Sunday, July 4, 2010

Proper 11 Year C

Proper 11C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52 OR Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Amos re-states the requirements of God's covenant and the consequences when it is ignored.  He describes in details the exploitation of the poor and needy by those who are better off, including such 'accepted' practices as rigging daily business transactions for even further gauging.  Toleration of such behavior will bring "famine" on the people worse than a "famine of bread, or a thirst for water...."  There will come a famine of "hearing the words of the Lord."  Belatedly, people will wander around, trying to find it again, "but they shall not find it." 

The psalmist indicts the "evil" person with sarcasm by calling him a "hero."  Such a person "loves" deceit, lying and every technique that increases injustice and mocks fairness.  "God will surely smash you forever/sweep you up and tear you from the tent/root you out from the land of the living."  The "righteous" will observe such people and recount to themselves "God's kindness forevermore."


The reader is told that the Lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah, but they only see three strangers at their door.  Abraham immediately springs into action to welcome the three strangers with generous hospitality and a flourish of obsequiousness.  Using the word "fetch" four times and the word "hurry" three times, Abraham offers a quick snack and, with Sarah, starts the preparations for an elaborate and generous meal.  They ask ask the whereabouts of his wife, Sarah.  One of the three makes a staggering promise: "I will surely return to you at this very season and, look, a son shall Sarah your wife have."

The psalmist asks: Who travels to and takes up residence in the Lord's house?  The psalmist answers: the person who "does justice,"speaks truth, does not slander and conducts business with others honestly.

The eloquence of this magisterial hymn/poem befits its cosmic sweep.  Jesus is "the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation... the head of the body, the church.. the first born of the dead...."  In him "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell..." for the distinct purpose to reconcile to God "all things, whether on earth or in heaven...."  By a specific act-- "the blood of his cross"-- you are the beneficiary of his death.  Paul's suffering, the writer continues, is an extension of "Christ's afflictions."  The cross of Christ and Paul's witness "make the word of God fully known, the mystery that had been hidden throughout the ages...."  Gentiles have been included by God.  Everyone can participate.

Luke follows his famous story of someone least likely to fulfill God's wishes, an anonymous Samaritan, with another story involving hospitality.  Jesus accepts an invitation to the home of a woman, named Martha, in a village he does not identity.  Martha immediately sets to the tasks of offering him gracious hospitality while her sister, Mary, "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying."  Martha tires to recruit Jesus into chastising her sister for not helping, but Jesus assures them "there is need of only one thing."  Mary has made the better choice, he says. 

The story of Abraham and Sarah's hospitality presents and ideal openness to the stranger and tells of the reward of the promise of new life to an elderly, childless couple.  Their response to the arrival of the strange, different, unknown is perfect-- they are open, immediate, spontaneous; the promise that ensues is nothing short of miraculous

By the time of his death in 2004-- thirty books in a thirty year career-- Jacques Derrida had narrowed his focus to certain "impossible/possibles," as he called them, including hospitality.  In 2001 he wrote: Unconditional hospitality can't be an establishment, but it may happen as a miracle... in an instant, not lasting more than an instant, it may happen.  This the... possible happening of something impossible, which makes us think what hospitality, or forgiveness, or the gift might be."  (Deconstruction Engaged: The Sydney Seminars, Paul Patton and Terry Smith, eds., Sydney: Power Publications, 2001, pp 101-102) Six years earlier he had written: "Awaiting without horizon of the wait, awaiting one does not expect yet or any longer, hospitality without reserve, welcoming salutation accorded in advance to the absolute surrender the arrivant." (Specter of Marx, Peggy Kamut, trans., New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 65).  Although such sincere, ready openness to something or someone is an ideal, the mere possibility that we might exhibit it or, conversely, be the recipient, means human behavior is not open and shut; it keeps open the glimmer  that there is at least the possibility of something new and life-giving still to come in our lives.  And, that mere possibility keeps alive the hope of new life, even when it had come to be assumed to be impossible.

The story of Martha and Mary continues the peculiarly biblical notion that responsiveness to others, especially those who show up in our lives unexpectedly, can be the test/opportunity by which new life is born, but with a more specific focus-- receptivity to "the words" from/about Jesus.  Martha is presented as the one who took the initiative to invite Jesus into their home and then is consumed with the best manners of hospitality.  (Dorothy Sayers imagines Martha as "House-proud" in The Man Who Wold Be King.)  But Mary is mesmerized by "the words" of Jesus.  When called upon to settle the difference between the two siblings, Jesus does not condemn Martha's action, he just says Mary made the better choice of how to use her time with their guest.

The emphasis of each of these two stories balances and enhances the others.  "The words" from/about Jesus work their wonder when we devote our full attention to them because they open our hearts to God and to one another.  the ideal behavior of Abraham and Sarah reminds us that it is the most, basic, common everyday actions of meeting the needs of others-- sometimes especially those who are strangers to us-- that is tantamount to welcoming the Lord.  Such developments in our lives can be unexpected opportunities for something new coming alive, even when we had come to accept our own barrenness.