Floods, the institution of marriage in crisis, high unemployment, catastrophic storm damage, listening to political speeches (sometimes known as nonsense), and war: These are just some of the things piling themselves upon our minds and hearts as we attempt to navigate issues that are every bit as real in our private lives. As I listen to the radio and hear what sounds like a world falling apart, and as I walk with people going through seasons of grief, worry, and hopeful anticipation, I wonder how it is that the Church can mobilize herself to help and to shoulder some of the burden of those in need.
So, what does it mean for the Church to mobilize herself for greater action and interaction with the world around her? How would her mission and routine look different if she were to suddenly swing into action and offer herself in service to the world around her? There are some who would argue that she would do what a pastor and his congregation recently did: Cancel or radically shorten Sunday worship to go out and serve in soup kitchens, community projects, nursing homes, and so on.
While doing those things in the Name of Jesus is commendable – and, frankly, required of us as his disciples – they shouldn’t be done at the expense of putting prayer and worship first. Now, this is where you’d normally get the argument from some Christians that the Church shouldn’t become some sort of social service agency. I have one word for them: Wrong! Every time the Church has expanded her sphere of influence for the good of those in need of both the Gospel and material help, she has taken upon herself the Jesus-given mandate to feed the hungry and free the oppressed.
So, if there are problems with both of these approaches, how does the Church go about her divinely appointed mission? The answer, it seems, is really quite simple. Look with me, if you will at Luke 10:38-42 (yes, I’d really like you to turn away from the computer screen, find your Bible, and turn to the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke!). Do you see what’s going on there? Saint Martha of Bethany springs into action. She runs to the kitchen to get the meal ready. Her logic tells her that something needs to be done and she sets about doing it.
If I had a nickel for every time a question of serving the community was placed before a congregation and the congregation’s response was either “let’s do it!” or “I don’t know…what do you think?!?” I’d have all the money in the world! Because we’re human, we tend to react rather than pray. We either get excited and react with enthusiasm, or we feel afraid and want someone else’s opinion – hoping that they’ll say what we secretly want to say: No. In too few instances do we respond to a presented need with thoughtful prayer – prayer built on the foundations of worship and adoration of Jesus.
I can almost hear the collective “What?!?” coming through the internet right now! Yes, you read my words the right way. I can understand how and why the Church has attempted to separate the call to service from prayer, but I think we have to dig a little deeper to understand why we have divorced the call to outward-reaching service from active worship and adoration of Jesus. If we pray about whether the Lord is calling to a certain mission (and that’s a very big if, indeed), we often ask that question in a vacuum, apart from the ongoing process of hearing the Word of God and communing with him.
What Saint Mary of Bethany understands (we see this as she sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him), is what we so often miss: The importance of intimate communion with our Lord. When we sing Father Charles Wesley’s words “lost in wonder, love, and praise” (from his hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”) do we really understand that losing ourselves in the Presence of Jesus is key to acting in his behalf in the world? Yet even if we don’t understand it, Jesus does! Look at what he says when Saint Martha complains that about Saint Mary not sharing in her “distractions”. Jesus says, “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.”
So far as I’ve been able to determine, there’s only one thing that no part of our daily living, striving, stressing, sharing, or sacrificing can take away from us: Deep communion with Jesus – an intimacy with him that imparts to us his heart and mind. In fact, it’s that deep communion of sharing in his heart and mind that enables us to bear one another’s burdens. Without it we’re attempting to do good in the power of our flesh rather than through the power of the Spirit.
Our need for a dose of Saint Mary of Bethany’s kind of worship and adoration of Jesus is obvious: We need to do the same with every part of our lives and with every question that faces us. That’s one part of the reason that Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church is so named. But that also begs a second (and equally important) question: Once we come before the Lord in worship and adoration, and once we receive what he’s laying on our hearts, will we go and do as he’s commanded us?!? Make no mistake, Saint Martha of Bethany learned her lesson – and she learned it well (see John 11:17-27)! I pray that when the Lord calls this parish to do something, we’ll do it with the same gusto that Saint Martha did!
May the Lord meet us as we worship and pray, and may we respond with the fullness of his love implanted in our hearts! Amen!!!
Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky