Strength for Action, Old First Sermon 07.17.16

Strength for Action, Old First Sermon 07.17.16

Genesis 18: 1-10a and Luke 10:38-42

At Old First, we invite everyone to help our with Hospitality.
It’s not just the job of a few,
some elect Kitchen crew,
Or those who are naturally-gifted, outgoing greeters.

Rather, we mean to involve the whole community…
break everyone into 8 different teams.
Not just our church members proper, but anyone who takes part in this community…
and is willing to take on responsibility for hospitality.

Participating in our hospitality ministry,
It’s a great way to begin to find a place here at church, and build some relationships —
Sort of a low-bar service opp. in a congregation that believes service is crucial to Christian faith,
and at a time when you are already going to be at church.

(If any of you sitting there are wondering why you are on a hospitality team,
please don’t feel left out,
instead feel invited —
let me know,
write it on the Friendship pad or
on a note in the collection,
and we’ll get you hooked up.)

Then you too, once every 8 weeks,
can take a turn greeting at the front door,
and providing and putting out food for fellowship hour and,
hopefully, watching out for new faces
and welcoming
and making introductions.

Truth be told, greeting — actually reaching out to and welcoming our guests —
is the more important task,
…more important than the spread we put on,
but folks often get more caught up in keeping the table stocked
than scanning for and pulling in the newbies.
(I guess many of us got some Martha in us, eh?)

* * * * * *

But more to the point of today’s Gospel,
here’s another true fact about hospitality teams:

Some people take them more seriously than others…
Don’t start shifting in your seats.
I’m not naming names!
In fact, I don’t know names…

But I know, everyone misses their week sometimes.
But some folks when they do,
they switch Sundays with someone from another team.
Or even drop some food by the church beforehand.

And, I know, for many teams,
it always seems there’s the same person or two in the kitchen early
and the last one cleaning up when John-John or I are locking up.

This is because some other folks don’t take much responsibility for hospitality duty.
They may make other,
profound contributions to the life of this community (or other communities).

But their participation on their hospitiality team,
well, tactfully, I guess we could say it’s not their top priority.

Some folks hardly ever remember when it’s their hospitality team’s week.
I know this because they’ve told me!

…Even if they’re here that Sunday, they’re up in the Sanctuary
before they notice their name in the order of service,
and then, maybe because they forgot food to share,
they just sort of wander off after worship,
Sneak out rather than joining their team for the table service, outreach and clean-up of fellowship hour.

Which brings us to Jesus, Mary and Martha:
The ones who faithfully fulfill their Hospitality team duties say to Jesus:
“Lord, do you not care that brothers and sisters have left
a few of us to do most of the work by ourselves?”
Tell them then to help.”

You know Jesus’ answer
… we heard it again just a few minutes ago when Steve read the Gospel.

Let me be clear — it’s Jesus’ answer, not Michael’s .

If it were me,
I’d have wanted to thank those who carry the weight.
Those who make sure there’s food on our table,
For Martha, and Sarah and the servant from the Hebrew Scriptures passage today
(notice how they are all women!?!?!)
And promise that someone looking out for the guests…

For isn’t our understanding of Christianity around a church life Old First,
pretty pragmatic?

We’re not so much about dogmatic teaching,
As we are about practical service…

I explain to folks sometimes,
“ours is a service Christianity —

We tend to be as interested in…
maybe even more interested in…
…In the service that our faith translates into.

We look at what we do because of our faith,
Rather than worry so much about the orthodoxy or doctrinal rightness or purity of someone’s faith position.

Remember what Ian was preaching about last Sunday —
how the only the one with what the Jews would have thought was the wrong faith, did the right thing!

No matter where you are on your faith journey,
Your deeds are your real testament
and what will either prove or call into question your words every time.

Pragmatically, church, we need our worker bees.
Not just for Sunday morning hospitality.
But for the administrative needs of running our church.
And for the outreach efforts that are so crucial to us —
It takes a lot of work to feed and clothe 80 people each week,
Or to register 3500 people for the upcoming election.
And for the education efforts we feel called by our faith towards —
Our kids need Sunday School teachers
and thank God for leaders struggling to keep us talking in our Sacred Conversation on Race.

And folks, there’s always more service,
More need,
than we can accomplish,
Particularly– it seems — these days,
when one can understand worries that our world seems to be breaking apart.

Why then would Jesus side with Mary over Martha?

Is Jesus really telling our faithful hospitality servants,
and Sarah and the servant from the Hebrew Scripture reading this morning…
That there could be something preferable…

That they should put aside their dishrags
and their food prep.
And leave off with their efforts to reach out and welcome the new faces?

Does such a reading of this text
make much sense
coming right on the heals of that explanation Ian preached on last Sunday —

The story of the Good Samaritan
that immediately precedes this episode in Luke’s retelling of Gospel.

If — borrowing from Peter’s funeral service here in this Sanctuary yesterday —
If “good neighboring” and “please in my backyard” (rather than NIMBY!)
insists dramatically,
that it’s not the rightness or purity of one’s faith,
so much as how willing one is to serve..,

Well, then,
Keeping Martha, Mary and Jesus together with
Sarah and the servant, and Abraham,
and the injured man at the side of life’s road,
The two religious leaders who crossed to the other side of the rad to pass by him,
And the one of questionable faith who went out of his way to save the man in need…

If remembering the Bible —
like our faith and
life itself —
…Are there stories whose meaning can only become clear
When we consider them in light of one another?

