Clearing Away the Distractions -- Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost (repost)
I'm on vacation this Sunday, so I'm sharing a sermon I originally preached on July 21, 2013. I had just returned from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. At that meeting the Assembly took up an important resolution calling on the Church to be a people of Welcome and Graciousness. At the heart of that resolution was the call to be inclusive of all, especially those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. Since then Central Woodward Christian Church took up that call and chose to become Open and Affirming. I invite you to read and meditate on this story from Luke, where Jesus pays a visit to the home of Martha and Mary.
We’ve been hearing a lot about distracted drivers lately. Everyone is talking on their cell phones or texting. We thought that hands-free devices would make us safer, but apparently, they’re just as bad. It’s not about the hands, it’s about where we place our attention.
Of course, sometimes we become distracted by worrying about distracted drivers. The other day I was driving home from the church along Wattles. I noticed that the young woman in the car next to me was texting. I got to thinking – that’s illegal. It’s dangerous. She should stop that immediately! But when I turned my head and mind back to the road ahead I discovered that the traffic had slowed down, and I nearly hit the car in front of me. Yes, we can get distracted by worrying about the distracted ones.
There are many kinds of distractions in our world, some of which are spiritual in nature.
On the opening night of the General Assembly, my friend of many years and a college classmate, Glen Miles, was the preacher. It was a fine sermon, a powerful sermon. In this sermon, Glen, who is serving as Moderator of the Disciples for the next two years, called on the Church to be passionate and courageous about the things of God. In doing this, he diagnosed a spiritual malady that hinders our ability to hear God’s Word to the Church. It’s called SADD or Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.
According to Luke, Jesus and his disciples entered a village and a woman named Martha welcomed them into her house. As soon as they enter the house she gets busy in the kitchen preparing a meal. Luke doesn’t say anything about how elaborate a meal she tries to fix, but after a time she comes looking for her sister Mary, who is sitting at the feet of Jesus. She has taken up the position of a disciple and is listening closely to Jesus’ teachings. This is a rather radical thing to do, because Rabbis didn’t generally allow women to become disciples.
You know the story – when Martha discovers that her sister is sitting with the disciples, listening to Jesus, she gets rather upset. She goes to Jesus and demands that he send Mary back to the kitchen so she can help with the meal.
As you can see, Jesus didn’t go along with Martha’s request. Instead of telling Mary to got to the kitchen, he commends Mary for choosing the better way. It’s not that Martha is doing anything wrong, or that showing hospitality is inappropriate, but Jesus wants Martha to understand, that in her busyness – because she has allowed herself to be distracted by the details of the meal – she’s not able to hear the Word of God.
Yes, Martha is suffering from Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.
In his sermon, Glen talked about our tendency to live in the shallow waters, the safe waters, where we easily become distracted by little things. He challenged us to take the boat out into the deeper waters and let down the nets so that we can dive into the deeper things of God. He reminded us that too often we get distracted by little things, which we quarrel about, and in the midst of our quarrels, we fail to hear the Word that God is speaking to us.
As you may know, later in the week, the General Assembly took up a resolution that called on the church to become a people of Welcome and Graciousness to all – no matter their race, their gender, their economic status, or their sexual orientation. Time and again we heard the message that the Table of the Lord, at which we gather, it is open to all. And we also heard throughout the week that “all means all.”
The conversation about who is welcome at the Table isn’t a new one. When it comes to sexual orientation, this debate has been going on for at least four decades. So, when we cleared away all the distractions, what was it that God saying? By a sizable majority, the General Assembly answered – we were hearing God say to us – let us be truly welcoming and gracious to all, and that means all! I know that not everyone was in agreement. It’s rare for that to be true. There were those who wanted us to simply drop the subject in the name of unity. But, it seemed clear to many of us that God was saying – now is the time to act so that everyone will experience the welcoming grace of God.
Martha probably had a right to complain, but then maybe she was trying too hard to impress. Remember. Jesus doesn’t seem too interested in fancy banquets. Like the current Pope, Jesus preferred the simple things. Besides, Jesus had found a way to feed the multitude with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. More important, as we hear Jesus say in the Gospel of John:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51 NRSV).
As Church we can allow ourselves to suffer from SADD and get distracted from the mission of God. Martha was doing a good thing, but Mary had chosen the better way. She has chosen the way of the disciple, the way of God’s realm. Which way will you choose?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
9th Sunday after Pentecost
July 21, 2013