July 17, 2016
Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
I was never a big fan of the movie Jaws, the 1975 Blockbuster, about a rampaging Great White shark off the east coast—but I love one line from the movie: Roy Scheider is throwing chum off the stern of his boat when the enormous shark reveals itself. Scheider is nearly speechless but he manages to whisper: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
This is exactly the revelation that hits you and me when some problem surfaces and we realize that we are not prepared to deal with what life is throwing at us. Maybe this revelation hit us when we failed an English test in high school and realized reading the Cliff Notes was not going to get us where we wanted to go. We were going to need a bigger effort.
Maybe when a relationship fell apart the revelation hit us that our strategies for getting people to like us were no longer adequate. We’re gonna need a bigger heart.”
Though we don’t know it at the time, when revelation hits us it is a moment of grace.
And if we are paying attention it is also a moment that leads to repentance: which is not just feeling sorry for our small boat, but more importantly, the willingness to receive a larger boat in order to live in the new world that is upon us.
Coming into Galilee, Jesus is the revelation of the most profound crisis that can hit a human being, which is not failure or death, but the arrival of God. One day we’re going through the motions throwing chum off the back of our dingy and the creator of the universe surfaces right in front of us.
In the face of such a crisis Jesus calls us to repent and believe the good news: repent—which means not just to apologize for the small way we have been living, but also to surrender to God’s restoration of the connection between us which creates a bigger way of seeing and being in the world.
This revelation hit Paul on the road to Damascus, so that he could write to the Colossians, the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory has now been revealed.
The new world God created in Jesus is the crisis rising up behind our boat, not to hurt us but to save us from our small selves, so that we might be made into a conduit for the love and healing of Christ.
Later in Colossians Paul says, in this new world “you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal[a] there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” Colossians 3: 9-11
That is a much bigger boat! And even before Jesus’ death and resurrection we see women and men jumping into it.
For instance, one evening in Bethany, which is a mile and a half east of Jerusalem, Jesus is teaching his disciples gathered around him on the floor. Peter is there, James and John are there, and in today’s gospel Mary of Bethany is there.
But Mary is not supposed to be there because only men are allowed to be disciples in first century Palestine, since only men could be rabbis. The women have other work, like raising children and fixing meals.
Martha is horrified that her sister is violating this boundary. She may be a little distressed at having to cook the meal on her own, but mostly she’s upset that Mary is, as N. T. Wright puts it, “acting like a man.” See Luke for Everyone, by N. T. Wright
In Martha’s world, Mary is violating God’s will, so she asks Jesus to set Mary straight and send her back to the kitchen.
Jesus refuses because Mary, repenting of the old world, steps into a bigger boat.
And naturally it creates discomfort: I bet the men were also uncomfortable with Mary acting as if she were a disciple like them. But they are learning to live with their discomfort because they too are now in a bigger boat that can handle the sharks of the old world.
So this story is not first and foremost a comparison of the active life of Martha and the contemplative life of Mary. Jesus is compassionate toward Martha calling her by name and naming her reality as “worried and distracted.”
But he says, nonetheless, “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary has chosen to live inside Jesus’ world instead of her own. Her old self has been stripped off and a new one put on.
BUT—and this is crucial: this choice is not a one and done affair. Rather it requires daily attention to live inside the new creation.
As people who attend worship even in the summer you know that it simply does not work to baptize your child and then never connect with the church again, until it’s time for a wedding or a funeral. This is not living inside the bigger boat, but only visiting the big boat for an hour.
God in Christ creates the new world for us and we connect to it through the daily practice of our faith. Near the end of Colossians Paul describes this daily practice when he says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving….And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
God in Christ builds the boat and our job is to live inside it.
You can have a running engine and a full tank of gas, but the boat won’t go anywhere until you move the gear shift into drive.
And, as Ian Thomas says, when we are roaring across the waves we don’t yell out, “What a great gear shift!”
No, we say, “What a great boat!”
Jesus is the boat of Mary’s new life. Her faith is the daily willingness to put it into gear.
Day by day, or better hour by hour, we exercise our faith by shifting our attention to Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us..
Mary’s willingness to trust Jesus reminds me of Rosa Parks who on December 1, 1955 got tired of giving in to the powers that ran the very small boat of segregated Montgomery, Alabama, so she just kept her seat on the bus—and of course went to jail.
Historian Douglas Brinkley wrote that “All her life Rosa Parks remained a devoted member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church…. She said that the teachings of Jesus Christ had convinced her…that a heart filled with love could conquer anything, even bigotry. Further Parks said, ‘I remember finding such comfort and peace while reading the Bible…Its teaching became a way of life and helped me in dealing with my day-to-day problems.’” https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/b/brinkley-parks.html