Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Loving God for God's Own Sake

Theology for Ministry Conference
Fair Hills Resort, Detroit Lakes, MN
September 20, 2016
Luke 16:19-31


In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Persons pondering this parable have noticed that the rich man starts showing signs of being human only after he is dead.

In life, the rich man dwells aloof in regal splendor, described here with such an economy of words.   Dressed-to-the-nines, it’s as if the rich man has taken up residence at the Old Country Buffet, each and every day.

In life, so it seems, the rich man has no awareness of the beggar who is always there, lying at his gate, a man so famished that he even craved crumbs from the sweepings in the rich man’s dining room.
It is no surprise that the rich man likely had no direct dealings with the beggar who certainly must have been unclean--both hygienically and religiously--his only companions the feral mutts that roamed the neighborhood. 

One of the wondrous things that wealth can purchase, after all, is distance from beggars and other assorted riff raff….protection from their blank stares, their plaintive hands, their distasteful odor.

Only in death, does the rich man notice the beggar, lolling in the embrace of Father Abraham….and even more surprisingly only in death do we learn that the rich man actually did know the beggar’s name after all:  Lazarus, which means “God helps.”

But there is more. 

Only in death, does the rich man display concern for anyone other than himself.   He remembers the survivors listed in his funeral bulletin, the five siblings he had left behind him.  The rich man expresses urgent concern—not once, but twice—that they avoid the woeful fate that has befallen him.

How ironic, that the rich man starts evidencing signs of his shared humanity with others, only after his heart has taken its final beat. 

Perhaps this is simply an instance of what Benjamin Franklin described when he said:  Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.[1]

Is that what’s going on here in this parable—was the rich man simply “old too soon”—no, actually, “dead too soon and wise too late?” 

Maybe—or maybe not!

Look with me more closely at this parable.  

Yes, the rich man, tormented in Hades, does finally notice and name Lazarus—but to what end?     The rich man, far from acknowledging Lazarus as his equal, perhaps even his better, still regards Lazarus as someone beneath him….a lackey, an errand boy, whom the rich man requests Father Abraham to send forth—three times, no less!—to do the rich man’s bidding.

Even in death, the rich man still doesn’t truly recognize, doesn’t genuinely acknowledge Lazarus as a fellow child of Abraham.

And yes, the rich man, in his dire straits does finally remember his siblings who are still in their earthly pilgrimage—but what does he think they need the most?

By asking Abraham to dispatch Lazarus back from the grave into the world to “warn” his surviving siblings, lest they “come into this place of torment”—the only conclusion I can draw is that the rich man wants to have Lazarus return from his grave to scare the hell out of them before it’s too late.  

It’s as if the rich man envisions Lazarus, perhaps clad in heavy clanking chains, like the ghost of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—a spook from the other side, sent to frighten the rich man’s siblings into doing the right thing before they, too, go down to the grave. 
In other words, for the rich man in Hades, the only thing that seems to count is raw, naked, self-interest.   Salvation is about saving one’s own skin at any cost.

And in this regard the rich man is still light years away from the Kingdom of God.   Father Abraham is correct:  there is indeed a chasma mega—a mega-chasm between Hades and the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps you have heard the old story about Saint Teresa [of Avila who] once dreamed she saw a woman running, carrying a flaming torch in one hand, and a pail of water in the other.   When Teresa asked the woman where she was going, she answered, “I am going to quench the fires of hell and burn down the mansions of heaven so that people will love God for God’s own sake, not because they fear punishment or seek reward.”[2]

This kernel of truth in St Teresa’s vision shines through in the final verse of our parable, where Father Abraham seeks to redirect the rich man’s too-late concern for his siblings:   “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

In other words:   the five surviving siblings of the rich man don’t need to experience an apparition from the other side of death.    They already have something far better—indeed they have always had safely within their grasp—all that they need to live the life God always imagined for them, in this world and in the world to come.   In short:  they have God’s own precious Word, right in their laps.

My dear friends, the conclusion of this parable draws us to what we most need to hear:    God has zero, absolutely zero interest in scaring anyone through the Pearly Gates.    What God does care about—passionately!--is drawing us, wheedling and wooing us into the only life worth living, in the Word that God graciously lavishes upon all who have ears to hear.

“They have Moses and the prophets,” as Father Abraham puts it.    Which is to say:  they have more than enough.

The five siblings have God’s own Word, right before their eyes, in their ears.

