Tag Archive: Hope


This is the sermon I preached this morning on the fantastic story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42:

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Martha and Mary.  Two of the Bible’s more famous siblings.  I love this story.  First of all, I have two brothers, so when Martha gets a little whiny about Mary just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, I totally hear the sibling rivalry coming through.  In my head, it always sounds like, “Jesus, tell Mary to help!”  I don’t know what Martha actually sounded like, but that’s what it sounds like in my head.

Second, this story is one that could easily fit into our day.  Let’s see… Martha and Mary are at home and they receive a knock at the door – Jesus is here!  If this story were taking place today, I’d imagine that Martha had been preparing on Pinterest, the social networking site for DIY projects, crafts, cooking, and saving and sharing all of your favorite things.  No, I’m not addicted at all! Anyway, Martha, who had been busily pinning and saving all of the most amazing Mediterranean dishes she could find, is now busily whipping them up in the kitchen while Jesus is out in the living room talking with Mary.

Running back and forth, Martha catches sight of her sister just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.  Martha stops in her tracks thinking, “oh not she’s not!”  Her face begins to flush red and she hurries over to Jesus, eager for a righteous third party to play judge over this dispute.  But she doesn’t get what she’s looking for and Mary ends up being praised for listening to Jesus.

Now at this point, if I were Martha, I’d be frustrated and angry that my work was under-appreciated and that I wasn’t going to get any help.  I’d also be embarrassed that my esteemed guest had told me I was wrong in front of my sister.

We don’t know if Mary and Martha gave each other a hard time after this visit, but we do know a couple of things about these women.  For starters, it is crucial that we don’t look at this text as denigrating service or action, because Martha was doing exactly what was expected of her.  She opened up her home to Jesus and welcomed him in generously.  And in a culture where hospitality of the stranger was expected and treasured, Martha’s welcome of Jesus and the way in which she sought to serve him was admirable.

Besides, the story immediately preceding this one in Luke’s Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan – a person whose loving service is lifted up as an example.  Jesus says at the end of that memorable story to “go and do likewise.”  So what’s going on here?

This is where looking at the text is really helpful in understanding a bit better what was taking place.  It’s not just that Martha was distracted by her serving and couldn’t really focus on her guest – the word used is even stronger than that.  It actually says she was being “overburdened” or “being pulled” or “being dragged from all around.”  She was being dragged away from the very one she was seeking to welcome and to graciously host in her home.

And when Jesus responds to her, he says that she’s continuing to be anxious or “unduly concerned” as well as “distracted” and “troubled.”  I don’t know about you, but none of those words or phrases has a positive connotation for me!  Martha is stressed out, overburdened, anxious, troubled, and being dragged away from Jesus.

My heart goes out to Martha.  No, even more than that – I believe I have been Martha at various points in my life.  Seeking to do all the right things and overextending myself in various activities, even “good” activities.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off, feeling exhausted and zapped of my creativity and energy.  I hear Martha’s story and I completely get it.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.  In a 2012 New York Times Opinion Column, Tim Kreider wrote about “The Busy Trap.”  He writes: “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are.  It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.  It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

Now, those are some harsh words, but after I read that article last year, I began paying attention to how others answered the questions “how are you?” and “what are you up to?”  More importantly, I started paying attention to my own answers to those questions, which were almost always some variation on “I’m good.  Busy, but good!”

We live in a society that preaches, “time is money.”  Our success is often gauged by overtime, productivity output, and how full our planners, Blackberries, iPhones or Google Calendars are.  It’s so easy to feel like we have to be on the move, doing something in order to know that we are worth something – that we are busy, important people.  In some ways, it feels good to be able to rattle off all of the many important tasks we have before us, or even better, that we just recently checked off of our to-do lists.

But I wonder if it’s not more than that.  Are we afraid of not being busy?  Are we afraid that sitting and resting, or reflecting or praying makes us unproductive members of society? Or are we afraid of what God might call us to do if we ever settled down enough to listen?

I sort through all of these questions and it seems like it is so hard to be still and to listen.  And it is.  But there is also amazing hope.   Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, in the role of a disciple, listening deeply, drinking in his words, and spending time with this guest to her home.  While Martha is being dragged away and overburdened by all of her tasks, Mary literally “takes her place beside” Jesus.  And Jesus says that this attentive time spent with him is the better part – the good portion.  But he goes even further.  He doesn’t just focus on Mary and leave Martha to run around, stress herself out or exhaust herself.  Instead, he tenderly calls “Martha, Martha,” urging her to leave her frantic rushing about and graciously inviting her to spend time with God.

