Becky and I have been thinking a lot about Crock-pots lately. We saw some friends of ours buying one, and it made us realize how much we miss using ours. There are many great advantages to cooking with a Crock-pot. Besides how easy it is to just throw everything in and forget it, I happen to think that Crock-pot meals taste wonderful. All the flavors have time to mix and blend, and you get a completely different flavor than if you had cooked everything on its own. The most powerfully flavored ingredient does indeed tend to dominate the rest of the ingredients, but its flavor mixes in a way that honors the unique tastes of the less-dominant ingredients. What I miss most about using a Crock-pot, though, is the smell. There is nothing quite like walking into a house where a Crock-pot has been doing its thing for several hours, and getting a whiff of the amazing meal filling the entire home.
Christians have a lot in common with the Crock-pot. Once we hear Jesus call us and begin to follow him, we acknowledge that our lives are no longer our own. Jesus wants to be the dominant flavor in our lives, and he wants that flavor to impact the flavor of every other individual part of our existence. As Colossians reminds us this morning, “All things have been created through him and for him” (2:16). We remain unique individuals, just like all the ingredients in a Crock-pot remain what they have always been. But just as they take on the new characteristics of the dominate flavor, so too should every aspect of our lives begin to remind people of Christ. In fact, we are even supposed to fill the spaces around us with the smell of Christ. The apostle Paul states it beautifully when he writes, “We are the aroma of Christ . . . a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16). In a sense, we are called to be Crock-pot Christians.
Yet this isn’t the way that people have always lived out lives of faith. The vision that Amos conveys to us this morning from our Old Testament reading pronounces judgment and punishment on God’s chosen people Israel precisely because their faith is not the most dominate flavor in their lives. According to Amos’ prophetic words, Israel is living in a way that keeps God very separate from day-to-day business at hand. They have in affect compartmentalized God, trying to isolate religion and enjoy a life untainted by God’s overwhelming concern for justice. The Israelites here are not Crock-pot children of God. They are what we might call, “the TV dinner faithful.” TV dinners are served in a compartmentalized tray so the peas don’t touch the potatoes, and the meat doesn’t touch the dessert. In the case of the Israelites hearing Amos’ message from God, they didn’t want God touching their money, their “non-Sabbath” time, or their business practices.
Amos makes sure that we know that the Israelites have been practicing a form of religion. The Israelites go to church and commemorate all the holidays. Yet these practices have become hollow and meaningless. Perhaps they’ve become something even worse – accessories of a life lived to win false favor and respect so that no one will suspect their cheating schemes or bad business practices. “Oh, the wheat seller? He would never cheat me. He goes to church.”
The Israelites have missed the point in honoring Sabbath and obeying God. It isn’t to fulfill some obligation, or impress the local community. It is to draw them into deeper relationship with one another, and enliven a real and practicable concern about the poorest and neediest people in their midst. True religion is not just about holy days and a holy place; it’s about every day and every place and every person.
According to Amos, this is not a minor offense, and God has promised Israel that their very end is at hand. God will abandon them, and they will be swallowed up in utter darkness, chaos, and destruction. If the best evidence we have about the book of Amos is true, than it is likely that Amos’ prophecies were delivered in the 750s BCE, during a time of strength and prosperity in Israel. It was merely 30 years later when Israel fell to the Assyrian Kingdom, which was barely a threat to Israel when Amos proclaimed these words.
The message of Amos has implications for all Christians. Not only should our worship be authentic, but what we learn about God through worship, through Jesus Christ, through the teaching of scripture, and through the Holy Spirit should inform the way we conduct ourselves Monday-Saturday as well. We are to be Crock-pot Christians, allowing Christ to dominate in every ingredient of our lives. But what does the life of a Crock-pot Christian look like?
To answer that question, we can visit with Martha and Mary for a moment. Jesus wants us to learn something about being a disciple here. Jesus has something to teach us about being a Crock-pot Christian. Initially, I don’t see a problem with either Martha or Mary. Martha demonstrates radical hospitality, and a drive to serve others. Think perhaps of a deacon in our church as commended through Scripture. Mary’s response is more contemplative and informed by her desire to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Jesus. We need both types of people in our churches – those who feel called to focus more on serving others and those who feel called to focus more on studying. Yet Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. What gives?
Well, let me just say that it wasn’t Martha’s service that Jesus took issue with. It was her motivation. Surely Martha’s hospitality and service were and continue to be admirable traits, and indeed could be considered gifts from God. But what motivated Martha? It was her worry. Worry drove Martha to be positively pulled from place to place and activity to activity, to the point where she would have rather taken her sister away from the presence of Christ in order to serve him in ways that he didn’t need to be served. Worry was the most dominate ingredient in Martha’s life, and everything else about her was flavored by her distress.
We come to realize again from this story that Jesus wants control of our entire lives. Even something as seemingly benign as worry, anxiety, or fear can begin to work through our lives in such a way that Christ gets compartmentalized and worship becomes one more thing we have to get out of the way so that we can get back to figuring out the rest of our lives. But Jesus has offered us so much more when we let him fill our lives. Paul reminds us this morning that we, like the Israelites in Amos’ day, were once estranged from God. But Christ has now reconciled us to present us as holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God. Now that we are at peace with God, we must maintain our faith and hope, not wavering or allowing anyone or anything except Christ to rule in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. Let us continue to serve, study, and worship steadfast in the faith, sure of our hope, and bursting with the flavor and aroma of Christ.