Year C, SUNDAY 16  

July 17-23 July

 

Luke 10: 38-42                                    (Sermon 1: Are You with Martha or Mary?”)

Colossians 1: 15-28

Amos 8: 1-12                           (Sermon 2: “What’s New?”)

Psalm 52

 

 

PREPARATION

 

The joy of the Lord be with you all.

And also with you.

 

 

We have come here to sit at the feet of Christ and learn from him.

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

 

He has convened this assembly, and by his Spirit is among us.

I will proclaim your name, O God, for it is good.

 

By Christ’s grace we gladly worship the God whose glory

            will always stretch far beyond our comprehension

            yet whose love is as simple and available as the air we breathe.

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

 

                        OR

 

We are here because Christ has called us.

We assemble in response to his word..

 

Prepare to rise above your fickle moods,

into the loving discipline of praise and worship.

With God’s help, we will.

 

Give God the best that you can!

We offer him heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.

 

Let us then worship God.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God our most holy Friend, we come to you with gratitude and awe. You are a God whose glory fills heaven and earth! Praise belongs to you forever!

Loving God, you are able to do new things when we least expect it. Whenever we become stuck in a rut, staying put and complaining, please firmly call our names.

Show us again the vision of Jesus going on ahead of us, beckoning us to follow and share in his all-inclusive worship and service. In his name and to your honour.

Amen !

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

It’s time to confront ourselves. It’s time to make a good confession.

Let us pray.

 

Because at times we feel neither awe in the vicinity of your love nor shame in the presence of your light; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Because it is not in your nature to let us get away with self deceit, or allow us to drift in the shallows of triviality and indifference; Christ have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

 

Because we are neither as good as we publicly pretend, or as hopeless as we privately feel when we are down in the dumps; Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

 

Holy Friend and Saviour, meet with us beneath the currents and eddies of our inner lives; beneath the strata of either our shame or our excuses.

Meet us with your mercy that forgives and redeems at measureless cost, wanting nothing more than our health and happiness.

 

Meet us that we may know that even when we have fallen badly, there is more than enough grace to put things right and create a better future.

Meet us with  that loving Word which  can make the blind see and the deaf to hear.

 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

My sisters and brothers in the family of God it is written for our benefit:

            “Where sin multiplies, grace much more multiplies.”

            Hear again Christ’s liberating word of grace.

            “Your sins are forgiven.”

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Happy People

 

It’s odd,

dear God.

 

I see dogs playing yappily

and birds playing flappily.

 

I wish that people

would live less crabbily

and much more happily.

Please help us.

 

            Ó  B D Prewer.

MARY AND MARTHA

        A PROTEST

 

One again, Jesus of Nazareth,

you offend

our Aussie sense of a fair go.

Martha’s our preferred saint,

not your friend

Mary who sits like a drone

when in the end

the boring work must get done.

 

Once again, Jesus the troubler,

you make light

of all those extra hours

your Marthas still put in

late at night,

while your ‘precious’ Marys make

it their right

to smile and hand round the cake.

o dismay our righteous ego.

 

Once again, Jesus the prophet,

you defy

our sense of right and wrong.

It’s hard enough already to be

your ally,

without this story which appears

to decry

all our hard work and tears.

 

                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

 

SERMON 1: ARE YOU WITH MARY OR MARTHA?

 

 Luke 11:4

 

Martha, Martha, you worry over too many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the best role, which shall not be taken away from her. 1

 

Are you with Mary or with Martha?

 

Trouble!

 

The story of Mary and Martha always seems to spell trouble. Whenever I have tried to preach on it, afterwards a number of people say to me: “I’m still on Martha’s side.” Or as one said to me “I don’t think Jesus was very fair.”

 

From such feedback I conclude-

that many of us have suffered from friends or family members who leave us to do all the work while they fritter away the time. It becomes particularly galling when we are frantically trying to entertain guests. I suspect that it is out of this experience that we readily identify with Martha, while feeling miffed about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.

 

If we have trouble with this story,

we can be assured of one thing: we are not the first generation to do so. It seems that the Christians of the early centuries had their qualms. In the ancient manuscripts that have survived there are five variant readings of what Jesus said to Martha. When this occurs in manuscripts, it is a sure sign that those first Christians felt uncomfortable about something Jesus said or did. So, take heart; you are not the first to get edgy about this attitude of Jesus.

 

A TRAGIC SPLIT

 

Regrettably, if we look at the whole story of Christianity this little scene in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, has been misused. It has been employed to set up a split between a life dedicated to prayer and meditation and one dedicated to practical service.

