October 13, 2019
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.
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.’
As we approach November and the beginning of our Stewardship campaign for 2020, Leigh and I are preaching about the theological foundations of the work of the church, about what shapes our understanding of our ministry, and the theological foundations of how we partner with what God is doing in the world.
Thinking about the Mission of a community of faith can be overwhelming. There is a whole world to love, a lot of neighbors to show mercy to. Being a part of a church can feel a lot like being Martha in the story. Jesus, can’t you get some of these folks to help us out?! We don’t have to look to far to see needs in our midst, people who are hurting, work that needs to be done. But our text from this morning invites us to pause for a moment, as does this time in our life as a congregation, to take a step back and reflect a bit on what we are doing. Just because there are plenty of good things to do in the world around us, doesn’t mean that Jesus is calling us to undertake everything as a community. There is work for us to do, but Jesus’ Words to Martha echo through the ages, as true for us, as they were for her; “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” One thing Jesus? Ok, well, what is it?
In my over two years here as your Pastor, you may have noticed that I can be a bit of a Martha. I’m someone who likes to be a doer, is easily distracted, and can worry alongside the best of ‘em. I’m someone who needs to take stock now and then and listen for the voice of Jesus saying “this is the way, walk in it.” I imagine I’m not the only Martha in this room today. And so for the past year, in conversation with our mission team, our elders, Members of our environmental ministry SAGE, and members of this congregation, I’ve been leading folks in discerning what our call is as a community. There’s something beautiful and hopeful about asking folks how they feel called to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all of our mind. We’ve been exploring how we can love our neighbors as if they were us, and we them. One of the ways that has came up over and over again of loving God and neighbor and ourselves was sharing the Love of God that we experience in this place with others, and of encountering God’s love ourselves in this community. And in the face of the pain of our world, that can initially feel kinda small, and a little bit selfish, right? It can sound a little like Mary listening to Jesus while Martha is busy at work. It can smack a bit of the priest and the Levite walking past the bleeding man on the side of the road. Which is why I appreciate that these two stories appear one after the other in the Gospel of Luke. There is a tension in our faith that has been a part of communities who follow the living, liberating God since before Abraham. There’s agreement that we should love God, our neighbors and ourselves, but when we have limited time, energy, and resources, what then?
And so, over the past year, our session has been working to gather folks from our mission team, and SAGE, from our family and children’s ministry and our music ministry, to figure out “how should we love God, Neighbors, and ourselves well?”
When we stop to listen, when we discern, when we mediate on texts like this morning’s, is a call, not to do it all, but in all we do, to bring all of who we are to the table. At the heart of our two stories from scripture this morning, and I think at the heart of the Gospel, is a call to go deep with the people God has brought into our lives. Because if we want to love others as we love ourselves, well then we have to get to know people. It seems so simple, but when we’re trying to care for a broken and hurting world, when we want to show mercy, it’s easy to forget that one of our deepest longings is to be known. To be heard and to learn who each other are.
In our conversations to plan for 2020, we convened conversations around a set of questions, and we started by thinking about our neighbors that we know just a little, but would like to form deeper relationships with. When I asked folks to discern who we’d like to get to know better, the answers I heard were not all that surprising. We have a deep desire in this place to get to know one another more, especially our eldest members, and our newest friends, through a new round of Feasting in Faith dinner groups. We heard about our desire to form friendships with our families with young children so we can create children’s and family programming that feeds their spiritual growth. And it wasn’t just internally. We also want to get to know our neighbors more deeply, from the folks who call Woodbourne-McCabe home, to our friends in the Parish of Madre De Los Pobres in El Salvador. Over and over again, folks shared of wanting to form deeper relationships with our deaf members, our Jewish and Muslim friends in our area, with those we hope to change the world with, the poor and hungry, but also the lonely, those seeking a spiritual home.
Beloved, oftentimes when we think about the Mission of the Church, what we should do to make our world a different place, it is easy to be focused on tasks, on accomplishing. But the surprising, liberating truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that treating others like we would like to be treated means forming relationships where we understand ourselves as more than what we can do for someone else. Jesus’ call is much harder. We’re challenged to be friends, to risk forming relationships. Because when we do, the world can change in powerful ways. When we bring all of whom we are, not just our money, not just our time and energy, we can be like Mary and chose the better part that will not be taken away; love.
The Good Samaritan doesn’t see the man bleeding on the side of the road and walk by to drop money off at the inn for the innkeeper to go help the man. He stops, and gets to know him. He treats his wounds, puts him on his animal, and journeys with him. He leaves money to cover his care, sure, but that’s only part of what he does. He also promises to come back. We wouldn’t want someone to get so deeply involved in our lives and then never show up again, until we needed more resources. We, like Jesus, want to spend time with folks. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, these two men get to know each other, and it is this kind of love, beyond charity, but risking relationship, that can transform our world. Martha has many things to do, but being in relationship with Jesus, it has slipped off her list. And I know that temptation. But the better part, of actually forming a bond with God, our neighbors, and with the parts of ourselves that are lonely and broken, that can be loved by a community, that seems to be the better part of being a neighbor, being a Christian, being human.
So in 2020, our session and leaders would like to invite you into a way of partnering with God’s work in the world where we chose the better part; of forming relationships, and loving with all of who we are. Not just with our money, not just with our work, but with all of who we are. Because we are a family of faith that longs for eternal life; a quality of doing life together that doesn’t drain us and exhaust us, but that feeds others and ourselves, recognizing that not only do our neighbors deserve to be loved, but that we ourselves are called to risk being loved as well. Because when our Ministry as a community is rooted in love, what a beloved community we can build, where all are truly home.
And sometimes that means realizing that we can’t do everything, but we can do everything we do with great love, with friendship, with vulnerability, with risking being known and getting to know others, and being shaped by that love.
In the coming weeks, you’re going to be invited to think about how you can be a part of the Ministry of this place in 2020, and there are many ways of being involved. Yes, we’re asking for your money, and your time, and your energy, but we’re also asking for you to get to know people. The invitation to you is to discern what can help you grow in love, of God, of your neighbor, of each other, and how you can hear of God’s love for you. For some of us that will mean getting to know new people, to be loved by and love God in new ways, to go deeper in relationships that already exist. May love be our guide, and may we know that you are worthy of love and relationships, the kind that Jesus invites us to grow in, that the Holy Spirit whispers “this is the way for you, walk in it.” May we respond, and walk this road together in love.