Sunday Sermon


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

     The lessons today are about reaping what we sow.  A goodly list is made in the first lesson of the crimes for which Israel is now reaping the fruit.  They have brought ruin to the poor of the land by taking advantage.  The Commandments, the Law and the Traditions of Israel are there to prevent these abuses. Feasts intended to be sacred in the community are treated with contempt.  Cheating the poor has become a game that anyone may play.  Those who are supposed to enforce the Law have become part of the problem.  The ephah is a measure of grain and the shekel is a measure of money.  In the market the poor are getting less food for more money; tradesmen are also cheating in the measuring of the produce, enslaving the poor who sell themselves and their children because they can’t afford to live.  Further, they are selling food not fit to eat to people who are starving.  This is precisely the sort of dirty dealing that the Law and the Tradition of Israel were designed to keep in check.  

     By the way that Israel is living it is obvious that the Law and the Traditions of Israel that lay out the relations of God with man and man with man are being flagrantly overridden by the greedy.  When we maintain a society outside the Law, that society is waiting to be overtaken by forces prey outside the Law.  If everyone is cheating who can be trusted?  Who wants to stick his neck out and be trustworthy when a system has rotted from within?  Only those who revere the Law and the Traditions of Israel as Amos does, those who walk day by day with God, studying and learning the ways of God.  In other words, the Prophet Amos.  One of the sad truths is that if good people don’t stand up for fair treatment, the cheaters win.  Nowhere does it say in these lessons that it is wrong to be wealthy.  Scripture considers wealth honestly gained a sign of God’s favor.  Wealth taken at the expense of the poor is another matter, and it is decried in the lessons today.  

     In the gospel lesson the older sister plays a game I remember from childhood.  I am an older sister.  “Mo-o-om make Marie help me with the dishes.” I hate washing dishes.  If I am going to be miserable my sister should be too.  It’s only fair.  Jesus understands the game.  He was an oldest child so maybe he played it too.  He cuts right to the heart of the matter.  Mary has chosen the better part.   Those words have helped me to carve out time in my busyness, to question it and the need to stay busy to feel good about myself.  Taking time to study God’s Word and allow it to sink in is time well spent.  Jesus’ words got me through my Religious Studies coursework when guilt over all the Mom stuff I neglected rose up to strangle me.  Substituting busyness for learning that supports growth is another kind of injustice that we do to ourselves.  I sowed busyness and reaped exhaustion.        

     The excesses and abuses of the powerful and the rich became so extreme in Israel that the system collapsed under them.  Israel will reap what it has sown.  Where there is a rule of Law and a respect for God and the Traditions of Israel fair dealings will reign and the marketplace will flourish because people trust they are being treated fairly.  When fair treatment is replaced by cheating and abuse the support of those who regularly shore up the system with trade will fade and the honest may move on, creating an even worse situation.  The abuses listed create a downward spiral that ends with the Word of God disappearing from among the people.  The concept of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of Christ is an extrapolation from this way of telling about the Word of God that creates life.  The creative Word leaves the community and shuts the door behind it.  

       What we have then is a system that collapses under the weight of its own deceit.  It’s hard to feel sorry for that, but we must feel deep sorrow for those who become collateral damage and are crushed in the fall.  Innocents are always also hurt.  Because we are a society, we share a common fate.  So those who know there is a God are distressed to find God’s absence in this time of dire need.  I imagine God thinking, “Are you talking to me? When things were going well did you even think of me, of the Law and the Tradition of Israel?  From the mess you have made it is clear you did not.  So now that you are in trouble you remember my name?”  When loving relationships are built day by day, they are there to shore us up in hard times.  People who know themselves as lawbreakers would not keep good relations with the living God.  Israel knows what God expects.  

     Part of the terrible burden of being a society organized under Law is that we are responsible when the innocent are harmed in a cruel system.  Amos is not just prophesying to the offenders.  He is also speaking to the good people who are sitting on their hands while Israel is crumbling.  “You think things are bad now?  Worse is coming.  Brace yourselves!  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”  It doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out where this is going.  

      Amos is not just reading the riot act to those who create the problem, he also takes to task those who lack the courage to demand proper treatment of the poor as required in the Law and the Tradition of Israel.  The rot that Amos sees is the reason that the Word can no longer be found in Israel.  Even the good people have neglected their roles in society which require them to uphold fair practices.  It takes courage to live well in the sight of God, but courage has fled away.  What happens next is history.  The fruit of their deceit is reaped.  Thousands were put to the sword and hundreds were sent into slavery in Babylon.  They hung up their harps in the trees along the waters of Babylon, refusing to sing of home in a foreign land.  It was just too painful.  

