Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 11 (16), Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
July 21, 2019
Lessons: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people know that being present in each moment is a mark of faithful discipleship and vocational calling.
Key Scripture: 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.” – Luke 10:41-42
Poor Martha! She’s taken quite a theological flogging over the years for her choice of actions and attitude. She wanted to do things right, to show proper love and respect, to provide the best hospitality and food for her Lord. So what’s the problem?
Perhaps it has more to do with balance and focus than anything else. What do you notice about Jesus’ response to Martha’s plea? First of all, he doesn’t become triangulated. He also doesn’t scold or belittle Martha. He doesn’t downplay the role of hospitality by telling her it’s okay to serve leftover shawarma and falafel. Instead, Jesus names the root of the problem, the sin, if you will: Martha is “worried and distracted by many things.” She has lost her ability to focus, is thoroughly wound up, and is trying to drag her sister into her misery.
Mary, on the other hand, is practicing the radical and hospitable act of deep listening to her Lord. She is taking opportunity to learn. The kitchen, she clearly figures, can wait a little while. Maybe leftovers aren’t such a bad idea after all or perhaps some mezze and flatbread. For Mary the real hospitality is presence and welcome rather than the nitty gritty details of dinner.
A contemporary greeting one might hear today in Bethlehem, Nazareth, or Bethany captures this essence: Ahlan wa sahlan. According to Yasmin Khan in her wonderful cookbook Zaitoun, this greeting not only means welcome but carries a deeper meaning akin to “May you arrive as part of the family and tread an easy path as you enter.”
We get a sense of this radical welcome and hospitality with Abraham and the three visitors by the oaks of Mamre from this week’s Old Testament lesson. Even better, we see the fullness of radical welcome, inclusion, and hospitality in the words of the writer of Colossians where Christ is described as one who holds in himself “all things together” and in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” providing a divine space for reconciliation and restoration. Small wonder Jesus was not overly concerned about the dinner menu that night at Lazarus’ house!
What does all this have to do with how we contemporary steward disciples live out our vocational calls in daily life? In a world where distractions and worries surround us like a cloud of flies at a picnic, being able to be present in the moment is an important skill to learn and steward. It’s something that Jesus was trying to teach in this encounter with Martha and Mary.
Being present in the moment and being fully present to the many ways that Jesus is with us in the world is necessary for our own development and deepening of faith. After all, the present moment is all that we truly have. Nothing more is guaranteed. When we are fully present in each moment of life, we have a much better chance of catching glimpses of the divine in everyday life. Think of it as cultivating “Jesus sightings.”
Like Martha, we do need to serve one another. We do need to practice radical hospitality. The key is to keep it in perspective and not let our human need for perfection and our own ego get in the way of a perfectly good experience. Keeping a healthy perspective is essential; even the cook needs to get out of the kitchen and take a break.
Yes, in our vocational callings and daily life, keeping perspective and balance is important for faithful witness. We want others to see and experience the Divine as we do—not worries, distractions, and frustrations that prevent us from living the full and Christ-soaked life to which we have been reconciled.
There’s a rhythm to the discipleship life and to our individual and collective callings. It’s a matter of balance and perspective. Just as a two-legged stool is certain to fall over, so we are sure to fall if we lean too far in one direction. Remaining present in the moment helps us to keep our balance and focus.
Invite worshipers into a centering time before the liturgy. Begin by asking them to visualize the various things they hold in heart and mind that distract them from being fully present to God and one another. Have them hold their hands cupped together and mentally place all of those things into the basket their hands have created. Invite them to repeat after you:
God, help me to release these things to you. Accept these worries and distractions so that I may be fully present to worship you. Help me to be fully present to the Body of Christ gathered here. Amen.
Next lead the congregation in a breath exercise. You might use four square or box breathing. Click here for directions. Another option is the 4-7-8 breath technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. Click here for more information. Because scripture places great emphasis on breath and breathing, coming into worship with a conscious awareness of the gift of our breath is an excellent way to prepare for worship. Invite worshipers to repeat this prayer after breathing.
Thank you for the gift of breath, gracious God. Help me to be conscious of this gift as a reminder of the peace that Jesus breathed on his disciples and of the breath-wind of your Holy Spirit that moves in my life. Amen.
You might also consider using the simple song “Breathe in peace; breathe out love.” Check out this YouTube video that provides the simple lyrics as well as the drone part.
Invite your youth to practice the art of “pop-up” scruffy hospitality by setting up an ice-cream or other frozen treat stand (or a fresh lemonade stand) for the neighbors around your congregation. Do the minimal amount of planning possible to have the necessary ingredients on hand for this “pop-up” shop. Have some markers and poster board to make signs of invitation for the free treats. Show them that it doesn’t take a major effort to be neighborly and show hospitality to strangers. After you’ve dispensed your treats and cleaned up, spend a little time debriefing about how it went. Look for examples of where youth found ways to interact or talk with others in this simple act of hospitality.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 10:41-42 – 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.”
(Note: Reading this article about how elementary schools in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are using mindfulness techniques may be helpful for you to prepare for this children’s time. You will also want to read about the mindful jar activity in this article and have one prepared for your children’s time.)
Ask the children if they ever have a difficult time focusing, on giving their full attention to the present moment or activity. Most of us do have a tough time being truly present. In fact, some schools are teaching practices to help students focus and be fully present. Jesus wanted Martha to quit worrying and quit being so distracted and be present with her sister Mary.
Say to the children, “I wonder if it would have been helpful to Martha if Jesus had used a mindful jar with her to help her calm her mind? Have you ever seen a mindful jar? Let’s try it!” Work through the simple exercise with the children. “Sometimes we just need to let all our busy thoughts and distractions settle down like the glitter did in this jar. Without distractions and a busy mind we can focus on the one thing that really matters, the one thing that is right in front of us.” Finish with a simple prayer and give them instructions to take home to make their own mindful jar.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
We learn from this week’s gospel lesson that stewardship is a balancing act that involves being fully present in the moment. How can you worship, learn, and serve this week in a balanced way that allows the light of Christ to shine through you for this world to see?
Stewardship at Home
Have you ever practiced “scruffy hospitality”? Maybe this was the kind of hospitality that Jesus was encouraging Martha to consider. Check out this article by Robin Shreeves from mnn.com and then make it a point to try your hand at scruffy hospitality with a combination of family, friends, and/or neighbors. Be sure to invite Jesus to be present at your scruffy party, too! After all, wherever two or more are gathered, he’s promised to show up.
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/07/dwelling-in-christ/
Images: gilliu00; JESUS MAFA, Art in the Christian Tradition; and Alex Holyoake, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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