Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't Do Your Chores, Kids

Brad Sullivan
St. Mark’s, Bay City
July 17, 2016 - Proper 11
Amos 8:1-12
Luke 10:38-42

Don’t Do Your Chores, Kids

I looked through several children’s Bibles on a hunch over the last week looking for the Martha and Mary story we just heard, and my hunch was confirmed.  Not a single one contained this story of Martha doing all the chores, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus telling Martha that Mary had it right.  No parent wants their children to hear this story.  “Don’t do your chores kids.  Just sit around and listen to Jesus.”

To be fair to both Mary and Martha, both work and rest are required.  We gotta get our chores done.  We gotta get our work done, and we want to strive for excellence in what we do.  Mary is not the patron saint of laziness.  She could be called the saint of setting aside all distractions and serenely receiving the Word of God.

Martha, on the other hand, wanted to receive the Word of God.  Indeed, she had invited Jesus into her home, but then she was too busy being a host that she couldn’t just be with Jesus.  She was like the people described in Amos 8:12, scurrying around searching for the Word of God and not finding it.  Martha has become a symbol for our time and our culture, searching frantically for some peace, for some good news, for some way to keep our heads above water.  Many of us even invite Jesus in, but we’re so busy and distracted, that we never actually find the peace, good news, and salvation for which we’re so frantically searching.  Mary found the Word of God in Jesus and knew her search and scurrying were over.  She could rest, and so can we if we will but choose to.

I’m guessing that for many of us, the thought that it’s actually good not to work for a while and just rest at Jesus’ feet is probably kinda nice.  That’s not what our economy would probably say, not what businesses might encourage; we may even feel bad about taking that time to rest, shamed by all the frantically searching Marthas, but looking at God’s plan from the beginning, rest and intentional time taking rest is such an integral part of what it is to be human, that it is even part of the image of God in which we were made.  God rested on the 7th day, just spent time with creation and with God’s self. 

Kristin encouraged me to rest last Monday, not to do a whole lot, just relax, spend time with the kids.  “I don’t relax very well,” was my reply, but she persisted.  So, I relented and spent time resting and being with the kids.  It was a great, grace-filled day.  Jesus was there in that time spent with family, in the rest, in the Sabbath. 

Looking at our traditional way of resting in the Word of God, we gather in our church for worship and communion for an hour each Sunday.  Let’s be honest that for many folks nowadays, coming to a church service isn’t exactly the first and best idea of rest, or something particularly enjoyable.  There are hard benches, old music, stories from an ancient book, sit, stand, kneel - that’s one way to experience worship. 

Here’s another.

We join in prayers and a way of worship going back over a thousand years…joining with Christians from the earliest days of Christianity.  We gather together with a community of faith, and doubt.  We sit at the feet of Jesus, who is unseen, yet ever-present.  We collect our prayers along with the prayers of others, and we set aside the worries of the day for a short respite; bring those worries here to lay down that heavy burden at the altar and take up the yoke of Jesus, his way and teaching, his life and guidance, and to receive his love. 

Taking up Jesus’ yoke and receiving his love means that we have to let our guard down a bit when coming to church.  For one thing, we have to see the cross.  We have to admit that we don’t have it all together.  We have to admit that as good a person as we each are, we’re also not great people, meaning that we all hurt each other.  We’re all broken people who break others out of our brokenness.  By coming to worship at a church, we have to acknowledge that, and we have to acknowledge our need for God to redeem us with himself.

Then, we also have to accept God’s acceptance of us.  God loves and accepts us not because we are good and not in spite of our flaws.  God loves and accepts us completely irrespective of our flaws because of how good God is.  To accept God’s acceptance of us, we have to let go of our shame which keeps telling us we’re not worthy of God’s love, lay that shame down at the foot of the cross, and accept that we are worthy of God’s love and belonging, simply because God loves us and we belong to him.  Period.  We don’t earn God’s love and belonging; on the one hand we can’t earn it, and on the other hand, we don’t need to.  We belong to God because we are beloved of God, because God chooses to love us no matter what. 

Seeing the cross and then accepting God’s acceptance of us is why we come here for worship and communion. These ideas are expanded on more beautifully in John Newton’s book, Falling Into Grace, and I continue to recommend it to you.

With all of the fear and anger and hatred in our world, we need to know that we belong and that we are loved.  Spending time, like Mary did, resting in the Word of God tells us that we belong and that we are loved.  So, for an hour a week, we get to soak that it.  We get to be lazy.  We get to sit…and kneel and stand, and not work, so that we can see the cross and accept God’s acceptance of us.  Let’s face it, we get to be lazy.  In the Episcopal Church, you don’t even have to work that hard at praying.  It’s all in written down in the Book of Common Prayer; you’ve got a script.    

Now I realize having this worship service is work for some.  Our altar guild prepares our space for worship; our ushers greet and guide us; our music leaders help us to pray through music and song; our lectors, acolytes, and Eucharistic Ministers help us to receive the Word of God in scripture and in sacrament, and our vestry members do just about everything on Sunday morning, especially if not primarily make coffee, the eighth sacrament.  So there is work involved in Sunday morning, but that work is geared toward our rest.  We’re both Martha and Mary. 

So with that work and that rest, what about when we mess up?  We say the prayers wrong, or sing out of tune, or spill the red wine all over someone’s beautiful white silk dress?  As far as I know that last one hasn’t happened, and honestly, I’d just advise against wearing a white silk dress to communion, but if someone messes up…cool.  This is a place of prayer and grace, of mercy, forgiveness, and love.  What if the kids are too loud or rambunctious?  Ok.  They’re kids.  Jesus said let ‘em come.  Out there we’re constantly struggling to keep up our appearances of perfection or of having it all together; it’s exhausting.

In here, when we gather for worship or anytime we gather as a community, we get to be imperfect.  We get to acknowledge the fact that we don’t have it all together, that we mess up, that our kids are loud.  We get to be our true, authentic, flawed selves, and we get to be loved for being those true, authentic, flawed selves. 

That’s what seeing the cross and accepting acceptance is all about.  Getting to be our true, authentic, flawed selves, and getting to be loved for being those true, authentic, flawed selves is  what sitting at the feet of Jesus allows us to do.  Rather than striving for perfection, we can just be.  We strive for excellence in our worship and in our preparation of this space, just like we strive for excellence in our lives.  Then when we inevitably fall short of that excellence, we can laugh and smile, and give thanks both for the striving and for the falling short.  After all, we don’t come here for our excellence.  We come here for Jesus. 

Jesus doesn’t come here because we are excellent or perfect.  Jesus comes here because we are his and we are beloved.  Amen. 

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