Sermon for July 21, 2019
As any good preacher knows, when you have been given the text to speak about you spend some time reading and researching it, thinking about its original context (you know, when and why the story is included in the canon of scripture, if there are cultural norms we need to understand, who is believed to have written it, etc) and then after this work, looking to our own setting and what the text might be saying to us today. As Amy reminded us a few weeks ago, theologian Karl Barth advised a preacher to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other in order to fully understand the word of God. I wonder what Barth would have advised us to do about the Internet and Social Media. I suppose he would have us engaging the world as fully as possible, so he’d have us there as well.
Well, I went to Social Media this week, more specifically to Facebook, to ask the most important question I could think of as I prepared for today…how long should a homily be if it’s going to be 100 degrees in the sanctuary? I got some interesting answers to this question. A few friends offered reasonable time limits…10 minutes seemed to be popular. But the most interesting responses I got were from two friends who are not “churchy” people. They offered me brief and much to the point, full messages to share today. Are you ready to hear them?
The first…”God is good, God is great, don’t be a jerk. Amen” and the second, “Be good to each other. Amen. Go home”. These two replies are remarkably similar aren’t they? Essential truths that each perceived I might want to share, well maybe with a few more words, with you this morning. They each know me pretty well and have an understanding of what the one thing isthat I would want to share with you today. And they are both totally right. They know what matters to me. That I want people to know how much God loves them and the way you do that is to make them feel welcome. You share the good news of Jesus with them and then you send them back out to their homes, to their worlds, to their social media pages, to share this with others. They know I just want to make people feel welcome and tell them that God loves them. Isn’t this what we all are trying to do here at All Saints? We may do it through different roles or in different ways but it comes from our hearts and it flows from the joy that knowing Jesus brings us. You could say it’s OUR one thing.
Well, the gospel lesson today gives us a glimpse into a situation where there is some disagreement about what the one thing is that is most important. Luke tells us a story about Jesus visiting Mary and Martha’s home. Picture in your mind the scene. Martha is excited to have him, and there is probably a crowd with him as Jesus is almost never alone, They are welcomed as guests and Martha has been working on this event all day, She is setting up the meal and getting people drinks and places to sit and suddenly she sees Mary.
Mary, just sitting at the feet of Jesus. Unbelievable. Not helping her at all and just sitting there as if the meal is going to just appear for all these people!
Do you relate to Martha? Are you the one who is in charge of all the social events in your home or at work or at church? Are you on every committee around? Do you wonder why you are doing all the work while others seems to be able to relax without guilt or shame?
Yes, I imagine maybe most feel that way sometimes. Especially those who serve in churches. We are essentially supported almost entirely by Marthas, aren’t we? So you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see that Martha decides she’s had enough and she’s going to ask Jesus to intercede for her.
But 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.”
Just for some cultural context here, Martha is speaking to a man, to a rabbi, who is an invited guest into her home and she has decided to interrupt his teaching, essentially asking him to referee a family squabble.
Unbelievably, she also sounds like she is calling Jesus insensitive. “Don’t you care this is happening to me?”
That sounds something less than hospitable really. Jesus’ response was pretty gentle if you think about it. He seems very compassionate to her in that he doesn’t shoo her away from him while he is teaching but instead sees her distress. Her service doesn’t seem to be being done with a joyful heart. She is feeling resentful toward her sister and it is quite apparent…to everyone in the house.
But 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.”
The better part. The better part. What does this mean?
It is often said in sermons on this text that Jesus is in some way suggesting that staying in the kitchen is bad, that Mary has chosen the more important work, but I don’t think this is what he is trying to say at all. He isn’t criticizing Martha for providing hospitality to them. Listen again…”Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”.
The word “distracted” used here in the original Greek language of the gospels has the connotation of being pulled back and forth, not able to pay attention to either thing well. Was Jesus simply telling her to give her full attention to whatever it was that she was doing? Is that how one finds joy in their service to God? To be fully paying attention? Is that what the better part was?
This story is also challenging because it seems to be entirely about Martha, at least that’s what preachers usually talk about. But I’d like you to think about Mary for a moment. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. That is where students of the rabbis sat. That is a place that men sat. Not women. Not ever. She was being a radical disciple of Jesus, who must have invited her to sit there. How is this powerful image so overtaken by Martha’s feelings of having to do all the work? Maybe Martha’s complaint was that Mary felt free to fully learn from Jesus and Martha didn’t feel as brave.
Maybe Mary’s full attention to the Kingdom of God coming to fruition was the better part. Maybe even the only one thing.
What’s the message for us in this gospel story today?
Well I’ve got my Bible in one hand and Barth’s newspaper of the day, Social Media, in the other (on my iphone) so what can we find?
As you might imagine, I drive a lot in my work as a hospice chaplain and also to my work at All Saints and so I listen to podcasts. A lot of podcasts. It allows me to feel I get back all that car time and use it for my good. There is one particular podcast that I love and I would commend to you as well. If you aren’t a smart phone person, you can also listen on a website that I’ll share if you are interested. The podcast is called, “Hurry Slowly”. In the description of the podcast it is said that “Pushing back against the conventional wisdom that “busy is better,” Hurry Slowly explores how we make smarter decisions, feel more comfortable taking risks, and manage our attention more intelligently when we learn to take our time.
This isn’t a religious podcast by any means, but it is deeply spiritual as it explores the ways in which we value busy-ness, speed, multitasking and productivity, even when it is clear we aren’t being very productive at all. It asks us to explore how we might pay our full attention to the only one thing that we are doing at the time.
I’ve been listening to this podcast for quite some time and there are episodes on needing to sleep more, walking as meditation, how our brains engage differently when we write things down rather than type them. One of the recent episodes is entitled, “How to Do Nothing”. Isn’t that intriguing? The presenter isn’t talking about taking vacations, she is discussing that not all “actions have to have a deliverable” and that actions without results are often just as valuable as meeting our time focused goals.
“I’m haunted by this idea of life is passing you by and you’re not paying attention. Or that there are these things around you that you could be changed by or could be meaningful, or connections you could be making, that simply are not rendered to you in your reality because of this very stable and hyper-optimized pattern of attention that you’ve learned.”
I wonder if this is what Martha was experiencing. A discomfort because of her worrying and trying so hard. I wonder if this is what Mary had somehow learned despite all the obstacles of being a woman in what we know as 1stcentury Israel. To pay her full attention to this would be the “only one thing”.
How about you? I challenge you to consider your call to be in God’s presence, both here in church and out in your community. Can you identify in ways you might be distracted by busy-ness or the need to produce that you are missing the “only one thing” that God’s seeks from you. Can you move your focus and full attention over to this? Can you say “no” to the pulls on your time that distract you in order to be fully available to the most important thing? I’ll be curious to know what you find about yourself and what you begin to say “no” to. I look forward to hearing your sacred stories.
Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister