Reflections from a Day of Prayer

For months, we waited for the Commission on a Way Forward to complete its work.

For months, we waited for delegates to gather in St. Louis for the called General Conference.

And as the General Conference began on Saturday, we waited for the work to begin as we spent the day in a time of prayer of worship and reflection.

We waited. And it was holy.

Delegates to the called General Conference here in St. Louis spent the majority of Saturday’s opening session in prayer for the church. Keep in mind delegates are only here until Tuesday and we spent a day praying for the church and its mission.

And it was holy.

There is a temptation, especially with the time limit facing delegates and the work before them, to rush right in to the petitions and the various plans before General Conference. We want to rush to the finish line without taking care of the important spiritual needs of the church.

We want to debate. We want to deliberate. We want to get on with it.

We seldom want to come together to pray, to be centered, and to hear about the needs of our brothers and sisters. This is not just a problem for General Conference. It is a problem for the entire church.

Our struggles with being the church comes when we want to do the work of the church without being the mission of the church. Part of this is because being is harder than doing.

What do I mean by this?

In doing, we feel like we are accomplishing something. Worship has been held. Food distributed to those in need. Bible Studies were conducted. We can do things for the Lord and on behalf of the church and feel good about ourselves without ever doing the hard things of being the church.

The hard things of being the church take places when we stop, slow down, and are centered to experience the presence of God. The hard things are enhanced when we pray, listen, and talk with one another.

So, today we did the hard things by praying for one another. We did the hard things by not debating the plans from the Commission on a Way Forward, but hearing about the needs that face the entire church. We did the hard things by asking for expressions of peace and forgiveness from one another.

Only time will tell about how today’s prayer session will affect the entire tone of General Conference. The delegates still have to work through difficult and challenging proposals.

The hope, at least for today, is that this called time began on the right foot by slowing down and being the church before doing the work of the church.

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Being Inspires Doing

We live in a constant state of being busy.

One look at our calendars and we can see the extent of how busy we are. We move from one event to the next. We have work, family responsibilities, bills that need paid, errands to run, events to attend, chores to do, and many other things. If we work, our days are filled from sunrise to sunset with the demands of the day. Even if we do not work, our days can be filled with the many things we do each day.

Ever wonder how we have become so busy? Renowned Catholic author Henri Nouwen wrote that being busy has become a status symbol. If we are always busy, always running from one thing to another, we believe the world will see us as successful.

If we believe this about our lives and families, just imagine how this thinking influences how we do missions and the ministry of the church. Our churches, today, can be defined by a constant state of activity. We tend to believe that the more we do in our churches is evidence of fruit in our mission of “making disciples of all nations.” The more programs, the more activities, the more services we have and offer, then, the better and stronger that our churches are and, thus, the closer we are to God.

We can become easily tired when we think about all that we do, whether it is in our families, our jobs, or even the church. That exhaustion leads to frustrations and even resentment that we have if others do not understand why we are busy or share in our activities.

This might be what we see in Luke 10:38-42. In our passage, Jesus is visiting Bethany and the home of sisters Martha and Mary. We see Martha in a state of anxiousness and activity making sure everything was right for Jesus. She was so busy that she was becoming frustrated with Mary, because she was not helping her out. Instead, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. A place that Jesus says she was right to be at.

We can relate to Martha. In our fast-paced, consumer driven, success minded culture, we understand why Martha was so busy and consumed by her plans. In fact, we don’t want to admit it, but we can all be like Martha. However, when we are consumed by our Martha moments we fail to see what being like Mary can teach us. When we allow ourselves to be like Mary, it helps and inspires us to be like Martha and do the things God has called us to do in our lives and within the church.

Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention this story about Martha and Mary. He places it in an interesting place in a section that focuses on Jesus’ intent to go to Jerusalem. It comes after the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells the legal expert to go and be a good neighbor to all people in response to God’s love. In a way, then, Luke gives us this story as perhaps a lesson not to take the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the extremes. That extreme being a belief that our salvation comes only in doing good deeds. This is an extreme that Luke, and especially Jesus, wants us to avoid.

