July 17, 2016

Where Is Your Focus?

Passage: Amos 8:1-12 and Luke 10:38-42
Service Type:

Where Is Your Focus?
Amos8: 1 - 12
Luke 10: 38 – 42
Rev. L. Bryan McClain
July 17. 2016

Let us pray.  Oh God we come together, here in this place, this place of worship, this hallowed ground.  Seeking your presence, your guidance in a world that seems so wrong.  Yet we look around and we see so few here.

But Lord, we are here.  Speak to us.  Let your words fall fresh on our ears; that we might see the hope that you would have us to see.  We ask this in Christ's name, Amen.

You know, sometimes the word of God can just literally blow you out of the water.  The shock affect of what God will speak through the prophets would sometimes just laid Israel back, and unawares, unknowing; though they should have.  To know that God was speaking directly to them.  In the case of Amos speaking as a Prophet.  Talked a little bit about this last week.  He begins his prophecy against the nations that have gone against God's word.  And he begins with those nations that Israel could care nothing about. They did not like them.  And so, Amos would lay out the scenario, the beginning of his prophecy for your sins and all this; this God has against you and you hear Israel all sitting in the background saying "Yeah, get 'em God! Go for 'em, go for 'em!"  But then as Amos worked his way through the list of nations that God was coming down on, it would get closer and closer to finally to their allies.  It was to Judah.  And then last, but certainly not least, the nation that God had something against.  That God would not take back his wrath upon them, was Israel itself.

What?!?  What us?  They had been distracted from God's word.

For years now, we have heard the cry about the removal of Prayer from Schools, the removal of religious documents from public buildings such as the Ten Commandments from courthouse walls or whatever.  Maybe the talk of removing the slogan “In God We Trust” from our currency, or "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, things like that.

Speaking as a Pastor, I can appreciate this concern.  I do, I worry about that too.  But I guess I could appreciate it a little more if I knew that those who I hear making that complaint most often, would do a little more to make their voice of complaint a justified one by actually showing up to Church every now and then. 

Look around you. 

The word of God they claim to love so much, they are not here to hear.  So many of them do not even darken the door of a church anymore.

Too many people in today’s world are like Mary in today's story, or like the legal expert in last weeks story who wanted to know what he must do to inherit Eternal Life.  And as Jesus told him what he must do to inherit eternal life, then he went a step further and said "a Samaritan was walking down the street and noticed a man laying in the ditch."  That story.  When we hear words like that he could not bring himself to understand what Jesus was talking about. Well he did.  But to reach out and realize that the Samaritan was the good neighbor, was more than he could bear.  

He had lost sight of the bigger picture. He had gotten lost in the minutia of the weeds of details, about the laws that he tried to keep.  Missing the bigger picture of God's love and Grace.  That really have more to do and he was more concerned about some cultural tradition or bias rather than he was about the true meaning of God’s Word.  And in some way we see that in today's lesson as well. 

Jesus has come to the hometown of Mary and Martha. Of course they have their brother Lazarus, but he is not mentioned in this story. Yet it seems that Martha and Mary know Jesus as Jesus knows them.

She's invited Jesus to be a guest in her home.  As a guest, he will no doubt present some of his teachings as Martha would expect. That's what they did back then. 

But Martha was also living up to an expectation of her own self.  To live out this  traditional role as a woman to prepare the food for her guests.  It was expected.

In fact, she was expecting all of the women in her household to include her Sister Mary to do that very same thing.

And we would not expect anything different in our own day and time.  Would we not?  It seems.  After all, people are going to want to eat.  It’s how you get people to come to things. Right?  At least that's what Lloyd used to tell us.

Somebody has to think about those things, somebody has to organize it and coordinate it and delegate it.

And Martha, being the good manager that she was notices that Mary, not only has shirked her duties as a woman and gotten in the kitchen and involved in the task of women to help make the preparations for the food; but she dares (Mary dares!)  to set herself in a position of a man sitting at the feet of Jesus, as if she could be a disciple!  Something that only men would have done.

As we would expect, Martha's not too happy about it.   That her Sister would not listen to her very own Sister. (chides with his own children...laughter).

Her Sister would not even listen to her!  And as you would also might expect, since she cannot make Mary do this, she turns to Jesus who seems to have Mary’s full attention.  She basically tells Jesus that Mary is not doing her part.  She is not fulfilling her role as a good traditional Jewish woman. "So Jesus make her stop!"

But now here is where they, she (Martha), and perhaps we might get a little wrapped around the axle about.  Because we too are so used to living within the bounds of our traditions and cultural boundaries and role expectations; that we can very easily appreciate Martha’s concern.

And to be honest, we might be taken aback a little bit when Jesus begins to scold not Mary, but Martha.  When we hear him say to her: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things."


Now, that's ironic isn't it?  In the business world, especially if we think about today's world; Martha would have been praised for her focus on the details of making this dinner go off without a hitch, for ensuring that everything was just right.  Her multi- tasking would be seen as impeccable.
She no doubt would have been praised for her being able to be a task-master and keeping everybody to the task at hand.  Except for Mary.  Jesus’ words to Martha counters this very thinking by saying that Martha is worried and distracted by many things.  Kinda like Israel, back in Amos' day.  They had gotten worried and distracted by too many other things.  They did not pay attention to God's word.

