Pulling into the campground today, I was reminded of the many camping trips I've been on. Before children, my husband, Michael and I used to go camping and white-water rafting with a group to Ohiopyle State Park. Michael has a friend named Dean who organized the trips. If you're going camping you want a "Dean" with you. Many times when hear the story of Mary and Martha, it becomes a story about women and roles and kitchenwork. Dean is living proof that "Martha" is alive and well in men too. Dean collected and packed everything that we needed, with his own system for how it should be packed so that things could be taken out of the trailer in logical order. He got all of the permits and the equipment, and when we got on site, he was a flurry of activity, making sure everything was staged and set up- tents, and campfires and food. He did it all. I was glad we had Dean.
Our trips became so popular there were as many as 100 of us. We may not see each other much of the year, so the trips were like reunions, getting away and enjoying each other's company. Throughout, Dean was poised for action, always anticipating things like when it was time to get out the supplies for Mountain Pies, or the four pronged hot dog fork. I'm not sure he ever relaxed. Sometimes it was kind of hard to relax around him. Dean's wife, Joanie, was also along. She was focused on spending time with friends- that's why we went. But she'd no sooner sit down to talk and he'd call to her to get something, find something. Sometimes she'd respond but other times she'd tell him it could wait, it was not the most important thing. I'm not sure if you are a Dean or a Martha too, but let's not be too critical of them. They do what needs to be done. I confess that since this is my first time to lead worship here, while I should be focused on God in our midst, somewhere my mind is distracted-wondering if I've done everything so we can be fed by this service.
But we're here at the campground, getting away from it all. You've left it all behind, you're relaxing, right? But we all know what it's like getting ready…. and we'll be busy catching up when we return. And sometimes we are busy on vacation, busy making sure others have a good time. Maybe we're so busy trying to guarantee relaxing that we don't. Martha is unhappy she is doing all the work. She violates Hostess Rule #1 and complains to her guest, basically telling Jesus his visit has caused this and to do something about it. The whole time she just can't sit, or stop talking. Mary has set aside her priorities. She is sitting and listening. Mary in doing this is beholding "the beauty of the LORD" as the psalmist in Ps. 27:4 says we should do. She's paying attention to God. Jesus surprises Martha, telling her to stop and be with him- make a different choice. Choose over the many distractions and sit at Jesus' feet and listen.
Jesus doesn't criticize Martha for her "service," but for her worries and anxieties about many things -- a life that is being pulled in too many directions. The original meaning of distracted is "getting pulled around" It can feel that way, can't it? Jesus asks each of us to consider whether we have been pulled in many directions by many things, rather than making time with God our TOP PRIORITY. When we are so anxious about doing we have trouble hearing the word of God. It's about balance. Just before this story in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, to which he responded, "love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." The story of the Good Samaritan demonstrates loving our neighbor in ways that challenge us. Today's message is about the challenge of loving God with all one's heart. To do either of these things means rejecting society's priorities in favor of God's. We're shown the overriding importance of devotion to the Lord's Word as an expression of one's love for God, rather than getting distracted. It's about balance. There is a time to "go and do" and a time to "sit and listen".
Coming together for worship is one example of that time. But I challenge you to consider the rest of the week and how you sit and listen with God. To think about being "busy" and how it affects us, and how it can affect our prayer life too- the other time God wants to spend with us. Earlier this year, I decided to try committing to praying in the morning, the middle of the day, the evening and before bed using the Liturgy of the Hours. Four times a day about 15 minutes each. But those four times where between 6 and 9 am; 11 and 1; 5 and 7pm and before bed. The busiest times of the day. I quickly discovered how busy I really was trying to juggle the kids, dinner, work in the parish, my husband, the dog…you get the picture. I'd start out with good intentions, but there are all these other things pulling me around. And then it's the end of the day and I'd think, NOW I can sit and pray. Sometimes I'd fall asleep praying- somewhere in the middle. Think of how we'd feel if we were talking to someone and they fell asleep on us! The lesson is simple in principle but so difficult in application Think of your favorite thing to do, and how much time you devote to it. Can you imagine that time spent being with God, abiding with God, in tending your relationship with God, listening to the quiet still voice of God still speaking to us, deep within our hearts?
It is a difficult word that Jesus speaks, but it is a freeing word as well. In order to choose the better part, we need to let go of the many things that distract. The good news is that we can. We can remember the freeing nature of God's saving work in Christ that reminds us we that we don't have to do anything to prove our worthiness. When we begin to shift our focus, we make room for the Spirit of God to breathe freely in us, renewing our lives. Talk about really getting away. The good news is that Jesus gives permission for all of us who can be distracted, frantic people to sit down and eat our fill of God's word and promise. Then our hearts and minds really will be ready to put hands and feet into doing God's work.