Narrative Lectionary, First Sunday in Lent, Year 3
Focusing on What Matters
Lessons: Luke 10:25-42, Psalm 15 (or 15:1)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people hear Jesus’ words in Luke’s stories of the Good Samaritan and Mary and Martha as calls to focus on that which really matters despite the myriad claims and our own self-deception that so easily get in the way.
Key Scripture: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37
It would be easier to take either the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the brief story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha as the focus of this week’s sermon or teaching time, and there are certainly plenty of ways to approach either selection. However, what if there is a way of taking both stories to make an important point about stewardship and discipleship? Perhaps that approach is the more powerful option, especially as we enter the liturgical season of Lent.
The residue from Ash Wednesday may still be in folks’ pores, but the notion of Lent and what it means to use these 40 days as a time of reflection, repentance, and focus on realigning one’s life to God’s will, may need some reinforcing. Both the lawyer and Martha seem to have a pretty good handle on their respective situations—at least from their own perspectives. The lawyer asks Jesus a question about inheriting eternal life, and he is able to give Jesus the right answer, yet that doesn’t seem to be enough. We learn that he wants to “justify himself.” I suppose the right answer isn’t right enough. He wants details. Just who IS his neighbor?
Likewise, Martha wants Jesus to recognize that she’s doing her best to get a company-worthy dinner on the table while her sister, Mary, is not helping one little bit. Instead, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet hanging on every word. Martha, on the other hand, has worked herself into a tizzy, and in the process has lost sight of the precious gift right in front of her eyes. How often are we like Martha, failing to see the big picture because we become so focused on our own perspective, unmet needs, or quarrels and quibbles.
I can understand both the lawyer’s and Martha’s responses. Even though I’d like to think I’d be able to focus on what really matters with laser-like precision, I know myself too well. I’ve often missed the important point while focusing on minutia or falling prey to the “tyranny of the urgent.” I know what Jesus means about loving my neighbor, but it’s hard work, and there’s a cost of time, resources, and effort involved. Loving one’s neighbor involves sacrifice and relationship and consistent effort. Frankly, despite my best intentions and attempts to be faithful, there are days I’d really rather not be bothered; I’d rather pull the car into the garage and cocoon in the safe harbor of my snug, secure home.
Like Martha, when I entertain guests I want things to be right. That means I’m often fretting in the kitchen instead of enjoying the precious time with friends. Who am I kidding? Martha Stewart I am not, so I am much better off enjoying my guests and living in the moment than worrying about whether dinner is going to be a picture of perfection (because it won’t).
This Lent, maybe we can make a real effort to focus on that which really matters. What if we got real about loving our neighbors in a culture that is making so many of our neighbors feel unsafe, unwelcome, and unsure about their place in our cities and towns? What if we got real about putting aside all of the extra “stuff” of daily life and instead make time for Jesus and for our faith communities? If that means spending less time on social media, so be it. If that means finding some tangible ways to welcome refugees and immigrants into our neighborhoods and homes, so be it. If that means taking a stand when a group of our neighbors is persecuted, threatened, or berated, so be it. Whatever it takes, so be it. Let us challenge one another to focus on that which really matters; Jesus commands it, and as God’s faithful and generous stewards we—and our communities–will be the better for it.
Consider singing “All are Welcome” as your gathering song. Invite congregants to ponder who is not part of your gathering? Which neighbors are not part of Christ’s Body in your context? How can you love and care for those people without expectation of return (or membership!)? Pray for the neighbors who are not among you, pray for those you have not yet met, and pray for those who feel unwelcome, unwanted, or uncertain.
Pope Francis recently said that Catholics “should offer housing or financial assistance to families settling in a new country,” and, as Lent begins, not to make excuses when it comes to giving to the homeless asking for change. Share this article with your youth. Invite conversation about neighbors who are easy for us to overlook, ignore, or avoid. How can we become more open to and aware of the plight of people in our communities and around the world? How can we make a real difference by focusing on that which really matters? Consider choosing a family or ministry to help during Lent, preferably one that your youth can be involved with rather than simply giving money or possessions.
Is it better to be “perfect” or “present”? Invite the children to think about which choice they would make by giving some examples. Is it better to have a fancy cake that looks perfect or to have homemade cupcakes you can make with your friends? Is it better to have a perfectly cleaned and organized room or time to play with your neighbors outside? (Sorry, parents!) Is it better to plan a perfect day outside at the lake on Sunday morning or to be present in worship to praise God and be with our church family? Is it better to have a perfect store-bought blanket or one that is stitched with lots of love by your grandmother? You can think of plenty of other examples, or invite the children to think of examples. Make the point that Jesus would rather have us be present that worry about everything being perfect. Finish with a simple pray of thanks that Jesus loves us so much and wants to spend time with us. Please help us to choose “the better part,” which can’t be taken away.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What really matters? Do you take time to think about answering this question every day? Think about it; we make hundreds, maybe even thousands of decisions every day. How do we know we are making good ones, the right ones? Our lesson from Luke’s gospel gives us some good guidance. We are called to be stewards of one another, loving our neighbors, and choosing a ministry of presence over an illusion of perfection. How will you focus on that which really matters during the 40 days of Lent?
Stewardship at Home
This week take time to learn about neighbors you don’t know. Who lives near you that you don’t really “see”? Is there an elderly person who could use your help and company? Are there immigrants who could benefit from some help to go shopping, make doctor appointments, or learn English? What simple steps can you take this week to learn to love the neighbors you haven’t yet met? Consider calling your local refugee services agency or Office of Aging to ask about opportunities to help.
Photos: Jamelle Bouie, Sara Korf, and Jonathan Galmiche, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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