 

Moreover, for the most part prayer and meditation (sitting at the feet of Jesus as folk have understood it) has been exalted to a superior place. It has been treated as holier than worldly demands and duties (Martha busy in the kitchen). Historically the life of monks, nuns and priests was regarded as being more godly than that of parents, merchants, labourers, teachers, tradesmen, clerks, cooks, scholars and street sweepers. The Marthas have been seen as inferior to the Marys.

 

Maybe a bit of this still lingers on. But I suspect that today the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Today we extol and admire the busy people, the achievers, the movers and shakers.  We are a generation of doers. Prayer is not high on the ambitions list. Meditation is regarded as something for those who can’t make it in the real world. Quietly reading and pondering the Scriptures is for those who have caught a religious bug.

 

Either way I am not happy. I do not believe that this passage justifies one way of life as above the other. I do not accept that they should ever be split apart.  We need both Mary and Martha.

And they need to change roles often.

 

 TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT THE SISTERS

 

Look at Martha a little more closely and you will see a surprising thing. It is something not at first obvious to our culture and era. The intriguing thing is that we are told that it was Martha who invited Jesus to their house.

 

That was an unheard of thing in the Jewish culture of that time. Women were not permitted to go around inviting guests.  It was a man’s prerogative. So Martha is acting in a liberated, ground-breaking way.  She is a pioneer.

 

I think we see in Martha something of the impact of Jesus on those around him. We see his liberation already at work. For him women were not lesser beings. Somewhere in the weeks before this event, Martha had already come under the affirming influence of the Man from Nazareth. That influence enabled her to go against convention and a invite Jesus to dinner.

 

Now look closely at Mary. She is not at sitting at his feet day dreaming. Mary is sitting at his feet listening to Jesus’ teaching.  That expression “sitting at the feet” was a common way of stating that a man was receiving instruction from a Rabbi. But here it is a woman. The first recorded case. Women were not allowed to be taught. As one famous Rabbi said: “Better the Scriptures be burnt than taught to a woman.” What’s going on here? Like Martha, Mary had already come under the liberating influence of Jesus. She feels free to sit at his feet as a male disciple would.

 

So what we have here in this household is evidence of a radical change. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are a part of the new race of humanity that comes into being through the influence of Jesus Christ.

 

Maybe (just maybe; no certainty) one of the reasons for what seems like a rebuke to Martha was that Martha had exerted her new-found liberty to invite Jesus to the house, yet then gets annoyed when her sister Mary dares to express her new liberty by daring to acting like a man might. Jesus was not going to allow Mary to be put back in a domestic box.

 

Look closely at the words that he spoke: Martha, Martha, you are fretting and fussing about so many things; but one thing is necessary; the portion that Mary has chosen is best; and it shall not be taken from her.

 

Jesus is not only affirming Mary’s new-found freedom, but is also stating that for a disciple there is only one essential pre-requisite: to be still and listen; to sit and learn.  At base, that matters more than all else.

 

Of course some food is important, but not as important as receiving the teaching. People cannot live by bread alone but by every word of God that proceeds from his mouth..

It is better to go hungry than to go wrong. We must be receivers before we can be givers.

 

JESUS ALONE IS OUR RABBI

 

I think our frenetic generation needs to hear this. We need times when we stop rushing and start listening. Jesus is our only Rabbi.

 

The only special thing which the Christian has to offer this mixed up old world is the light in the soul of Jesus, the words spring from his lips, the grace that flows from his cross. Without that we have nothing to add to the world’s religions and philosophies, nothing to bring into the doubts and turmoil of fractured humanity.

 

Jesus alone is the shape of our faith. He offers abundant life shining through his eyes, love given in his deeds, truth expressed in his values.

 

We need to sit at his feet and learn all we can from what he says, what he does, and how he looks at us.

 

We need to hear him saying awkward things like:

            if you want to save your life then give it away,

            the first shall be last and the last first,

            pray for your enemies and bless those who curse you,.

            do not store up wealth on earth, but treasure is heaven.

 

We need to watch him:

            refuse to condemn a woman caught in the act of adultery,

            touch with his own hands a diseased leper,

            eat with taxgatherers and other sinners

            raise to life a little girl thought to be dead.

 

We need to be there when he

            is transfigured while praying on a mountain,

            commends a widow giving her last 2 coins in the offering,

            prays in the garden of Gethsemene,

            forgives those who drive in the nails at Golgotha,

            and when he stands behind a weeping woman and says “Mary!”

 

The one thing absolutely necessary is to learn from him; to sit as his feet and absorb his graciousness.

 

Without that we will end up being absorbed into the fads and fashions of the world around us.

 

 

SERMON 2: WHAT’S NEW?

 

Amos 8: 4-6

 

What’s new?

