July 17, 2016- Proper 11 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)
July 11, 2016 | by Robert Gnuse
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Amos 8: 1-2||Psalm 52||Colossians 1:15-28||Luke 10:38-42||Genesis 18:1-10a||Psalm 15|
This is a dark judgment oracle proclaimed against the northern state of Israel because of their oppression of the poor highland peasants. In verses 4-6 Amos alludes to some of the business practices used to put the poor at a disadvantage—the use of false scales in buying produce from peasant farmers and later reselling it to other peasants (“buy low, sell high”), selling floor sweepings in bushels of grain, and buying debt slaves as cheaply as a pair of sandals due to the extreme poverty in the land. His anger against social injustice is great. The rhetoric of Amos and other prophets decrying economic oppression has inspired Roman Catholic social encyclicals as well as liberal Protestant activists over the years. The dreadful judgment imagery is best not taken literally by us, but to be used rhetorically in our own calls for social reform.
In verse 9, the expression “on that day” may be an allusion to the term, “Day of the Lord,” used by Amos in the first chapter of the book. Israelites believed the “Day of the Lord” was a day on which God would fight for Israelites against their enemies. Amos declares it to be a coming day of punishment for the smug Israelites who thought they had God on their side, but had alienated God by their oppression of the poor.
Likewise, today too many Americans think that we have God on our side because we are supposedly a Christian nation. We should not be so smug. Our democratic society must also be a socially and economically just and fair society. This is the warning of the text. God will not necessarily punish us directly for social injustice, but our own short-sighted folly will bring its own punishment upon us. Process theology often stresses social justice and reform due to the emphasis upon the evolving nature of the world, led by the presence of God.
The last thing Abraham expected to have in his old age was a son. But our God is a God of surprises, and so Abraham and Sarah were both surprised by this promise given by the messengers. That is the chief lesson of this story, never underestimate the power of God to change your life or our lives corporately. In the dark hours of our lives we should never underestimate the power of God in turning darkness into light and opening an avenue of hope. The second message of the text is the importance of the hospitality provided by Abraham for these strangers. To be sure, Abraham conformed to the guidelines of hospitality dictated by the customs of the ancient world, but the text does portray him as going about this service energetically. His actions can be an inspiration to us in our dealing with other people. We are encouraged to be loving and generous in all our dealings with people. For as was the case with Abraham, we also may never know when we encounter angels unawares.
There is another image in this narrative near and dear to the hearts of process theologians. God takes human form as one of the three divine messengers who come to speak with Abraham. This is a classic biblical example of God graciously active in the process of human existence, and also a foreshadowing of the incarnation of God in Jesus. God is here in this story walking down the dusty road, letting his feet be washed, and eating Abraham’s food. God is in the process for Abraham, and God is still in the process of life for us, both in the good times and in the bad times.
In verses 15-20 Paul, or a disciple of Paul speaking in Paul’s name, confesses the identity of Jesus in almost hymnic fashion. Christ is in the “image of the invisible God” and all things, both visible and invisible were created through him. Christ is before all things and he holds all things together (vv. 15-17). This is a most dramatic way to portray Jesus. The author continues by declaring that this cosmic being has become present in our world in order to bridge the gap between God and humanity (v. 22). As we stand in awe of this great action of Christ and God, we are encouraged to hold steadfastly to the faith (v. 23). We then become a testimony to everyone by virtue of our faith to the great mystery of God’s presence in the world (vv. 27-28).
As a process theologian, I marvel at the dramatic use of language designed so clearly to declare how God became so thoroughly part of the world. God who is present in Christ (v. 19) is now present in all people, “Christ in you” (v. 27). This language is beautiful and thunderous in declaring God’s presence in the world, in us, and in all people around us. It speaks to us of how great our love should be for others in the world. Too often we unconsciously view God as a being in a heaven above us, but this text reminds us that the real place to discern God is in ourselves and other people. Often with children it would be so much better to say not that God is watching you from above, when you are thinking of doing something naughty, but that God is within you. It might produce better behavior. Using classic Protestant theology we can say that the God who is deus absconditus (“hidden God”) and totaliter aliter (“totally other”) is found inside of us, in the human process, and can even change as we change. If we sense that deeply enough in our minds and hearts, we might respect ourselves and others even more.
The story of Mary and Martha is a popular Sunday School account and a theme for artists in the western tradition. Martha works and Mary studies or meditates on the teachings of Jesus, or symbolically on the Word of God in the scriptures. The message is clear and transparent. What Mary does is important and necessary. What she does probably symbolizes Christian study, meditation, and worship. But we must not go to the other extreme and denigrate Martha. Luke certainly would not wish us to do that. Martha symbolizes Christian service, mission, and ministry. We need both the Marys and the Marthas in our churches today. Luke’s goal with his gospel was to energize Greek Christians in the late first century CE not only to preach the Gospel to everyone, but also to engage in Christian ministry to the poor. He sought to encourage proud and sometimes even arrogant Greeks to reach out in love to the poor, the weak, and the non-Greek persons around them. But he saw that Christian service, the work of Martha, had to be rooted in the worship and prayer life of the church, the work of Mary. In the book of Acts he frequently observes that Christians prayed before they made significant decisions. (Advice that is most wise for us today!)
Likewise, we in the church of the modern era need to keep focus on both the activity of Martha and the reflection of Mary. We must be balanced and engage in both modes of behavior in order to move forward creatively in the mission of the church. As process theologians we would speak of how the “lure of God” creatively pulls us forward in both of these modes of behavior.