They’ve heard about God’s amazing, gracious creation of the earth, all its inhabitants and everything that exists.

They have the astounding saga of God’s liberation of his treasured people Israel.

They have been regaled by the tales of how God continually provided for his chosen people, with manna from heaven, water from the rock, a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, leading, always leading Israel from slavery into freedom, from the gloomy hall of death into the glorious sunshine of the Promised Land, “the clothes on [their backs] not worn out, and the sandals on [their] feet not worn out…”  (Deut. 29:5)

The rich man’s five siblings already have “Moses and the prophets,” God’s cascading promises, opening up that wide, broad place where peace and justice dwell, where the lion lies down with the lamb, where they’ll never be abandoned in their beggarliness.

The rich man’s sole survivors already have all the juicy stuff, plopped down right in their laps.   

They’ve gotten the message straight from God:
 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
   I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire—did you catch that?—when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43)

The rich man was indeed “dead too soon and wise too late,” because here he had always had all he ever needed, with Lazarus at the gate and “Moses and the prophets” right under his nose, always beckoning, enticing him into God’s own abundant, unending life.

There’s no magic formula here.  God has made it plain as the nose on your face:
 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”   (Isaiah 58:6-9a)

The five surviving siblings of the rich man already had anything their hearts could desire.   They had “Moses and the prophets…”

….and in fact, you and I have even more:  because we have the rest of the story, the Gospels and the epistles and everything else….

And just to leave no stone unturned, this Word has taken on flesh and bone and lived among us.  We have Someone—Jesus!--who did in fact die, descend to the dead and then return from the grave, not to scare the bejeebers out of us but always, always, always to meet us with the sweetest of greetings:  “Shalom!  Peace be with you!   Now and forever.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.




[1] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr132004.html
[2] Quoted by Alyce M. McKenzie, Matthew, Westminster John Knox, 2002, p. 41.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Living, Breathing, Moving Images of God

Sverdrup Lutheran Church, Underwood, MN
September 11, 2016--God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday
Exodus 32:7-14

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

What makes a story so compelling that you just have to see how it ends?

Ask any author that question—and the answer will certainly be:   tension.  

Tension is what drives every good story…
....and tension simply overflows here in this story in Exodus chapter 32!

First there’s the tension that sets up the whole thing. 

Moses and God have been in a long, long conversation on the top of Mount Sinai—such an extended exchange that it seems like it’s never going to end…

….and this prolonged absence of Moses their leader…causes the children of Israel, who are encamped at the base of Mt Sinai, to grow restless and to start begging Aaron (who was second-in-command to Moses, his brother)….they start begging Aaron to cook up an alternative leadership structure for them to put their trust in.

So Aaron collects all sorts of gold jewelry from the Israelites, melts it all down and produces a golden calf for the people to worship and follow….even though that flew right in the face of the First of God’s Ten Commandments that had already been handed down from Mt Sinai:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

This initial tension is immediately compounded when God catches wind of what’s happening.   

To say that God is not pleased with the children of Israel is an under-statement.    God is livid, so angry with his fickle people--whom he had just rescued from slavery in Egypt!—God is so ticked-off with them that he wants to let his fierce wrath “burn hot against them and…consume them.”    

God’s first inclination is to wipe out these brazen rebels and start all over again with Moses:  “Of you [Moses] I will make a great nation.”

Talk about dramatic tension!  Talk about turning up the heat!

But then Moses responds to God by doing something quite unthinkable:   Moses dares to disagree with the Almighty One!   

This introduces a whole new layer of tension to the story.  

Instead of accepting God’s offer—to start all over again with Moses and his descendants (which would have been a pretty sweet deal for Moses!)—instead, Moses risks getting sideways with God even though God has every right to punish his wayward people.

Here’s how Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful paraphrase of our text puts it:
Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

The upshot of the amazing argument that Moses lays out is that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”

What’s going on here?   How can we make sense of this astonishing turn of events?

Let me suggest that both God and the people of God had one thing in common here:  They both, in their own ways, momentarily forgot the kind of God that God truly is.

The children of Israel, deprived too long of connection and communication with God, reverted to the superstitious notion that their God must be like every other god—a deity who can be depicted or “imaged” using lifeless, inert material taken from the earth itself---whether with carved wood, hewn stone or precious metals.  The children of Israel momentarily forgot who God was and imagined that God could be depicted as cold, unfeeling, impassive like a golden calf crafted from their melted-down jewelry….which is to say:  a god they could carry around and have at their beck and call.

