Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Great Sermon Experiment, Week 6

Texts for Sunday, July 22 (8th Sunday After Pentecost)

Amos 8:1-12
Luke 10:38-42

An interesting juxtaposition of passages. The Amos passage is noted for its devastating critique of Israel, the Luke passage is notable for its gentleness, it's almost intimate portrayal of the life of Jesus, Mary and Martha.

The Amos passage focuses on issues of justice - fair treatment of the poor, equitable relationships among all people, concern for the hungry. Israel is damned for mistreating those who are poor and hungry, allowing their greed to overcome a needed sense of compassion and solidarity. "Who cares about the unfortunate, as long as we're getting rich."

The Luke passage focuses in on Martha's grumpy attitude. There's probably much that isn't told us here; I doubt Jesus is chastising Martha for taking care of the work that needs to be done. This is not an excuse to throw everything aside, just to "sit at the feet of Jesus." I think it's more about attitude than action.

So, my dear readers,

1) Is our culture guilty of the same sins of Israel? If so, what would be some modern-day examples?
2) Do you think God would judge our country in the same way he judged Israel? Will God turn American's weeping into mourning if we mistreat the poor?
3) How have you personally seen injustice play out? Where have you seen the poor cheated, the widow scorned, the orphan cast out, the hungry left with nothing?
4) Do you ever identify with Martha? Where do you find yourself resentful, agitated, wishing God would change everybody else?
5) How might Martha have approached the situation differently?
6) What would you label the heart of Martha's wrong attitude here?


Linda Anderson said...

Experiment Response - Week 6

A basket of ripe fruit indicates that a harvest has taken place. And, because the fruit is “ripe”, it won’t last very long and must be eaten quickly.

Up to this point in Amos, God had sent prophet after prophet to gather the children of Israel back to where they belonged in their relationship to Himself–to no avail. These prophets were laughed at, beaten, rejected, even killed. Thus, the people could continue in their sin and selfish living without listening to the convicting truth.

The poor must have a special place in God’s heart. He uses them as examples for lessons throughout Scripture. Here in Amos, apparently, those who have wealth are ignoring the poor or tossing them their leftovers as opposed to a piece of their plenty. Gifts in service to the Lord mean something special when they are given in sacrifice.

In verses 5 & 6 (Amos 8) it appears that those wealthy people had gone to the temple to do their “obligatory offerings” but their minds were on the business of the next day, wishing the Sabbath was over so they could get on with conducting their business affairs, making plans on how they could cheat their customers, etc.

God wanted His people to enter the temple to worship and focus on Him, leaving other things at the door. Thus, the connection with the Martha and Mary story in Luke 10. I know few people who have mastered the gift of being the “hostess with the most-est” where they can plan and prepare a pleasant and fulfilling entertainment experience for their guests and enjoy their guests at the same time–rather than being totally immersed in the work. Mary knew that she needed to learn what Jesus had to teach her while He was available to learn from. Martha wanted to put on an impressive party, not thinking of what she might be missing by not participating in the fellowship time.

Perhaps Martha’s attitude might have been to be happy she could provide the opportunity for others to sit and learn at Jesus’ feet. She might have found her busy work a blessing because it was serving God by enabling others to know Jesus. In our church we have seen those who will martyr themselves in the kitchen during a special event so they will attract the accolades and appreciation of others. While others take over the kitchen duties during such a function in order for their fellows to sit with their outreach guests that need to know fellowship and hear the Word
My daughter is an example of this concept. Every year Heidi volunteers to work shifts at the fire station, enabling fire fighters with families to be home with their families. I am very proud of that. She gets no awards for this kindness, except what God blesses her with quietly.

It is, indeed, and attitude of the heart and continued focus on serving the Lord for the right reasons.

Shad Gates said...

