19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things
Perhaps you have heard the joke about an older, mature lady stopped at a red light. She notices the bumper sticker displayed on the car directly in front of her and immediately begins blowing her horn. Well this continues as the line of cars waits for the red light to change to green. In fact, as they wait, the intensity of the woman’s horn blowing increases to the point that the owner of the car in front of her gets out and goes back to confront the antagonist. “What is your problem lady, can’t you see the light is red? I can’t go anywhere until the light changes”. As the driver turns to go back to their car, shaking their head in disbelief, the older, mature lady yells out the window, “Well, your bumper sticker says, ‘Honk if you love Jesus’!”
You may have even seen this bumper sticker… or perhaps its contrasting competitor, which displays the message, “If you love Jesus, seek justice. Any fool can honk.”
Both the Colossians and the Luke passages encourage a holistic spirituality, embracing prayer and protest, study and social involvement, contemplation and creative transformation. Today, I also wish to share with you these words from the ancient prophet, Amos, who claimed:
This 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. 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.”
b11The 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.
Amos would have appreciated the theology of the second bumper sticker, “If you love Jesus, seek justice, because from the prophet’s perspective, faith and ethics are intimately connected. Our worship, claims Amos, is stagnant if it is not concerned for the less fortunate. In fact, our worship time is in trouble if it is separated from recognizing society’s ills, in particular, its most vulnerable members. The words of Colossians we heard earlier, connect theology, ethics, and hope, and promote a Jesus who reveals the moral order of the universe, an order that seeks to reconcile and unify all creation in its wondrous diversity. Luke’s Mary and Martha together represent a holistic spirituality. Faith and works go together. Faithful spirituality embodies daily life with holiness. Committed works brings holiness to our social and personal relationships.
Typically, the quotes I uncover during research enhance the scripture lesson. However, the other day, I found this unsettling advice from Hollywood legend, Bette Beth Davis who once said, "It has been my experience that one cannot, in any shape or form, depend on human relations for lasting reward. It is only work that truly satisfies." I wonder what her bumper sticker would claim?
I would think that what Bette Davis is suggesting
here, is what our worship appears like when we do not let justice flow, as the prophet Amos suggests, like an ever flowing stream. Worship needs to be inclusive, caring, and full of relational themes in order for us to hear our Still Speaking God, because Jesus cares about our relationships - with God, and with one another. Our connectedness is at the heart of what it means to live faithful lives. And that is what Jesus is teaching, all the way to Jerusalem and his death: what it means to be faithful disciples.
So much of our worship is focused on the Word, but we can’t hear God speaking in our hearts if we do not regularly stop and just listen at the feet of Jesus. My theological hero, Henri Nouwen has said:
Our lives, while full, are often unfulfilled. Our occupations and preoccupations, fill our external and internal lives to the brim. They prevent the Spirit of God from breathing freely in us and thus renewing our lives. Making room for the Spirit of God to breathe freely in us, renews our own spirits, and our lives as well, when we walk out the door of our church.
How can we allow what Nouwen identifies as making room for the Spirit help us to deal with the hatred, bigotry, and self-centeredness which has encompassed our nation and the world of recent times? We have lost our connectedness. We have allowed violence toward others to become our norm. Many of my colleagues in ministry have posted on FB, have Tweeted, and Instagram(ed) how we must not keep silent, but let our justice flow like a river through our worship, out the sanctuary doors, and throughout our communities. I have felt like a complete failure in this respect.
With the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week, those within our National UCC Staff stationed in this great city recently held a peaceful walk from the UCC Church House down the street a few blocks to the left to the Convention Center which will house this political gathering. During this walk, the Rev. Traci Blackmom, Acting Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, claimed:
It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, saying the issue has two sides is false. There is only one side and it is the side of Righteousness. The faith community’s silence has contributed to the place we are in right now.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, including a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (3:7) I believe that we need both in order to be faithful disciples. First, in our silence, our pause from culture, time, and place we can hear what God is asking of us. Then from this sacred pause, we become fueled to speak and put our faithfulness into action, using our hopes and fears as a catalyst for change. In the book, Words for the Journey: Letters to Our Teenagers about Life and Faith, UCC Pastor, Anthony Robinson says this about faith and fear to his daughter Laura:
The opposite of faith is fear. It is fear that keeps us stuck on the sidelines of life. It is fear that traps our voices inside our throats. It is fear that paralyzes our limbs and keeps us from standing up and setting out when the thing we most need to do is move.
Within Luke’s story of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, Mary, received a true gift while sitting at the feet of our teacher. Within her sacred pause, she heard the word of God, direct from the Divine source. Some may accuse Martha of hiding in her work, but this too was a gift. For Martha, her hospitality reflected her faith as she tended to the needs of the poor around her. Anthony Robinson continued his message to his
daughter by explaining:
The apostle Paul says that faith is a gift, not our achievement. Maybe that is because faith is always the second word. The first word is God’s. “Go,” “Come.” Listen.” “Speak.” “Follow me.” These are God’s words to us. They come first. They come unbidden, as a gift. The second and third words are ours. “Lets pack.” Okay.” “Yes.” “If you say so.” But maybe even the capacity to respond in trust is a gift. Faith is, for sure, not our achievement. It is God’s work in us.
Martha is absolutely necessary to healthy spirituality and social concern: Martha gets things done! Martha is on the picket line and protests injustice. We need Martha’s in church and community. Mary is near to God, but in her intimacy with Christ can be concern that she will have her mind set on heavenly and not earthly things.
Our former Penn Central Conference Minister and President, Rev. Marja Coons-Torn reflects on Martha’s sister:
Mary had a great love for God. Where did it come from? Mary didn't know. She only knew that it had been there since she was a small child. It was there in her questions. It was there in her love for nature and her desire to be continually out of doors in God's world. It was there in the little prayers that kept popping into her head. It was just there. Everything that Mary did, was informed directly or indirectly by her love for God.
Luke’s message highlights that each of us has gifts. But as we grow in our relationships we need to deepen both the contemplative and the acting sides of our faithfulness. Within our congregations we need to nurture the Mary and the Martha within each one of us in order for thoughtful compassion to guide each act of our faith. So, here we are, waiting to hear what God wishes to do in our lives in order for us to truly become conduits for the Divine for others. Here we stand, looking into the mirror hoping to glimpse the presence of Christ which is promised to us, yet so often goes un-noticed. Here we are… fully aware that through Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, yet with little understanding of what that might mean for us.
So we wait…
The great theologian, Howard Thurman reflects:
The little awareness of the little problems of our little lives mounts to overwhelming proportions when we still ourselves in Thy waiting presence. We ask nothing. We wait. We wait, our Father, until at last something of Thy strength becomes our strength, something of Thy heart becomes our heart, something of Thy forgiveness becomes our forgiveness. We wait, O God, we wait.
Gracious Lord, be with us now as we sit and wait at your feet. Not knowing if we should honk the horn or get out of the car. Amen.