Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2013)
If last week’s lectionary readings focused on love of neighbour, the emphasis this week is on love of God.
As a deacon I’m always on the lookout for diakon-words in the epistle or gospel. Today I find it in Luke’s description of Martha, wanting to welcome Jesus, yet “pulled in all directions by much serving (diakonian).” It’s so easy in ministry to be drawn into “much serving” and to forget that the first rule of hospitality is to attend to the guest. It’s so easy in worship to be drawn into action, even liturgical action, and forget that the first rule is to attend, to listen.
This Sunday’s lectionary readings seem to invite attention to the message and meaning of Sabbath, alluded to in the Amos passage and reinforced in the story from Luke, as the foundation of our relationship with God.
For all its layers of meaning, Sabbath is primarily about non-action, about presence and resting. Amos bristles at the lip service paid to Sabbath laws by the merchants of Israel, who wait impatiently for the day to pass so they can get back to their business of exploitation and deceit, “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (Amos 8.6)
For the God of Israel, Sabbath is not just a day off in a week of hard work. It is an act of justice brought about by restraint from busy-ness, the kind of restraint that gives rest to the land and restores to the poor a small portion of the goods of the earth. Just as fruit that has been harvested but not distributed becomes rotten and over-ripe, so a nation that harvests its wealth for gain and not justice is headed for corruption and decline: “The end has come upon my people Israel.” (Amos 8.2)
How does Luke’s gospel reflect this Sabbath theme? Not so much a moral imperative as an invitation to be open to surprise at who God is and how God acts. Having just told a parable about the sin of inaction through neglect of the neighbour in need, Jesus now unexpectedly points to Mary, the one who sits and listens, as having chosen the better part.
I would want to associate this passage with the one that comes later in Luke (12.35f.): “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” Is it possible that Martha got it wrong because she thought she was the one doing the serving? More than anything, God longs to sit down and be present to us, to serve us the ripe fruit of summer, yet we may not notice if we’re too busy with our own agenda.
Observing the Sabbath, sitting and listening, receiving the gifts of creation are ways to create space so that God can act – to nourish the poor, to still the storm, to come and serve. If we practice “the better part” – as a church and as disciples, then our diakonia becomes the channel of God’s justice, and God’s mission, and God’s love.
Maylanne Maybee, a member of APLM Council, is an Anglican deacon serving in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. She is Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, that prepares women and men for ministry in the diaconal tradition of the Anglican and United Churches.