Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 21, 2013
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks… Luke 10:40a
How distracted are you? Chances are you are more distracted than you think. In our world of hyper-connectivity and multi-tasking, we are encouraged to do more with less, fit more activities into shorter time frames, and keep multiple plates spinning, ducks in a row, and balls in the air. Sometimes just thinking about everything on my “to-do” list makes me tired. In fact, I can easily replace Martha’s name with my own and say with a mighty sigh “But Sharron was distracted by her many tasks.” I just hope my survivors aren’t tempted to engrave that on my tombstone!
Seriously, I’m pretty sure a lot of us could insert our own names into this sentence and find it an all-too-perfect fit for the pace and scope of our daily lives. And what is all this busyness getting us? One could at least hope for more efficiency and productivity, right? Nope. According to a 2001 study, participants who switched between multiple tasks lost significant amounts of time, and the more complex the tasks, the more time lost. So not only are we more distracted, we’re less efficient.
Mary was definitely on to something when she sat down at Jesus’ feet as a disciple and began listening attentively. Sure, it was against cultural norms for a woman to do such a thing. Sure, it was probably annoying as all get out to her sister Martha. And sure, on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a very efficient thing for her to do when a meal had to be prepared for a bunch of hungry men folk. But it was the right thing to do, the one thing worth doing at that particular moment.
Mary was practicing mindfulness. She was choosing deliberately and carefully the one thing that was worth her time and attention at that moment. She was fully present and engaged. Mary was attentive to the presence and voice of her rabbi and friend. And Jesus rebuked dear Martha for attempting to pull her away and back into a state of busyness with meal preparation. “…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” (Luke 10: 41-42).
It is probably not at all realistic to think that we can avoid a list of tasks and jobs and needs that must be addressed; however, if we want to avoid spiraling into a state of distraction and even greater inefficiency, then we should heed Jesus’ words–both personally and corporately. As individual beloved children of God and disciples of Christ, we need to focus on the one thing. We need to remember the words of the lawyer from last week’s gospel lesson: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Love God. Love others. Focus on what matters and don’t get sucked into all the adiaphora our world spins at us.
For congregations, that may mean streamlining and simplifying to get at the heart of mission and ministry, to focus on core discipleship principles and activities of prayer, worship, study, service, fellowship, and generosity. Instead of another flashy program, what “one thing” might the community be called to do and do well? For individuals this may mean learning to say “no” sometimes. It may well mean covenanting to spend time each day in prayer and silence, to listen for that still small voice of God. It might well mean abandoning the sickening, delusional spiral of more, more, more with its evil twin, the frenzied rush to accomplish.
How distracted are you? Take a deep breath and just be. Right now. Right here. Jesus is with you, and that is the one thing, the better part that cannot be taken away.
What might you do to slow the pace and allow space to experience the presence of the Divine? We are not comfortable with silence as a general rule. Could you simplify your worship this week, shorten your sermon, or perhaps incorporate periods of silence between your words? How can you call people to sit at the feet of Jesus in worship and leave their burdens and cares at the door? It starts with the leadership. Engage all who will lead this Sunday in a time of prayerful silence and some time to breathe and prepare. Try to find a way to enter into worship without feeling frenzied or burdened yourself. What might you need to lay down or leave behind?
Consider showing this short video from the Cleveland Clinic to your youth. It’s all about empathy and our human connection to one another. In our hectic lives, we often pass people by without having a clue about how they are, what troubles and burdens they carry, what joys they long to share, or what secrets they carry. When we are worried and distracted it is difficult to have real relationship, to interact in meaningful ways. Invite youth to respond to the video clip and to talk about how they can–or might begin to–craft space for mindfulness and empathy in their daily discipleship walk.
You might also share with them this quote from Leo Thayer’s book, Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing:
“In short, the first and last leadership lesson is this: We are led by our habits of feeling, of thinking, of perceiving, and of understanding. Get those right, and everything beyond becomes possible. Get those wrong, and the outcomes will always be something you didn’t choose.”
Invite them to think about how cultivating habits of listening and looking for God in their lives might help get the habits right and enable them to cultivate fully the gifts and talents God has given them.
This might be a good Sunday to talk with children about the concept of focusing on what’s really important–the one thing that matters most. Invite the children to think of ways they can spend time listening for Jesus. Can they turn off the television and go outside and listen for the birds and the wind? Can they take time to pray each day? Can they spend a little time with parents doing a shared activity–being fully focused on each other and the activity at hand? (Note: This will probably be more difficult for busy parents than for children!) Help them craft a door hanger from cardboard or cardstock that says “Shhhh…One Thing in Progress” or some similar short statement. Let them color and personalize it and encourage them to use it every day for just a little while to focus on God, on family, and on those who need help.
(Photos: Ally Mauro, Unlisted Sightings, and Alexandre Dulaunoy used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)