Proper 11, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 21, 2013

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
Amos 8:1-12Psalm 52Colossians 1:15-28Luke 10:38-42

By Mary Ricketts

Amos 8:1-12

This pericope continues God’s proclamation against the injustices found in Israel.

God asks Amos what he sees, and the response is a basket of ripe fruit. This is one of those word plays that the Hebrew Scripture has in abundance and, not being fluent in Hebrew, I don’t get. The Hebrew word for “basket of summer fruit” is qauits and it is a pun on the word qets, which means “the end”. With this understanding the first verses of chapter 8 make more sense. It is the end of God tolerating the unjust practices of the powerful in Israel and will be the end of God’s word for them.

The passage gives a very clear description of what has gone wrong. The most vulnerable people are being crushed and discarded. The holy days are waited through impatiently with only an eye to making money at the first opportunity. They even sell the “sweepings of wheat” which should belong to the poor. It is these actions that have sealed their fate and will bring destruction to their lives.

God promises mourning instead of rejoicing, the kind of mourning that would occur at the death of an only son. The cause of the sadness is a famine of God’s word. Their punishment is appropriate since they have ignored God’s word, now they will cease to hear it at all. Yet, I am not so sure that this is a fitting punishment or just the natural outcome of a people who have ceased to listen to God’s message.

In our world the overriding principle is “the bottom line,” what is profitable and how it can become more profitable. Yet this principle is not helpful when we engage the most pressing issues we are encountering. We become concerned because our education system is not keeping up with a world market and yet we complain about the cost of salary and benefits for those who teach our children. The damage we have done to our environment by using fossil fuels is costing millions of dollars in storm damage, not to mention the emotional and psychological damage to those who have been in the path of storms. We can not fix these issues with an adjustment to our “bottom line,” but we have grown unable to deal with our problems in any other way. The gap between rich and poor, haves and have-not is continuing to grow. Are we unable to hear God’s word of justice even now?

Psalm 52

This psalm a good complement to the reading from Amos. This psalm also condemns the rich and powerful for their abuse of the righteous of God. God is called upon to bring a day of reckoning to those who have brought evil and destruction to God’s faithful people. They are described this way:

“See the one who would not take refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”

The psalmist affirms that trusting in abundant riches is a way of destruction for all concerned. For me, this description sounds like many people in our world. There are multiple examples in our world of those who trade a God-life for wealth. Just consider those who have continued to abuse the earth to drag riches from it and have left millions with an unlivable environment.

Sometimes it seems as if those with power and wealth always win. But, in the psalm, the righteous are defended by God and they praise God for their salvation.

Colossians 1:15-28

In this Pauline letter to the church in Colosse there is a beautiful exposition of the person of Jesus the Christ. For the people of Colosse, this letter becomes their “Sunday School Lesson,” to help them understand what it meant to be the church and who it was that they followed. As with other letters in the New Testament, there is a concern about false teaching and a statement of truth about Christ. 

Verses 15-20 are considered an early Christian hymn and they express divine nature of Christ and his work of reconciliation through the Cross. The traditional language of the New Revised Standard Version for the last two verses of this section do not engage my “process sensibilities” as much as The Message.

Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”

This is a wonderful image of the nature and work of the Christ; unified diversity creating beauty.

Yet, the dynamic power of this pericope is that the writer moves from the work of Christ to the work of the community of faith at Colosse. The writer says they understand this vibrant harmony that Christ’s death enables, because they have experienced that death with Christ. It is from this transformational experience that they have been fit together to continue this harmonizing work. And, it is clear that this faith-life is something that needs to be worked at with all their mind, soul, and strength in the present moment among the people of God.

Because this letter is asserting the truth of Christ over other teachings, the Pauline writer claims his oneness with Christ. The oneness is a deep concern for God’s people and in the suffering of Christ.

The Message ends the passage this way:

“The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.”

The work of bringing the Christ-life to maturity in the members of church becomes the dynamic that empowers them to be relevant and transformational to their community and the world around them.

Luke 10:38-42

This passage from Luke is a good match with the Epistle lesson. These few verses in Luke tell a simple story of the supremacy of Jesus’ teaching.

Often when I have read discussions of the story of Martha and Mary, there is a lot of defense of Martha’s busyness. There was work to be done to extend hospitality to the invited guest and Martha is doing that work. However, the text says that she was distracted by her work and then she tries to pull Mary into her mania. I am someone who grew up with an anxious hostess and know that the frantic energy spent on trying to impress guests was not a good thing.

I always imagine Martha in this way. She is trying to impress Jesus with her hard work and even drawing his attention to Mary’s sloth. She is not fulfilling her appropriate role fussing over the meal. It is a radical thing that Jesus does not send Mary to the kitchen to help her sister. It is even more radical that he is teaching a woman the good news which he has been sharing with men.

The gospel writer makes it clear that Jesus’ good news break gender barriers and all are welcome to learn God’s good news. More importantly than hearing the message from Jesus should be the focus of our lives. Also, since the gospel writer places this story immediately after the story of the good Samaritan, I wonder if this was clarification of what type of work was to be done by Jesus’ followers. That is, acts of compassion were good, but being distracted by busy work to good look to guests is not.

If this lesson is paired with the Epistle, then there creates an opportunity to talk about the unique, life-giving power of Christ’s presence. This presence should be our calm center and guide into the work that we do. Consider the work that your church engages in? Is it from that calm center of Christ’s life-giving power? One of the things I love about process theology is the questions it leads you to ask. In recent days my church is considering how to use an unused old parish house that is too land locked to be torn down or moved. The typical response of previous pastors and church members was how to create revenue from the building. But, here the question that I asked them to consider in their pray time: what could be done with this building that would be transformational for the community now and in the next decade? Changing the questions changes the focus. And, the texts tells us that Jesus is to be the focus of our lives.