Last week in the story of the Good Samaritan, we heard Jesus say to the questioning lawyers “Go and do likewise.” He was referring, of course, to the actions taken by the Good Samaritan on behalf of the beggar who had been beaten and left to suffer on the side of the mountain going down from Jerusalem.
In saying, “Go and do likewise,” Jesus was telling the lawyers that it is not good enough to simply know and quote the law” (You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself); one must also adopt the law as a way of life. Knowledge of what is right, without actually doing what is right, is useless.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was saying, “Actions speak louder than words when it comes to loving God with all your soul, strength, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Today we hear a different message from Jesus who tells Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” In this passage, Jesus is saying, “Martha, stop doing and sit down and listen.”
Today, we hear Jesus giving priority to listening; to hearing the words that come from God’s messenger – Jesus Christ. The story of Mary and Martha does not teach us to “do,” it teaches us to listen; to discern; to seek the better thing- the miraculous ways that God speaks to us.
The stories of the Good Samaritan and Mary and Martha teach us that there is a time to take action; “to do,” and there is a time “to listen”; to reflect and discern. Knowing which course of action to take requires spiritual discernment. I believe that it also requires passion.
Passion is a very powerful test for determining authenticity. Our passion, or authenticity, has tremendous power and potential as mind, body and spirit work together to create, develop and express our feelings and ideas.
Passion is a critical component in our lives as Christians. Without passion, listening, reflecting, discerning, and doing are fairly, if not very, ineffective.
Marcus J. Borg in his recent novel “Putting Away Childish Things,” says:
“…the goal of Christian life is participating in the passion of God, as disclosed in the Bible and Jesus. God’s passion is that we center more deeply in God (‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength’) and the world – a world of justice and peace. These are the inner and outer dimensions of the Christian life and of Christian mysticism-union with God’s passion.”
I see passion for us Episcopalians as the glue that connects the listening process to the doing process. In listening we learn; in doing we carry out what we have learned. As Christians, if we do not listen and do with passion, we are not authentic. We fail to participate in the passion of God and His desire that we continue His work of reconciliation and redemption of the world – with passion.
Clearly, we do not live in Jesus’ time, and we will never meet him as we travel along the road. We will never have the opportunity to sit at his feet and listen to his stories as we entertain him as our dinner guest. We will never gain our passion by feeling the touch of his hand, or hearing the tone of his voice.
So then, what do we as residents of today’s chaotic world listen to? How do we listen? How do we understand what we have heard? How do we know what to do with what we have heard? And perhaps most important, where do we find our passion?
Let’s begin with the premise that everyone has gifts – gifts that are useful and absolutely necessary to the work of God in and through our Church. If our Church is to survive – if God is to be known in the world – we need to determine our gifts and put them to work. That is the mission that Jesus gave us.
The second premise is that the gifts we have are not the same gifts. Each of us has something different that we can offer. No one gift is better than any other gift. All gifts are precious. All gifts are needed in the life and ministry of the church.
Paul writes extensively about gifts and listening in First Corinthians:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ..... And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.”
Many ordained clergy discern their gifts through spiritual direction. Spiritual Direction is a ministry and an art, is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition. A Spiritual Director is one who with a deep personal faith life, relevant education and training, experiences a call to companion others on their soul journey. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is the true guide, a Spiritual Director does not direct, but acts as a listening, supportive companion. The purpose of spiritual direction is to recognize and respond to the presence and action of God in one’s daily life.
You all met my spiritual director at my ordination. The Rev. Chip Stokes gave the sermon and the charge. His gift to me of spiritual direction on a regular basis is priceless.
The majority of the laity discern their gifts through the Christian Education and Christian Formation activities provided by each parish and its clergy. Formation classes, especially, those that focus on centering prayer, learning to listen, and recognizing and responding to God’s call are essential exercises for all Christians.
Whether ordained or laity, members of all congregations base their mission in Christ – their listening and their doing - in their continual journey of education, formation, prayer, discernment, and ministry.
And what about passion, where does that come from?
Johannes Eckhart, a German theologian, philosopher and mystic who was born in the late 1200’s said,
“We must learn always to find and procure the advantage of God. For God does not give gifts, nor did he ever give one, so that we might keep it and take satisfaction in it; but all were given - all he ever gave on earth or in heaven - that he might give this one more: himself. Therefore I say that we must learn to look through every gift and every event to God and never be content with the thing itself. There is no stopping place in this life - no, nor was there ever one, no matter how far away a person had gone. This above all, then, be ready at all times for the gifts of God and always for new ones.”
“This above all, then, be ready at all times for the gifts of God and always for new ones.”
We all need to be Mary, listening at Christ’s feet, hearing his message, committing ourselves to our journey with him to Jerusalem and beyond.
We all need to be the Good Samaritan, loving our neighbors as ourselves, especially when no one else will offer that love to them.
We all need to accept God’s will for us to join in His passion in loving and bringing peace and justice to all; each in our own way; each through our own gifts.
A Wayne Schwab, the first evangelism staff officer for the Episcopal Church in the United States says,
“In today’s world, the laity are, potentially, the most effective agents of God’s mission. They are in the places where the decisions that shape our common life are made – from the home to the hourly workplace to the board room to the legislature. Hence, our vision: a church where all the members see themselves as agents of Jesus’ mission to make every part of their daily lives more loving and more just; and their congregations guiding them and empowering them for mission through their common life and worship.”
Let us pray:
O gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We, young and old, lay and ordained, ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of your scripture, that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.