The scripture this week was Amos 8:1-10 and Luke10:38-42 and the title was “Seek the Word of God.”
My absolute favorite kind of literature is frontier literature; you know them, the stories about the settling of the American frontier. I figure it is because I loved listening to the stories about Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was in school. In our one room school-house out there south of Artas where Darel Bentz now lives, our teacher read to us every day after lunch. And as soon as I could read, I read them for myself.
When I got older and was working towards a Master’s Degree in English, I read books about the frontier people who settled North and South Dakota. They were books like The Grass of the Earth by Aagot Raaen, set in Hatton, ND, and is about a family who suffers horribly because the father in an alcoholic. Land of the Burnt Thigh was written by two sisters Edith and Eudora Kohl, who homesteaded south of Pierre and survived because they kept a post office in their home. There were books about Knife River, ND where they found coal almost on top of the ground and because of that, they didn’t worry about wood for winter or twisting hay to burn to keep them warm, and the wives were large Russian women who pulled the plows because the husbands couldn’t afford a horse or an ox.
And there was Frontier Woman by Walker D. Wyman about Grace Fairchild and her family as they homesteaded near Philip, SD. I think this is the one where a child died because the parents were out working, and the children found the gun and were curious about how it worked. And my favorite of all is a book titled, The Land They Possessed by a mother and daughter writing team with a pen name of Mary Worthy Breneman set in this town initially called End of Track now known as Eureka.
Those were stories about hard working families, who settled this land, but more so to me those were stories about how people over came their own adversities and still were able to show an exceptional ability to be hospitable to others. They were all written in a way that made me feel like I was sitting in the room with them, and I wanted to just keep reading on and on to learn more and more of what they had to teach me. I wanted to learn more about their lives, the things they did, the foods they served and what they believed in.
Today we have such a story in the gospel. We have a story that shows us a home, a family who must have seen adversity, even though it hasn’t been stated outright, we know it. Here are two young women, old enough to run a household, yet no family of their own. They are living with their brother, who too is old enough to take a wife, but no wife of his own, his sisters run his house. There are no parents; they are living just the three of them. Adversity must have been part of their lives. Yet they are hospitable. They are welcoming; they are planning a feast for a group of friends. Yet considering they are humble people, they have had the courage to invite Jesus, the young and promising teacher, healer, possible Messiah, to their home, and as the story starts we see Martha is getting things prepared.
I don’t want to go into the same old boring story about who is right in this argument. Could it be Martha who is doing all the work, which some of us maybe can relate to, or maybe it is Mary who is sitting at the feet of Jesus, the teacher and learning, as someone we, would all love to be? Imagine just to sit at his feet while he was on earth preaching and teaching and here he is in their home for an intimate evening of food and fellowship and relating to this family and a few close friends. Imagine what it must have been like to be there.
I don’t know about you, but I kind of know what Martha is saying, and without going into lots of detail, I will just say that yesterday her frustration sort of hit me. When you have an event, when you host something or chair an event or even just help on a committee, it seems that so many things are planned for, and yet at the last-minute someone is left tending to the details and “boom” the event is over and everyone is gone, and as you sit down to rest, or begin the work of clean up, you realize that you missed out on major parts of what was happening because you didn’t take the time to join in the celebration, the message, the particular details of the big event, or just the visiting that goes on at such celebrations.
You—in essence—missed the whole thing. I have been there more than once, and I have had to let go of my, well, almost resentment of that loss. I sort of had that feeling yesterday afternoon. I knew this was coming, but I had not prepared myself I suppose because I couldn’t figure out how to accept it. The large crew of workers staying at our campsite has broken up. One camper pulled out on Friday and two left yesterday with more to go either next Sunday or sometime this week. We have new people moving into their spots today, but this was our first real group, and they were fun, and I had really wanted to say good-bye to the crew leader’s wife, and they were gone before I got off my couch to go across town, and … I just felt this incredible loss last night, and I began to wonder about Martha.
Martha came to Jesus thinking that she needed to complain about doing all the work alone, and Jesus scolded her for having her focus in the wrong area. I have always taken that scolding as an affront. Martha was doing this, yes so she would look like a good hostess and to do things in the right way, but let’s cut her some slack, Martha wanted the best for her guests. And by wanting that, and delivering that, she sacrificed herself. She is the one who gave up time with the Messiah, time with the Master, time with her Lord. But when she went to Jesus for some help, for some assistance so she could finish up on time or at least in the right way, he scolded her.
Yet when you look closely at that scolding, which I sort of did in my dumpy mood last night when I went home to supper after talking to one of the campers, I realized that Jesus wasn’t scolding her to say her work was worthless, but to point out to her what she was missing. Jesus wasn’t trying to say that what she was doing was totally unnecessary, but he was letting her know that she should also be thinking about herself and what she was giving up. Martha needed to take some time to learn at the Master’s feet. Jesus wanted her, he wants us to come to him and learn his truths. We are to take the time not for busyness, not for distractions, but to learn about Jesus and all he has to offer to us. Mary got that and for that reason Jesus praised her.
In the beginning of a week as I am looking at and studying about the various scriptures we are presented with, I don’t always get the connection from one week to another, but sometimes, like this week, it is sort of over the edge obvious how things tie together. Last week we talked about “worry about yourself,” and really that is what Martha should have done more of. But last week was also about the concept, the commandment of love the Lord your God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself. Well, when we look at our Old Testament lesson in the book of Amos, we get right to that neighbor thing again.
This chapter 8 in the book of Amos begins with a “look what I am holding sort of thing.” As Amos looks at what God is showing him, he sees a basket of summer fruit. This basket is a symbol of the harvest. They are at the end of a season. As we read on we see that the people are having a fit about “when will the new moon and the Sabbath be over so we can go back to doing business.” The business being mentioned must be somewhat like our modern-day elevator system that purchases the harvest from the people. Though, if you were listening to the scriptures, you heard how they were anxious to get back to business because they were anxious to be able to defraud the harvesters. They were dishonest in how they measured the amounts. They had fixed the scales to their advantage, and God lets Amos know that he knows what is happening, and he is not pleased. In fact, God is sending information via Amos about how the Day of Judgment is coming against the people because none of them are honest in their dealings. In fact, the last verse that we read in that passage said the judgment will be so bad, it will feel like the day of mourning for an only son… bit of a premonition there? … Maybe.
This is certainly not a story about hospitality. This is not a version of what is the proper thing to do in terms of serving the feast or learning from the honored guest. But this is a story about how to treat your neighbor, your acquaintance, your business client. We for sure get the picture from this passage that to cheat the one who is coming to you as a customer, a neighbor, a friend, is not the way that is acceptable to God. How much more should we understand this as the way to treat those who come to us to learn about the words of Jesus, the teachings of Christ.
I so badly want to relate to Mary who is sitting at the feet of Jesus learning all there is to learn about what he is trying to teach the world, and yet I see the Martha in me oh so obviously. I am the person who is always too busy, too distracted, with too many things going on to really stop and learn what God wants me to know. And more important than that, while being that kind of tisk-task busy and distracted no matter how much we say we are doing things for others, we really are not being the neighbor that God needs us to be, the love your neighbor as yourself real Christian.
This week as we go about our business let us remember two things: 1. that God demands us to be honest in our dealings, and 2. Christ expects us to take the time to sit at his feet and learn his lessons that we will be able to carry out his mission on this earth, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. And let’s seriously try to do this without all the distractions that come into our lives. Amen!