July 17th Sermon: Nicole PartinAbdnour
Amos 8:1-12/Luke 10:38-42
Is anyone weary this morning? I confess that I arrive tired and weary. Some of the tiredness and weariness comes from having driven in yesterday from Montreat, North Carolina after spending a week tending to the pastoral care needs of the 1500 conferees and adult leaders there for the youth conference. I left the experience even more grateful for those parents, teachers, youth advisors, and youth pastors doing the daily work of walking alongside our youth – adolescence wasn’t fun when I was one and let me tell you friends it truly has only become more complicated in today’s world. Some of the tiredness and weariness comes from having left for Montreat not fully recovered from the pilgrimage to Israel; an experience which was both spiritually uplifting and physically exhausting. I recognize and am grateful for the health, resources, and freedoms which afforded me the opportunity to have these experiences. I’m not complaining, simply want to acknowledge to you where I am right now. Is anyone else weary this morning? I arrive tired and weary. As our group was preparing to leave Israel the world witnessed as bombs went off in the airport in Istanbul and the attacks in Bangladesh and Baghdad and now Nice. There were also the deaths that happened closer to home: Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas. I am tired and weary.
Jesus says, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The church is a good place to be for the tired and weary. Worship is one of the places where as a community we come and gather to sit at Jesus’ feet and create the space for intentionally seeking to hear God’s Word through prayer and song and scripture and proclamation.
Pastor and writer Tom Long shares a story of a time when he was a part of an advisory group to the chaplains at a major university. Their job was to meet, listen to reports from the chaplains about their work, and to offer support and counsel. One year, they had heard the reports of the chaplains, and were asking them questions. An older member of the council asked the chaplains, “What are the university students like morally these days?” The chaplains looked at each other, wondering how to answer that question. Finally one of them took a stab at it. “Well,” she said, “I think you’d be basically pleased. The students are pretty ambitious in terms of their careers, but that’s not all they are. A lot of them tutor kids after school. Some work in a night shelter and in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Last week a group of students protested apartheid in South Africa…..” As she talked, the Jewish chaplain who was listening to her began to grin. The more she talked, the bigger he grinned, until finally it became distracting. “Am I saying something funny?” she said to the Jewish chaplain. “No, no, I’m sorry,” he replied. “I was just sitting here thinking. You are saying that the university students are good people, and you’re right. And you’re saying that they are involved in good social causes, and they are. But what I was thinking is that the one thing they lack is a vision of salvation.” Tom Long said they all looked at the Jewish university chaplain. “No, it’s true,” he said. “If you do not have some vision of what God is doing to repair the whole creation, you can’t get up every day and work in a soup kitchen. It finally beats you down.”
In today’s Gospel story Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his Word. She is listening to God’s vision which Jesus came into to the world embodying and proclaiming. Without that Word we can’t go on, we can’t sustain carrying out the work: preparing meals of hospitality for the world or standing against injustice or comforting the grieving. Eventually the work we are called to will worry us, distract us, anger us, exhaust us and in the words of the Jewish chaplain beat us down.
Earlier this week as I was in Montreat attempting to balance the work of care for the conferees as well as being a mom while still remaining somewhat connected to the work I’d left behind back home I received a text from John. It said something like: Know that if you don’t have time to prepare a sermon while you’re gone I’m happy to preach all three services — I’m preparing a sermon either way so that’s easy. Oh, what a refreshing cup of water and word of grace that was for me! The moment I received the text my burden lightened, I sighed a sigh of relief and thought yes, this makes the most sense. Yet when I received the text I was with my husband Chris who had earlier been listening to my worries about when I’d find the time to write a sermon and so before replying I had to open my big mouth and say something like: “You will never believe this, remember how I’ve been worrying about preaching this morning. Well, that text was from John and he just offered to preach all three services since he’s already writing a sermon for the Connection. What a great friend and colleague.” And as I began my gracious acceptance text Chris said, “You are not going to back out of Sunday. You are preaching.”
I think I made my best pouty face and may have even stuck my tongue out at him for bursting my bubble of relief. I attempted to convince myself that this was one of those areas Chris didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of what I was doing at Montreat and the emotional toll some of the conversations were having on me. That he didn’t get the amount of time and energy it takes to craft a sermon. Yet, I found myself, despite my best efforts to do otherwise unable to accept John’s gracious offer because I’ve learned over the years that Chris often offers perspective I need to hear.
