivalry – Mary of Bethany vs. of Bethany, the two sisters from today’s gospel story. It was a hard-fought battle; over 10,000 votes were cast, and prevailed, 58% to 42%. went on to win again and again, until she attained that Golden Halo, prevailing over all the other 31 saints in this year’s Madness. Along the way voters commented over and over on how they thought she was treated unfairly in today’s gospel story, the original sibling showdown, refereed by Jesus himself.

 

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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

Church kitchen workers often feel as if they are Marthas, doing the work while everyone else whiles away the time singing or preaching or participating in the workshop that expects to have lunch on the tables when the participants break from their work. Unappreciated and overworked, cooks and dishwashers who identify with Martha in this story get tired, and are therefore often unhappy with their lot. It doesn’t help that Jesus doesn’t come to Martha’s defense as she hoped he would.

 

I get it. I get that Martha is working hard, as do many people in this church and in other churches. Someone’s got to do it, so it ends up in their lap. I don’t even think Jesus is getting on her for complaining about her work. But he’s not wrong. First of all, there’s blatant inherent sexism in Martha’s request. ‘Tell my sister to help me,’ she says. Not my brother, not Thomas or Peter or James. Martha doesn’t begrudge the men their place of listening and learning at Jesus’ feet. It’s only Mary who she thinks should be otherwise engaged. Jesus doesn’t buy into the cultural assumption that women should serve coffee while men discuss ideas or finances or whatever else is on the agenda. Mary is listening at Jesus’ feet, and she is exactly where she should be. Mary is listening to Jesus’ teaching, not to be lazy, but so she might incorporate his truth into her life for the days and years ahead.

 

Martha’s point still stands. You students of Jesus are going to get hungry, and soon. Jesus doesn’t actually criticize Martha for the work she does. He does comment on her worry, on her willingness to let the many details overwhelm her and pull her away from what ultimately matters. It’s got to start with Jesus. Not with worries, not with lists, not even with noble goals or plans or new ideas. It starts with Jesus. There is need of only one thing, connecting with Jesus. That one thing, that one connection, will change your life. It won’t pull you away from hard work, but it will ground that work in the love of God known in Jesus Christ. The work won’t be filled with worries and distractions, but with joy and fulfillment and peace. That’s the promise I hear in Jesus’ words. Come, Martha. Sit with your sister at my feet and listen, says Jesus. My words will center your life on love.

 

It’s why worship is at the heart of all we do in this modern gathering of Jesus’ disciples here at Catskill UMC. We begin with Jesus; we begin by listening together to the word of God, carefully thinking about what it meant when it was spoken and what it means now, studying the word, singing the word, and then responding to it, in affirmation and promise here in worship and in deed and service when we leave. It’s why our readings are longer than those at many churches, so that we can remember the context of the scripture and not simply the short quote on the front of the bulletin. To my colleagues’ defense, preachers who read only a short scripture in worship do so assuming the hearers are already so familiar with the Bible that they don’t need to be reminded of the context of the verses. I like the reminders.

 

Jesus spends much of his teaching ministry quoting and then interpreting Bible verses. His Bible was the Tanakh, the Torah, the Nevi’im, the Ketuvim, which means the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. His Bible is our Old Testament. Last week’s teaching was a story based on Leviticus 19:18, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. In the next few stories told by Luke, Jesus will refer both to Jonah and to God’s call to tithe all things, (including mint, the rabbis insisted) from Leviticus and from Second Chronicles. Mary and the rest of the disciples are listening to Jesus’ wisdom; it is probably a sermon on an text from the Tanakh.

 

Jesus wrestles with the texts of scripture. He doesn’t just cite them and leave them hanging. He interprets the meaning of the words for his own preaching and ministry. That’s what it means to study scripture – not just to read it for memorization or familiarity, but to seek to understand what it meant when it was written and what it could mean for today. When Jesus commends Mary for claiming the one necessary thing, he is calling us all to follow her lead, to ground all that we do on solid study of the word of God. And the word of God is found throughout scripture – in the Tanakh, our Old Testament, in the words and witness of Jesus, and in the stories and writings of the early church in rest of the New Testament. Because we understand Jesus as the fullest revelation of God to the world, all the scripture we read is seen through the lens of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That’s part of the interpretation we engage in today.

 

Our work and service, then, is commended by Jesus when it is built on the foundation of the word of God. When we turn to today’s word from the prophet Amos, we hear a powerful admonition. God is not happy with the people and threatens utter destruction. Why? Are they singing bad hymns? Are they neglecting to pray or using the wrong words for their liturgy? Nope. Those are things we often end up disagreeing with among others who share our faith. God’s anger with the people is with their behavior outside of worship, beyond the walls of the worship space.

 

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “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, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” … 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

 

God’s wrath is clear. It is directed at those who ‘trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land…, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Every day the news tells stories of people making huge amounts of money on the backs of the poor, buying the poor for silver and the needy for sandals.

 

Our government holds asylum-seekers in detention camps and pays independent companies to care for them. According to Reuters, it costs approximately $250 a day to house a child in a permanent detention facility, and approximately $750 a day to house a child in a temporary facility, those tent compounds right on the border.

 

Nowhere in the United States can a worker rent a two-bedroom home on a minimum-wage job. In New York, fair market rent for an average two-bedroom home requires an hourly wage of $30.76, over twice the upgraded federal minimum wage being discussed in Congress this month.1

 

It’s not hard for me to hear God’s voice thundering through the centuries from Amos to America today: 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation!

 

That, of course, is the danger of studying scripture, of sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening carefully and hearing what God is saying to us – we might not like what we hear. We’d prefer to simply hear of Mary’s coming away from work and into peace. That’s part of sitting at Jesus’ feet, for sure. But scripture is clear: those who rest in the peace of the Lord are those whose lives follow the way of the Lord. And the way of the Lord is a way of justice for the poor and mercy for the needy, a way of peace found through a commitment to the shalom envisioned by the prophets. The work that we do, the service Marthas in churches all over the world render for others, is an essential part of that peace when it is grounded in the word of God and the wisdom of Jesus. Thanks be to God for the witness of Mary and of Martha, for the study and for the work. May we claim them both as our models in our lives of faith, as we work toward God’s kingdom together. Amen.
 

Amos 8:1-12

8This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5saying, “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, 6buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.

11The 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. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

 

Psalm 52 (insert in bulletin)

1Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly?

All day long 2you are plotting destruction.

Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.

3You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth.

4You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.

 

5But God will break you down forever;

he will snatch and tear you from your tent;

he will uproot you from the land of the living.

6The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer,

saying, 7“See the one who would not take refuge in God,

but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”

 

8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.

9I will thank you forever, because of what you have done.

In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

 

Colossians 1:15-28

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He 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. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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. 21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23provided 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.24I 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. 25I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To 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. 28It 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

38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”