United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

"Faith in Contemplation"

Rev. Rebecca Migliore
July 21, 2019


       We started last week with a question for Jesus from a lawyer, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and quickly got to the answer, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  The lawyer’s second question, “Who is my neighbor?” had us focusing on the second part of the answer.  And the parable of the Good Samaritan helped us think about how we love our neighbor.

       But there is another essential part of that equation for a full, Godly life, (or how to inherit eternal life).  Today we are going to explore a little about how we love God with all we are. I’m glad to be viewing Mary and Martha in combination with the Good Samaritan Parable.  In fact, some scholars see this passage as part 2 of a triptych (a three-part artistic, literary, or musical work intended to be appreciated together, dictionary definition).  The Good Samaritan is one panel; Mary and Martha are the second panel; and The Lord’s prayer (which follows directly after this story in Luke) is the third.

       Scripture is meant to be seen in connection to other Scriptures—so we don’t take things out of context.  This may have happened with the traditional reading of this story.  In this reading, Mary is the good girl, having chosen the “better portion” by not “doing” (like Martha) but instead listening, or contemplating, what Jesus was teaching.  If this story were alone, we might get the idea that “doing things” is not a necessary “part” at all.  And so, Martha, who is doing essentially women’s work, is devalued, while Mary, who is sitting at the foot of Jesus, a very male thing to do, is elevated.  Yes, it is very feminist of Jesus to “allow” Mary to hang out with the guys, and many of us who have had to argue with others about our rightful place in the pulpit just because we are female, have found great ammunition in this text.

       But in recent years, feminist and womanist commentators have pointed out that without Martha, everyone would have gone to bed hungry.  Jesus told the devil in the Lukan temptation that ‘One does not live on bread alone’ (Luke 4:4)—he does not say you can skip the bread part and still live.  Someone needed to be “doing” all those worrying and distracting things if hospitality was going to happen at that house.  Seasons of the Spirit tries to soften the criticism of Martha, and yet to be honest about the importance of kitchen chores by adding a new ending in their retelling of the story.  It goes like this:

[Martha] turned to Jesus. “Don’t you think [Mary] should be

giving me a hand?”

Jesus smiled. “I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Martha,” he

        said, “and you are caring. You offer wonderful hospitality.

But don’t get upset with Mary. She’s welcoming me by

listening to my stories. I can’t fault her for that!

“I’ll tell you what,” Jesus continued, and turned to the disciples.

“Why don’t we help Martha prepare the meal? Then after

we’ve had our lunch, I’ll share some more stories.”

Martha heaved a sigh and broke into a smile. (Seasons, 7/21/19)   

       I know this is a very 21st century retelling, but it lifts up an important fact--that contemplation can’t be divorced from action: a life of faith needs both.  And I think this message is as important today as it has ever been.  We are a nation that likes to do things—Nike has capitalized on that with it’s now 30+ year campaign—Just do it.  And “doing it” has become much more than plugging a sneaker brand, or an athletic life.

       [Just do it Kaepernick commercial]


       But sometimes we get lost in the action mania, and we forget that for our own well-being, spiritually, we need some time to “sit at Jesus’ feet”—to learn, to read, to think, to dream.  In our hectic lives, this time doesn’t just magically appear in our calendars—we have to block it out.  And if we don’t include time to “steal away to Jesus”—our actions become separated from the deep bedrock that contemplation offers. 

       [funny “sinking” commercial]


       So the lawyer had it right.  Love God.  Love neighbor.  Love self.  Faith is best when it is Faith in action and Faith in contemplation.  Maybe Jesus needed to call the contemplative part the “better portion” because it was so odd for a woman to be involved, or because most of us find it easier to just do it, than to have to quiet ourselves down and think or rest or experience giving our all (our mind and soul, as well as our body and strength) to God.

       Now some of you may already spend quality time with the Scripture and God. (I’m talking about time outside of worship.  Although the reading of scripture and the hearing of the word in community is important—it doesn’t count as the whole of faith in contemplation).  So what kinds of things could one do to love God with all your mind and soul?

       You could start spending a little time reading Scripture.  If you want a suggestion, the Seasons of the Spirit booklet lists the Common Lectionary Readings for the week (there are 4 of them).  Or pick a particular book of the Bible, and read a few verses until you have finished it.

       You could use a journal to write down questions you have about the world, about your life, about the scripture, and see if God might provide a new way of looking at those concerns.

       You could take a walk and try to keep the bubbling of your brain to a minimum as you enjoy the creation given to us by God.

       You could create a Bible Study group, or pick up a book that stretches your beliefs.

       There are as many ways of practicing faith in contemplation as there are people who need to do so.  The point is that we, as faithful people, are being prodded to look at how we are loving God, as well as neighbor and self.  Or to put it another way, when we ask “What does the Lord require of us?” Doing Justice and Loving Mercy seem very Faith in Action.  “Walking Humbly with our God” seems much more Faith in Contemplation.  And notice it is always a both/and not an either/or. 


       I’ve given you a hand-out that has a few suggestions to help spark your own way of following Mary’s example, of “stealing away to Jesus.”  It has the lectionary readings for the rest of the summer.  It has some individual prompts to call you to mindfulness about spending time with God.  It has a centering prayer.  And it has an “action rhyme” written for a kids bulletin, but just as effective for us adults.  I invite you all to stand, if you are able, and present it with me.

       We can jump (jump)

       We can eat (mime eating)

       We can stomp with our feet (stomp feet)

       BUT remember …

       Take time to learn (hold hands in open book)

       Take time to pray (hold hands in prayer)

       Take time for God (stretch arms outward)

       Every day.


       We can sing (cup hands around mouth)

       We can tap (tap toe on floor)

       And our hands can clap, clap, clap (clap 3x)

       BUT remember …

       Take time to learn (hold hands in open book)

       Take time to pray (hold hands in prayer)

       Take time for God (stretch arms outward)

       Every day.


Faith in action.

       Faith in contemplation.

              What God requires of us.


May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.