Scripture – Luke 10:38-42 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
It’s become so dangerous that now the police are involved. Parents are being coached. Kids are being warned. Adults who participate have been admonished to keep their wits about them. All must be very careful so as not to get lost or injure themselves or put themselves in danger. Last week the news story raising awareness about it shared top billing with the memorial in Dallas, Bernie’s endorsement, and the choice of vice presidential candidates. No, it wasn’t sharks in the water, not the Zika virus, not even leaving your kids or your pets in a hot car in the middle of July. The latest hazard is walking with our heads down playing the new cell phone game sensation Pokemon Go.
I’ll leave it to you to download the app and learn all about it, but what it comes down to, literally what it comes “down” to, is that people of all ages are walking all over tarnation looking down at their phones absorbed in this game. Players are walking into other people, into the street and its oncoming cars, into the woods at night falling prey to whomever and whatever may be lurking there and, in at least one case, right into the hands of a pack of young robbers waiting intentionally in a popular street spot to pounce on the distracted.
It’s a great game. It’s fun to play. The technological innovation built into it is mesmerizing. But the players are totally distracted from what’s happening in the real world around them, so much so that last week a local police chief was on TV offering tips to parents and kids and adults alike to pay attention.
This is a lot like Jesus’ reply to Martha in our passage this morning. Martha is doing what all of us have learned is important when it comes to Jesus and serving him. Offer a wide welcome and lavish hospitality. In fact, scholars point out that it is no mistake that this story of the sisters Mary and Martha immediately follows the parable of the Good Samaritan which we read last week. You may remember that a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him to read the law in front of him and he does: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s right, says Jesus, and to illustrate loving neighbor, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Love your neighbor. Serve others. Welcome the stranger. That’s exactly what Martha is doing. But her story, which follows the Good Samaritan, illustrates that we must love God, too.
Martha is not doing anything wrong. New Testament Professor Matthew Skinner writes that Jesus “cannot criticize Martha because she chooses to offer diligent service in the ‘many tasks’ that need to be done to provide for her guest(s) and household. Such tasks are themselves manifestations of discipleship. Her problem lies, in this instance, in succumbing to distraction while performing them.”
Her problem lies in succumbing to distraction while performing them. If Martha and Mary were expecting Jesus today, it is very likely that Martha would have ordered out, not necessarily to spend more time with Jesus, but because we’ve become too busy even to cook. (In fact, I saw a bus stop ad in New York recently for a meal home delivery service that said: Cooking dinner tonight? That’s so New Jersey!) I wonder if today, while Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, looking up at him as he spoke, and while Martha was absent-mindedly pulling out paper plates in the kitchen, if her head would be down, still distracted 2000 years later, with Pokemon Go being the least of it. She would need to check her email, to see how many likes she got on her Facebook posting, to place her online order before Amazon Prime’s special sale day was over and to respond to the myriad of text messages dinging for her attention. Head down, thumbs pressing, totally distracted from what’s happening out in the living room with Mary and Jesus.
We all know it’s not just cell phones, my friends. The flow and availability of information vying for our attention has skyrocketed. And with it, the pressure to continuously fit more in, in every realm of life, from rearing children to advancing careers, even to retiring “right”. I have noticed the format of information flow on national television news networks, precisely because I am so easily distracted. Tune in today and there are at least four sources of information happening at once on the TV screen. There is the talking head on the left doing the reporting; there is a second screen broadcasting live, but silently, from another location; to the far right is a clock counting down to the next big news event to be covered; on the bottom there at least three lines either scrolling by or flashing or changing as the video screens change. Who’s talking, what they just said, and the rest of the news not being currently addressed repeatedly scrolling past. I’m getting a headache just talking about it.
Presumably this is the way we can all keep up simultaneously with the latest tornado, the political blunder spouted that afternoon, the amassing of protesters in a city somewhere else, and what’s still on tap for tonight plus what you missed earlier in the day….and more! If you’re in the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table at the same time AND keeping your head down to see your cellphone, it’s no wonder we’re crashing into each other and it’s no wonder we’re getting testy…Excuse me, Jesus, don’t you care that my head is spinning around right now?
Since the time of Mary and Martha, all that has really changed is the nature of the distraction. I’ve been thinking about this (can you tell?) and I’m also wondering about the speed of it all. We get responses to our texts and posts and emails way more quickly than we perceive getting a response from God…It feels so much more efficient to communicate instantly as we do now, to accomplish so much so more quickly with the press of an online button, than to quiet ourselves and simply sit at the feet of Jesus awaiting a word from God.
I also wonder if we are afraid to stop and therefore let our guard down for fear of feeling guilty, or that we’ll collapse, or we won’t be able to stop crying, or we’ll never get up again. Martha has worked herself up to a frenzy in the kitchen, a hostess tizzy, and has forgotten the true task at hand, to welcome and to serve her Lord Jesus.
Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Only one necessary thing. My friends, we need to ask ourselves this morning, to what extent are we allowing all the unnecessary things to hold our attention. What is distracting us? What has us worried to the point that we can’t stop and take a breath and utter a silent prayer to God? It may be different for each one of us… this morning we are called not to pit the roles of servant and contemplative against each other, not to decide whether doing or being is better than the other, because both are desired by God, but to turn off the distractions, even for just a moment, to identify for ourselves how we can become full and present disciples, serving neighbor and loving God.
I fear what it will take to raise our heads back up again. For many living distractedly, no matter the form, it takes a close call or a brush with death, or a terminal diagnosis – our own or someone we love, or a failed relationship, something that unceremoniously grabs our attention and finally moves us to lay down the unnecessary things to focus on the grace of God. What will it take for us to put down, shut down, turn off our distractions just to spend time in the presence of God?
The good news for us is that God is infinitely patient and will wait in the living room for us for as long as it takes. And we have the additional good fortune of thinking about this during our summer Sabbath time, when things do tend to slow down and hopefully do get quiet. So let us all take a moment like Mary and sit down in the living room and lift up our heads. We won’t be able to see Jesus otherwise. Amen.