July 21, 2013 “ 9 Pentecost, Proper 11 C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Maybe you had a school teacher who told you what mine told me: You have two ears and one mouth for a reason; you should listen twice as much as you talk.
Jesus sounds a bit like a school teacher scolding a trouble-making student today. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Maybe you hear that and think you’re being scolded unfairly or maybe you hear that and feel a sense of relief. It is both a challenge and a lifeline that Jesus hands out for us. We are worried and distracted by so many things. That keeps us from doing what we need to do. It keeps us from being grateful for our many gifts. It leads us, like it did Martha, to think less of those who seem to be working less than we are. It leads to resentment and harsh judgment of others. It leads us to miss out on grace. We all probably deserve a little scolding.
But we’re getting more than that in our scripture lessons today. The gospel is not just advice. Scripture tells us of salvation history and it provides great hope. It doesn’t just tell us how wrong we are; it offers us the right path; it shows that God comes to us to provide all that we need. The law, as Paul tells us so many times, just shows us how wrong we are. The cross and the resurrection show us how merciful and good God is. We need both. We need to see when we are talking too much and not listening. But God doesn’t just scold us. God offers the light in our darkness. The great power of the Incarnation of Christ is that God does not stay in heaven waiting for us to get it right. God comes to us to bring us into all that is right and good.
Maybe you’ve had a time when you were completely distracted by all your worries. Anxiety is a fierce spiral. Round and round we go, gaining speed as we go deeper and deeper into desperation. There is so much that could go wrong, so very little control we can exercise. We obsess and fret. The problems get bigger and bigger. The darkness pretty much closes around us. And then, sometimes it hits us that there just isn’t very much we can do about all that stuff we are worried about. Worrying does lead us to that truth: the problems are always bigger than us.
But very rarely are we left there. Usually what happens is that we see how stuck we are, we see the truth that the problem is bigger than us, and we surrender. We see we really can’t do anything and so we just quit fretting. It usually takes a long time but eventually we get to that place of surrender. The Twelve Steps talk about what happens when we reach that point. We see we can’t solve the whole mess so we just do the next right thing. We just focus on the one next thing that we can do. We tend to that and a whole new perspective comes about. Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. If you ever wonder where the Twelve Steps come from, it’s downright eerie how closely they are connected to the person of Jesus Christ. Hope is hope, then and now. The eternal message of salvation breaks into our lives.
There is need of only one thing. What a great relief it is to get to that place of revelation. I can’t do it all myself and I don’t have to. I just have to listen and do the next right thing, the one next thing that is right in front of me. That’s what I need to do. God is providing all the rest.
Sit down Martha. Listen. There is time later for all that scurrying around. Sit and listen to Jesus. That is the one thing that is right in front of you and you’re missing it. Wonderful things will literally fall into your lap but you’ve got to sit down for a while to provide a lap that it can all fall into. It’s a challenge and a lifeline that Jesus offers.
Years ago when I was doing my clinical training in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a huge and famous mental institution, I dealt with a lot of schizophrenics. One of them, Sallie, had a little less severe case and was a little more approachable. I could at least have a conversation with her. She rarely sat down, however, and she talked out loud to herself constantly. To talk with her, I had to kind of jump in between her comments. As if reading my mind one day, she said, You know why I talk all the time? I talk all the time because when I’m quiet the devil talks to me and I’d rather hear my voice than his. She scurried around all day and kept running at the mouth because the silence was so frightening for her.
Maybe we’re a little afraid of listening too. Maybe we’re afraid we might hear something we don’t want to hear. Maybe we fear the challenges God will put in front of us. But the promise of scripture, the promise of Jesus Christ, the eternal promise of the Almighty God, is that the voice beyond ours is the voice of peace and the voice of hope. When we listen, when we sit and make a space in our laps, we will hear the promise of God. Mary is listening to Jesus and she hears the hope offered. Martha is invited to listen more deeply and the same promise is extended to her.
A similar story played out many years earlier, a story told in our lesson from Genesis. Abraham and Sarah are given a promise, the promise of many children, the promise of a hopeful future. But the promise is delayed. Promises, we might note, cannot be kept immediately. There is always some waiting for a promise to be delivered. Promises are not only present realities; we realize them fully over a period of time. Abraham and Sarah wait and their hope wavers so God sends encouragement. Part of the way God keeps promises is to send encouragement. He doesn’t just say something and then leave us all alone. He continues to visit with us. In the Genesis lesson, three visitors come to Abraham and Sarah. They extend hospitality and a warm welcome and a message of hope is delivered. I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.
We don’t always get what we want in life but we always get the hope that God is providing what is best for us. Sometimes it is uncanny how we are provided exactly what we want and it mystically appears. Sometimes it takes not getting what we want to see that God has provided even better things for us. We have our wants and we struggle with them. If we listen, we will see that our deepest wants are already provided.
We want children, we want a good relationship, we want healing, we want security, we want fulfillment, we want peace, we want what we want. And we all have to wait. It doesn’t always turn out like we want it to but, in time, it turns out well. Hope involves a great deal of waiting, it involves those times of being lost in the reality that hardship is so much bigger than us and we can’t solve it all by ourselves. Hope turns on seeing there is need of only one thing, that there is just that one next right thing for us to do, and then God will provide all the rest. The one thing for us is to surrender, to quit our fretting, and to make space for Jesus Christ in our lives. Then all we ever hoped for is ours.