First Congregational Church
July 21, 2013
9th Sunday after Pentecost
"The Tale of Vision"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Many of you know that oft read poem, "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson.
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
"You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."
Part of the beauty of that poem is our ability to mentally envision the scene. Especially when you are at the big beach, and the tourists are fewer, you can really see the possibility/reality of God carrying us or us walking beside Jesus.
So now imagine you and Jesus walking down the beach together again. For much of the way, the Lord's footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace. But your prints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures and returns.
For much of the way it seems to go like this. But gradually, your footprints come more in line with the Lord's, soon paralleling God's consistently. You and Jesus are walking as true friends.
This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: your footprints that once etched the sand next to the Master's are now walking precisely in His steps. The footprint inside the larger ˇfootprint seems to grow larger. Eventually it disappears altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one.
Again, this goes on for a long time. But then something awful happens. The second set of footprints is back. And this time it seems even worse. Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Deep gashes in the sand. A veritable mess of prints.
You're amazed and shocked. But this is the end of your dream. Now you speak. 'Lord, I understand the first scene with the zigzags and fits and starts and so on. I was new to following you, just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You.' 'That is correct.'
'And when the smaller footprints were inside of yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps. I followed You very closely.' 'Very good. You have understood everything so far.'
'Then the smaller footprints grew and eventually filled in with Yours. I suppose that I was actually growing so much that I was becoming like You in every way.' 'Precisely.'
'But this is my question. Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints went back to two, and this time it was worse than the first.' The Lord smiles, then laughs. 'You didn't know?' He says, 'That was when we danced!
This morning's scripture passage is on par with the popularity of "Footprints in the Sand," and it shares the easy visual of both footprint illustrations. While either Footprint illustration has great sentimentality to it, our passage for this morning steps it up, because like it or not, a number of us have "been there."
As Melissa makes her way up, I'll give you a bit of a preview in telling you that we will be lining the passage this morning. Back in the olden Congregational days, when they wore their best woolens to Sunday services - yes - it was an all morning and afternoon event - one way to help those in the congregation "own" what the Bible said, was to have them "line" it. One of the deacons would stand behind the communion table, on the raised pulpit (which symbolized the elevated regard for educated preaching) and they would put out a phrase after which the congregation repeated it.
Luke 10:38-42 NIV
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Thank you, Melissa. Talk about a Tale of Vision." I'm sure that most of us can see the house, the rooms, the clothing, even Jesus sitting, which was the posture rabbis took when they were to teach. As a preacher, there are practically an infinity of sermons begging to be preached out of this little scene.
And oh the sermon title possibilities: "To Do or to Be; That is the Question," "Do-Be-Do-Be-Do or Be-Do-Be-Do-Be?" In light of a recent editorial in the Record Patriot, which claimed that churches with female pastors were in chaos, it would be SO tempting to make a big deal of the fact that rather than assuming the expected role of women in their culture, Mary sits at Jesus' feet, a huge symbol of her being a student, a role traditionally reserved for men. But being wired as a Martha, I am trying hard to remember that engaging in a media battle is not always a true picture of one who really and truly wants to follow Christ.
If I felt that God would have this morning's message be about who should and who shouldn't be role models, I would also bring up the fact that immediately preceding this Mary and Martha story is that of the "Good" Samaritan. In Jesus' culture, Samaritans - who were like foreigners - and women had about equal status. And yet, Jesus uses both, male and female subjects, to make examples of what those who follow Christ do and are.
But, looking at the Good Samaritan and the M&M story - together - perhaps has more merit. At the end of the Good Samaritan story, Jesus says to the rich lawyer, "Go and DO likewise." In the M&M story, Jesus said that Mary, who chose to sit, had made the better decision. It's interesting that both stories have a great vein of hospitality to them, and Jesus doesn't condemn Martha's preparations.
It's not that she was busy serving and providing hospitality, but that she was distracted by her hospitality to the point that one of the most important aspects of hospitality - gracious attention to the guest - is overlooked.
In her agitation, Martha forgets the rules of hospitality and tries to embarrass her sister in front of her guests. To put the cherry on the top, she asks the guest to intervene in this family dispute. In fact, she's gotten so distracted, she goes so far as to accuse Jesus of not caring about her. "Lord, don't you care?"
The one thing Martha needed was to receive the gracious presence of Jesus, to listen to his words and to know that she was valued not for what she did or how well she did it, but for who she was a a child of God.
I'm never completely sure, when I hear people say things that suggests that God loves them based on things like how many times they go to church, how much they put in the offering plate, if they've said something egregious. I would hope that people that make those sorts of statements are truly joking; that there is not some underlying uncertainty of the wrath of God coming down to bop them on the head.
We are to be gracious and hospitable to people because we don't know when we are entertaining angels. And we're to do whatever we do to the best of our ability, because it reflects on our character as followers of Christ. But if - on occasion, we fail to live up to what we think God expects of us, then it doesn't make us a bad person in God's eyes. For those of you with children, no matter how much they exasperate you, at the end of the day, you still love them. The same goes with God and us.
Lest anyone get the impression that we should all just sit at Jesus' feet, we need to think again. I can't imagine that Mary got to be the age she was without hearing that wonderful phrase, many hands make light work. Martha may have been a whiner, but Mary was lazy, and I don't know about any of you, but in the house where I grew up, laziness was the greater sin.
As a Tale of Vision, Mary and Martha's is one to remind us that there is more than one way to understand a situation. There's Jesus' view of the bigger picture and distraction, Mary's view of opportunity, Martha's view of inequity and distraction, and our view of spiritual discernment. And of course, there are all the views that have not found their way into this message. Regardless of the view, our best is when we are looking at God, sitting in God's presence, just enjoying God. So let us do just that.
God of love beyond any mistake or flaw, we are grateful that your love for us is not dependent on how well we do this or that, whether we feel worried or distracted. It is true that none of us can add a single hour to our span of life in worrying. So help us to set down our anxious thoughts and take those moments that are free of frantic activity - to just be with you. Even if that idea is new to us, help us with the first step, that we renew our relationship with you - dancing and even to allow ourselves to be carried by you. Remind us that only one thing is needed: attention to you, and that your are our guest and host with abundant gifts to give. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.