It is an extreme that Martha perhaps experiences. She has a servant heart, but being a servant has gotten the best of her. Martha wants everything to be perfect for the worship and the celebration for Jesus. Her spiritual gift is hospitality and she is wanting to give her best to the Lord, but the desire to get things ready has overwhelmed her. She’s stressed. She’s anxious. She was distracted by the very things that were in front of her, which included the presence of Christ.

Martha was so anxious and distracted that when Jesus arrived her primary concern wasn’t to be in the presence of Christ. She wanted Jesus to support her anxiousness and demand that Mary leave her place and join her. Martha is so consumed by the stress of busy plans that she cannot understand why others are not there with her in her anxiousness.

We can relate to this in our own lives. We know how our anxiousness can overtake us. However, I also believe in Martha we can see the church. One of my biggest concerns is that the church can be defined more by what it does than for who we are. What I mean by this is that our activities, programs, and functions can be what motives us and we forget that discipleship must be our primary focus. As a friend of mine says, we can do all the good we can, but if we lose sight of the importance of discipleship, and being the church, then it will be void of the power of God.

Mary never lost sight of the importance of being in the presence of Christ and discipleship. That is what Jesus reminds Martha when she asks him to make Mary come help her. Jesus tells Martha that she is too consumed by worry and anxiety. He wasn’t going to tell Mary to move from his feet. Instead, Jesus says Mary has found the one thing that was truly important in life.

Note what is going on in this scene. The fact Mary was at Jesus’ feet was symbolic of discipleship and teaching. It was uncommon in Jesus’ day for a woman to be found in a place of discipleship, but Jesus welcomes Mary and says that she understands what is important. That is being in the presence of God. Mary knew that what was most important was her faith in Christ and being in a relationship with the Lord.

Being in the presence of God is the essence of faith and worship. Our relationship with the Lord as a disciple is the most important thing. We grow in faith by a willingness to be defined by the love of Lord and what God has done in our lives. When we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus, the presence of Christ transforms everything we are and everything we seek to be. It is there where we are reminded of Christ’s love, of who we are in Christ, and how God continues to pour grace upon us each day. That was true for Mary. She was defined not by the anxiousness of life, but by the love of Christ.

Martha and Mary seem to be images of extremes: Being and doing. Yet, the two must be held together. When we find ourselves, like Mary, at the feet of Jesus and allow our faith in God to define who we are, then it inspires us to be like Martha and do the work that God has called us to do as individuals and as a church. Our relationship with Christ gives power to the work we do for the kingdom of God in our communities and the world.

There is a rhythm to being and doing. As we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus and listen for God’s voice to speak to our hearts and shape who we are, we are equipped to serve and share the good news of Christ’s love with our neighbors and the world. This rhythm reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by who we are as redeemed by our faith in Jesus Christ. Our relationship with the Lord, our being in Christ, sends us out to do the work that God has called us to do as individuals and the church.

As a church, is important that we never forget that we are called to be disciples who find ourselves at the feet of Jesus. We cannot go out into our neighborhoods and seek to serve the many pressing needs that surround Latonia without first being equipped and strengthened by our relationship with Christ. When we grow in our faith in Christ we will find our mission and hear what God has called us to do in our neighborhood.

The call to discipleship and relationship is for us all. The call to being in the presence of Christ sustains us in the world and informs how we go into the world. We cannot do the work of the church unless we are willing to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus and allow Christ to be our vision and light.

My prayer is that this will be what defines us, both as individuals and a church. To be people who continually seek to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus so that we are strengthened and equipped for the mission in Latonia, throughout the River Basin area of Northern Kentucky, and the entire world.

What would it look like if we were not defined by a constant state of business, but instead our relationship with the Lord and being in the presence of Christ? What would we look like, as a church, if our common discipleship in Christ was the catalyst for everything we are and everything we hope to do in our community?

I can only imagine that we would be a church known for being strengthened by our faith in Christ like Mary and our willingness to serve the Lord like Martha. What a wonderful community that would be!