Maybe Jesus, or Luke, or God
Mean to tell us something different in this interaction between Martha, Mary and Jesus?

Could Jesus not be suggesting there is something better about Mary over Martha,
So much as worrying that Martha is leaving herself
Distracted about many things,
Fretting, scattered, unfocused and at wit’s end, if you will,
While Mary finds the peace of heart and mind,
Or the humility to stay focused on Jesus.

To stay focused on Jesus.

…Rather than arguing for a life of serene contemplation
Over a life of service
in the complicated and troubling world that calls for both,

Maybe Jesus is simply pointing out something that Mary had found
Maybe that which the Samaritan had a hold of too,
That offered an important inner strength,
That afforded a focus of heart and mind.
That resources our efforts with a necessary perseverance.

“God bless, those who care for the kitchen
And the homeless,
And all the less than exciting details of keeping this church community
Or other communities
or your family

Jesus could be saying,
“But not if in so doing,
you get overcome with worry
or sidetracked by all the work you are to do
and lose sight of the real goals
and how God is there for you,
offers to help us with the size of the tasks our faith lays before us,”

Well then, Jesus is saying,
“There is a better way.”


A couple of weeks ago,
I wasn’t at my best.

I was invited over to Larry Waddell’s for dinner.
With his wife Rebecca and their daughter Maggie.

Ostensibly, we were planning Maggie’s baptism for September 18
(when we will first use the baptismal bowl blown for us by Eric, Peter’s son, in his memory).

But, truth be told, Larry and Rebecca were worried about me.
They knew I was feeling distracted, beat down, undone.

Rebecca was feeding Maggie,
And Larry and I were talking in the living room.

I don’t really remember what had me so over-wrought.
(I guess, that’s a good sign!)
But I was explaining it to Larry,
As he’s our Moderator,

In my experience here at Old First,
One of the tasks of the Moderators —
— In my tenure:
Bob Schneider,
Steve Wilhite,
And now Larry —

…One of their duties is to occasionally talk the pastor off a cliff,
When this or that around the church has gotten under my skin
And is feeling “just too much, Lord.”

I had just explained to Larry what had gotten the best of me.
Probably, it wasn’t as bad as I was feeling,
But still it’s hard to be your best when you are feeling like that.

(I bet someone of you know what I’m talking about.
Most of us got a little Martha in us somewhere, don’t we?)

When I finished,
Larry responded,
“I sometimes don’t know how you pastors do it all.”

Ah, the empathy and support of being recognized,
Some pathos for the complexity of a professional path one finds oneself walking!

But then he went on, in that calm, present Larry sort of way.
“On second thought, I guess I do know what gets pastors through.”


With the first statement, Larry found me exactly where I was feeling,
And then he surprised me with the second,
Gently reminding me that there was a deeper resource available to me
That easily could handle whatever I was facing,
even if I rightfully knew I could not.

Isn’t that what Jesus is saying to Martha…
and us?

There is so much to do,
to get done.
Good works.
Important service.
Even if you cannot do everything, you can make a difference.

But if you try and do it all,
Or even just a part of it,
On your own,
It will overwhelm you.

Distract you.
Leave you spent or resentful or angry.
Make you less effective as an instrument of God’s grace.”

But if we lean on Jesus.
If we keep looking to him.
To how he loves us.
To his help and mercy,
the strength and the way he places before us,

…Then we will find that while our efforts aren’t sufficient,
They don’t need to be,
Because it’s not ever…
It’s never what we can do on our own.

But what we can accomplish when we open ourselves to letting the power of God
Go to work through us,
and get us…
keep us going.

It’s not our wisdom or effort or courage or doing.
It’s God’s grace that can make us so much better than we are on our own.

It’s the faith that we have as a deep pool,
A resource without end,
A reserve constantly renewed by God
That we are called to dip into and to live by,


live by.

Church, there are always so many victims by the side of the road.
Maybe even more these days.
So much violence.
So many threats.
Needs beyond our ability to meet,
Even beyond our comprehension.

But Jesus reassures,
“Stay focused on me;
I will show you a way.
I will not leave you alone.
I will see you through.

And with me, you will be surprised,
Not only by what you can do,
But how it will make a difference,

Not all the difference in the world,
But the difference you are called to make.”

Whether it’s greeting a stranger.
Or doing the dishes.
Whether it’s finding the next ministry to help the homeless.
Or the right word for a neighbor whose feeling down.
Whether it’s food for next Sunday’s evening service,
Or helping us tackle white privilege.

There is so much to do.
And a world so desperately in need.
But we’re not alone.
We have a Savior who will walk with us
And help us find our way,
And remember who we really are,
And show us what we can really do
And teach us how to do it…

Amen and Amen.
Thank you, Jesus.

What do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and not with enough help for?

How could you tap into some deeper resources, God-given, for tackling that task?