Wednesday, July 27, 2022 | Trey Comstock
I am a man of action. I’ve never been able to hold still. This is as true in my faith as it is in the rest of life. One of my New Testament professors, Luke Timothy Johnson, came up with a typology of religiosity in his book Among the Gentiles. For easy shorthand, the labeled them A, B, C, and D. Most people are type A. They want to bask in God’s power. They appreciate the rumble of the organ, the combined sound of the choir, the crowd swaying as one at a Christian rock concert. Paul and many of the New Testament writers were type B. They see the real power of faith in moral instruction and transformation. Making progress as a person because of one’s relationship with God deeply feeds their souls. Faith healers and modern-day prophet are type C. They seek to channel the divine power in specific directions. The darker side of this one is fraudsters and witches. I am type D. My truest religious experience comes from making religious experiences happen for other people. To sit on the sidelines and just participate in a worship service or church activity never clicks for me as much as being right in the center of things making something happen. Given my calling and vocation as a pastor, this has proven useful to say the least. I get a lot spiritually from my day to day life in the worship planning and logistic managing, in the finance committees and the meetings after the meetings.
A month and a half ago, I was at Annual Conference with my then Associate Pastor, Emily. We had worked side by side in ministry for four years. The opening worship for Annual Conference was the first service that we had ever attended together that one or both of us hadn’t planned it or wasn’t help put it on. In 48 months as co-laborers in the Gospel, we had never just worshipped together. This is, in part, because I almost never just worship. I’ve rigged my life that for 99.99% of the worship services that I attend, I have an active role. And, in this lies the spiritual challenge of action. Yes, a lot needs to be done, but are we being fed along the way? Are we busy because it’s God wind in our sails? Or, are we busy to just be busy?
Luke’s window into the life of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 shows that Martha has fallen out of that precarious balance between devotion and preoccupation. No one seems to dispute the facts of the case. Martha was working. Jesus was teaching. Mary was listening to Jesus instead of working. Martha’s error wasn’t working. The pervious story, ending in verse 37, ends with Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise.” Instead, her error, as Matthew L. Skinner points on in Feasting on the Word, was that she calls out Jesus and not Mary. In verse 40, she says to Christ, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40b NRSV) To call out Mary would have been simply sisterly squabbling. To call out Jesus, her guest, is an unhospitable act not to mention getting the order of the universe wrong by trying to boss around the one that she knows to be “Lord.” She gets so wrapped up in her doing that she misses the forest for all the trees that surround her. Mary ends in the right because she’s wholly focused on Christ. Martha ends in the wrong, not because action is inherently worse than contemplation, but because she’s lost sight of Christ in the midst of it.
This is where Colossians 1, particularly verses 15-20, can be an important place to ground oneself. Biblical scholars generally agree that verses 15-20, starting with, “ He is the image of the invisible God,” and ending with, “by making peace through the blood of his cross,” is a pre-existing hymn being quote as a frame for the whole letter. It speaks in soaring language about the cosmic power of Christ, and how his cosmic power, not anything within ourselves, reconciled us to God. Christ has power. Christ achieved the victory. Christ offers salvation. Christ heads the church. All of this is objectively true whether we lift a finger or not.
Colossians does jump to our need to take action, to be servants, to preach the Gospel, to live a Godly existence. However, all of that is grounded in a proclamation of divine power and divine sovereignty. Martha isn’t inherently wrong for taking action. Just as, Mary isn’t inherently right for sitting and listening. Mary starts with God’s power. Martha loses sight of it. It’s about getting the order of things right. It’s about starting first with God and going from there.