Tag Archives: Right-Relationship

One Thing (a.k.a. NOT Continuous Partial Attention!)

A Sermon for 21 July 2019 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Luke 10:38-42. Now, I know this text may sound familiar to many of us. And we immediately may read ourselves into this story. But we’re invited to try to listen anew today. To hear a fresh word from God to us in the reading of this story. Listen.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Before jumping into the sermon, I want to read this text again – this time from a version of the bible not quite as familiar. Perhaps this reading will continue to bring fresh insights regarding the story of these archetypal sisters Mary and Martha. Listen again.

“As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.” 41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, The Message)

This too is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In 2006, an article in the New York Times told this story. A man arrived at the airport in Paris looking for the driver who was to take him to his hotel. I’m sure the man was excited to be in the city of love. Exhausted from the long flight, but eager to take it all in! A French friend had arranged a taxi driver to pick him up at the airport. And as the traveler spotted the driver who was holding a sign with the traveler’s name on it, the traveler got a little worried. The driver appeared to be talking to himself – with great animation! Carrying on as if a little crazy while standing there holding the name of his rider on a sign. When the traveler fully approached; he realized the man, into whose hands he was about to place his life, wasn’t suffering some psychosis. He just was deep in conversation with whoever was on the other end of the Bluetooth device that was shoved into his ear. Lots of people pass the time at airports on their devices. It’s no big surprise that the driver would be talking as he waited. The thing that disturbed his rider-to-be was that as the traveler pointed to himself that he was indeed the one named on the driver’s sign; the driver motioned to the exit for his rider to follow behind him. Arriving at the car; the driver took the man’s bag, placed it in the back of the taxi, got himself into the car, and kept right on talking to whoever was on the other end of the phone. Reluctantly the rider entered the taxi – willing it all to be alright despite the hour-long ride that lay ahead into the heart of the city. Inching in the taxi away from the busy airport, the rider noticed the driver continuously checking the monitor on the dashboard. Where he thought the GPS map to the hotel would be, the rider noticed the driver was watching a movie. Maneuvering a taxi out of Paris’ busiest airport, animatedly holding an in-depth conversation with someone on the other end of the Bluetooth phone, and all the while watching some sort of movie; the rider realized the age of small cabbie talk was over. He sat back, pulled out his laptop to finish some work, and plugged in his I-Pod to listen to his favorite Stevie Nicks playlist. In the New York Time’s article, the rider notes: “The driver and I had been together for an hour, and between the two of us we (simultaneously) had been doing six different things. He was driving, talking on his phone, and watching a video. I was riding, working on my laptop, and listening to my iPod. There was only one thing we never did: Talk to each other” (https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/01/opinion/01friedman.html).

It was 2006. A full year before the first iPhone hit the market. Years would pass before most of us knew about apps and cloud storage and google assist. Nonetheless, a technologist named Linda Stone already had “labeled the disease of the Internet age ‘continuous partial attention’ — two people doing six things, devoting only partial attention to each one — she remarked: ‘We’re so accessible, we’re inaccessible. We can’t find the off switch on our devices or on ourselves.’” She wrote: “’We want to wear an iPod as much to listen to our own playlists as to block out the rest of the world and protect ourselves from all that noise.’” Stone stated: “’We are everywhere — except where we actually physically are.’” (Ibid.).

If we think we’re the first to live in an age full of so very many distractions, then we may hear the story of Jesus and the two sisters as a cautionary tale about the balance between stopping and going. Doing and being. The contemplative life versus the active, servant life. I’ve heard it all before. If you’re a woman whose spent any time in your life in a Women’s Bible Study, then I bet you’ve heard it all before too. The archetypal energy of Mary – being at the feet of Jesus. Soaking in his wisdom. Quieting herself in the attitude of humble listening. And don’t forget Martha. The archetype of the super woman sister who gets it all done. This is the energy of the good church woman who surpasses those little energizer bunnies in all she is able to do. Whipping up homemade treats for fellowship time. Hosting a visiting youth group in her beautiful home. Serving on all ten church committees – always the first to open the building and the last to lock up after everyone else has gone. Marthas organize church fundraisers, and take homecooked meals to the homebound, and provide sit down dinners after funerals, and sing in the choir – likely as the one assisting the director with any organizational needs. Marthas are the first to say yes to whatever ministry requests the pastor brings their way – which is part of why I LOVE Marthas and know at heart, I’m one myself! And remember we do not have to be women to take on one or the other of these iconic church roles. Men can be Marys – spending their time digging into Scripture as surely as they can be Marthas tending to every last church-task ever needed. If we think we’re the only ones to live in an age where we keep ourselves busy with a zillion different things at once, then we miss the true caution of the story recorded in the gospel of Luke. The time Jesus warmly was welcomed into the home of his good friend Martha.

