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I wonder how many times you will check facebook while reading this: a sermon on worry and distraction
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on July 21, 2013



Christ Church Andover

Proper 11, Year C

July 21, 2013


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

Here we are again with the two sisters Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus who would be raised later on in scripture, but who are now, as Jesus and his companion sit in their house for dinner, showing off the side of the family interactions that no one particularly wants to hear or see, least of all, Jesus. In this gospel passage this morning, we hear again the story of Martha, serving the disciples dinner in her home, to-ing and fro-ing with plates and dishes and preparations, and of her sister Mary, who seemingly defies the normative standard for women of the day by sitting at the feet of Jesus with the disciples, listening to his teachings, instead of burying herself in the kitchen. There have been numerous riffs and interpretations of this story, and you can, in many ways when you enter into a church community, begin to discern who among its members is a Martha, and who is a Mary, almost as easily as one might be labeled in a vintage high school yearbook ‘jock’ or ‘nerd’ or ‘homecoming queen’.

But back to Jesus’ words to Martha, and to us: You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.

Some days I marvel that words nearly 2000 years old can still ring true to communities today. We imagine our lives now to be more inundated with things to distract us, with apps and updates, the economic crisis and global instability; witnessing injustice in many forms, and our online, couch-based activism in response. But there is something to be said that Jesus said these words to Martha, who had the role of serving, welcoming, providing for the motley crew of folks who followed Jesus from place to place during his ministry- perhaps distraction and worry is not a new evil to us, but one that takes on different forms and wears different disguises throughout eternity. It happens to the best of us, to the most organized, the most prepared, the ISTJs on the Myers Briggs, the most spiritually grounded. Worry and distraction are, at their core, about fear. Perhaps the fear is well intentioned: we’d like to provide honorably and sustainably for our families; we would like to live lives that are full and find enrichment, and share them with others, be they spouses or partners or children or friends. We would like to reach our own potential, whether it be about vocation, or love or cultivating our passions. Worry and distraction come into play when we fall away from the creative aspects of those various well-intentioned hopes, and become prey to the fear that our winning or losing those ‘battles’ (as we play it out in our heads) becomes the basis for evaluating our worth; our value; our belovedness to others and to God.

I’ve preached this before, and I’ll preach it again here today, because there is not one person here, myself absolutely included, who is immune to the fear that manifests itself in distraction and worry. But while we might argue over the things that Jesus said or meant, or implied, this is one of the few statements we have so straightforwardly placed in front of us, and yet regularly, pridefully, self-righteously, disdain to observe. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of one thing only.

In scripture, there are often little writing clues when people are about to make important pronouncements, little markers to the hearers of the time that something important was about to occur. When someone was going to be told something to do, usually that took them out of their normal routine or comfort zone, or when their lives would be turned upside down, the speaker uses their name twice. It happened to Mary; it happened to Abraham; to Moses; to Samuel. All called twice by the messengers bringing news of a new vocation for them, and it happens here: Martha, Martha. And it is a call to new life for us, to be straightforwardly told that we are distracted and worried, and that those two words interfere somehow with our participation in the divine, in our ability to be in close proximity with God in Christ, with Jesus, and yet fully apart. And we are reminded that there is a need for ‘one thing only’.

What is that one thing? That is the twenty-thousand dollar question for Martha and for us, although Jesus hints that Mary might be closer than we are. Does it mean that all the doing is wrong, as well as the do-ers? Does it mean that the Marthas of the world are not justified in their work, in their service? I don’t think so. I have been meditating on this phrase for the past week, and our labyrinth walkers were given it as one of our walking meditation lines on Thursday evening, and what has become apparent in that prayer is what worry and distraction can take away from us. When we are worried and distracted, when our lives are taken over by fear and agendas and worry and achievement (in whatever way one might interpret that) we forget that our lives are a gift from God. We miss the point that our being, and the beings around us, are gifts from a Creator who desires us to see our life as gift, and use it as such.

Perhaps we fall into the trap of thinking ourselves owners of our own experience, of our own destiny, and to a certain extent we are, considering the gift of free will. But at our core, at our essence, our tradition and scripture reminds us that we are God’s own, and that our being is grounded in God’s own being, made in God’s image as an extension of God’s creative love. The one thing perhaps we are meant to do, the need for ‘one thing only’ is to recall more often than we are prone to do, how to love as we are and have been loved from our creation. We have to recall how to love, as we are loved, and have been loved, from our creation. It means that we leave the minutiae, the worry, the goals, the checking balances and the unmade beds once in a while to be in a place where we can sit and be present to that one thing only, where we can surround ourselves with people also trying to recall who they are in the midst of a culture who repeatedly tries to tell us who we are and who we should be, and how with just a few purchases or online classes or a magical face cream, how much better we *can* be. It means that our perspective stems not from how we are doing in comparison to our neighbors and coworkers and friends and their curated facebook updates, but from a desire to embody a merciful and loving grace which we have been taught through the words and actions and being of Jesus Christ. It means that we can learn to discern what is essential from what is not essential—what holds truth and value and what suffices only as a sugar rush for the soul. It means that we step aside once in a while and remove ourselves from the fear and worry and distraction, because Lord knows that fear and distraction won’t step away and leave us.

Martha, Martha: you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need for one thing only. Good people of Christ Church and environs, we are worried and distracted by many things, there is need for one thing only. I pray that you too may set aside time—one of the most precious things we have in our lives these days—to ponder what that one thing is for you.


Last Published: July 23, 2013 2:03 PM