 

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy

and bring the poor of the land to despair  

Amos 8:4

 

You alter the balances to your own favour,

and devalue the currency for your own profit..          

Amos 8:5

 

Buying the poor for a few dollars

and the needy for a pair of sandals    

Amos 8:6

 

What’s new?

 

Have we made any progress in the almost 3 millennia since the prophet Amos? Don’t we still exploit the vulnerable, and abuse those whom our society has made misfits or petty criminals? Just look around, see and listen.

 

INJUSTICES AROUND US

 

In our nation the gap between the wealthy and the poor

has been relentlessly growing over the last 3 decades. Injustices that thirty years ago we would have regarded as unthinkable, we now accept with hardly a raised eyebrow.

 

In the clothing industry, there are small backyard sweat shops,

where adults and children toil excessive hours to produce clothing with designer labels. For what? That large emporiums may increase their margins and profits, and shareholders rub their hands with Scrooge-ish glee.

Buying the poor for a few dollars

and the needy for a pair of sandals                 Amos 8:6

 

In the case of the mentally ill, our recent record is deplorable.

Governments have fiercely cut back on treatment centres and support agencies. The philosophy is now sink or swim, and if you can’t swim, be damned. And many are. The reason? That the well-off may pay less taxes.

 

Thousands of homeless young people barely exist in our large cities.

They live on the streets, resorting to prostitution, drawn into drug addiction to ease their emotional anguish. Governments won’t spend much to help. They fear a backlash from respectable, comfortable citizens, who reckon such lay-abouts deserve what they get.

 

There is a whole under class of the permanently unemployed.

Many of these are from the 50plus age group who are passed over for younger employees. Others are from among the vulnerable who have low self esteem, limited intellectual capacity or initiative. Some are from the indigenous population, where the dispiriting effect of generations of dispossession takes a heavy toll.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy

and bring the poor of the land to despair.       Amos 8:4

 

Employees in their twenties and thirties, are enticed by rosy promises.

There will be promotion upon promotion, to give all their time and ability and last drop of energy they have. They do so, often at the cost of health and family. And when in the forties they start to slow down a little, they are discarded like toilet tissues. And for what? Increased profits to wealthy shareholders

 

Gambling wreaks havoc.

Governments have turned to the silent, yet unscrupulous taxation via increased gambling facilities. Glittering casinos, and gambling rooms  at clubs and pubs with their ubiquitous poker machines. The investors get richer, the governments coffers are filled, while marriages collapse, work places are embezzled to maintain the thrills or addiction, and once-honourable citizens go to prison or commit suicide.

 

Every bit of so called “taxation relief” entrenches disadvantage.

Tax changes, announced with much hoo ha by smug politicians, assist the affluent much more than the poor battlers. One such recent tax reduction gave $5 to the average worker,  $20 to the lower professionals and $ 30+ to the upper professionals. Where’s the justice in that?

You alter the balances to your own favour,

and devalue the currency for your own profit.                        Amos 8:5

 

The there is the wider international sphere.

We get self righteous about the “:war on terrorism.” We will pay vast amounts of money to maintain that war. But we show scant signs of trying to understand why there is so much anger against affluent Western countries. Some think it is a religious thing: Islam against Christianity. Not so. That is no more true that the troubles in Northern Ireland being attributed to simply Catholic versus Protestant. It is a social justice matter. Deprived people reacting against what they see as our exploitation of poor nations across the world.

 

We are appalled at suicide bombers.

We should be. Yet we need to understand that suicide bombers give their lives for what they see as a righteous cause; to focus world attention on social injustice, and to hurt those whom they feel are unjustly afflicting them. They would quickly understand where the prophet Amos was coming from.

 

THE MESSAGE OF AMOS

 

So, what’s new?

My friends, have we made much progress in almost three thousand years? Ethically I doubt it.

 

Sadly, our attitudes and policies have not changed much over the centuries.

The wealthier people still thrive at the cost of the poor. There are little periods of widespread thirst for social justice, but it becomes soon swamped again by a new tide of rampant greed. 

 

Now to Amos.

The prophet Amos, lived about 760 BC.  He saw the problem. He came down from the hills of Tekoa with the fire of God’s justice in his belly, and challenged the decadent luxury of the “upper crust” under king Jeroboam II. He came and preached God’s judgment on their ways.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy

and bring the poor of the land to despair.       Amos 8:4

 

If Amos was right, even 60% right, then let us beware.

The judgement of God might well be upon much of our way of life here in Australia.  We like to call it “the lucky country” but it is only lucky for those in a privileged position. The words of Amos judge us.

 

I will turn your turn your parties into wakes,

and your rock ‘n’ roll into dirges.

