Mary, Martha, and Amos' summer fruits - a sermon
"This is what the Lord God showed me - a basket of summer fruit. He said, 'Amos, what do you see?'"
Wimbledon fortnight is over. The tennis tournament is famous for strawberries and cream.
When I was a child the arrival of Wimbledon meant the strawberry season was on. We would have strawberries and cream every day just for a very few weeks, because that was the only time you could buy strawberries. Growing up in a small city surrounded by market gardens, you could even go and pick your own. The strawberry season was short but good!
Nowadays you eat strawberries all the year around and I do. Food production industry has changed radically, and imports are much easier.
However, in my mind they are still a summer fruit - an essential ingredient in a Summer Fruit Pudding along with cherries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants.
Pleasant thoughts for a lovely summer day.
Which is exactly what the prophet Amos might have thought when God gave him a vision of a basket of summer fruit.
Summer fruit is good.
God asks Amos a penetrating question – ‘what do you see?’
Amos gives the obvious answer – a basket of summer fruit.
In the Hebrew the word for ‘summer fruit’ sounds very much like the word for ‘end’. The Bible takes advantage of this play on words.
Amos is forced to look again at the basket of summer fruit as God says to Amos, ‘The end will come upon my people.’
The glorious prosperous time which Israel was experiencing must end, giving way to autumn and winter.
The summer fruit will all be eaten.
Amos is given a graphic vision of what will happen to Israel. He prophesies a calamitous day just as we are seeing in places of extreme conflict, notably Ukraine, but we might think of Syria and Afghanistan.
He envisions the environment itself collapsing, the sun going down at noon and the earth darkened in broad daylight. I guess an eclipse was interpreted as a sign of God’s disapproval. As we maybe think as forest fires engulf as they are in Portugal.
The people will suffer – there will be baldness on every head! So some of us are in the end times already!
The prophet’s imagination of Israel’s future is not so easy to decipher but the cause of the impending disaster is clear.
The prophet denounces: ‘You who trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land’.
Amos’ concern is justice.
Justice for the poor, the exploited.
It was transparent to all who had eyes to see what was going on. In the market places, traders fixed the weights so as to cheat their customers. Indeed some were so exploited and impoverished that they had to sell themselves into slavery.
We read that the businessmen would sweep up the bad wheat berries left on the floor and sell them to the poor.
Even when they were carrying out their religious duties for the New Moon Festival and the Sabbath, they were thinking how quickly they could return to their bad practices.
Injustice in trade and ill treatment of the poor is the cause of God’s anger and God’s rejection.
The prophet tells us that God does not overlook the treatment of those who are forced into slavery, who are abused, impoverished.
Amos is the quintessential prophet of justice.
I like Amos!
God asks Amos, ‘what do you see?’
What do you see when you pick up your punnet of strawberries?
Luscious red, juicy, tasty fruit – perfect for a summer day?
Strawberries are good for you. As foods go they are relatively sustainable, with a low water and carbon footprint.
However, strawberries are part of what are called the ‘dirty dozen’ – that is foods that are often grown with excessive use of pesticides.
We also know that too much of our food production takes place with poor labour conditions.
What do you see?
Fruit or the fruit plus the people who produced it, packaged it, transported it.
Do you see behind the veneer of sales to the production line? Often fair and good and sometimes not.
God asks Amos, ‘what do you see?’
Can we look with God’s eyes? Can we develop a prophet’s way of seeing?
Just a moment to give thanks before a meal is important. It can be out loud or simply in your own mind – give thanks for the food – for those who prepared it – pray for any treated unfairly in its production and all in need. Simple but a grace changes our relationship to the food we eat in a very positive way.
In our reading from Amos this morning, we are invited to use our imagination – imagine a prophet’s way of seeing - look with fresh eyes at what seems every-day and normal to what lies behind.
What do you see on your supermarket shelves? Do you notice the unnecessary plastic wrappings?
I am sure that you will notice the rising prices. Do you also see those people for whom the tiniest increase will mean hunger?
What do you see when you pass children going to school – do you notice that eight out of thirty of those children live in poverty in one of the world’s richest nations?
What do you see when you look at the entrance to a tube station? Do you see the files of people on their way to work or pleasure or do you see the wheelchair user who is unable to access the platform let alone the train?
God’s question to Amos is crucial. What do you see?
We need a prophet’s way of seeing.
God’s way of seeing.
You know how the hairdresser holds the mirror to the back of your head after a haircut. I don’t have my glasses on at that point, so I graciously say – thank you – very good!
I pretend but in reality I have no idea whether the back of my neck is neat.
We need to see clearly by looking with a prophet’s insight.
When Jesus came to the home of Martha, he did not notice her busying away in the kitchen preparing the best meal she could for Jesus. He came to share the word, to teach, to be a prophet not an honoured guest.
Two women in today’s Gospel respond very differently to the presence of Jesus.
In fairness, Martha has a point. Jesus is not paying attention to her. She is doing what she thinks she should do - working hard for the Prophet. She is serving the movement with her time, her effort, her concern.
She is not a bad person.
Maybe she is the one who is holding things together – working harder than anyone else.
But she is wrong.
Ministry in the church and in the communities, in which we are placed, begins with listening, looking, reading the signs of the times.
It is easy to busy ourselves for the cause and develop a martyr complex.
But if we are not listening, looking, reading the signs of the times then we have not chosen the better part.
Martha was not wrong for wanting to care for her home and her guest, but she missed the point.
She saw a job to be done – a mess to sort out – and it was all on her shoulders.
She didn’t see that that kingdom of God was at hand with all the urgency that needed.
It was so close it was in her front room while she was in the kitchen.
There are a lot of people busy doing the right thing in the kitchen while the future is in the parlour.
Jesus is straightforward with Martha – ‘there is need for only one thing’ – a bit of hummus and pita bread would be fine. Chill out.
Lenin the Russian revolutionary famously wrote a pamphlet entitled - ‘What is to be done?’
It is a rational question. Things are a mess – what is to be done?
This may be the first time that Martha has been equated with Lenin – and vice versa. But do you see the connection? – build a platform – create a programme – organise – mobilise – get things done.
We have an array of would be Prime Ministers putting forward solutions, programmes, policies,
I can’t help but feel they are admiring the summer fruit but not seeing the end.
Mary quietly sat at the feet of the Master – hearing his words. Mary who chose the better part.
I wonder what was being said in Martha’s living room.
Blessed are the poor.
Love your enemies.
Consider the lilies of the field.
Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.
That quiet conversation between Mary and Jesus was definitely not about being passive. And certainly would not be calling on us to resign ourselves to climate, racial, social, economic injustice.
But Jesus was much more radical than Lenin. He told us that we must also look deeper and see the transformation not only of society but more importantly of the human heart.
Jesus proclaimed that the reign of God had come close. Justice and peace are more than possible but we humans need to understand that we cannot bring it about by our own programmes, no matter how worthy.
Amos prophesied that there will be a famine. Not a famine of bread and water but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.
There are plenty of people with programmes, campaigns, policies who are in the words of Amos, ‘wandering to and fro seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it’.
God’s word is a proclamation of justice in all the transactions of human affairs.
God’s justice and peace comes when we humans live in right relation with each other and with God.
I believe that our distinctive task as a church is to be the space where people can hear the powerful message of Jesus Christ – to sit at the feet of the Master.
It is to shatter the deceptions of our contemporary life and to say what we see and what needs to be seen.
Sometimes it will be uncomfortable but we should not be distracted by fruitless activity.
Rather we need time and space to understand and to be the new way to which Jesus, the Human One, is beckoning.‹ back