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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 16 - Proper 11 - Year C
Colossians 1:15-28; Psalm 52; Luke 10:38-42
"The Better Part"

READING:  Colossians 1:15-28; Psalm 52; Luke 10:38-42 
SERMON :  "The Better Part"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or16sesu.y-c 437941

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources: Portions of the Pastoral Prayer and of the Prayer of
   Approach are based on those provided by John Maynard in "Prayers and
   Litanies For 48C. Pentecost 7 / Proper 11 / Ordinary 16" as sent to
   the PRCL List, July 2001.  Sermon sources as noted in text.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Jeremiah 17:7-8)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Blessed are they who trust in the Lord.
P  Happy are they who place their confidence in God.
L  They are like trees planted by the water, 
   that send out their roots by the streams.
P  They do not fear when heat comes, for their leaves remain green.
L  They are not anxious in the year of the drought, 
   for they do not cease to bear fruit.
P  Blessed be the name of the Lord!  
   The Lord, our God, sustains all who wait upon him.  Amen

- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Special Matters  
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


O God, you see how busy we are with many things.  Turn us to listen to your
teachings and lead us to choose the one thing which will not be taken from
us.  Pour out upon us the Spirit to think and do what is right, that
we, who cannot even exist without you, may the have the strength to live
according your will.  Indeed, make us new this day - even as this day is
new - and help us to worship you in Spirit and in truth through Christ
Jesus, he who is our Saviour and our Risen Lord. AMEN.

* HYMN:  "Morning Has Broken"                                      - VU 409

CHILDREN'S TIME: "Being There"
Object    Camera
Theme     Un-cluttering One's Experience 
Source    Self

Good morning -- has anyone here lately gone a trip???  Where???  What did
you take with you???  Some people want to take their whole house with them
it seems doesn't it.

Tell me did anyone of you take a camera???   Lots of people take camera's
with them on their special trips - or when they go to weddings or receive
special visitors because they want to remember the experience.  But
sometimes I think people use the camera too much - they are so busy posing
others - so busy looking for the right shot - so busy changing film and
getting the lighting right - that they miss the whole experience - they see
it through the lens of the camera instead of with their eyes and ears -
they miss it - and they often cause other people to miss it too with all
their fretting about getting the perfect photograph..

It is easy for us to miss what is going on around us - to get so cluttered
with things - to get so busy getting things right - that we fail to enjoy
the precious opportunities in front of us.  In the gospel reading this
morning we will hear about two sisters who received Jesus and his disciples
into their home as their guests.  When you hear the story - ask yourself -
who really enjoyed his visit - who benefited from it the most. 

Let us pray:

   Wonderful God - We thank you for the beauty and the love - in the
   world around us.  - Help us to see that beauty - and to receive that
   love. - Help us to be with you - to hear you and know you - and to
   accept the blessings - you offer to us each day.   We ask it in
   Jesus' name.   Amen

   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

* HYMN OF PRAISE: "Tell Me The Stories Of Jesus"                   - VU 357

   (NIV)  Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all
   creation. {16} For by him all things were created: things in heaven and
   on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or
   authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is
   before all things, and in him all things hold together. {18} And he is
   the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn
   from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
   {19} For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, {20}
   and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on
   earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on
   the cross. {21} Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in
   your minds because of your evil behaviour. {22} But now he has
   reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you
   holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- {23} if
   you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the
   hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that
   has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I,
   Paul, have become a servant. {24} Now I rejoice in what was suffered
   for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to
   Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
   {25} I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present
   to you the word of God in its fullness-- {26} the mystery that has been
   kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the
   saints. {27} To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles
   the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope
   of glory. {28} We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with
   all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.

RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 52 (Voices United 777)

   (NIV)  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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is
   better, and it will not be taken away from her."