They'd forgotten.  They left it to someone else. They strayed away.

I don’t know if you've ever met an orthodox Jew or not; but if you have, you would have noticed a few things about the way they are dressed.  You would notice for one that they would keep their heads covered with either a hat or Yamaka for men, or a scarf for the women, especially out in public.  You also might notice long strands hanging from the men's waistband called I believe  ?Dreidels?, you might even notice tiny scrolls of paper tucked up their sleeves.  All of these things are reminders that Jews, especially Orthodox Jews are required to wear to keep the word of God on their heart and on their mind, day and night.

{If you were to see these stretched out you would notice that they are words of scripture either from the Book of law or from the wisdom literature such as the psalms or maybe the prophets}.

All of these are the constant reminders that Old Testament Scripture tells the faithful Jew that must keep on their person to remind them of God’s presence everyday. That is to say, it is to keep them focused on God’s Word.

So far as Martha knew and understood, she thought she was doing her part and doing it right, because the role of keeping God’s word in the Jewish world was up to the men.  Her role was to be the support system in the back.

But Jesus contradicts that thought by telling Martha that no, in fact Mary has it right.  That it is up to all of God’s people, male and female, young and old to know and understand God’s word.

To pay attention to it, to live by it, to focus on it.  Mary’s focus, not Martha’s was in the right place for what was going on at the time.

Now that is not to take away from what Martha had chosen to do.  Somebody had to prepare the food for all to eat.  But the purpose of the gathering was not about eating; it was to hear what Jesus had to say, which was the Word of God.

You see, nothing should take precedence over Hearing the Word of God.  That was Mary’s focus and that should be our focus today; and to inscribe it not on paper or tuck it up our sleeves, or on a Courthouse wall somewhere; but to inscribe those words upon our hearts.

And so Mary’s action becomes a liberating move for women all over and from every culture, because Jesus has told Martha and us that Mary has chosen the better part.

So what does this have to do with our modern day problems? 

Well I find it just a tad bit ironic that when so many people in our society get up in arms about whether or not something is inscribed on the wall of a courthouse or inside a school building, or even whether or not public prayers are allowed at a sporting event.

When many of those doing the complaining don’t bother to crack open a bible and begin to do what Jesus has actually commanded that we do and that is to inscribe the Words of God on our hearts.

Remember when Jesus tells the Samaritan women at the well that the day is coming when people will neither worship in Jerusalem nor at the well of Jacob, but they will worship in spirit and in truth because the Word will be inscribed on their hearts.

Truthfully speaking, when it is inscribed upon our hearts, we will not get lost in the minutia of details or the weeds of cultural biases mistaking God’s word for what are nothing more than traditional roles that have nothing to do with following God’s Word.

God said Write the Words on your hearts.  Mary was there to do just that.  Write the Word of the Lord on her heart, and Jesus would not take away from her.

Her Focus was in the right place. When we decide to skip church to go spend a day on the beach, our out hunting whether it is for that deer or that bargain.
When our political positions begin to keep us from hearing what God Keeps trying to tell us over and over again (like in Israel back in the day of Amos) what it is that needs to be inscribed on our hearts.  When our biases and prejudices contradict what we hear the gospel of Jesus Christ saying and we decide to chalk it up to a difference in time and place.

It begs the question: "Where is your focus?"

Are you distracted by all of these things?  Have you gotten lost in the minutia and weeds of tradition and cultural biases, only to lose focus on what is most important, that of hearing God’s word?

If it is, then let me suggest once again that we hear Jesus' words to Martha.  Not as a lambasting, berating, humiliating remark, but as correction of priority for truly living as a child of God.  Whether you are male or female, five years old or a 105, it matters not.

Read those words again...

Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus, intently listening to the Word of God has chosen the better portion.  I believe that if we the people who call ourselves Christian worked on doing this more, by coming to church in the community and fellowship of fellow believers and by engaging in good bible study, and involving ourselves in doing God’s work, more, then we wouldn’t need to worry about whether things are inscribed on the walls of a courthouse, or on a coin, or whether or not our faith is proclaimed from the microphone of someone praying before a football game or any other game. Because you see the Word would already be inscribed on our hearts. We could live as freely in our faith, as Mary has discovered is able to live in hers. And maybe too, Martha.

Laws may indeed be passed to remove the Word of God from the walls of a courthouse, and that is concerning.  But more concerning than that, no one except you can remove them or keep them from ever being inscribed on the wall of your heart.

So with that, the question is...where is your focus and where would you rather the Words of the Lord be inscribed?

Your homework this week:

Go home and memorize a passage of scripture.  But don't just memorize just a verse or two, but read around it.  Read the story.  Get the context about what that passage is all about.  Then memorize it. 

I think you'll be amazed at what you pull out.  And what you remember, and what God gives you to do.

May God bless you!