Proper 11: July 22, 2007.
Psalm 52 or Psalm 15
Genesis 18 begins with a story of hospitality, a surprise guest, and a reaffirmed promise. Abraham had pitched his tent near the oaks of Mamre (near Hebron, south of Jerusalem and overlooking the Dead Sea in the southern part of the West Bank). With wonderful storytelling style, the narrator informs the reader that it was the Lord who visited Abraham, while the patriarch himself didn't yet know who his guests were. The reader is told what Abraham saw: Three men appeared suddenly. Mysteriously, it seems that Abraham did not see them as they approached. The text does not say whether the Lord was one of the three or was present as all three together. Abraham ran to greet them, honored them by bowing, and invited them to stay. Extending hospitality was a cultural requirement, but what Abraham offered was extravagant. He described it diminutively: a little water and a morsel of bread. In fact, the "three measures" was an immense amount of fine wheat flour. Although dry measures were not standardized, three seahs equaled one ephah, which may be estimated at between twenty and twenty-four quarts, or about one-third of a bushel! Abraham also slaughtered a calf, preparing a true feast. The reading concludes with the Lord's promising Abraham that Sarah will have a son "in due season."
The beautiful Christ-hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 celebrates the place of Christ at the center of God's work. Christ is the image of God, firstborn of creation. All things were created through Christ and have their proper place in relation to him. In Christ the fullness of God is present. Through Christ God is making peace in the cosmos. What is most interesting and surprising are the echoes (and thus denials) of the claims of imperial Rome concerning Caesar. The cult of the emperor honored Caesar in terms very similar to what is claimed for Christ!
The Pauline author echoes language of the Christ-hymn to remind the readers of God's great gift of reconciliation that they have received through Christ's suffering and death. As Gentiles, the readers must know that they were formerly alienated from God. In the gospel message proclaimed by Paul, they have been restored to relationship with God. This message announces the mystery hidden for ages but now revealed. This divine secret is truly breathtaking: Christ--the centerpoint and linchpin of all creation--is "in you." For believers, then, it is of supreme importance to continue in faith, to endure (and even rejoice) in suffering, and to grow toward maturity in Christ.
Luke 10 tells of Jesus' visit with Martha and Mary. Luke presents the scene very simply: Martha worried about providing the sort of hospitality that was expected, while Mary listened as a student to Jesus' teaching. Martha was resentful that Mary was not helping and asked Jesus to intervene. Jesus gently reproved Martha for being worried about "many things" (see Luke 12:22-34 about worry about what is secondary over against what is genuine treasure), indicating that Mary's attention to Jesus' words was of true and lasting value.
Notice the placement of this story. Luke pictures Jesus coming to "a certain village" to visit with Martha and Mary. In John 11:1 we learn that they lived in Bethany, quite near Jerusalem to the southeast, but according to Luke's travel narrative Jesus has been passing through Samaritan territory (9:52)--far to the north--and won't enter Jericho (northeast of Bethany) until chapter 19. Since Luke has chosen to insert this story ahead of its proper geographic context, the reader may consider whether it is intended to clarify or qualify an adjacent part of the text.
This story may be read in two rather different (but not mutually exclusive) ways, pushing further or providing limits for insights drawn from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Mary attends to Jesus like a student learning from the teacher, but in doing so she has transgressed culturally defined gender roles. Tom Wright says, "There is no thought here of learning for learning's sake. Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher for the kingdom of God" (Luke for Everyone [Westminster John Knox, 2004], 131). Just as the compassionate Samaritan deconstructed accepted limits for identifying the neighbor, so Mary deconstructs accepted limits for women. Alternately, Jesus' clear approval of Mary's devotion to the Word may be meant to balance the parable's emphasis on serving: Rather than serving or studying, the disciple of Jesus embraces both serving and studying.
Some preachers may be drawn to the image of quiet comfort in the Luke text. For believers who feel overwhelmed by the pace of change in their world, Mary reveals the one thing that is reliable, the constant that will not be taken away. It is to bask in the goodness of God given in Jesus. There is something beautiful and peaceful in the image of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. It captures one of the reasons some believers come to church. They are seeking a place of beauty and peace. They draw deep strength from this still point where everything stops moving, even if only for a moment.
Other preachers may be drawn to the more challenging imagery of the Christhymn from Colossians. Christ is the image of God, the one to whom all things belong and in whom all things hold together. Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat claim that as soon as the author of Colossians "made references to 'the image of God,' 'firstborn' and 'first place,' everyone with ears to hear would know that he was contrasting Jesus with Caesar" (Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2004], 89). They suggest that the church in our time needs leaders who will assert Christ's sovereignty in ways that are equally direct. They attempt to make a culturally appropriate translation of the "thrones, dominions, rulers and powers" which all belong to Christ, proposing that the powers of the twenty-first century might be "the Pentagon, Disneyland, Microsoft or AT & T ... the institutionalized power structures of the state, the academy or the market" (p. 86). They call the Christian community to resist giving their hearts or imaginations to any vision for life that is less than that embodied by Jesus.
These two approaches may not be as far apart as they might at first seem. David James Duncan speaks of his prayer practice with an image drawn from Matt 6:6. Jesus speaks of going into one's closet to pray so that prayer is not contrived to be a public show but is a genuine opening of one's heart before God. Duncan describes having "a secret life in the closet. And it's become more or less portable, this closet. I've learned to occupy it, quite a bit of the time, even when I'm 'out in the world'" (Robert Darden, interview of Duncan in The Wittenberg Door [January/February 2007], 10). How strong and peaceful might our lives be if we, like Mary, cultivated time to sit in the presence of our risen Lord? How bold might our lives of discipleship be if we, like Duncan, learned to recognize and be nurtured by that presence in every place we go? AJC
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Couch, Aaron J.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2007|
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