“The devil is in the details”–an old saying that popped up in various ways as I prepared my sermon for today. A difficult phrase for a detail-oriented person to hear. Theologians, psychologists, and pastors have weighed down today’s gospel lesson through centuries of worrying about the details. We can be easily consumed by details, whether in reading scripture, or in our daily lives. They can bedevil us, weigh us down so that we cannot see beyond ourselves.
We don’t have time today for details, and so I simply pray that we hear what’s at the heart of this reading: relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ. Through this brief story of Mary and Martha, we are reminded to let go of the details, at least enough to focus outside ourselves, to see Christ in our lives, in ourselves, and in each other.
The devil is in the details–when we focus on them to the exclusion of all else, we close ourselves off to Christ. Let us instead chose “the good part,” the part “that will never be taken away:” our connection with God’s love through Jesus Christ , our Lord and savior, who redeems us despite the details of our lives. Let us be present to Christ in our lives and in ourselves and to each other. Amen.
By way of an Introduction:
Again this time, what I’m posting is from my notes as I didn’t write an entire script for myself, so this won’t be totally verbatim. Experimenting.
This post isn’t going to be my sermon proper, so to speak, because I took a risk this morning with the kind folks at St. James who have been patient with me in my learning to preach process. They put up with me using my computer as my script when I couldn’t get my sermon printed out a couple of times. Today, I decided to trust myself and trust God–I didn’t use a script at all! I meditated and prayed with the scriptures all week, and today said what was in my heart. I had made a couple of notes, which I left at my seat and just took up my copies of the readings. I wasn’t sure how well I would do, especially since my emotions have been close to the surface this week, partly because one of my closest friends is leaving for Houston soon and he had emailed me yesterday about getting together for a meal before he goes. He’s the one who introduced me to my home church of Trinity in Waterloo four years ago, which in turn led to this path of discernment. I mentioned him in my “Across the Universe” sermon. I knew that no matter what I preached on today, I would get teary, which I did.
So I’m not going to write much here, because I don’t recall all the exact words I used; I’ll just give the basics.
I took as my basis the idea of family trees–I’ve been preparing for a class titled “Images of Salvation: The Scriptures in Medieval Art” that I’m leading at our diocesan Summer Ministry Retreat. Sue Ann, the deacon at St. James had asked me to share a little of that for the parishioners since no one there was going to the retreat. I chose to discuss the medieval concept of the Jesse Tree, since it had some bearing on the readings today. And that idea found its way into my sermon.
I gave some background about the Jesse Tree and compared it to a family tree of Christ and the Church. I said that family trees are complicated, and that we generally think of them in terms of our biological relatives. The Jesse Tree extends that metaphor because images of the prophets, Mother Church, apostles, abstract concepts, and the synagogue are often pictured as offshoots of the tree. I added that I would consider adding my church family to my own, especially my friend, Samuel.
I told a story about my father and that up until recently, he had been an agnostic. In the last year, though, he was the one who suggested to my mom that they go back to church. He’d grown away from religion while a college student despite an upbringing in the Methodist church. We never went to church while I was growing up (though my sister and I were encouraged to explore on our own), unless we were visiting my grandparents. Then we’d go to my maternal grandmother’s Lutheran (now ELCA), for which her side of the family had donated land. My father now initiates saying grace before meals, something I thought I’d never see.
I wondered about Jesse’s part in David’s call, which is what the OT lesson was about. How did he feel about his son being chosen by God to be the king of the tribes of Israel? How did Jesse raise his sons, raise David?
After that, I related the idea of the family tree to Jesus’s parable of the mustard seed in today Gospel reading; how that tiny seed grew into a huge plant capable of housing all. We’re all one family, human, brothers and sisters in Christ. All human–I reminded the congregation of Paul’s words about us knowing Christ first as human.
My prayer was that while so many are spending their lives in intolerance and hate toward others, that we, as followers of Christ, remember that we are all one family, one community, one body in Christ.
—given at St. James Episcopal Church, Independence, Iowa
Today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
–given at St. James Episcopal Church
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