I will make all to wear sackcloth

and walk head-bare in the storm.

It will be like the death of one’s only son,

and every day shall end with bitterness. Amos 8:10

 

GOD’S JUDGEMENT IS GOOD NEWS

 

Judgement?

 

Does this mean I am in melancholy mood?

 

Not at all. In truth I am feeling quite buoyant today.

I’m just trying to be faithful to the Scriptures and faithful to the prophet Amos, and to be faithful to the God of Jesus Christ. The fact that today’s reading from Amos discomforts me (and you, I hope!) is a good thing.

 

Deep down I believe that judgment is good news.

Wonderful news, in fact!  It may not always be comfortable news but it is good tidings. It is gospel.

 

It is good news that the wrongs of life will one day be righted.

It is good news that the poor are not oppressed without God seeing and taking a stand for them.

It is good news that we were not created to live this way, with the world divided into have and have nots.

And it is good news that by the grace of Christ we are being redeemed . 

Saved from the selfishness which causes, or tolerates injustice, and that we are being led (often kicking and screaming) towards the generosity of God.

 

Maybe we don’t always achieve what we should.

But by the saving grace of Christ Jesus, we get up from defeat and try again and again and again. This is good news.

 

 

A SALUTE TO THOSE WHO PRACTICE GOD’S JUSTICE.

 

What new? The impact of Christ Jesus continues to make many things new.

 

Here are now I salute all those daring souls.

Those  Christians who are attempting to stand with God for a better way of life for all.

 

I salute those who are working in “third world” countries.

Giving their all in an attempt to uplift the those who are bowed down. I salute young people from congregations where I have served, who put off careers for a few years to go and work alongside less fortunate peoples.

 

I salute all that our Uniting Church is doing in Australia.

I am humbly proud that we spend more on social service than any other non-government agency or church denomination. I rejoice that we have workers who stand beside the needy and help them hone their skills in order that they may better stand up for themselves.

 

I salute the very ordinary people in every congregation.

Those among you who, in the face of human need, do not withdraw into pious, private religion, but do the best you can in combating injustice and public apathy.

 

In short I salute all those in whom the saving grace of Christ has not been in vain.

 

Judgement is a good thing.

 

It brings us to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and from there into increased. active love for humanity.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

With thanksgiving in our hearts and minds,

let us pray.

 

Holy Friend, Source and Sustenance of your people, we want to say ‘thank you’ for the gift of life and all the joys that enhance it.

 

We are grateful for the multiplicity of sounds, scents and tastes, that enrich every waking moment.

 

We are blessed by those who love us enough to comfort us when we are wounded and confront us when we are being wilful.

 

We are grateful for your gift of the church, which in spite of its obvious imperfections, has nurtured our spirits and raised our sights.

 

We thank you for outstanding personalities, some famous some obscure, whose lives shine like beacons of encouragement.

 

We give praise for the Jew we know as Christ Jesus, who goes beyond all others in lifting us out of frustration and defeat into the light of a glorious destiny.

 

We give thanks for your intimate friendship, your own Holy Spirit helping us to befriend others as we journey towards the fulfilment of your purposes.

 

Thanks is too small a word, O God. But you know our hearts and accept the profound gratitude that stirs there whenever we stop and take stock. Wonderful are you, joy of the universe!

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

In our prayers of intercession, we re-align ourselves with God’s will and activity.

 

Let us pray.

 

Most loving God, ‘to turn from you is to fall, to turn to you is to rise, to stand with you is to stay firm forever,’ grant us the faith to turn, to rise, and to stand with you, both in our praying and in our working.

 

May all of your children discover the secret of Christ, and be enabled to rise above all that would discourage, ensnare, oppress or destroy them.

 

Assist your church to rise above things that are second-rate, selfish, petty or misguided. May it continue to be a community where small souls meet a very large Saviour.

 

Loving God, we pray for this world with its many successes yet innumerable failures. Save it from the greed, arrogance and injustice which foster crime, terrorism and war,

 

By your Holy Spirit, be near those close by , and those far off, who are confused, diseased, injured, abused, emotionally disturbed, sorrowful, or despairing. May they receive compassion, encouragement and healing.

 

Holy Friend, as we have prayed for others, we now pray for ourselves. Help us in the wider world to live out the text of these our prayers.

 

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go your way with thanksgiving.

 

Enjoy those who love you most and pray for those who dislike you most.

 

Be compassionate in the face of human need and patient in the presence of stupidity.

 

Let the love of Christ be your map and goal, your pride and your strength.

 

The grace of the Man of Galilee, the love of  the eternal God, and the fellowship of the Spirit of liberty, be with you now and always.

 

Amen!