What I discovered, is that by carving out the time for some sermon prep even in places I felt I didn’t have the time gave me the much needed space to be in relationship with God’s Word to carry out the work I was in Montreat for. The discipline of waking early, despite my need to sleep, in order to read and reflect on the text for this coming Sunday became the fuel and grounding I needed in order to have some really difficult conversations with youth throughout the week.
No matter our learning styles or personality types, each of us needs to take the time to hear Jesus’ Word. Is there work to be done? Yes, most definitely. We can’t separate our work from the Word or eventually the work itself will become unsustainable. We need to hear Jesus’ Word that God is in the world working right alongside of us healing and feeding and comforting. We need to hear Jesus’ promises so they may feed us that we might feed others be it physically, spiritually, or emotionally. We need to hear, “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” We need to hear “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.”
The Old Testament reading from Amos reminds us that what lives in our minds — whether spoken or unspoken matters. He even states that our thoughts are more important than our religious motions. Amos lived in a time where the people of Israel were quite righteous on the outside. They went to worship and followed through on all the motions expected of a righteous person and yet while their body language was exhibiting piety their thoughts were on how soon they could get their shop in the marketplace open. And whether or not they could get away with charging more for their product while giving less in order that they could have a higher percentage of profit. “Now I probably shouldn’t try with the Jones’ because if they even thought I was taking advantage of them they’d raise a ruckus. But the Smith’s, well they may not even notice and even if they did they don’t have the community standing to say anything. No one would believe them even if they did speak.”
Our sometimes rotten thoughts, God knows and we need to keep them in check because thoughts eventually lead to action of some sort. Having been raised in the south I know that if you can’t say something nice you better not say anything at all. But as a Christian I’m obligated to consider all the thoughts I have that I don’t speak out loud. Thoughts that often are judge mental and ignorant and just plain rotten. I remember a time getting behind a woman in a check out line with a cart overflowing with food and children – she probably had six kids with her. After her total was rung up she began counting her money. The total was high and the bills and coins she was using to reach the total were small and it was taking a while. I became exasperated and my thoughts were not kind or appropriate. They were judgmental and came from a place of ignorance — after all I knew nothing about this woman or her situation. I had no idea what her relationship to the children were. Yet because she slowed down this imaginary timeframe I’d created for myself in terms of getting through the check out line my thoughts became rotten even though from the outside I reflected a kind and patient persona. Polishing our shiny exterior while masking spiritual rottenness is tempting and yet Amos calls it out and says God will not stand for it.
While it may be difficult for us to hear God’s judgment expressed through Amos, it is a sign of God’s love for Israel. God loved Israel so fiercely that God continued to speak to them through prophets like Amos even though Israel didn’t listen. God spoke the words so Israel could see how far short they fell from what God created them to be.
God continues to have a judging word for God’s people. God condemns sinful thoughts and behavior because God cares so deeply. God cares so deeply about us and about those we are thinking about or acting upon in ways that see them less than the named and claimed child of God that they are.
Scholar Doug Bratt reminds us that God let Amos’ Israel endure a famine of hearing God’s word for a time. God eventually fed God’s people very well again but for a time the Israelites staggered around like refugees desperately hunting for food because God’s Word was so scarce. Brett writes: God’s Word graciously both creates order out of chaos and sustains what God creates. God’s Word also guides, forgives, and blesses. Without that Word, there is only bedlam. So at the proper time, God graciously sent God’s Son Jesus Christ, what John calls “the Word”. That Word came and ministered to us as “the Bread of Life.” By faith we receive that Word and Bread so that it nourishes us for faithful obedience.”
If you’ve arrived here today tired and weary, you’ve come to the right place. If you arrive feeling justified in your thoughts because you don’t act upon them, you’ve come to the right place. If your actions and choices don’t reflect the kind of person you desire and long to be, you’ve come to the right place. God’s Word is what we are need of. We are in need of God’s Word to nourish us, encourage us, challenge us. Sometimes God’s Word will fill us up and other times it will burst our bubble. We are in need of God’s Word to remind us our own humanity and we need God’s Word to remind us that others bear the image of God.