7/17/2016 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. The text is Luke 10:38-42.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Cleaning up the early morning breakfast dishes. Putting away the evening leftovers. Picking up the toys and magazines and scraps of paper that clutter up our homes. Vacuuming, sweeping, and washing the clothes. Dusting, waxing, polishing the mirrors. Mowing the grass or shoveling the walks, fixing the fence, trimming hedges. Painting and wallpapering. Bathing the children. Running to the store for weekly supplies or the last minute item for the night’s dinner. Driving the children here, there and everywhere. Attending meetings, going to work, paying those bills. The list could go on and on. We are a busy people. We have so many things to do. We have so many things to get done. And never does our list seem to get pared down. Instead, more and more gets piled onto the top of a never ending list.
The spiraling cycle of overcrowded schedules and lack of time begins when we are young. The time we used to have as children simply just to play has now been channeled into planned activities and learning opportunities. A report a few years ago from the Wall St. Journal confirmed that, at that time, the peak year for playing with toys was age 3. I don’t think I want to know what it is today.
This phenomenon that causes our children to grow up faster has been dubbed time compression. As our culture becomes more complex, as there are more things to do, places to be, and activities to engage in, time compression may only get worse. For, we are a people and a culture that is worried and distracted by doing so many things as we have been indoctrinated to go for the gusto; to not miss a beat. But, in our effort to gain everything and do it all now, we sometimes lose sight of priorities.
Priorities – that’s what our Gospel story is all about. What is really important and what is secondary. In a visit to the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus confronts the two women with choices. Martha chooses one way to react to Jesus’ presence, and Mary another. Martha makes great preparations for the honored guest, much in the way that I will do if I know someone who is stopping by. Immediately, I begin cleaning and putting things away. I go to the store to buy what I think the person will like to eat and spend time preparing a meal.
Martha does just about the same thing. She bustles around, not realizing that Jesus arrives at their home, not to be served by them, but to serve. Jesus comes to play host and to feed her and Mary with the bread of life – with words which will give them strength. Martha is caught up in her own priorities while Mary takes the time to sit quietly and listen. It is she who takes the time to be fed. Martha is simply too worried about doing what she believes to be necessary to feed Jesus a meal fit for a king to take the time and sit quietly and receive from Jesus. Martha is worried and distracted by many things. She is so distracted that she fails to realize that she is in need of only one things – her Lord, and his word of peace and salvation, the word of life to sustain her and to give meaning to all that she does.
How familiar all this sounds to us. How often are we troubled and worried about things, many of which are not really important? How often do we fail to engage in those things which really matter? Many years ago, the late Paul Tillich said in a sermon entitled “The New Being”: “There are innumerable concerns in our lives…which demand attention, devotion, passion. But they do not demand infinite attention, ultimate passion. They are important, but they are not ultimately important.”
Martha’s priorities are mixed up. So she misses out on what is really important. We do the same as individuals and as churches. The story I read about a pastor’s day shows just how mixed up our priorities can be. During the day, that pastor spent his time with a family of a child that had died. Later, in a meeting that evening, two hours was spent in arguing over where a new church sign should be placed. It’s amazing how much psychic and spiritual energy is invested in concerns that are marginal, to say the least.
In this task-oriented culture in which we live, we can fall prey to the temptation of measuring everything by busyness – how many meetings, how many programs, how many activities, how many time blocks are filled on the calendar. All of the things we do may be important, but we made a mistake when we assume that the true life in Christ can be measured by such things. As James Bright writes: “Food shelters and day care centers abound. There is no death of volunteer groups…to belong to. But Sunday worship attendance…is steadily declining and even among the most committed. …Work and faith go hand in hand, and faith seeks understanding. When faith is cut off from steady and meaningful encounter with Jesus Christ through word and worship, work will…degenerate into meaningless routine.”
My friends, Jesus has made us his priority. To serve us, Jesus calls us to sit at his feet as Mary did long ago. For, Jesus wants to feed us with the bread of life. Jesus wants to place his word into these empty vessels, in our minds and in our hearts and in our very souls. Jesus wants to nourish us with his body and blood. Jesus wants to empower our serving. Jesus wants to do this for us for it is for us and our salvation that he came and he died and he rose again. The question is simply – will we make room for Him in our busy schedules?
What priority do we give Jesus in our lives? What priority do we give to reading scripture, to praying, to listening to Christian music, to learning more about God’s grace? What prior do we give to being fed by His word and nourished by His body and blood?
We have so many things to do. We have so many things to get done. And never does our list seem to get pared down. We pile more and more on top of our lists and we pat ourselves on the back as we do more and more. But, spending time with Jesus and basking in His word is the one thing that is needful in our lives. So, when we leave and return to our routine, let us go with a new set of priorities. For, we would not want to miss out on the better things of life!
There is a time for work, my friends, and there is a time to be still. There is a time to do and a time to receive. Let us take the time to listen to God and open our lives so that we may be fed by him. For what he offers to us in Christ Jesus is ultimately important. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.