And just as he called to Martha, he continues to call to us today.  Jesus calls us gently, “Come, sit at my feet.  Spend time in my presence, listening deeply to my voice.  Rest, learn and be refreshed.  Come to the waters and remember you are forgiven.  Come to my table and be strengthened by the food I offer.  Come and hear my word.  Come study it and let it take hold in your heart.  And I will send you into the world alive and centered in me.”

I think that’s why we come back each Sunday.  We need this every week – to be refreshed and strengthened in community.  We need to be reminded of that one thing that is necessary, that is really and truly useful – spending time dwelling in the presence of Christ and letting his love for us work in our hearts that we might better love ourselves, each other and all of creation.  We need to be reminded that God loves us and desires to spend time with us, not because we’re busy, important, or successful people, but because God is loving and faithful.

This story happens in Martha and Mary’s home.  Jesus encountered these two sisters in the middle of normal life.  And Jesus meets us in the midst of our everyday lives – breaking in and calling us to take time out of our busy schedules to spend in worship, thanksgiving and praise.  It doesn’t have to be a full-blown worship service, but how can you practice hospitality and invite Christ into your everyday life?  How could you make a space to encounter Christ and spend time in the presence of God?

Maybe you could pause for a few moments of quiet and prayer in your cubicle, office or even in the car as you commute – and please, keep your eyes open and on the road!  Or you could read a brief devotion in the morning, over your lunch break or before bed.  Maybe you love singing and hymnody, so taking time to sing a hymn that is near and dear to you could be a great way of making space.  What about the arts or crafting?  Perhaps your craft time is a place to invite God in and to listen for that still small voice?

The irony of this is that it takes some work to practice being still and listening.  I know I have felt overburdened and dragged all around like Martha, feeling like there’s no way I can possibly squeeze in prayer or devotion on top of everything else.  However, I have repeatedly been amazed at how much sitting in quiet prayer with God has refreshed me and brought things back into focus.  It’s in those quiet times that I remember that life is a gift to be enjoyed, not worried about.  I remember that it’s not about my never-ending to-do list, but about being attentive to what I am being called to do in that moment.  How might making space to listen for the voice of God and to make God the goal bring all other things into focus in your life?

It’s not that service or action is a bad thing.  Rather, it’s when that service obscures or takes the place of God that there is a problem.  When we’re distracted from God and hearing God’s call in our lives because we’re so busy serving or being active, that’s when Jesus gently calls us back, reminding us that a life lived as disciples learning at Jesus’ feet is the better part – the part that will never be taken away from us.  AMEN.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The Peace of God

This was my humble and much wrestled with attempt to speak to the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.  May we continue to pray for God’s peace for the families and community affected, as well as for all people and nations.  And may we be peacemakers, sharing the love we have experienced in Christ Jesus with all those we encounter in both our words and our actions.

Today is Gaudate or Joy Sunday.  And the readings we’ve just heard are bursting with praise and joy.  But to be honest, I don’t really feel a whole lot like rejoicing.  I’m still thinking about the horrible shootings of the past week – two in one week.  I’m sad and wondering how this could have happened.  I’m frustrated and I’m angry that once again there have been shootings in our country.

I guess when I think about it more, I’m just tired.  I’m tired of turning on the news and hearing about continuing bloodshed in Syria, or more trouble in Israel and Palestine.  I’m tired of hearing about tragedies happening in movie theaters, temples, malls and in schools.  I’m tired of all the bad news.

And so it seems that these texts for today are horribly out of place given what’s been going on in our world.  But I think just the opposite is true – these texts have a lot to say to us this morning, particularly the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I really love this letter to the Philippians.  It’s positive and upbeat, it includes the Christ Hymn in the second chapter, and it’s full of these wonderfully written sentences and phrases that I have found incredibly valuable in my own spiritual life.  Not to mention, it’s short and that makes it seem a little bit easier to handle!