These passages speak most to me of God’s heart for us to be selfless. Since the beginning of time, man has struggled with his sinful, fleshly nature to be self centered and protective of his own. This is not a problem limited to our culture or society but is a result of sin entering the world through Adam and continuing until now. God purposed through Israel to bring about a nation that was different from its core, but even these chosen people were laden with corruption and idolatry. I believe that Israel in this Amos passage is more of a symbol of the Church now than it is a symbol of another nation. These were the people that God had shown himself to, who had miraculously received a land of blessing and had been given prophets, priests and teachers who could show them a better way. Yet, in their selfishness and sin they rejected the gifts and position given them and instead chose their own way.
The Lord had invested into Israel a great deal and in so doing, he had a greater expectation for them to live lives differently than the surrounding nations. Today, we (the church) lay claim to the greatest gifts ever offered to mankind. The first is the forgiveness of our sins purchased at the amazing cost of Jesus blood. The second, God’s Holy Spirit offered to all who truly believe. These gifts are the only things that can actually change the nature of a man. With these we can go from selfish to selfless, from evil to righteous, from hateful to loving. They’re the only provision given for man to change and they alone are enough. So, we now have received God’s greatest possessions as an investment into our lives and again I believe God’s expectations for us have changed. We cannot be found operating as the world operates.
The ripe fruit has significant meaning. As we know, ripe fruit in a basket does not last long. It will soon rot and attract flies. It signifies the end of a life, growth and death process. An investment was made by the farmer to plant, water and care for the tree. Further work was done to harvest the fruit and then to place it out in a basket to be eaten. The investment has been made by the farmer, but the fruit was not eaten. The time is ripe for my people Israel, the Lord says. He had invested into them so that they in turn could nourish and sustain the world, but the fruit was not eaten, the sweetness was turning to stinch, and the effort was wasted, so it seemed. But out of the rotten fruit a new seed took root and this was the Lord Jesus.
Now we, the church, have been invested into greatly. We have been given sonship, power, gifts and everything we need for life and godliness. We have authority on earth and in heaven (the spirit realm) through the name of Jesus and we’re called to bear witness, to love, to care for and change the world around us. God desires for us to live with a selfless heart, loving others even more than we love ourselves. We do this through relationships with those all around us, not in our own strength, but in His strength.
Mary was focused on the relationship, while Martha was focused on the responsibility. Mary was focused on the eternal while Martha was focused on the material. Jesus did not rebuke Martha or degrade her for her work, he merely pointed out that Mary’s focus was on the more valuable things. I see this same incorrect focus even inside the church. We focus on the organization, the building, the finances and the attendance numbers more than on eternal matters. It’s not that these are bad things, but they’re not the greatest things that God has for us.
A friend said to me lately something that struck me. He said, “Anything that you give more of yourself to than you do to God is idolatry.” It’s so easy in our country to justify selfish ambition and to clear ourselves with a kind gesture of generosity, but we must be careful to remain daily dependant on the Lord for his Spirit and grace to flow through us.

Cleaver said...

1.Yes, I believe we may be in a worse situation than Isreal. Today their are so many material and informational items at our finger tips, the biggest question is how can I fit God into my life.
What happened 40-50 years ago when the first gas station opened Sunday or the first grocery store opened. It is no different than those who use dishonisty to try and get ahead in life.
2.Why would He not judge us. The passage in Isiah 58 speaks of people like ourselves who talk and think they do good deeds yet it is only to satisfy our inner selves, not to honor our Lord. "If only we turn from our opression and malicious talk."So it is not just the poor we oppress, it's everyone in our daily walk.
3.One of the main ways I see injustice today is with the elderly. Our "society"or "politicians" choose to use funds to better their behalf rather than "feed the hungry".
4.There are times when I identify with Martha. As a manager of a production department I often find myself resentfull of other workers who only have to come in and do their normal jobs, not having the responsibilty of managing. Although I chose to be the manager I often wish for every one to step up to the plate and perform to 110%.
5.If Martha were to change the whole perodime by concentrating on what is good for the Soul not the material stuff.

Lindsmartsen said...

I have just a few surface thoughts to leave. These passages seem particularly significant in light of a book I've been reading lately.
Anyways, I've come to think that in many ways the often way wards Israelites and the institutional church in America aren't really very different. In both, not all of the people who associate with the organization/religion are actively pursuing evil and the oppression of others. A few do, and they tend to be leaders. Most, however, are asleep, but because they are not aware of what God desires as opposed to what the leaders(pharisees) are doing, they do participate in the injustice to some extent and are complicit in its existence. And then a few are wide awake or in the process of awakening, and I guess the biblical word for them would be the remnant. From them come the prophets and mystics and sometimes heretics.;-)
The Israelites' religion was bound to it's civic life, and national life. And to some extent ours is too, even though we have separation of church and state, there is a pervading idea that this is a Christian nation, among many who call themselves Christians. Because of this the christian institution does bear some responsibility for civic and economic and racial injustice in this country and others, just like the Israelites did in their time. I think about cheap Christian trinkets sold in Christian bookstores, that somebody is profiting off of, and some poor Chinese or Mexican person slaved over, all so we can have stuff that makes us feel more Christian. This is just one small example. I think of verses 8:5-6 in Amos and it surely describes our times. And I think to participate in our economy uncritically, as the things listed in those verses are surely economic, is dangerous. Because as we see throughout history, and Amos reminds us of Israel and Egypt, when societies and religions inherent in them reach that level of injustice, they are usually on their way out.

So how does this happen? It is the difference between inner and outer. The Israelite religion had become largely an external show run by people who loved power and money. The work of all was distorted, from the oppressed to the oppressors. Jesus had come to show people that there was an inner way - an inner work led by the Spirit - that redeems work and redeems societies. This is what Jesus was saying to Mary and Martha. It is inner soul work that sanctifies and redeems outer work. Some people do not think that this is work, in the current understanding of what work is. But it is the most important work. It is this inner soul/spirit work that enables people to discover and begin to embody the calling or vocation that God has for each of us, whether it is being a prophetic voice, or raising the next generation, or preparing food for others. This inner work makes our outer work more and more of a joy, not an annoyance like it was for Martha. It is people who attend to this inner work, like Mary, who then go on to play a part in dismantling the prevailing unjust system.
I think we are in a time in the span of Christian history when many are being awakened and beginning to attend to this inner work. Who knows what we will see in the future.