What the children of Israel temporarily forgot was that they had a living God on their hands—a God of fierce passionate love, a God who is always connected and responsive to his creatures, a God who exhibits a whole range of emotions, a God who is anything but lifeless, impassive or inert.

And what God seems to have forgotten temporarily is that he’s more than a god of justice and consequences, more than all the garden variety “god’ll get you for that” kinds of gods that people continually approach with fear and trembling.

Moses reminded God—literally, in the heat of the moment--that God had already made a tremendous investment in this fickle people, God’s dear chosen ones.   God didn’t want to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt only to burn them to a crisp in the wilderness, thus making God the laughing stock of those wicked slave-masters in Egypt.  

Moses reminded God that his wrath is really the flip side of his love—God’s passionate, jealous love for his chosen people.  Moses reminded God of all the gracious promises he had uttered not just to this present generation but to all their ancient ancestors--to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob….promises God had sworn to keep if it would be the last thing God would ever do.

Moses, in this astonishing argument that he lays out before almighty God, persuades God to remember the commitments God had already made to his precious people—past, present and future.   Moses caused God to remember that although he could never be properly “imaged” or represented by inert matter, God had placed his image within the human creatures he had so graciously fashioned.  

God who is anything but aloof and impassive had chosen from the dawn of time to be represented on earth by living, breathing moving images of God…..persons like you and me through whom God stoops down to do God’s work on this good earth.

And there (in case you were wondering)—there is the surprising connection between this wild, wild story from Exodus 32 and what you and I are about here, today, on this God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday.

For today and every day you and I represent….we bear the image of the one true God who is anything but impassive or aloof or far removed from his whole creation.  

To put it another way:  God chooses to do nothing without us.

“God chooses to do nothing without us.”

Please hear that clearly, friends.   I’m not saying that God can’t do anything without us.   I’m saying that God chooses to do nothing without us.

This is God’s modus operandi, God’s M.O.   God imagines, speaks and acts always with us, the whole human family and the splendid creation that is our home, clearly in view

God is always finagling new ways to climb into human skin, in Jesus, and now in the community that bears the name of the Risen Jesus, for the sake of “getting at the world,” saving, restoring, renewing, transforming, making you and me and all things new.

God labors over, God aches for this whole groaning creation, this whole struggling human family….and the main way God gets at us, is through us—our voices, our hearts, our feet, our hands.

Simply put:  this morning God is going to do some painting, some cleaning, some picking up of trash, some packing of school kits and baby-care kits, some cheering up and encouraging of first-responders and nursing home residents…

God’s going to do all that, even though the paint spots will be on our skin, the blisters will be on our fingers, the sweat will be on our brows, and the satisfying warmth will be felt by our hearts.

As God’s chosen, named, claimed walking images on earth….we have the unbelievable calling to roll up our sleeves and care for our Creator’s beloved ones….our fellow human beings, all the other creatures on our planet, and this good earth itself.  

We are the ways, the vehicles, the means whereby our God continues to till and keep and tend the whole creation.

In fact, this is what we were created for….and in Jesus Christ it is what we were re-created for:   trusting God, loving our neighbors and caring for the earth.


In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Living, Breathing, Moving Images of God

Sverdrup Lutheran Church, Underwood, MN
September 11, 2016--God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday
Exodus 32:7-14

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

What makes a story so compelling that you just have to see how it ends?

Ask any author that question—and the answer will certainly be:   tension.  

Tension is what drives every good story…
....and tension simply overflows here in this story in Exodus chapter 32!

First there’s the tension that sets up the whole thing. 

Moses and God have been in a long, long conversation on the top of Mount Sinai—such an extended exchange that it seems like it’s never going to end…

….and this prolonged absence of Moses their leader…causes the children of Israel, who are encamped at the base of Mt Sinai, to grow restless and to start begging Aaron (who was second-in-command to Moses, his brother)….they start begging Aaron to cook up an alternative leadership structure for them to put their trust in.

So Aaron collects all sorts of gold jewelry from the Israelites, melts it all down and produces a golden calf for the people to worship and follow….even though that flew right in the face of the First of God’s Ten Commandments that had already been handed down from Mt Sinai:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

This initial tension is immediately compounded when God catches wind of what’s happening.   