Reader beware. The words at the close of the parable directly before the story of Martha clanging the pans in the kitchen while her sister leaves her alone to tend every last detail for the impromptu dinner party featuring the Ultimate Host. Right before the gospel of Luke tells of Jesus commending Mary for having chosen wisely, the gospel of Luke records the final words of the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Go and DO likewise,” Jesus tells a lawyer who wants to know what love looks like (Luke 10:37). Do, Jesus says! So that we most certainly miss the point if we think Jesus turns right around to head into the presence of Mary and Martha in order to chastise Martha for the doing of discipleship. The story of Mary and Martha is not at all about some ancient dichotomy between being and doing. Resting and going. Listening and putting God’s love into action. The story of Mary and Martha is about how we are. The state in which we exist whether we are soaking in beautiful words of Scripture or scrubbing pans after the latest church potluck. Are we in a state of continuous partial attention? Or are we razor-sharp focused on the one thing right before us? Are we truly where we are when we’re there – consenting to be on the red X under our feet? Or are we fragmented all over the place – doing a bunch of different things at once? Are we thinking about the past and worried about the future, or are we fully in the here and now?

One thing only is essential,” Jesus proclaims in the second version I read of this gospel of Luke story (Luke 10:42a, The Message). One thing.

Continuous partial attention – which may look a little different in Jesus’ day than it does in our digital world. Nonetheless, continuous partial attention – like prepping the table while you’re trying to pour beverages for everyone and watching the pot over the stove and trying to overhear the conversation in the other room and checking the recipe to see which ingredient needs to be added next. Continuous partial attention like driving a taxi cab and talking with someone else and watching a movie on the dash board all at the same time is about as disastrous as sitting down to pray while you try to catch the breaking news on the television, sip your morning beverage, and wonder what you need to pull out of the freezer for dinner. It’s about as disastrous as picking up a call from your friend while the dog’s scratching at the door to come inside, the child or grandchild is pulling at your leg for a snack, and your trying to sort the stack of mail that has overtaken the kitchen counter.

One thing, Jesus says. One thing. Why? Because in addition to the obvious strain continuous partial attention has upon our brains and our bodies, listen to what happens. Not only in the home back in that little village of Jesus’ day, but also in the cars and homes and spaces in which we find ourselves every day today. Alienation. Dis-connection. The breaking of true relationship. Martha’s distracted doing separates her from Jesus. It puts her at odds with her sister. It makes her into some angry monster no one really wants to be around. We are made to be in right relationship with God, others, and our very selves. But all our distracted doing – all our continuous partial attention breaks right relationship. It takes us from True Presence to zap the joy right out of our heres and nows.

One thing only is needed. One thing. Do this and rightly Live.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit. Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Relationship

A Sermon for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday

A reading from the wisdom of the Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth –when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

It’s Trinity Sunday. The day every year when the church tries to explain the inexplicable. We’re ambitious like that! . . . Trinity: lots of people like to think of it as the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who sustains. The God who is beyond us, the God who lived among us as one of us, and the God who lives in all. One God, in three persons. If you’ve studied up on all this ever, then you likely already know that in ancient acting, a few actors would play various personas throughout a drama. That’s where the three persons words for Trinity comes from. Our One God, who is known to us in three personas – three distinct characters in the drama of this thing called life. . . . As ancient creedal language puts it: the Father who begets the Son; and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who with them is worshipped and glorified! . . . I remember protons, neutrons, and electrons from high school science, don’t you? We can understand that all living things are not solitary. Even before the explorations of modern science, anyone could look at the world and see things that were one, but three. Take a bird for instance. It has a beak, wings, and tail feathers. Three different parts; but it’s all one bird. And, in fact, without all three parts, it wouldn’t really be a bird. . . . God is kinda like that. Three distinct parts: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; YHWH the almighty One, Jesus Christ the embodied Word, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. God is all these. All these are God – three, but One: Trinity.

It’s a mystery. And I think a great children’s book gives us insight. It’s called: God is Like a Mother Hen and Much, Much More (by Carolyn Stahl Bohler). I wish I could show you the pictures, but it’s kinda a small book and I didn’t think you’d all be willing to scrunch up here together on the floor, so you’ll just have to hear the words today. “God is like a Mother Hen,” the book begins as the opposite page has a picture of a momma chicken with her chicks. Gently gathering them under her wings the page reads: “who protects her little chicks.” Turning the page we see: “God is like a Caring Daddy, who listens really well. God is like a Teacher, who smiles and says, ‘Try again’” – cuz the lil chic at the chalk board wrote four as the answer for one plus two. God’s like that. We’re all learners in this journey of life; everyone makes mistakes. “Try again,” smiles our Teacher God. As the book continues we learn that: “God is like a Best Friend, who plays and shares with you. God is like a Mommy, who kisses all your hurts. God is like the Air, right there, but you can’t see it.” The little chic on the drawing is skipping in the sunshine of the great outdoors saying: “The air keeps us alive!” The next page reads: “God is like a Child, who loves to have surprises.” Then “God is like You. Sometimes crying, sometimes laughing. God’s Love is like a Teddy Bear’s, ready for snuggling at night.” Then the book states: “Can YOU think of what else God is like?” The caption is: “Fill in using your imagination.” . . . “God is like a Mother Hen, a Caring Daddy, a Smiling Teacher, a Best Friend, a Mommy kissing hurts, the Air you can’t see, a Child loving surprises; You, crying or laughing; a Teddy Bear’s Love, blank” where you fill in what you named God with your imagination, “and much, much more!” God is like a Mother Hen and so very much more! . . . Solid rock, scripture attests. Good Shepherd. Forgiving Judge. Intimate Presence. The Way of Peace. And so very much, much more. All of these together; yet none of these in full. Known to us and Unknown to us all at the same time. The Triune God is so very much, much more. All the different metaphors give us a great way to experience – not to mention speak to others about this One-in-Three that we love.

