Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What brings you here? What is the core of our life here at Christ the King Church for which you keep coming back? When we ask this question, the answer we often get is worship. And rightly so. Worship is at the center out of which all else flows. It is this mix of word and music, the progression from gathering to hearing to praying to sharing a meal to being blessed and sent, – music, singing, chanting woven through and through. It is the mix of order and beauty, of form and freedom, of seriousness and exuberance. And sometimes, in all this, the mystery of God is revealed right in our midst, we know it, and do not even know how it happens. The visitors (or was it just one) at Abraham and Sarah’s tent by the terebinth of Mamre, did they just stop by here?
Worship is at the center of life here. Since about 50 years this congregation has continued to emphasize, grow and deepen our focus on worship and taken great care in doing so.
But of course, our congregational life is at the same time so richly filled with the ministries of service and teaching, the continued forming of our faith, deeply invested in social justice advocacy, hands on works of love, health ministry, care for our own and care for those who need our help.
Last year during our so called Faithful Imagination listening sessions toward a strategic plan, we heard something new. It may come as a surprise given our emphasis on worship. There is desire for more spirituality, for devoted attention to God’s word, God’s call. What does God tell me, what do I need to hear, to know, to redirect in my life? Spirituality, and house churches were key words we heard.
Every Christian practice needs as its foundation a spiritual, biblical base. When that is missing, we feel empty. We all have very different antennas for knowing this about ourselves, levels of consciousness that we need to be grounded in some sort of reflection as a base for living.
Some of us are longtime “spiritual practitioners”, some more outwardly, others intensely privately, still others sort of stumble upon yearning feelings for something deeper at an unforeseen time.
For starters, the story of the three mysterious (or one) visitors to Abraham and Sarah invites us into wonder-full personal reflection, readying ourselves to make God’s presence the foundation, the base, welcoming God’s at our table, into our particular, individual reality.
Colossians points out the gift of God’s word. On it we can firmly ground life and faith, because its mystery has now been revealed. The word of God was hidden throughout the ages and generations and has now been revealed to the saints. They, and we with them, see the riches of God’s glory and mystery alive and effective among all nations – thanks to Paul, the other apostles, the women and countless saints on whose witness we build.
Our yearning, sisters and brothers, for spiritual grounding, being securely anchored in faith, in God’s real presence, is no surprise after all.
Lives are busy. Making meaning does not come easy. Distraction, confusion, over-extendedness eat away at the foundation. We are in many ways at a loss, feelings of emptiness creep in. We find ourselves in the changing of a world order that we thought kept us safe. People who did not have a seat at the table in this world order are voicing their discontent. We begin to face the consequences of denying the damage our ways of life have done to our natural environment. We are forced to deal with changes that we saw coming, that are deep and we didn’t want to pay attention to.
The feelings of the bases slipping away are compounded by a way of life that is busier, more connected, faster, and more frazzled and distracted than ever.
Our instinct to get grounded spiritually in the word and in the promise of God is correct, dear friends. Not to flee the world, shut down over the threats and changes, but find footing in order to fully immerse ourselves in this world God so loves, and live the freedom for which Christ has freed us.
Love of God and love of neighbor in this time and in this world, in the freedom of Christ, is still our topic, sisters and brothers. Last week’s parable of the good Samaritan had Jesus say to his conversation partner, Go and do likewise, love your neighbor with mercy-love that comes from God.
Now we see the sisters Martha and Mary trying to figure out love of God. Martha loves Jesus, serving him dinner. Mary loves Jesus, sitting at his feet studying.
I’ve wondered about this story all week. There are things that bother me – the portrayal of women involved in a petty sibling squabble, appealing to a male authority to settle it. At the same time Martha and Mary appear to be independent, likely authority figures, leaders of a house church, but we cannot conclude anything from this observation.
Instead of solving/dissolving the tensions between the busy, distracted woman in the kitchen and the devoted one at Jesus’ feet, applying our 21st century sensibilities, let’s go with Luke and be wise, hold these two ways suspended – love of God and love of neighbor.
In our yearning for a safe and strong grounding for life in this time, let’s accept the invitation not to find a simple answer but keep reflecting which way is the most genuine to hold in balance service and devotion, action and contemplation.
Because, after all, neither service or focus on God’s word, love of neighbor or perfect worship, are free of the danger to miss God’s will for us, to miss God’s presence with us. Each can be practiced in self-serving ways that in the end do not serve neighbor or God but only our own need for attention and place.
Dear friends, in response to the earnest desire expressed in our listening sessions last year for “more spirituality,” we will begin in September with house churches. Flowing out of our being centered in the Eucharistic Sunday worship, a few small groups will start meeting once a month at a home for a simple dinner, fellowship, and a time for study/devotion/prayer. Each group follows the same structure but will flesh out its own ways of listening, paying attention, talking, praying.
We will practice holding in balance the tension between activity and devotion, tasks of hospitality, desire for fellowship, desire for study, prayer, focus. It is a good thing that Jesus reminds us that only one thing is important, to be present to God’s presence, not our own. Like Abraham and Sarah hosting God in their midst, hearing the announcement of unbelievable, joyous promise.
May the God of Abraham and Sarah, and of Martha and Mary bless our gatherings, meal and prayer, searching and finding. You are invited.
And now, let us do just this, pray, break bread, and go forth. Amen.