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

* HYMN:  "Take Time To Be Holy"                                    - VU 672

SERMON:  "The Better Part"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
   thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 

Erma Bombeck, the author who wrote "If Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries, What Am
I Doing Here In The Pits", tells of two moments in her husband's life:

   There was a time when the children were growing up that her husband
   used to go and look at the back yard.  Surveying the muddy patches
   where the lawn should be, he would wonder -- Will the grass ever
   come back?

   And then there was the time when the children were grown and gone
   that her husband went and looked over the beautiful green lawn,
   immaculate from lack of use and wondered -- Will the children ever
   come back?

Some parts of life are temporary - some are eternal.  Wisdom knows the
difference.  This if the fundamental issue at stake in the story of Mary
and Martha.

The story Luke tells of Mary and Martha is a controversial one - it angers
some people and confuses others, especially when they identify with one
sister or the other, when they take the side of either Mary or of Martha.

Some people look at the story from Martha's point of view.  
They say that Mary let Martha down:
   that Mary should have helped Martha serve Jesus and his disciples,
   that she should of done her share of the work,
   that she should have been a better hostess.

Those who sympathize with Martha say that 
if we take Jesus' rebuke of her seriously, 
if we are to believe that Mary did the right thing 
   - that she chose the better part and that Martha should have sat down
   with Mary and listened to the master,
then who would have made and served the food?
who in the world would have done the work?
   - a work that itself was an expression of love?

Martha's supporters assert that Mary is unfair to Martha, and that Jesus
really doesn't help the situation very much by telling Martha that she is
too anxious and that Mary has chosen the better part.

Other people of course look at the story from Mary's point view.

They say that Mary did the right thing when she chose to sit by Jesus and
learn from him, that Jesus is, after all, the Lord - and that Jesus himself
confirms this when he tells Martha that Mary has chosen "the better part".

Some of Mary's supporters them go on and ask the question - "besides, what
business did Martha have asking Jesus to chastise Mary and tell her what to

I don't think there is any of us here today who doubts that what Mary chose
to do when Jesus came was a good thing - that she chose a good portion or
part as the Bible states, 
   nor do I think anyone doubts that Martha was out of line asking her
   guest to chastise her sister, 
but the question still remains - what about Martha...

What, if anything, was wrong with Martha's choice?
Did not Martha honour the Lord by her response to his presence?  
Did she not show love towards him by serving him?

As the commentator John Lewis writes  "In the concrete situation in which
                                      Martha found herself, she attempted
                                      to answer and please her Lord."

This then is the dilemma of today's gospel reading.

Two individuals, both women, are portrayed welcoming Jesus,
they both respond to his presence 
- one by working for him, by serving him, by feeding him and his disciples,
- and the other by listening to him and by learning from him.

Both responses have a lot going for them, they are both faithful responses,
yet - as we see - they are responses that seem to end up contradicting each


John Lewis wonders why as well - and so he goes on to ask the question:

      "Is there something more fundamentally wrong with Martha'
      response to Jesus than what we have seen so far?"

The answer is - Yes.

Martha not only does a rude and inappropriate thing by asking Jesus to
chastise Mary, she also fails to show love as she ought.

In Martha's effort to love one neighbour - Jesus
she takes love away from another neighbour - from Mary - her sister.

Truly Martha is worried and distracted by many things, 
so worried and distracted, so anxious, 
that it leads her to anger and ruins her effort to be loving.

But there is more yet to the story of Mary and Martha 
-- to see what more there is it is necessary to look at the context within
the gospel in which the story appears.

One of best biblical scholars of the past century - Reginald Fuller -
suggests that the Mary and Martha story is a corrective to the activism
portrayed in the parable of the good Samaritan.

That parable - which comes just before today's reading - is told in
response to the question of a lawyer who asks Jesus - "what must I do to
inherit eternal life?"

As we heard last week, Jesus tells him that he must

   "Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all
   your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as
   yourself.  Do this and you will live."