In Proverbs we get a different kind of peek at our amazing God. That part of God which is wisdom. “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals” – in other words: everywhere! “She cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live’” (Prov. 8:2-3). . . . In the Hebrew language, wisdom is associated with the feminine. The Spirit of God that is a part with God at the very beginning. . . . In the Greek, wisdom gets linked with the Word, Logos, masculine and a foreshadow of the Word embodied in the male figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Proverbs links wisdom much more with what we might understand as God’s Spirit. The force with God in creation. She declares in joy that “when God established the heavens, I was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep, when God made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep, when God assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress God’s command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God, like a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race” (Prov. 8:27-31).

What a beautiful tribute to God! Logically, we know God cannot just be One: nothing living is entirely solitary. If any of this magnificent creation ever was going to be, God has to be more than just one part. The creative force in synergy with itself causing something to come to be. It’s why in the first creation story of Genesis 1, God speaks thus: “’Let us make (humankind) in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Even then, we declare God is an us – One but more than one. Creating a whole world to be one – no single solitary thing – but beautiful in the distinctness of each. . . . Isn’t it a wonderful image of the Spirit of God creating while the wisdom of God is celebrating it all? . . . Maybe you grew up with the triangle view of God. One at the top point, typically what was referred to as God the Father, or God the Creator. The Son and Spirit, not quiet as important, were at the points down below. For centuries, it was a popular way for the Church of the Western world to visualize God. But tucked back away in the Eastern Church was a different kind of image. One that’s slowly making it’s way into the West, which I think is a really good thing as it seems a bit more biblical. You might have heard me say it before, and I first ran across this great truth in Shirley Guthrie’s book Christian Doctrine, which some of you have been studying all year. It’s the perichoresis of God. In this image of Trinity, God is like three distinct circles – equal is shape and size. (Kinda like the image on the front cover of the bulletin.) An interconnected one with all three. There’s really not one that predominates another. Rather this image of Trinity connotes the mutual dance of God. Love itself. Three intertwined dancers twirling about with each other in flawless delight. It gives us a better picture of the One God who is involved in every aspect of the God who is creating and redeeming and sustaining. For in truth, we can’t have one function without the other and still have God as we know God.

And so in mutual delight, we know the Almighty Creator . . . whose final word always is Life. Who makes covenant with a people to be a light to all the nations. Who speaks through the prophets to call us back to faithfulness. Who never-ever will let us go; even when it’s what we really do deserve. . . . We love God the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who’s life, death, and resurrection sets us free from all that would bind. Sets us free for Life here and now and forevermore. Who shows us what it looks like to live as God. Who teaches. Who heals. Who feeds. Who celebrates every aspect of human living and welcomes the entire eclectic array – men, women, and children. Young, old and everyone in between. Not just those like himself of Jewish descent: but those of all lands, every tongue, all economic situations. We love God the Son who is our Way, our Truth, and our very Life. . . . And we celebrate God the Holy Spirit. Who powerfully comes among us. Who is our courage and strength. Who lives in every little finger and toe of our bodies. And who lives beyond us in all things living – sometimes known as the very breath of God enlivening all creation. The greening, viriditas force that is alive in all. Celebrating it all as does the Spirit of God, according to Proverbs. The Spirit of the Risen Christ, who guides us into all Truth that we might live in like manner. Who revives us when we are weary and gives to us that great zest for life. . . . Our God, the great Trinity; One yet three, and so very, very much more!

Whether we get it up here (in our brains) or not, it’s the One in whose name we all were baptized – the one in whose image we all were made. No single solitary thing, so that we know we too are not one entirely on our own – whether we want to be or not. Made in the image of the God who is in relationship in God’s very self, we are connected to everything else that lives: in relationship with it all, to be in mutual delight. One with all creation, even as is our God. . . . At the end of the day, whether we understand the mystery or not; our call is to give God praise. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer! The God who is beyond us, who lived among us, and who lives in all. To the Mysterious, Holy Trinity, we give praise forevermore!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)