I am at the Modena Memorial UMC this coming Sunday. Service starts at 10. The Scriptures for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (C) are Amos 8: 1 – 12, Colossians 1: 15 – 28, and Luke 10: 38 – 42.
I want to first thank you all for your generous donation to Grannie Annie’s Kitchen. It is and was appreciated.
It is interesting that I would be here on the Sunday when the Gospel reading involves Mary and Martha. In this very familiar reading, Martha is busy in the kitchen while Mary sits with the company and listens to Jesus teach. It must have been pretty hectic for Martha, who probably wanted to be out there with Mary, but needed to prepare the meal for the twenty or so guests that suddenly appeared at her door.
Those who have ever been at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on a Saturday morning know how that is. The doors open at 8 and in the next ten minutes or so some thirty individuals will come in. They will get their coffee, juice, fruit, and cereal and take a seat in preparation for the morning worship.
That’s why we really appreciate those, such as Pastor Lynn, Kim, and Anthony, who come early and help meet the people and serve them. It means that everyone has the opportunity to sit and hear the words that feed the soul.
Now, you need to know that Grannie Annie’s Kitchen is not nor has it ever been a soup kitchen. Yes, it is a kitchen and yes, the soups that Ann makes are some of the finest in the area but Grannie Annie’s Kitchen was never intended to be a “soup kitchen.” Over the almost three years that it has been in existence, we have sought to make it a community and a part of Grace Church. True, there are individuals who come on Saturday morning expecting a “soup kitchen” with paper plates and plastic utensils. It is clear that they have never had a meal where they were served on plates with silverware. But if Jesus were to be a guest at your home, how would you serve Him? Is it no wonder that Mary was so busy in her kitchen?
I would have thought that some of the disciples, having had some experience feeding large groups, might have offered to help Martha but the purpose of the Gospel reading is to focus on hearing the word and not being distracted by other duties.
Now, at this point you are wondering what all this has to do with the title of this message. To do what we do every Saturday morning requires a little more of a commitment than many people realize.
One of the most common phrases heard today is “practicing Christian.” Neither Ann nor I are enamored with that that phrase, in part because of what we think it implies.
You have to know that I played in the band in junior high, high school, and my freshman year in college. I really liked playing in the band and being on the football field at half-time. But the one thing that I absolutely hated was practice and that is why I wasn’t a good musician. Understand that I didn’t consider attendance in band class practice; it was part of the assignment and going out onto the field to prepare for each week’s half-time show or concert wasn’t really practice but more of a rehearsal. Practice is that time that each individual spends working on technique or skills; musicians and many others will tell you that you must set aside 1 or 2 hours a day for individual practice if you wish to improve.
I think the problem in too many church’s today is that most people are “practicing Christians”. They come to church for one hour on Sunday and perhaps another hour during the week and they feel that they have meet their obligation to the church, Christ, and God. They give little concern to what is going on around them the rest of the time. Their lack of concern for others may not be as extreme as was set forth in the Old Testament reading for today but any lack of concern for another person is, in my opinion, too much.
If, as Paul writes, to the Colossians, in words that echo the opening verses of the Gospel of John, Christ is a part of this world and has been a part of this world from the very beginning, we cannot simply pick the time and place where we want to meet Him; we cannot pick the time and place to be a Christian.
The focus of your life has to be on Christ, as Jesus pointed out to Martha. In all you say and do, people need to see Christ. God’s anger with the people of Israel is because their lives were not focused on Him and being the Chosen People but other things, things that took them away from Him.
Being a Christian means more than practicing the tenets of your faith; it means living them out every day. Anyone can run a soup kitchen and give those who are hungry a simple meal. But if you are feeding others so that you feel good, you are simply practicing your faith. Would you serve such a meal to Jesus? Or would you bring out your finest linens, best china and silverware? How do you know that Jesus is not among those standing in line, waiting to be served?
Being a Christian needs to be more than just a label. I know of people, who having proclaimed themselves to be followers of Christ, will only buy their books at a Christian book store and the only music that they listen to is on the local Christian radio station. They will search far and near for Christian businesses so that they are not contaminated by non-Christians. But is that any sort of life?
Several years ago, when I was living in Memphis, a Christian restaurant opened up. My mother and I went because some friends of ours from church were playing that night. It was a nice restaurant, clean with a friendly staff, but it lacked the one thing that every restaurant must have in order to succeed. It did not have good food. No restaurant can expect to survive if it does not offer good food; no gimmick is going to entice customers to come back if the food is not good.
Ultimately, this restaurant closed and the owners blamed society, saying society was not ready for a Christian-based restaurant. Faith-based businesses will succeed if their product is better than the competition and not because it is a faith-based business. If one treats those who walk through the door as if they were Jesus Christ, their business will succeed.
No profession is lower than that of a prophet, priest, or king and one quickly discovers the beauty of being alive when you use your talents to serve God. But you can’t do that if you only practice being a Christian. Paul will write to the Colossians in chapter 3, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3: 23 – 24).
When I was a sophomore in college, I thought I had it all pegged but what sophomore in college doesn’t have it all figured out? I was getting ready to go back to Memphis for spring break but before I left Kirksville, I wanted to take communion. While I knew that communion would be part of the Sunday service at the Bartlett Methodist Church where my parents and siblings attended, something inside me said that I should find a way to take communion at the church were I was a member, 1st UMC of Kirksville.
My pastor, Marvin Fortel, was somewhat surprised by this request, in part because most of the students who attended 1st were not members. Still, he agreed to meet with me and we sat in the chapel at 1st and discussed the parts of the communion ritual. I still remember today, some 44 years later, asking why we were not worthy of sitting at the banquet table. Didn’t being a Christian give us the right to sit at God’s table?
In short, that day I began to learn, first about God’s grace and second, doing good does not automatically get you into heaven. I also learned that in accepting Christ and declaring that I was a Methodist meant that I needed to seek the perfection of Christ each day of my life. I probably will not reach that level but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try.
So I am not a practicing Christian but one who tries each day to live out his life to the best of the ability that God gave me. Sometimes I don’t do such a good job at it. At the end of the day, I thank God for what has transpired, apologize for what went wrong and ask that tomorrow be a better day.
And the opportunity is given to you today and each day that we gather together in worship and celebration to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. And the opportunity comes as well to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into your lives, to empower you to find the talents that you have deep within you that will allow you to live the life that you were meant to live.
I always loved being on the field during half-time; all that we did during the week was about to pay off. How many times have we heard the phrase that the service has ended and now service begins?
This is one of those times where our lives as Christians begins; the practice is over and life begins.