And then in response to the lawyer's question: "and who is my neighbour?"
Jesus tells story of the Samaritan who shows mercy to a man who was the
victim of thieves - concluding with the words: "go and do likewise"

The emphasis in the passage just before today's reading is on action:
"do this and you will live" and "go and do likewise"

Immediately following this we get the story of Mary and Martha;
   we get a real life situation concerning being a neighbour
and we see someone who is doing that which leads to eternal life,
we see Martha doing, we see her labouring, out of love, to please her Lord.

But, and this is crucial, we also see Mary 
- who is not labouring out of love for her Lord,
but who is instead, out of her love for him, simply being with him, 
and listening to him.

Martha is distracted by all that she is doing, and she comes to Jesus, and
in her anxiety, in her frustration, she asks him to rebuke Mary:

   "Lord", she says, "Do you not care that my sister has left me
   to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me."

The response of Jesus to Martha's plea is not a criticism of her work for
him, nor of her love for him - rather it is a response to her anxiety and
anger - and a response to how she regards the choice made by Mary:
   "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things,
   there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part -
   which will not be taken away from her."

There is need of only one thing...
Only one thing is necessary...   
What is it...?

Well - the stories that appear next in the gospel of Luke concern prayer,
and that is important, for there is always a purpose behind the structure
of the gospels.

Reginald Fuller suggests what the purpose is when he says:
       "do this and you will live is applicable only as the doing
       the word flows out of the hearing of the word."
as it comes out of prayer, study, worship and meditation.

The word must be heard before it can be followed: 
- spiritual bread is required, is needed, by those who would be busy at
making physical bread, otherwise they will perish.

Think about our church for a minute 
- what makes us here different from a service club?  
- what makes us different from the Lions or the Kiwanas or the Rotary Club?

Do not they - like we - put on suppers, run programs, maintain buildings,
and attempt to bring relief to the poor and the oppressed of the world?

Do not both the church and the clubs around it work, 
and work fairly hard, at helping others?  
At caring for others?

So what is the difference between us?  
What makes one group a church, and another simply a service club?

In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about burnout - so much
so that student ministers are required to read about it at seminary.

It is a well known fact that those who are in the caring professions often
suffer from burnout - doctors, social workers, ministers, nurses, and so
forth - many reach a point of terminal exhaustion - they work hard - they
put themselves into their jobs with great intensity - they care deeply -
and after a while - many come to a point where they have no more to give.

Their work goes down hill, 
they begin to do less while often taking longer to do it,
they feel tired, unfulfilled, hopeless
they get to a point where they not only no longer care 
   - but where they are no longer able to care.  

People suffering from burnout often end up angry, anxious, and worried.

We see something like this in today's story of Mary and Martha when we see
Martha getting so anxious in her attempts to care for Jesus that she is
unable to care for Mary, unable to see the importance of what is going on
around her.

In seminary we are taught that there are several factors that can help one
avoid burnout:

   - one factor is ensuring that you a have a balance of activities in
   your life, that you do not spend all your time helping out - but take
   time for yourself.

   - another factor that is helpful is having a strong belief system - one
   in which you have a firm grip on the whole picture - in which you
   believe that there are other forces and other people who can help the
   world besides yourself.

Recently Charlene and I were talking to a social worker who works for
Children and Family Services - he told us that the only reason he has
survived in the social work business so long, while many others have
dropped out, is because he has a very strong belief system - that it is his
faith that has kept him going...

   - A third factor that helps a person avoid burnout is knowing how to
   receive help and care as well as how to give it.
Balance - faith - and receptivity; being able to take time for oneself to
learn, to grow, to be strengthened.

The manna that fed Israel in the desert fell from heaven -
   they did not have to work for it - it came from God -
   but they did have to gather it in each morning.

In the same way that the manna they needed came from God,
so the spiritual food we need each day comes from God as free gift 
- but like manna, it too needs to be gathered.

