The Rev. Frank
Dragged Apart by Distractions
It is surprising to me how little control I have over what I preach. You would think that the variety of selections available each Sunday, I could manipulate the topic enough to avoid texts on which I donít want to preach. There are each Sunday four passages of scripture from which I can choose. For example, today I could have preached on Abraham receiving three visitors at the Oaks of Mamre. There was also Psalm 15 and an intriguing section of the letter to the Colossians. All of these texts were calling to me over these past two weeks. For to decide to preach on something means that you will have to live with it for a while, pray about it, decide what we need to hear from the text on a given Sunday.
I felt these other stories calling to me because I did not want to sit with the story of Martha and Mary. Martha, so busy working while Mary sits at her Lordís feet. I am a workaholic and I did not want to hear this. So I had to preach on it. There was no choice. I no one else, at least the preacher should get something out of the sermon. So, I knew I needed to sit with this scripture for a while.
In the Gospel reading Jesus is welcomed into the home of Martha and Mary. This in itself is scandalous. Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi enters a home not identified by the name of a man, but by two women. Martha is the host. Mary sits at Jesus feet as a disciple. Neither of these things were proper in first century Israel. A woman did not head a household and welcome a rabbi into it any more than a woman would have sat at a teacherís feet as a disciple. This was counter-cultural.
And the story is also counter to our own culture. For in our culture, we are rewarded for working very hard. Yet, the hero of the story is not the hard-working Martha, but the sit-and-listen Mary.
The way the story has been portrayed in the past, Martha makes a really big meal. Martha is so busy not because she is a putting a meal on the table, but because she is in the midst of preparing an overly elaborate feast. Martha is surrounded by many tasks, because her dinner plans are too complicated. Sure, Jesus has been out on the road and heíll be hungry, but something simple would do and it would allow Martha time to listen to Jesus as well as tend to the meal. Martha took on too much in this version of the story. The only problem is that this is not what the text tells us. Jesus does not say, ďMartha, you prepared too many side dishes. I donít need so much. You could cook something simpler next time.Ē
What Jesus does say is that Martha was distracted by her many tasks. Distracted. The New Testament Greek word used here is periespato, which means literally to be pulled or dragged away. Martha is being pulled apart by the many tasks at hand and the demands she feels are being made on her. By allowing herself to be pulled this way and dragged that way, Martha can not stay focused. Jesus tells Martha that she is distracted, while Mary has chosen the one thing and it is Mary who has chosen the best part.
Distraction. The last thing I wanted to do was preach a sermon on distraction. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on hospitality and ended up with overnight guests in our home. What would it mean to preach a sermon on distraction?
Life can be distracting to any of us. After all, who here who works all day does not go home to more than they can do at home. And who is that stays at home tending to a household who does not feel pulled this way and that by more tasks than can be accomplished. Who does not have more pulling at us, dragging at us than we can do justice to. All of us have distractions.
How are we supposed to not be distracted. Come on Jesus, some one has got to put a meal on the table. Someone has to shop and clean. Someone has to cut the grass and do the laundry. There are so many things to be done. Donít these things have to get done?
Then I remembered Nicholas Herman, a simple man who lived in the 17th century. A kind biographer would say he was not a man of learning. He worked first as a footman then as a soldier, and was not particularly gifted at either job.
Then in 1666 at the age of 18, Nicholas Herman underwent a conversion experience. He was walking on a winter day when he saw the bare limbs of a tree standing out against a world shrouded in snow. He knew with certainty that in a matter of months, the tree would once again sprout leaves, then flowers and fruit. The certainty of that little resurrection had a profound affect on the teenager. He knew that God was faithful and could be counted on in all things.
Nicholas decided to join a monastery. He selected the Discalced Carmelites, discalced meaning that they wore no shoes. This reformed group were monkís monks. Here they valued Nicholas no more than the rest of the world. They did not set him out to study the scripture. Instead they put him in the kitchen. He took the name Brother Lawrence in the monastery and set about the task of providing meals for more than 100 monks.
He did get to go to chapel to pray, but then he did not study or copy scripture. Brother Lawrence went back to the kitchen. Day in, day out, for years he toiled in the kitchen. If any of the monks in that monastery in Paris had an excuse to be distracted, it was Lawrence. He was the one responsible for the Martha job of getting a meal on the table.
This became his prayer,
Lawrence decided that there was something in the work of pots and pans. There might be something in being a servant to his fellow monks. Lawrence came to realize that God was present in the kitchen all the time. Yes, he could go to chapel and God would be present, but he did not have to go to the chapel to be with God.
Right there in his kitchen, Lawrence became so aware of Godís presence that the distractions proved to be less of a distraction and then no distraction at all. Lawrence put it like this,
There is an image of distraction: In the noise and clutter of the kitchen, several persons at the same time calling for different things, an yet he was not pulled away or dragged apart. In the midst of that noise and clutter, Lawrence was centered on the one thing. The same one thing that Mary was centered on when she sat at Jesus feet. Both of them were centered on the presence of God.
Lawrence found a way to center on Godís presence that really applies to our lives. Lawrence did not just focus on Godís presence while in church taking communion, but he was centered on God in a whirlwind of activity that could easily have pulled him away from Godís presence. It was in the turmoil that he knew God is present. While cleaning pots and pans God is present. In all things and in all places, God is present.
This does not mean that distractions are inherently good. Of course, there are ways we can simplify, set priorities, only do those things that are necessary and those things which matter to us. In the end there will only be so much simplifying we can do. Only so much cutting back. Only so much doing less. There are a lot of things that will put demands on our lives. So we can not always do as Mary did and sit at Jesusí feet.
What we can do is to remember that we can sit at Jesusí feet no matter where we are. We can sit at Jesusí feet as we drive in traffic. We can sit at Jesusí feet in a class or even during a test at school. We can sit at Jesusí feet as we are at work with someone on the other end of the phone chewing us out over something beyond our control. We can sit at Jesusí feet at all times and in all places, if we will do as Brother Lawrence suggested and practice the presence of God.
In the midst of distractions, we can say, ďGod is here.Ē I donít have to be pulled away or dragged away by distractions. I donít even have to always pull myself away for a time of prayer to clear my head and recenter my thoughts. I can get centered on God in the midst of chaos if I make myself aware that God is there, right there, right then. The reality is that I am already sitting at Jesusí feet. This realization has a lot less to do with what we do and a lot more to do with who we are, and who you see yourself to be.
In just a few moments, we will baptize Danielle Landry. In Danielleís baptism, we are not going to change what she does, not exactly. She still needs to go to school. She still needs to clean her room. She still has a lot of things that have to be done. But in this baptism, Danielle can change her realization about who she is.
Danielle is about to make some pretty profound declarations. She is about to say that she turns from other distractions and accepts Jesus as her savior. Danielle will promise to follow Jesus. Following him can not mean following Jesus away from the stuff of life. It has to be following Jesus in the midst of life for there will always be distractions. Always.
The thing that matters most is that you are always in Godís presence. Always. Just be aware that in the turmoil of problems, when you are being dragged apart by distractions, God is there. No matter what life throws at you, you are already sitting at Jesusí feet if you will open yourself up to that deeper reality.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526