      It is hard enough to maintain a just society in a peaceful world.  The world I grew up in has never been peaceful.  I was born at the end of WWII and we have been at war, hot or cold, ever since.  I never expected to live past the threat of nuclear annihilation and am rather surprised to have lived to age 70.  War and threat of it are part of my history.  It disturbs me that we continue more proficient at war than at peace.  I wonder if our imaginations are stunted and our will bent by wars without end.  I have always thought that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, but vigilance is not war making.  It is preparation that prevents war.  I wonder if our own greed doesn’t cause us to continually protect our interests through aggression in foreign states.  In that case the warning to Israel is a warning to us as well.  We know what a just society requires of us.  Scripture is clear on these matters.  When our greed pulls us into one scrape after another who loses?  

      Foreign policy these days is a game played at a whole other level than in biblical times, and we might find ourselves more often in the role of a conquering power in the U.S. than in the role of Israel the conquered.  The prophecy of Amos draws our eyes to society that has lost its checks and balances and is involved in robbery.  The poor at the bottom of the social heap are the ones who suffer most, but eventually all of Israel will feel the loss.  Amos sees it coming as he meets God in prayer.  God’s love requires Amos to warn Israel as I told you last week.

     Let’s get to the gospel lesson.  The women at the top of the pecking order uphold the standards of the family and the social group.  I was raised to be one of those women.  At any family gathering I worked as hard as my Mom.  I remember most family gatherings through a shroud of weariness.  After working a full week, I came early at the holidays to work late.  My much younger sister may have involved herself in setting the table.  I have no memories of her helping with cooking or cleanup.  We were raised differently.  My sister is ten years younger.  It was a small kitchen and there was only room in it for those who knew what they were doing.  All others were invited to leave.  That was always the rule.  When I visit my Sister now, we share the work equally.  Two women, one kitchen.  

     In the middle of my thirties I began to want to be more like my Sister.  She always had time to exercise, have fun with her friends, and to look pretty and rested.  She made being the good wife look good.  Marie and I have lived out the scenario in today’s gospel.  There was the same kind of strain as between Martha and Mary until I decided that Marie had chosen the better part.  I have been trying to catch up with her ever since.           

     I spend hours every week studying Scripture and reading for pleasure.  I keep a neat house but don’t kill myself with work.  I enjoy the life I have made for myself.  It is a good life.  I don’t want to be the one who rules with an iron will like my Mom, who had standards and rules even for cleaning a bathroom floor.  I want to be the one who nurtures life and encourages growth.  I am Martha sitting on the floor next too Mary listening to Jesus because that time we have together is so precious and too short.

      In the ranks of women, we need both Marthas and Marys to keep a community running smoothly.  I think it is a good idea for us switch roles every now and then for the sake of our mental health.  It is time for a work day to get everything ready for the Fall Sunday school program.  The Marthas have informed me it has become an absolute necessity.  I always listen to them and pay attention because they invest so much time and care in the Church.  I will ask the Vestry today to establish a work day so that we can return this building which was very well used during the summer through the Block Party, to VBS and then theater camp to a more cleanly and orderly state.  It is time for a work day my friends.  Let’s make it a fun occasion by having a picnic and getting our children to help us set things to rights.  I like to think of the Church as gently used much of the time, but there is no point in fooling ourselves.  It needs work.  I’m bringing my light-weight vacuum to do the stairs.  I noticed they were looking messy.  

     When we do these things together, we are recognizing that order and cleanliness are good things and especially in this neighborhood.  I would like us to keep a nice home in this place.  Martha has not gone to sleep in me; she is on a time-share.  I don’t think we are called to be one OR the other.  It would be nice to have room for both those women in our hearts, but I rather suspect that nurture raises us up to be one or the other.  Mom needed me and I like to be needed, but I got very tired of being the one put upon, so I made room for Mary.  It was good for me but rather nerve wracking.  I imagined that everything would fall apart if I relaxed my standards.  It didn’t, but it certainly appears messier since I relaxed my vigilance.  

      If you don’t usually come out for a work day, please do this time.  It will be good for you to walk the wild side with Martha.  Marys encourage that feeling of being put upon in Marthas when they reflexively leave clean up to the Marthas.  Marthas discourage the help of Marys when then get up on their high horse and  require it to be done just so.  It is a partnership in this Church, and we need you all.   Marthas and Marys, Peters and Nathaniels let’s do this!  Remember in the gospel of John that Jesus told Nathaniel that he saw him sitting under a tree meditating on God’s word.  Nathaniel is our biblical Mary.  Men divide along these lines too, so come out to help please!!  Then let’s barbeque or do something fun and easy.  Play out on the lawn with water pistols.  Whatever we can do together to celebrate the end of another busy summer.

     Remembering to celebrate the good that we know and have experienced is part of our journey together.  Celebration lifts us up and gives us the juice to keep going.  Remembering how much good has happened in this place is good for the soul, helps us to keep our balance in all the loss that comes to everyone.  God bless you for all your help over the summer.  I think we had a splendid season.  Thank you all.  Better schedule that work day before August 12 or I will be at a lake in Michigan sitting by my Sister enjoying the good life.

Sermon for 6 Pentecost 2019 by the Rev. Deborah T. Rankin