But there’s a lot more depth to these four chapters than we might think at first glance.  The Philippians were living in what is now northern Greece along one of the major Roman trade roads of the day – the Via Egnatia.  In addition, the city of Philippi, once a backwater town, had become a sort of retirement community for Roman military personnel who had fought previously with Marc Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius – yes, “Et tu, Brute?”  So the city had a Roman vibe.

Then, in around 50 CE, this guy named Paul had founded a tiny church – the first on European soil.  As a follow-up, Paul writes to the Philippians to share what he’s been up to, to encourage them to stay united in Christ, and to continue in the faith despite opposition.  And he’s not just writing this letter from his cushy home office, he’s sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his life could seriously be in danger.  Prisons in Paul’s day were not places for punishment or reform, but rather places where people would be held until a verdict could be reached.  Paul was waiting to see what would happen.

It is with all this in mind that we hear four verses of Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi.  We hear about rejoicing, about not worrying, and the peace of God.

How on earth is Paul able to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice?”  If I were sitting in a dark, dank prison cell, pondering the possibility of my death, as much as I’d like to, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to write that.  And yet, Paul is not the only prisoner I know who has had this attitude.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII for various charges, the gist of which was that he wasn’t following the Nazi party line as he should have been.  During Christmas of 1943, sitting in prison, away from his family, friends and fiancée, Bonhoeffer wrote a Morning Prayer included in a collection of “Prayers for Those Also Imprisoned.”  The prayer is rather long, but here’s a portion of it that echoes Paul’s words:

“In me it is dark,
but with you, there is light;
I am lonely, but you don’t leave me;
I am faint-hearted, but with you there is help;
I am disquieted, but with you there is peace;
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I don’t understand your ways, but
You know the way for me…

Lord Jesus Christ
You were poor
And wretched, and imprisoned and abandoned like me.
You know the affliction of all people,
You stay with me,
Even when no person stands with me.
You don’t forget me and you search me out.
You desire that I recognize you,
And that I turn myself towards you.

Lord, I hear your call and follow.
Help me!”

These words help to clarify for me some of what Paul was talking about.

All of the things Paul talks about in these four verses – rejoicing, not being worried, receiving the peace of God – all of these things only happen in the context of what God has done first.  We are able rejoice, but we rejoice “in the Lord.”  We are not concerned or worried about the things we face, because in all things, we can always bring our prayers, requests, and questions before God.  And we receive the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds “in Christ Jesus.”  In God, come down to earth in a fragile, vulnerable baby, we rejoice, we pray, and we know God’s peace.

What is peace? How do we define it? There are two KFC commercials right now that feature the tagline: “find some peace this holiday.”  One shows a man using chicken to quiet two women, who are laughing and gabbing, while the other shows this same man pacifying his fighting children with chicken and chocolate chip cookies.  Is that what peace is?  Quieting down the noise with fried chicken?!

When we say we long for peace or that we’re praying for peace, what is it that we’re actually saying? Are we hoping that people will stop being physically harmful to one another?  Or are we hoping that conflicts will cease?  What does peace mean to you?  What does peace look like and feel like to you?

I think we often have a more limited view of peace.  I think our idea of peace sometimes looks like something that you’d hear in a beauty pageant – “I wish for world peace and for everyone to have a puppy!”  Both awesome things, but a little limited.

God’s peace is far greater than that.  God’s peace is  “shalom” – completeness, soundness, safety, health, prosperity and wholeness.  God’s peace is nothing short of the complete healing and wholeness of an aching world.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine it.  Wars cease.  Painful conflicts end.  Bitterness between politicians disappears.  Words of love and joy flow from peoples’ lips.  Sharp and hurtful remarks are gone.  Relationships are healed and restored.  People feel and are safe and secure because this peace from God is permanent – it is not temporary or confined like human peace.

This is the peace that Paul and Bonhoeffer knew.  It was in the hope of this peace that they lived and died.  It was in this peace that they waited for Christ’s return, just as we do today.  And it’s not that their lives were free from the pains, tragedies and sufferings we experience.  No – just the opposite!  They had more than enough trials and ordeals.  But they knew that the Lord was near.

They knew that God had come into a violent, worrisome world as a vulnerable child to live life among us.  They knew that God, the holy One of Israel, had lived life as a poor peasant – an outcast.  They knew that this same God, had faced the injustice and violence of the world head on, and had been crucified.  They knew that this God – the God who worked through weakness and the unexpected – was raised from the dead conquering sin and death once and for all.  And they knew that this God had done all of this out of love for God’s beloved children.