To say that God is not pleased with the children of Israel is an under-statement.    God is livid, so angry with his fickle people--whom he had just rescued from slavery in Egypt!—God is so ticked-off with them that he wants to let his fierce wrath “burn hot against them and…consume them.”    

God’s first inclination is to wipe out these brazen rebels and start all over again with Moses:  “Of you [Moses] I will make a great nation.”

Talk about dramatic tension!  Talk about turning up the heat!

But then Moses responds to God by doing something quite unthinkable:   Moses dares to disagree with the Almighty One!   

This introduces a whole new layer of tension to the story.  

Instead of accepting God’s offer—to start all over again with Moses and his descendants (which would have been a pretty sweet deal for Moses!)—instead, Moses risks getting sideways with God even though God has every right to punish his wayward people.

Here’s how Eugene Peterson, in his wonderful paraphrase of our text puts it:
Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

The upshot of the amazing argument that Moses lays out is that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”

What’s going on here?   How can we make sense of this astonishing turn of events?

Let me suggest that both God and the people of God had one thing in common here:  They both, in their own ways, momentarily forgot the kind of God that God truly is.

The children of Israel, deprived too long of connection and communication with God, reverted to the superstitious notion that their God must be like every other god—a deity who can be depicted or “imaged” using lifeless, inert material taken from the earth itself---whether with carved wood, hewn stone or precious metals.  The children of Israel momentarily forgot who God was and imagined that God could be depicted as cold, unfeeling, impassive like a golden calf crafted from their melted-down jewelry….which is to say:  a god they could carry around and have at their beck and call.

What the children of Israel temporarily forgot was that they had a living God on their hands—a God of fierce passionate love, a God who is always connected and responsive to his creatures, a God who exhibits a whole range of emotions, a God who is anything but lifeless, impassive or inert.

And what God seems to have forgotten temporarily is that he’s more than a god of justice and consequences, more than all the garden variety “god’ll get you for that” kinds of gods that people continually approach with fear and trembling.

Moses reminded God—literally, in the heat of the moment--that God had already made a tremendous investment in this fickle people, God’s dear chosen ones.   God didn’t want to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt only to burn them to a crisp in the wilderness, thus making God the laughing stock of those wicked slave-masters in Egypt.  

Moses reminded God that his wrath is really the flip side of his love—God’s passionate, jealous love for his chosen people.  Moses reminded God of all the gracious promises he had uttered not just to this present generation but to all their ancient ancestors--to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob….promises God had sworn to keep if it would be the last thing God would ever do.

Moses, in this astonishing argument that he lays out before almighty God, persuades God to remember the commitments God had already made to his precious people—past, present and future.   Moses caused God to remember that although he could never be properly “imaged” or represented by inert matter, God had placed his image within the human creatures he had so graciously fashioned.  

God who is anything but aloof and impassive had chosen from the dawn of time to be represented on earth by living, breathing moving images of God…..persons like you and me through whom God stoops down to do God’s work on this good earth.

And there (in case you were wondering)—there is the surprising connection between this wild, wild story from Exodus 32 and what you and I are about here, today, on this God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday.

For today and every day you and I represent….we bear the image of the one true God who is anything but impassive or aloof or far removed from his whole creation.  

To put it another way:  God chooses to do nothing without us.

“God chooses to do nothing without us.”

Please hear that clearly, friends.   I’m not saying that God can’t do anything without us.   I’m saying that God chooses to do nothing without us.

This is God’s modus operandi, God’s M.O.   God imagines, speaks and acts always with us, the whole human family and the splendid creation that is our home, clearly in view

God is always finagling new ways to climb into human skin, in Jesus, and now in the community that bears the name of the Risen Jesus, for the sake of “getting at the world,” saving, restoring, renewing, transforming, making you and me and all things new.

God labors over, God aches for this whole groaning creation, this whole struggling human family….and the main way God gets at us, is through us—our voices, our hearts, our feet, our hands.

Simply put:  this morning God is going to do some painting, some cleaning, some picking up of trash, some packing of school kits and baby-care kits, some cheering up and encouraging of first-responders and nursing home residents…

God’s going to do all that, even though the paint spots will be on our skin, the blisters will be on our fingers, the sweat will be on our brows, and the satisfying warmth will be felt by our hearts.

