Paying Attention

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 17 July 2010

((Genesis 18:1-10   Psalm 15   Colossians 1:15-28   Luke 10:38-42)

“Paying attention”

It usually begins when the doorbell rings and through the window, you see an old friend, or a longtime acquaintance. They come in, and you offer them something to drink, and then say, “How about staying for dinner?” And the minute they say “yes” your mind goes a mile a minute, trying to remember what you have in the refrigerator or what might be quick to prepare.  You smile and say, “ wow, it’s great to see you” as you excuse yourself and head toward the basement, hoping and  praying there is something in the freezer you have down there for just such occasions!

When Jesus decided to drop in on Martha and Mary, Martha’s first impulse was to get something going in the kitchen.  In doing this, she was being faithful to the tradition of hospitality, which was an important part of Jewish tradition.  And, I am sure, Martha expected Mary to come and help her get something ready for this visitor.  Martha’s expectation did not include Mary’s plopping herself down on the rug at Jesus’ feet and leaving all the work for her.

According to the story, however, that is exactly what Mary did!   Mary was in no hurry to come into the kitchen.  While Martha was flipping through cookbooks looking for an easy meal, boiling the water, chopping up some vegetables and setting the table, Mary was settled down at the feet of their friend and guest, attentive to what he was saying.  In fact, this was the position of a disciple learning from a teacher.  Mary was content, but who could blame Martha for banging a few pots and putting the plates onto the table with a noisy thump!

We really do not know how long this went on before Martha finally reached her limit of selfless tolerance and interrupted to ask if Jesus even cared about the injustice his presence had caused.

The greatest difficulty for me in interpreting this text is our tendency to make this into an either/or situation.   When Jesus says that, “…Mary has chosen the better part…” it’s not that Martha is wrong in her hospitality, but what the “bigger” message is, that in all we do, in all the service we provide, in all the mission trips and work camps we go to, in all the church meetings we attend, Jesus is saying something about the ordering of our lives.

Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary clarifies, reminds us of the nature of Christian community, in that a community that is hospitable to Christ is a community marked by the attention the community gives to God’s Word.

A church that has been led to be “worried about many things” inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shadows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution.  Decisions will be made without a clear recognition of God’s Spirit.  Food and drink will appear at the table without Christ being recognized in the breaking of the bread.  Social issues may be addressed but the Gospel will be missed.

We are not here simply to crank out the business of the church, but rather, to be attentive to God’s Word in all things, because it is in being attentive to God’s word which is “…the one thing…which will not be taken away.”

When we are led to position ourselves at Christ’s feet—reading scripture together, wrestling with meaning, studying and nurturing a faith that seeks understanding—even then the details and struggles of community can resound with Good News!

Every pastoral call, every encounter with another member or a visitors or a stranger is an opportunity to listen for God’s Word and experience God’s Good News!

I wonder how many of you can remember a time from your school days when you found yourself daydreaming or writing a note to your newest heartthrob, and the teacher would look your way and say in a very loud and firm voice:  “Pay attention!!”?

Paying attention is pretty much what it’s all about when it comes to our life with God—paying attention to God’s Word.

Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said that 80% of success is just showing up?  Might it be correct to say that 80% of who we are as Christians is being attentive to God’s Word, so that in the other 20%, in the work we do, it is guided and led and directed by the Word of God!

It was Martin Luther who said something like, “When I get so overwhelmed with work that I don’t know what to do next, it’s then that I spend an additional hour studying God’s Word!”

Last week we heard the lawyers’ question to Jesus:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The gospel writer Luke then inserts the story of the Good Samaritan, as the first part of the answer. “See one another as neighbor!  Respond to each other as neighbor!”  But then, immediately after that, Luke puts this story of Martha and Mary.  And I really think today’s text is the second part of the answer to the lawyer’s question.  The first part is the “see your neighbor, respond to your neighbor!”  But the second part of the answer is “in all we do, pay attention to God’s Word; be rooted in the Word of God!

Only then do we recognize God’s Good News in all we do!

Discipleship, Christian community is not an EITHER/OR:  EITHER, come to worship, study the Bible, OR get involved in social justice; go on a mission trip.

Discipleship, eternal life is BOTH/AND:  BOTH, respond to the needs of neighbor, make justice the very core of your activity; AND, be rooted in God’s Word.

Pay attention!  Show up at the feet of Jesus!  Listen!

When you begin to feel overwhelmed   with all the ministry and work that needs to be done, spend extra time with God’s Word because that’s where we find our strength and our confidence and our hope.

Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic, said it this way:  “God is at home.  We are the ones out to lunch!” In other words, we often become lost in our daily activities, lost in our anxieties and fears, lost in our distractions and attachments.  The great Love of God is always there, waiting, abiding, and present.  We are called to pay attention to and be present to that gracious Presence and Love of God.

So, let’s not be out to lunch when God is at home.  Let’s show up to God’s Word , not because Woody Allen says “showing up” makes us successful, but because Jesus reminds us God’s Word is the very basis of our lives.  Amen.


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