Sunday, July 10, 2016

Inward Journey (Sermon)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

I had another sermon planned and prepared.

I switched the readings and prayers between this week and next, because I wanted to preach a two-part sermon on the inward journey and the outward journey of faith.  The journey we make through prayer and contemplation, and the journey we make through action and mission. It made more sense to me to start with the inward journey, exemplified by Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and then to move on to the outward journey, with the Good Samaritan modeling attentiveness to the stranger.  Plus next week is our afternoon service of prayer and music on the eve of the convention, a service that constitutes a statement by us of our willingness as a congregation to participate in the outward journey, to offer our prayers in service of our city and nation.

I had a plan.

And then Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge.  And then Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.    And then five law enforcement officers were shot and killed by a sniper in Dallas as they were engaged in the sacred work of protecting Americans who were themselves exercising their sacred right to protest the loss of black lives. 

And then I read an essay by a friend who is the white mother to a black son, a son who is a charming three-year old, and who says that when she and her husband adopted him, people asked her how she was going to prepare to mother her black son.  Twelve years ago, no one asked how she was going to prepare to mother her white daughter.

And then I read an essay by a friend whose white stepson is a law enforcement officer in Florida, and about how she recognizes the risks of his life, and the lives of his wife and children,

And so my plans changed.  And so for the third time in six weeks I am wearing the stole Rev.Rosalind Hughes made for me, the orange stole to protest gun violence.  And once again I find myself compelled to preach about events which affect all of us.

How so? You might be asking?  What do any of these events -- shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas have to do with us, here in Bay?  And what does the turmoil in our black communities have to do with us, in this beautiful lakeside city in which we strive to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all?  And what does any of it have to do with Jesus and Mary and Martha.?

Now I know how many Marthas are here in this congregation. And Marthas are out in full force right now -

bringing casseroles
organizing protests
working to change the underlying attitudes and structures which give rise to this persistent violence in our nation

But today we also see Martha’s sister Mary
refusing to be distracted
focusing on Jesus
on Jesus who is headed toward Jerusalem
headed toward that place and time in his life where he will confront injustice and violence head on, and will himself be subjected to both

Mark no mistake about it
Jesus is not only the Son of God who reminds us over and over again to love one another
Jesus is not only the Son of God wililng to make the ultimate sacrifice
Jesus is also the Son of God born into an oppressed people –

Jesus is the Son of God who fully aligns himself with

those who are poor,
those who are disenfranchised,
those who are subjected to oppression and violence and
those who face daily the destruction of their lives and communities.

That's the Jesus to whom Mary is listening.
That's the Jesus to whom we are called to listen.

We struggle so  to listen intently.
We struggle mightily to grow in our inner lives of the spirit

we are quite naturally do-ers like Martha - in church, at home, at work
we live in a culture in which busyness and achievement are valued and rewarded
we don't really learn to listen
in ordinary conversation - we are waiting for our turn!
to God - we focus on our liturgy and on intercessory prayer
such important aspects of our faith lives -

but seldom on LISTENING
which is where deep prayer begins

You know this, many of you, already, in your personal lives
You pray and pray and pray for someone or something, and the situation does not change,
and eventually you begin to pray for patience
and for courage and for resilience,
and perhaps eventually you begin
to watch and listen for what GOD is saying and doing

This is the prayer to which Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, calls us
We pray -- as we are also called to do - for those killed and injure
We pray -- as we are called to do -- for those who protect and lead us
But we also pray by listening and watching
What is Jesus saying to each of us?

We pray by putting aside our eagerness to defend ourselves,
to maintain the status quo, to stay in our protected world

And we listen to the one who does none of those things --
Who is not defensive,
not bent on maintaining things as they are,
Not seeking to protect himself --

Jesus, visiting Mary and Martha, is on his way to Jerusalem
their home is safe and comfortable, but he is not going to stay there
Jerusalem is the place to which he has to go to confront
and overcome violence and injustice
the cross is the destination which he has to face in order to triumph
over all that seeks to destroy us - over death itself

So this week, like Mary: we re called to listen to him
We are told to put aside our own priorities and preoccupations
We are directed to let go of our own biases and preconceptions

What is Jesus saying to you,
how is he speaking to you,
through the lives and voices of those who have been killed,
and through the lives and voices of the communities who mourn them?

If we are truly sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus’ voice,
Then we know that he speaks for those whose voices are so often silenced
and we know that his call is always to that which gives life. 

How is he calling each of us this morning?

The above is more or less what I preached this morning.  I have been preaching more and more from outlines ~ the briefer, the better ~ but I had some things I wanted to be sure not to forget or garble today, and so I wrote much more than usual, three versions worth.


  1. Robin this so, so, so good. And such an invitation to listen and to search our lives, deeply, for the Spirit to be much more present and active. Well done.