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

Stephen Schuette; Good Samaritan, Serial Killers, and Flannery O'Connor
2010-07-09 by David von Schlichten

Stephen has provided a substantial post full of useful material. Scroll down and soak it up.

Flannery O'Connor, a writer from Georgia who was a devout Roman Catholic and made extensive use of Christian ideas and imagery in her fiction, has a short story entitled, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" that fits with the Good Samaritan passage in a provocative, complex way.

The story is about a grandmother who is on a road trip to Florida with her adult son and his wife and children. The grandmother is self-righteous and complains endlessly about how young people today are no good and the world is going to pieces and everything was better when she was young. Through an error of recollection, she leads her family down a wrong road. They end up wrecking the car when the grandmother's cat, whom she has brought along, distracts the driver.

While stranded on the road in the middle of nowhere, the grandmother and her family have a shocking, horrific encounter. A serial killer called the Misfit and his two henchmen pull up beside the family. The henchmen take each family member to the woods and shoot them, one by one. The grandmother can hear them pleading and screaming in the background.

Meanwhile, the grandmother tries to plead for the Misfit to spare her. At this point, all her self-righteousness drops away. She is kind and affirming with the Misfit, saying that she can tell that he is good at heart. Finally, she says, "You are one of my children," and the Misfit shoots her to death.

She lies on the ground with her face gazing heavenward and her body in a position reminiscent of prayer. O'Connor is suggesting that the grandmother had found the grace of God in her last moments.

The Misfit then says of her, basically, "She was the kind of woman who could have been a good person if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life."

One scholar suggests that the Misfit functions as a savior-figure for the grandmother in that he brings out the best in her. In a sense, then, the Misfit is a variety of Good Samaritan, despite the fact that he does not mean to be. We have a serial killer who, through terrorizing and killing a person, saves her. The Good Serial Killer. 

That's probably too convoluted and dark to put into a sermon, but perhaps O'Connor's story can help to stimulate our thinking about this parable.

By the way, Flannery O'Connor is full of this kind of rich, religious, provocative story-telling. If only she had lived beyond 39.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Couple of Thoughts
2010-07-09 by Stephen Schuette

From two colleagues, these thoughts:

  1. Henry Nouwen (Sabbatical Journey) -- "Our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness and human need. If the church has a future, it is a future with the poor in whatever form."
  2. From a study Bible (not sure of the ID or publisher) on Amos 5:12 -- Eight common excuses for not helping the poor and needy:

    "1) They don't deserve help. They got themselves into poverty; let them get themselves out.
    2) God's call to help the poor applies to another time.
    3) We don't know any people like this.
    4) I have my own needs.
    5) Any money I give will be wasted, stolen or spent. The poor will never see it.
    6) I may become a victim myself.
    7) I don't know where to start, and I don't have time.
    8) My little bit won't make any difference."
  3. I was intrigued by David’s review of the classic Charles Chaplin film, City Lights, in reference to the parable and the idea that this might be primarily a parable about sight. (See Lectionary Homiletics, p. 53)  There are all kinds of stories in the Gospels:  healings that include, sight, lameness, possessions, etc.; parables, feedings, sermons, conversations…  But perhaps we too cleanly categorize them.  For Luke perhaps they are all related to his view that a basic prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, that the anointed one brings “good news to the poor…release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed for free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)  Isn’t it a form of blindness that obstructs the priest and Levite, even though they “see” the wounded traveler?  And isn’t it essentially a blindness about his neighbor that Jesus is attempting to cure in the lawyer?

2010-07-07 by David von Schlichten

Kiyoshi "Uncle John" Watanabe was a Lutheran, Japanese pastor. He spent two years studying at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, but he was first and last a loyal son of Japan.

When World War II. erupted, Watanabe was conscripted by the Japanese army to serve as an interpreter for British POWs in a prison camp in Hong Kong. While Watanabe served in this capacity, he noticed that many of the British POWs were not receiving proper medical care. Watanabe started smuggling medication from outside the camp to the prisoners in the camp. If he had been caught, he would have been denounced as a traitor of Japan and could have been put to death. Watanabe was transferred to other camps, where he carried on similar activity, helping his enemies.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Watanabe's wife and one of his daughters were in the city at the time.

After the war, Watanabe appeared on British TV to tell his story. Afterwards, a viewer approached him and said that she had always hated the Japanese, having assumed that they were heartless monsters. Having met Watanabe, she now knew better.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

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