They knew that they could take all of their struggles, worries, problems, fears, doubts, questions and joys to God in prayer and supplication.  They knew to give thanks for the good things and to let their requests – all of them, even the most mundane – be made known to God.  Knowing all of this, they lived with the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds.  They were able to rejoice in the goodness and the promises of God even in the midst of persecution, violence and injustice.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.”

We catch glimpses of or experience this peace from time to time.  We may feel God’s peace surround us when praying or being prayed for.  We may witness courageous souls stand up against violence and hate in favor of love.  We may see it in little children who go caroling through the neighborhood, lifting a neighbor’s spirits.  God’s peace – God’s kingdom – is breaking in, despite all that we have seen to the contrary.  It has always been this way.

The peace of God is found in expectant hope.  We see the horrors of the world around us and yet we know what God has done for us in Christ.  We watch the news and we pray, knowing that God hears us and is at work, even if we cannot perceive how.  We wait and hope for that day when God’s peace will reign.  We wait and hope for Christ’s coming, knowing that all things will be made right at last.

It will take time to grieve the losses we have experienced this week.  Even if we were not in that Oregon mall or at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we are all grieving.  We are all wondering what the next steps will be.  But God is also grieving.  God is grieved anytime there is suffering in this world.  And God knows the unbearable pain of losing a child.  But God also knows that death does not have the last word.  There is light that the darkness can never overcome.  There is peace that no violence can take away.  There is life that comes forth from death.

I’ll close with the last verse of the hymn we are about to sing: “O God, whose heart compassionate bears ev’ry human pain, redeem this violent, wounding world till gentleness shall reign.  O God of mercy, hear our prayer: bring peace to earth again.”  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Community Life

Hi friends!  I’ve been bad about updating this blog, but it’s because there’s been a ton of fun things going on, and that’s a good thing, right?  Over the past month or so, I’ve been living at the Collegium Oecumenicum in Munich and it’s been great! One thing I’ve really been thinking about is community.  Here, I live with about 50 other students from all over the world.  I share a floor with others, which means that I share bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room with other people.  Some people might shirk at the idea of living together and having to share with others, but I actually think it’s a great thing that everyone should do – at least once!  And, for the record, this is my second round of living in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG – or, “flat-sharing community”).

So now you may be wondering why I would want to live like this, right?  Well, I can sum it up in one word: community.  Here at the Collegium, we have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch in the large dining hall, or we can cook in the kitchens found on each of the floors.  In doing so, it means that we often run into others who are in the dining hall or in the kitchen at the same time.  This leads to fun conversations, or to making plans to go out and do things in the city or the surrounding area, or to delicious community meals.  Last night, for example, many of us pooled our resources to make a huge dinner of salad, bread, pasta, and homemade tomato sauce (yes, bread and pasta – I think we were carbo-loading!).  All shared what they had and helped with the cooking and cleaning.  It was a blast and we had plenty of food to left over for today.  It was truly beautiful because everything was freely shared and enjoyed.

And this is not the only time in my life I’ve experienced this.  People here and in Freiburg, where I studied before, – poor students, mind you! – have been so generous with what they have.  When I think about this, I think of the wealth we have in the States (and in a large part of the developed world in general) and the fact that it seems the more wealth we have, the more people seem to clench their fists tightly around what they have.  “This is mine…,” we say (myself included), and we insinuate that these possessions will not change hands any time soon.

I’ve also been struck by how the members of this community support one another.  I was quite nervous a few weeks ago because I had an important interview, but my roommates stepped up and listened to me, later asking how everything had gone and rejoicing with me when things went well.  People really paid attention and cared about what was going on in my life.  This is also something I’ve experienced in the community at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and within various church communities.  It makes such a difference to know that people are really looking after you – that they are listening to you, praying for/with you, and that they follow up with you.