We do not live by bread alone - say the scriptures
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

   "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things,
   there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part -
   which will not be taken away from her."
Martha, Martha, you are so busy looking after me,
   so busy serving me, so concerned that the right things be done, 
that you are missing be with me,
   you are missing the necessary thing, the thing that Mary has chosen,
the thing that I will not take away from her.

You know - sometimes the best way to treat a guest is not by doing
something special for them, but by spending as much time with them as

I know that in many homes when company comes - after the meal the dishes
and all the cleaning up is set aside - and everyone moves to the living
room out of sight of all the work that needs doing so that they can enjoy a
few hours together without distraction.

That really is the point of the story of Mary and Martha.
Some parts of life are temporary - others are eternal.
Wisdom knows the difference.

Occasionally we need to put aside the work we do for the Lord 
and just spend some time being with him
   - some time learning from him, 
   - some time enjoying his presence, 
   - some time being refreshed and recreated by his Spirit.

The church is different from a service club because it recognizes this,
   it recognizes that is the word of God that gives life,
   and the word of God that strengthens us to do good,
and so the church turns toward God and listens to the word 
   it pauses - and sits at the feet of the eternal
   much as Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.

It is the word that enables us to serve 
   and to make a difference in that service,
It is the word, in and through us, that allows us to have eternal love,
   that love which is never anxious, or worried, or hurtful to others.

No one is a Christian who simply does the word -
You must also hear the word 
and dwell in the word 
- the word made flesh in Christ our Lord.

Yes - some of us are more like Martha - and some of us are more like Mary;
but there is in all of us a built in need to combine the two within us,
   for without sitting and listening to God our work for God can only lead
   to anxiety and anger and angst, 
   -and without doing the word our faith is clearly nothing.

As Graham Hutchings, a Methodist minister once said - there is a need
occasionally to get the visionaries in the kitchen and the kitchenaries in
the vision.

Some parts of life are temporary.  Some are eternal.
Wisdom knows the difference.

May God bless you and help you 
both in your listening to the word 
and in your doing of it.  AMEN

* HYMN:  "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"                        - VU 356

Patient and loving God, you know how we are often busy with trivialities,
bemused with the incidental, and not attentive to the eternal.  Forgive us
for how we allow ourselves to become distracted and so fail to both to the
good we wish to do - and to receive the good that you offer to those who
wait upon you....   Lord, hear our prayer...

Gracious Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, your name reminds us that you are with us,
and that you are here to deliver us from those things with oppress us and
which harm others.   As Abraham and Sarah received you beside their tent
and Mary and Martha received You in their home, so come among us.  Help us
to believe your promises and to treasure the mystery of Your presence. 
Give us the wisdom to slow down, to relax, and to allow your word to feed
us and your Spirit to make intercession for us and to heal us....  Lord,
hear our prayer...

Compassionate God, you understand us completely.  Look now into our hearts
and as we meditate on your love and care for us - grant us that thing we
need the most in our lives.....   Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord, as we gathered this morning we heard something of the joys and
concerns of our brothers and sisters - joys and concerns we now hold before
you in prayer, and with thanksgiving - knowing you are faithful to answer.  
Hear now the prayers that you place on our lips....  BIDDING PRAYER
Lord, Hear Our Prayer.... 

Hallowed be thy name, O God, and hallowed be your Son, Christ Jesus our
Lord.  May we always bless you and praise you, and proclaim your greatness
in our lives.  Amen.


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
       Bless O God these gifts we give, both those we have put on
       these plates and those we offer you now in the silence of our
       hearts....  Help us God to chose the good portion, and to
       live and to walk the path you have prepared for us.  We ask
       it in Christ's name.  Amen

* HYMN:  "What Does The Lord Require of You" (twice)               - VU 701

COMMISSIONING:  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go forth into the
   world to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of Christ.

Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and may all the blessings of God be upon you 
- may God the Creator renew your life 
- may God the Saviour dwell within you, 
- and may God the Spirit guide animate all your thoughts and actions 
both now and in the world to come.  Amen

CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                                 - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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