Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A sermon I owe you!

Ooops- I forgot to post the last sermon I preached on Mary and Martha! Here you go dear readers:

July 18, 2010
Luke 10:38-42

Have you ever stopped to look around in the middle of a family dinner? You know, the big kind of dinner, where the table is full- the leaf is put in and everyone is there? Maybe it’s Thanksgiving or maybe in your family it is simply a Sunday afternoon meal. If you stop and look around for a minute, you will probably notice that there is someone who is attending to all the details. There is that one person who cannot rest until everyone has what they need, until everything is put out on the table, and until everything is just right. I hate to gender stereotype too much, but this person is probably your mom or grandma. Or maybe as I’m describing it, you’ve realized this person is you.

This person is the Martha Stewart of the family- the one who likes to make sure not only that everyone has what they need, but that everything looks beautiful. This is the person who makes sure we have chocolate pies because Sally likes them, and pumpkin because Timmy likes them. In my family this person is my grandma- I actually have four grandmas and this is all of them! They are “salt of the earth” women; they put everyone else’s needs before their own. Someone eventually has to say to them, “Mom,” or “Grandma, come, sit down and eat.” Otherwise they won’t- they usually sit on the little chair at the corner of the table too- they don’t take the fancy “head of the table” chair, that’s for Grandpa. If Jesus was going to tell a story about two people, this sort of person would definitely be the hero, right? I mean, the meal wouldn’t happen without them. Family gatherings would be boring and everyone would be hungry without this person.

Actually, truth be told, I’m not sure I’d want Jesus as a dinner guest. I know that sounds terrible, but Jesus is not always a gracious guest in that he is often times critical of the host of the party. Jesus’ only concern is teaching people about God’s love and what God’s community is supposed to look like. Sometimes, that means not minding his polite manners. Especially in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus eats with a whole lot of people. Meals are where some of his best teaching moments happen.
In this case, as a guest in the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus enjoys their hospitality and takes an opportunity to do some talking with his disciples and the others gathered there. Martha’s main concern is hospitality. This is a dignified guest she’s attending to in her home. She has probably gone to all kinds of trouble to make sure the meal is exquisite and the best of everything has been used. As a preparer of meals, she is serving in the same capacity as the deacons in the early church would have- she makes sure everyone is fed and taken care of. With company this important you can see why she might want her sister’s help. When she notices that Mary in not helping her, but instead sitting and listen at Jesus’ feet, she turns to him for help. Jesus answers “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus’ words almost sound like a reprimand here. His response is troubling to us, we’re kind of on Martha’s side- I mean we wouldn’t reprimand our mothers and grandmothers for being good hostesses. Of course I don’t think Jesus was really discouraging her from hospitality. Instead, I think he was using this as an example to all the believers about what in the world this “better” thing is that Mary chose and that we ought to choose. I see Jesus challenging Martha about what she is ultimately concerned with rather than criticizing her hospitality.

While her sister is attending to all the details of preparation for Jesus’ visit to their home, Mary is focused only on one thing. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens. Her solitary focus is on her devotion to Jesus and her attention to the words that he brings. I admire that kind of focus. Most of the time I’m on of those that is easily distracted. I can be standing in front of my closet or refrigerator wondering what in the world I am doing there. Sometimes as I’m in the middle of one of the tasks on my “to do” list- I can’t help but think of five others that need to be done. There are those times of connection though when all distractions fall away, when you lose track of time because you are so focused on the task at hand. A psychologist named CsĂ­kszentmihály, called this state of being is called, “Flow”. “Flow is completely focused motivation It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning... The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.” (summary from Wikipedia page)

To be of singular focus so much so that you are experience joy or rapture. I think Mary was having that kind of flow experience while listening to Jesus, so much so that she became completely unconcerned the details of what needed to be done around the house. She was so focused that she probably didn’t even notice how agitated her sister was with her!
What Csikszentmihaly describes as a psychological experience I can say that I have experienced as the presence of God making a connection with me. I have felt this way in heart to heart conversations with teenagers, or at hospital bedsides. I have felt this flow while co-creating sermon with help from the Holy Spirit. I have felt this way in worship, or when I’m in a group of other Christians at camp or at a retreat. I have felt a sort of God-flow many times.

Mary’s attention is focused on hearing straight from Jesus’ mouth the “good news” that he comes to bring. When Jesus praises her for attending to what is better we are reminded that be a disciple of Christ has more than one component. Before he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked by a lawyer what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus asks the man what the most important laws are and the man says, “Love God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus agrees that these are the most important things and proceeds to explain to the man who his neighbor is through the story of the Good Samaritan. The fact that the story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home comes next in the Gospel of Luke is no accident. While the story of the Good Samaritan teaches us how to love a neighbor, Mary’s devotion reminds us how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

We all need to find a way love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Whatever it is that allows you to get into the “flow” of complete attention and focus on God then make a way for that to happen. For some it comes through hands on mission work, conversations with friends, music, reading your bible or another favorite devotion book. Some people need to get out into nature to experience full devotion to God, and I know for many of you this is the place where that God-connection happens. Worship should always be that time when we lay down our distractions and focus only on loving God and feeling God’s love for us in return. One pastor’s words I read this week said, “this story is really an invitation to get caught up in God’s presence.” (David Loose)

That is my great hope for each of us this morning- that in addition to the good works for our neighbor we are called on to do, that we would also spend time, free of distraction, in God’s presence. If the heart of the Gospel is loving God and loving neighbor- then turning our attention to those things is the “better way” of which Jesus speaks. May all of us experience that flow- a time when all else in the world melts away except for God and us. Amen and Amen.

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