This particular community at the Collegium is also drawn together by our mutual belief in Jesus Christ and I’m really enjoying my experience here.  I find it exciting and refreshing that people invite others to attend church services of various flavors and that faith is something that is openly discussed here.  In an increasingly secular country (32-37% do not profess a religion), I find a great deal of hope in the students gathered here who explore and struggle with faith together.  We’re a community of people that gather together from various backgrounds in worship, confessing our faith together in the Apostle’s Creed and praying the Lord’s Prayer together.  These confessions and prayers happen in whatever language people choose and many have remarked how fascinating it is that, somehow, we all begin and end together when we speak, even if we’re not using the same language.  We’re a people who break bread and share wine together, both in the Eucharist and in every day meals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own personal space, but there is something truly wonderful about living together in community.  It’s not always easy or perfect, but there’s a holiness or a sacredness that happens in community when people come together in spite of their differences.  Communities challenge and stretch us – they force us to examine ourselves and how we interact with others.  And besides, the Trinity, is, after all, a community, isn’t it?

So my question here is how can we intentionally build community where we are?  We may not live in a WG (“flat-sharing community”), but we can still work at building these communities in our churches and in our neighborhoods.  Maybe the foundations have already been laid and there only needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to commit to spending time together, listening to and caring for one another, or working together to transform the local neighborhood.  The church should be a natural place to start, but if community is lacking, how can you help to foster change?  What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear them!

For me, though, it’s late…and I don’t want to miss the morning breakfast with everyone!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Bitten

I was bitten…bad.  It happened 11 years ago and I knew I’d been bitten when it happened, but I didn’t know that there would be lasting effects.  More than that even – it had permanent effects.  The travel bug chomped down and refused to release me.  It happened in July of 2001 when I traveled to Germany and Austria with my high school German club.  I was bitten.  Infected.  And I haven’t been the same since.

And in less than a week, I will set off, driven by this same bug bite and an insatiable curiosity for the wonders of the world.  I will journey once more to Munich, my first international destination in 2001, to live in an ecumenical community and to study at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen (the University of Munich).  I go not knowing what to expect, but only with the hope and expectation that I will learn and grow through my experiences.

I will miss my husband, family and friends tremendously, but I know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I feel that grabbing such opportunities when they arise is so important to discovering who we are, challenging ourselves to go outside of our comfort zones, and growing.

My previous travels have always been so important in my faith journey.  It seems that seeing a new place, meeting new people and being filled with awe at each new sight or landscape helps me to reflect on my life and experiences.  Traveling invites me to reflect on the imaginative and artistic God who created the world and inspired humans to create.  Being in and exploring a new place helps to shed light on the places I have already been, or the places where I usually am.

And so as I prepare to travel, I pray that God will keep my heart and mind open to new things.  That this time will be one of learning in the university classroom, but also in the classroom of life.  I pray that this time will be one in which I grow in faith – a time of continuing to discover who I am in Christ.  I look forward to worshiping with my brothers and sisters from different denominations and various countries.  And I look forward to hearing how God has been at work in their lives.  I pray that God will be at work, transforming me through this trip (and always!) for a life of continued discipleship.

I hope to post more about my travel adventures and what I’m learning and discovering here on this blog.  Keep in touch!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

Hope Sprouts Eternal…

Wildflower Seed Bombs

My husband and I recently went shopping and found these little things called “seed bombs.”  They were new to us, but apparently we’re just out of the loop.  If you Google them, you’ll find that these “bombs” are little balls made of clay, compost, and, of course, seeds.  The great thing is that they don’t need to be planted outside – they can be planted on top of some potting soil in a pot.  So after seeing them on display and hearing how they worked, we bought some basil bombs and some with a wildflower mix in them.

I’ve been patiently watering these seed bombs and watching them for a week and over the past few days, they’ve begun to spring up.  They’ve been growing so fast that on Saturday, I swear that new sprouts were popping up ever few hours or so!

In any case, I haven’t been so excited about gardening in a long time.  I’ve been like a small child, waiting and checking in on the little plants, hoping each day that when I show up there will be more little sprouts to greet me.  Now if you look at my plant record, you’ll know I’m no gardener, but I think maybe that’s exactly why I’m so excited about these little plants.

With each sprout, I see life bursting forth from clay and soil one tiny green stem at a time.  With each sprout, I feel hopeful that maybe I can be a gardener.  Maybe I can grow some of my own food.  Maybe I can eat healthier.  Maybe I will start exercising.  With each little spout struggling for life and reaching up to the sun, I’m reminded that life’s possibilities are endless.

No wonder I’m giddy watching those little seed bombs sprout!  Go seeds go!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Basil Seed Bombs

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