As God’s chosen, named, claimed walking images on earth….we have the unbelievable calling to roll up our sleeves and care for our Creator’s beloved ones….our fellow human beings, all the other creatures on our planet, and this good earth itself.  

We are the ways, the vehicles, the means whereby our God continues to till and keep and tend the whole creation.

In fact, this is what we were created for….and in Jesus Christ it is what we were re-created for:   trusting God, loving our neighbors and caring for the earth.


In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Perils of Always Speaking Your Mind

Nowadays a segment of the American public seems so enamored with allegedly straight-talking politicians who simply blurt out whatever happens to be on their minds.  The sheer act of “saying what’s on your mind” is praiseworthy, regardless of the quality of the words that are thereby unleashed.  Whole swaths of the populace are sick-and-tired of well-modulated, thoughtfully- measured discourse—often labeling that as “politically correct language.”

There are still good reasons for not always “speaking your mind.” Most of us possess internal editors that shape what we say and veto our tendency to give voice to every stray thought that rattles around inside our heads.   For example:

    1.      Many of our thoughts reflect immediate visceral reactions—not seasoned, reasoned reflections.   The first thing that pops into our heads about something is rarely the last or best thought we’re going to have on that topic.  Lightning-quick reactions feel real at the time, but “counting to ten” gives us time to think more deeply. 

    2.      “Always speaking your mind” short-circuits the opportunity to check out what we’re thinking with other people.    We can become so monological—listening only to the echo chamber inside our own heads—that we miss out on the chance to discuss ideas with others whom we respect and whose opinions we value.  

    3.      Quite a few of our thoughts--if hastily spoken—will simply offend others and tear at the fabric of society.   Our internal editors serve the common good by preventing us from spewing forth words that are patently disrespectful, bigoted, or abusive.

    4.      Our minds are the playgrounds both for our better angels and our darker demons.   Much of what simply pops into my head represents that part of my personality that is captive to sin and cannot free itself.   (“Where did that come from?” I frequently ask myself.)  My internal editor, though not flawless, rescues me from regularly putting my sinful self on public display.

My goal is neither to protest freedom of speech nor plead for hyper-self-censorship.  It's not about refusing to rock the boat or risk disagreeing with others.  There is a time and a place for speaking up and speaking out.   And there is such a thing as contrived, confining, supercilious “politically correct speech” that simply obfuscates reality.

But too much of what is mislabeled “politically correct speech” nowadays is something else.  It is precisely the kind of speech we need more of:
    ·        Speech that is fact-based
    ·        Speech that reflects both heartfelt emotion and rigorous reasoning
    ·        Speech that arises out of deep conversation with others, including those with whom we disagree
    ·        Speech that serves the common good and builds up society 

  • Speech that illuminates, never attacks, those with whom we speak.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Opening Up Sacred Space

Pathways Summer Splash Worship Service
Camp Emmaus, Menahga, MN
July 23, 2016
Luke 10:38-42

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“Let all who enter be received as Christ.”  

Those words, from the Rule of St Benedict, adorn the welcome sign that greets visitors to your sister camp, Shetek Lutheran Bible Camp near Slayton, MN.

“Let all who enter be received as Christ.”

This brief statement describes the primacy of hospitality in all communities of faith, all the places where Christ’s faithful people come together.

Receiving and offering hospitality is foundational in the Way of Jesus Christ, because it takes seriously the fact that you and I are always depending on the kindness and generosity of others.

This brief gospel lesson from Luke 10 focuses our attention on such hospitality.

And we’re not just talking about a Miss Manner’s brand of hospitality, either.   We’re talking about the deep, dependable hospitality that was such a staple of daily life in the ancient world.

In a world without convenience stores, budget motels, ATMs or highway rest-areas, ancient travelers staked their lives on the hospitality of others along the road….in the awareness that next time, you the host (today) might be a needy guest (tomorrow) in someone else’s home.

So here in Luke 10 Jesus shows up in the home that Martha and her sister Mary shared, and it seems at first blush that Martha is the one who offers lavish hospitality worthy of a guest like Jesus.

But Martha had a sister, and that sister, Mary, was of no apparent use to Martha…choosing instead to loll at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word.  

Even though she tried to look past it, Martha was doing a slow burn while she served.  It ate at her— the burden of all that hospitality falling disproportionately on Marsha’s shoulders, to the point that she finally blurted out to Jesus:  "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

As Martha dumped all that on her guest, she became quite inhospitable, by drawing Jesus into an intra-family squabble and by making her problem her guest’s problem--in fact accusing her guest in the process:  “Lord, do you not care….?”

