July 17, 2016 Luke 10: 38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
I’m a list maker. On my desk is a UCC calendar with those big squares where I write my appointments, meetings, more meetings - all the important stuff. On top of it is a daily appointment book with blank pages for each day where I write my lists - endless lists. Meanwhile endless emails come pouring in on the phone and the computer.
I used to have a Sierra Club calendar over my desk with beautiful pictures of nature and big squares to write in, which I left purposefully blank. The calendar represented Sabbath, a constant reminder of my need for balance. On the wall across from where I eat breakfast is a stretched white canvas with the words “PEACE. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
Oh, the wisdom of that anonymous writer! If only I could follow it. Joan Chittister rightfully says, “We have become human hamsters on a 24 hour wheel. That is so right on!
Being busy is how our culture measures worth. The longer your list, the more you’ve checked off it, the greater feeling of satisfaction. “Look at all I’ve accomplished!” I speak from experience. Anyone else here a compulsive list maker?
And it’s not just the American way of life. The Chinese pictograph for “busy” is composed of two characters: heart and killing. You would think that would send a clear message, but in China, the polite answer to “How are you?” is “I am very busy, thank you.”
Busy-ness is ‘The Way of Life’ for most of us. “How are you?” How often do you hear, “I am sooo busy....I’m busier now than before I retired.” Those words can be a cry for help - a desperate realization that their lives have spun out of control and they don’t know how to reign them in - or they can be a boast of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy for all our accomplishments.
How did we get this way?
This mornings story of Martha and Mary sheds some light on the topic. Like many families, these two siblings exhibit very different personalities. There are those people, like Mary here, who really live in the present moment. If they made a list, they’ve forgotten where they put it. They’re wonderful conversationalists because they really listen. It’s as if they haven’t another care in the world. They tend to loose track of time and are perpetually late.
Martha’s, on the other hand, live by their lists. They are punctual and well organized, but their minds are overflowing and they tend to be worried and distracted easily. These are the multi-taskers. I sat in a meeting with a Martha-type who was constantly asking a question about something we had just discussed, because her mind was jumping ahead instead of focusing on what was being said. Martha’s tend to be in perpetual motion.
OK, I have to ask. Which one are you? A Mary? (show of hands) A Martha? (show of hands)
I don’t think Jesus was sitting there passing judgement on either Martha or Mary. They were both his loving friends. The meal needed to be prepared and served, but the guest needed to be paid attention to. How often today do the guests gravitate to the kitchen where all the action is?
What do you suppose Jesus was saying to Mary as they sat there while Martha was getting all irritated in the kitchen? Could he have been talking about the need in their lives for balance - for balance between work and rest, balance between doing and being. Could he have been reminding her of the need for Sabbath, reciting from Genesis or Deuteronomy or Exodus. We are not lacking in reminders that God set the seventh day aside as holy.
All our efforts and deeds need to be balanced and nourished by times of doing absolutely nothing but sitting and being with God. In the eyes of the world, there is no pay off for sitting on the porch. In the eyes of God, the porch is imperative - on a regular basis. Jesus knew this and modeled it with his life.
The rest of us are still learning.
The famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit it’s activity.” How many “free” people do you know these days? We keep telling people “Just say no,” but how often do we practice what we preach? How often do you hear, “I just don’t have time to practice Sabbath.”
Henry Nouwen wisely counseled, “Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim. They prevent the Spirit of God from breathing freely in us and thus renewing our lives.”
How did we get this way? We’ve forgotten the Sabbath. And without rest we respond from a survival mode. Everything becomes blown out of proportion, like Martha in today’s play. When we are moving faster and faster, every encounter, every detail inflates in importance, everything seems more urgent than it really is. We over react. If we don’t rest, how can we find our way? How can we hear that still small voice that tells us the right thing to do? If we don’t allow for the rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness then becomes our Sabbath.
So how do we introduce Sabbath back into our lives? Barbara Brown Taylor suggests in her book An Altar in the World, the following simple exercise. “Take a piece of paper and make two lists on it. I know, I know, it’s more about lists, but these are not “to do” lists.
You will find a piece of paper inserted in your bulletin. On one side list all the things you know give you life that you never, or rarely, take time to do. You have a couple of minutes to think about this and write them down.
(pause) Now, on the other side, make a list of all the reasons why you think it’s impossible for you to do those things. (pause, ring singing bowl) Ask them to share from their lists)
When you get home keep the piece of paper where you can see it. Also promise not to shush your heart when it howls for the list you want.”
This is not always easy to do, so she suggests you find a partner or an accomplice that can hold you accountable and hold you to your vision. Years ago I did this each week. I took myself on a spiritual date, just me and God, doing something that filled my spirit, replenished my soul. On July 4th I gave myself an entire day. By observing Sabbath, you become accomplished at saying “no.”
Barbara Brown Taylor ends her chapter on Sabbath, which she titles, “The Practice of Saying No” with the following insight:
“When you live in God, your day begins when you open your eyes, though you have done nothing yourself to open them, and you take your first breath, though there is no reason why this life-giving breeze should be given to you and not to some other. In the dark or in the light, with a stone slab under your back or a feather topper, your day begins when you let God hold you because you do not have the slightest idea how to hold yourself -- when you let God raise you up, when you consent to rest to show you get the point, since that is the last thing you would do if you were running the show yourself. When you live in God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise.”
Let’s lose ourselves in praise, singing “Morning Has Broken” on page 53 in the red Chalice hymnal.