2010-07-20 by Stephen Schuette

Have you ever thought of what a courageous thing it is to pray?  If we are addressing ourselves to the greatest power conceivable, the source of everything that is it is awesome to even imagine.

Abraham shows this courage.  Look at the variant reading note for Gen. 18:22:  “The Lord stood before Abraham.”  Many claim the variant as original since it is the “harder” reading, and some scribe along the way would be more likely to soften it to “Abraham stood before the Lord.”  Understood this way, out of the Covenant Promise Abraham is claiming his full relationship with God and asking to clearly identify God’s self.  This relationship will not be confined to a narrow channel.  It is broad and open and honest.

But perhaps for lack of courage we often keep our prayer confined to narrow channels.  We pray “appropriately.”  We often pray with customary words and out of tradition more than honesty about where we are.  Think of the breadth of prayer in the psalms!  The scriptures are extraordinary in this openness.

Somewhere in Barth (I’m not sure where), it’s suggested that prayers of praise are static prayers.  They are prayers content with what is.  OK.  To a degree that’s legitimate, and can be authentic.  But if that’s all we pray, if we never move to a bidding, asking, seeking prayer, a prayer that challenges what is and imagines what could be if the fullness of God’s promises are realized then our prayer is limited indeed.

And I hear Jesus as a cheerleader for us in this.  “Ask…” he says.  Push for it, persisently.  Knock.  Be courageous!  I’m quite sure Jesus doesn’t want lily-livered, weak-kneed, yes-people for disciples.  In fact it may be that prayers which lack imagination and largeness of vision are a problem not because of us, because they make us seem too demanding.  It may be that prayers which lack vision really lack faith in God’s capacity to do great things.  So, take courage!

Mary and Martha as Portrait of Praxis; Mountain Genocide
2010-07-16 by David von Schlichten

Mary and Martha remind us that we need both action and listening/reflection. Both are open to women, and indeed to all of us. We need to listen to Christ. We need to take action. Listen. Act. Listen Act. All with Christ's guidance.

This week I listened about mountaintop removal mining happening in Appalachia. To save time and expense corporations blast the tops of mountains off and dump the rubble into a valley. This is done for easier coal extraction. The result is the devastation of at least the top third of mountains that are among the oldest in the world. You can imagine what happens to the animal and plant life on those mountains and in the valleys below.

The enormity of the destruction is most obvious from the air looking down. The once lush mountains resemble a moonscape.

God led me to hear about this horror. Now I'm taking action. Then I'll listen some more, sitting at Christ's feet. Help me, Great Spirit.

For more information on mountaintop removal mining, go to:

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2010-07-14 by Stephen Schuette

Someone offered this question/comment to me through Submit a Question above.  My response is below.

Do you think that the "urgency" of this final trip to Jerusalem might have been in the back of Jesus' mind in this instance? I don't think that Jesus altered his message from his early ministry to this point, but he was running out of time in trying to explain what was going to happen to him to his followers who still did not understand his purpose on Earth. So in Mary and Martha, he sees one who understands the need to sit and listen to what he has to say, and one who doesn't. It then becomes not that Martha is doing the "wrong" thing, but that Mary is doing the "right" thing. To me, the actions of these two women sum up the two responses of those who followed his ministry. Jesus knew his time was almost up on Earth, and in these two women he found one where he wanted all of his followers to be, and one who didn't grasp the importance of his visit in this late stage in his life.

My response to this unknown questioner:  I like your focus on Jesus.  That seems like a faithful way to hear the text, and so would offer a word of appreciation about that.  And I'd agree that Jesus is concerned about his followers after he is gone.  But I wonder if he is concerned for himself or for them?

I'm trying to get at a basic problem with the story that troubles me.  Apparently Jesus has received and benefited from Martha's hospitality.  To partake of that and then to turn around and side with her sister and to suggest that she should not have been offering that type of hospitality at all but should have been doing what Mary was doing all along doesn't make sense.  Jesus, and presumably Mary too, have stomachs that are full and appetites that are satisfied all due to Martha's hospitality.  What I'm suggesting is that if Jesus desired that attention from both Mary and Martha he could have invited it before eating the meal.  To do so afterward, and then to make comment at Martha's expense makes Jesus almost abusive of Martha's energies and efforts after he has benefited from them.

To be sure, Jesus appreciates Mary's devotion and attention.  But I suspect that while eating the meal he also appreciated Martha's devotion and attention, as he appreciated the woman who anointed him with oil at another meal(Luke 7:45ff).  It could be that Jesus isn't judgmental about the way in which people show their devotion and attention.  The only requisite is that it be genuine.  But he is consistently judgmental of judgment.  That is what clearly betrays a lack of genuineness in the devotion toward Jesus (and the great commandment) and is of concern in believers’ relationships with each other after he is gone.  After all, if either Martha or Mary can triangle Jesus there'll be no end to it among the followers of Jesus in the Church.

Authentic Ministry
2010-07-13 by Stephen Schuette

The most striking thing about the Mary and Martha story, from a family systems point of view, is the triangling.  The situation is, after all, perfectly suited to it.  There are two siblings and a person of authority whose authority they both recognize.  What a set up!  It seems to invite pyschologizing.

As with every triangle the undifferentiated members would like to draw you in.  Every pastor knows the signs.  “Pastor, don’t you think this color for the carpeting is best?”  “Pastor, don’t you think Gene is shirking his responsibilities as Chair of the Trustees?”  “Pastor, I’ve managed the kitchen for 30 years.  If I didn’t do it, it would fall to pieces.  It just seems like no one else cares.”

Viewed in this way the “trap” of the story is to work ourselves into the middle of the triangle and take sides:  bad Martha, good Mary; bad to act, good to sit and listen; bad to “do,” good to “be.”  But this betrays the way that Jesus seems open to both Mary and Martha from the beginning of the story both for who they are and the gifts they have to offer.

After all, Jesus might have preemptively said at some point to Martha, “Martha, why don’t you let the dishes be?  We’ll get to those later.  But for now I’d like to have you in the conversation so we can all be together.”  If he really thought it would be better for Martha to listen than be active he could have said that.  But Jesus is not judging either Mary or Martha.

Martha is the one to raise the issue against her sister.  And I hear Jesus saying, “Martha, this judgment isn’t coming from your genuine self.  It’s coming out of your worries and distractions and anxieties.”  In other words, perhaps if Martha would have offered her service calmly, centerdly, genuinely there would be a blessing in that too rather than jealousy and spite.  So the “better part” is not about being “active” or “passive” but being your true, God-given self.  That’s what can’t be taken from Mary, or us.  (Interesting that the hospitality in Genesis is so authentic.)

It could be that Jesus is only judging Martha’s judgment.  Otherwise he is radically affirming of both.  And there’s a powerful message about women (and indirectly, men) in the early church:  we don’t have a “role,” we have a ministry that is connected with our genuine, God-given selves.

Hypocrisy Sermon
2010-07-10 by David von Schlichten

My sermon for July 11 is based on the Good Samaritan story and is in part a response to the common criticism that the Church is full of hypocrites. The sermon contends that, just as it is unfair to label all Samaritans as no good, so also is it unfair to label all priests and Levites - and other Church members - as hypocrites. You can read my sermon and give me feeback by going to "Share It!" and then to the "Sermon Feedback Cafe."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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