But in fact, Jesus did care—he cared primarily about what Martha was doing to herself, trying so hard to be the “hostess with the mostesst”:   “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

New Testament scholar Elisabeth Johnson points out that in the original language of this text, the word translated distracted “has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions.”[1]

…which is to say that in her intense focus on hospitality Martha had completely lost her focus.

Life, especially the busy-ness of life in the 21st century, does that to us:  we try so hard that we blow it, we focus so intensely that we lose all focus.   In the process, our best efforts, even our attempts at “being hospitable” fall woefully short.

But that was not Mary’s problem here.   And contrary to what Martha assumed, Mary had not neglected hospitality--because Mary’s hospitality consisted of her attention, her focused listening to what Jesus their guest had to say.

Again, in the words of Elisabeth Johnson:  “There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus!”

And this, my dear friends, is a word made to order for us, living in this time and place. 

We still, of course, pull off that surface-level, inch-deep hospitality.  We ready the setting, prepare the food, pour up the drinks, create the ambience—we do that with as much panache as our budgets and schedules will allow.

But what about the deeper hospitality, the Mary-like laser-attentiveness to the other person, our guest?   What about our capacity truly to attend to, to listen to, to be fully and physically present with one another?

Several years ago a provocative article in the NY Times asked:  “can you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?”[2]

That article, written by a neuro-scientist, suggested that with our over-focusing on “virtual relationships” by means of all our hand-held digital devices, we may inadvertently be stunting “our biological capacity to connect with other people” face to face, skin on skin.

We may be missing—as Martha did—the “one thing needful,” the “better part” that Mary lived for. 

God could show up in our midst, garbed in flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and we might be pulled or dragged in so many different directions that we’d be oblivious to the greatest encounter with the greatest Person in our lives.

And we might miss the most wondrous miracle of all—not that a gentle soul like Mary would sit still for Jesus in her living room….but that Jesus would sit still for Mary--that we have in Jesus a God who graciously seeks us out, enters our space, continually pays deep attention to us, looks us right in the eyes to speak his “I love you” to us again and again and again.

Dr. Andrew Root of Luther Seminary, contends that “relationships…in ministry are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”[3]  

Let me say that again:   “Relationships…are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”

What happened so long ago in Mary and Martha’s home still happens among us in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus draws near to us.  Jesus sits still with us.  

And like a good host—Jesus brings all sorts of gifts with him—clean water to wash away all our dirt, fresh bread with rich wine to restore and reinvigorate us. 

Jesus draws near to us and sits with us, fashioning soul-restoring relationships in the sacred space that God opens up between us.
And the one thing needful for us is to be there and be aware in that sacred space where Jesus shows up among us.  

One of the great gifts of outdoor ministries like Pathways is that our camps and retreat centers open up sacred space in which we meet Jesus Christ and encounter others as “little Christs” in our midst.

In a world that doesn’t always feel safe, a world that makes our heads spin, a world filled with cacophony of endless noise and distraction, a world that too often has us sitting side by side yet separated by a thousand miles of digital space…

In a world that leaves us feeling the way Martha was—distracted by many things, even good things like offering hospitality…
In this world as we know it….outdoor ministries like Pathways beckon us to step back, to turn aside, to pay attention to what matters most, to come into fresh awareness of God, God’s wondrous creation, God’s diverse people and God’s transforming Word.

I believe we need to think of places like Camp Emmaus and Camp Minnewakan as oases in our 21st century wilderness….oases where we and those we care about can tune out the distractions and tune into the heartbeat of the universe, in the God we know best in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This morning we pause to pay attention to this reality…and to affirm and bless those who do so much to fill this sacred place with rich relational space….where folks can meet Jesus Christ and encounter those in whom we behold the face of God.

This Mary-like focus on the One who matters most—Jesus and his Way—truly grounds us and energizes us for the Martha-like service this world so desperately need.

Thank God for this outdoor ministry that we love and share and support.   In places like this Jesus meets us and our fellow way-farers.   God opens up space between us where there is room for Jesus, room for you, and room for me….to be deeply attentive to one another and God-with-us…and thus, to have our lives restored again for service in God’s world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 




[3] Andrew Root, The Relational Pastor:  Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves (IVP, 2013), p. 158.