July 21, 2019

“Dimming Distractions”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Colossians 1.15-28

Luke 10.38-42

July 21, 2019

For my family the month of July has been packed with visitors. This is always a mixed blessing. We have had family visiting every weekend, which is a joy, but it also means that I have to clean my house more frequently, which I do not enjoy. When friends and family come to visit, we often have the list of chores that need to be done – we clean floors and counters and bathrooms, we do laundry, we shop for groceries, we do baking, we enjoy their company, and in our case, when they leave, we do the process all over again for the next guest.[1] We all know the battle – we want to have a clean house but we also do not want the cleaning and organizing to take over our lives because, frankly, we have other things to do. I love how one author puts it – the Bible does not say: “Blessed are those who keep a clean house for they have already possessed the kingdom of God.”[2] Thank goodness it doesn’t say that.

We see this battle of how to be the best host in our Gospel reading today. We read the story of Mary and Martha who are sisters. This Gospel is the only one who tells the story but we also know the sisters from Lazarus, in which their roles are similar, too. In both, Martha is the one who meets Jesus and Mary sits silently.[3] Like most siblings, they have different personalities and take on different roles. The roles and personalities are not being criticized here, but the balance of life and spirituality perhaps is part of the issue.

This passage is incredibly relatable. Have you ever been that person who worked extremely hard on a project, only to have someone else take partial or full credit of your work? Have you ever been the one doing what you imagined to be the most important thing in the moment, only to be criticized with passive aggressive comments? We can see both sides of this easily.

We could say that this passage is about sitting and praying and listening rather than busying ourselves with work, but this is not what Jesus is trying to tell us or Martha and Mary. There are times to be silent and listening, and there are times to be active in the world. Jesus is most concerned with what Martha focuses on as she is moving around. She isn’t listening to Jesus, but is worrying about the social requirements of the day. Perhaps her moving through the motions as a good hostess are the equivalent to asking someone “how are you?” Often we don’t ask someone “how are you” because we want to know – we do so because that is the correct and polite social cue. Is Martha moving around because she is trying to make a sacred space to eventually listen to Jesus, or because that is what societal norms tell her to do?

We wonder who is truly the guest and who is the host. Martha and Mary are supposed to be the hosts with Jesus as guest, but as Jesus did throughout his life, he turns it all on its head. He is hosting them – they are the guests, benefiting from him. Martha is extremely anxious as she moves about.[4] The first part of this passage sets the stage as the disciples move on to the next thing. We begin with this idea of movement and busyness. She can’t stop moving. One person writes: “So consumed by chores of daily life that we neglect to notice the sacred in our midst.”[5] I can clean my toilets until they shine, but if I don’t sit down and enjoy the company of my family, what is the point? The toilets can wait another day.

I don’t remember where I read it, but a few years ago I stumbled upon an article written by a mother who talked about the blessing of a messy home. She once rolled her eyes at toys strewn across the floor, but one day she sat and cried as she looked around her spotless house. Her daughter had been in the hospital for months, so toys had not been played with, and she realized that she would rather have her daughter and the mess, than a clean house and a daughter in the hospital.

This passage isn’t about a messy house – it is about the quality of time being spent – especially with Jesus. Martha is distracted, and we can find many distractions in our own lives today – screens, anxiety, news, social media. It is amazing to me that social media is such a great way of communicating, but it often drains us completely when we fall down that rabbit hole for hours. In our society when we look busy we are often applauded. Our world moves fast and expects hard work. If we are sitting and meditating or praying, or listening, we appear to not be “productive.” Yet, Jesus turns the world on its head. To rest is to rejuvenate.

Of course there are chores and responsibilities that we must follow. We have to find some pattern of life that helps us do our daily chores and also live abundantly and not feel tied down by them. A long time ago I gave up on the word “balance.” I feel it is nearly impossible for anyone to find balance, because no one comes home at night and thinks, “I spent just the right amount of time at work, and with my family, and time for myself, and the community.” Yet, maybe we can find a way to have a pattern that works for us. Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote something similar in her latest book, Shameless. She tells her spiritual director, Jane, that she wants to throw out the word “balance,” and Jane said: “Maybe ‘rhythm’ is a better word.”[6] Maybe we need to find that rhythm – and maybe Martha and Mary could have found that rhythm – where Mary could have helped Martha a bit more before Jesus arrived, and Martha could have put the dishes aside and sat down, and the could take turns cleaning after Jesus left. If Martha hadn’t been so obsessed with the cleanliness of the house, I wonder if Jesus would have offered to do the dishes with them while they talked.

The letter to the Colossians has a rhythm, a pattern, because it is seen as a hymn. This pattern was used in early teachings. There is repetition, which still helps us learn today. Jesus is described as the first of Creation, talking not about when he was actually created, but speaks more of his importance.[7] After the passage says, “first,” it goes on to describe Jesus as “all things.” Later it talks about “once you were…” and follows up with “now you are…” This ordering rhythm helps to learn, like the patterns we put in our to-do lists. First, clean the dishes, then take a break. First, send those emails, then make copies. The author of Colossians helps them order out their lives as Christians and sometimes we need to do that, as well. What are our priorities? What do we need to look at first? Sometimes we have to do the difficult tasks first, to motivate ourselves for a reward. Humans are reward based. Maybe you do the dishes because you like a clean kitchen – that kitchen is your reward. Or, maybe you do the dishes because when you’re done you reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream.

What is the reward? Sometimes I think religion is difficult for humans because we like those rewards. When we are nice to someone and it isn’t reciprocated, that is difficult because the reward of pleasantries isn’t there. For someone to “act nice” because someday somewhere they will go to heaven, is not a reward easily understood, nor is it good theology. Yet, we find a rhythm of life with God. Sometimes we are the host and sometimes we are the guest. Sometimes we have to do those chores we hate, and sometimes we need to slow down and stop.
Make sure you stop this week. Maybe put some of your cleaning list on hold, or delegate it to someone. Sit and be with God, and be rewarded with grace and love and mercy. Amen.

 

 

[1] Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Reflections on the Lectionary” in Christian Century (July 3, 2019, Vol. 136, No. 14), p. 19

[2] Ibid., p. 19.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 345.

[4] James A. Wallace, “Luke 10.38-42” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 265.

[5] Berkey-Abbott, 19.

[6] Nadia Bolz Weber, Shameless, (New York: Convergent, 2019), 147.

[7] Craddock, 345.