Sermon for Lectionary 16C + Sunday, July 21, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester Massachusetts
Texts: Genesis 18:1-10a; Luke 10:38-42

Watch Here (Minute 21:24)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Do you ever remember a time YOU were distracted by many things?

I remember such a time …

It was the summer between my junior and senior years of college.

  • For my summer, full-time job, from 6:30am to 3:00pm Monday through Friday, I worked as a custodian in our local elementary school – cleaning desks, washing windows, scrubbing toilets – getting the school ready for the next school year.
  • In the evenings, I volunteered on a political campaign for a statewide race in the state of Iowa. There were times in the evenings I would drive the candidate two or three hours to an evening meeting across the state.
  • In addition to that, on other nights, I was the PA announcer for my brothers’ high school baseball home games. I introduced them and their teammates as they came to bat and played music between innings by choosing songs from CD’s, playing them in a boom box, and then holding my microphone in front of the speaker.
  • On top of all of that, I lived on a farm and there was hay and straw to bale, cattle to feed, and an assortment of other farm jobs that needed to be done.
  • If all that wasn’t enough, I was on our Church Council, serving as Council Secretary, and I was church organist playing the organ every Sunday.

Now, what’s important to remember about all of these things, because it’s important to remember in our Gospel reading today as well, is that in and of themselves, none of these things were bad things.  They were all good, and positive, and healthy things that served community in one way or another. But, doing them all at once, literally rushing from one thing to the next, both falling asleep and dragging myself out of bed bone tired, was not healthy or sustainable. Like Martha, I was distracted from health, and joy, and peace, by these many things.

One scholar suggests that today’s Gospel reading, compared to other stories of Jesus, offers a conflicting message about service and listening. In the gospel we find Martha distracted, running about checking on the food, setting the table, pouring beverages, making sure everything was perfect for Jesus, the great Rabbi and personal friend, who sat in their living room.

On the other hand, we find Mary, sitting with Jesus, giving him her attention, listening to his stories, and commended by Jesus for doing so.

From this story we might take that the message is that Jesus instructs us to listen rather than serve. Mark Ohlenburg, however, suggests that the contrast in today’s gospel is NOT between listening and service, the dichotomy is not between a busy Martha serving and a Mary busy listening to Jesus.

Rather, the choice is between focus and distraction: between Mary who was focused, and Martha who was distracted.  

Jesus did not say to Martha you are doing the wrongs things. Jesus would have known the importance of hospitality. He knew of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality for the Lord who appeared to them in the presence of the three angels – our First Reading this morning. In their hospitality they received the good news of the birth of a son.

And, it’s important to note, Jesus didn’t critique Martha until she first critiqued her sister. It was only after Martha said, “Lord, don’t you care that she just sits there and does nothing while I do all the work?” that Jesus critiqued Martha.

The very right and appropriate hospitality that Martha provided, was soiled and stained as she became distracted by the frustration, animosity, and jealousy she had for her sister.

The question today is not between listening and serving.

The question instead today, is whether we will allow our frustrations, fears, and motivations however good and right they might, and whether we will allow soundbites, tropes, memes, and other stuff spread on social media to distract us from one another, and tear apart the fabric of community between ourselves and others? Will we be a distracted people?

Or, will we remain focused on the living Word of God who is our unity, our peace, our hope, our healing, and our salvation?

Pastor James Honig warns that some distractions are easy to spot, while others are hidden and dangerous.  He suggests one way a congregation can become distracted is in a blur of congregational activity. He suggest that sometimes congregations see faithfulness and discipleship in abundant programming, bulletins overflowing with announcements, and parishioners hurrying from one task to the next. Activity is meant to serve mission, but instead he points out that far too often activity becomes mission.  If we see faithfulness in a “busy” church, perhaps we are really just a “distracted” church.

So, how do we avoid distractions and remain focused? In both our listening and our serving as individuals and as a congregation, how do we as disciples minimize distractions and remain focused on Christ?

First, it starts with realizing the most important thing we do here as a congregation is what we are doing right now: attending worship to gather together around Christ who speaks in Word and Sacrament. A few years ago the New England Synod had a campaign: “Doing What Matters.” This is here today is what matters: sitting together at the feet of Jesus, receiving Christ in Water and Word, in Bread and Cup, in hymns and liturgy and prayers spoken and sung.

If you ever wonder about how you can serve the congregation more, or you are weighing your involvement in the church – prioritize worship. Let other things go.  Like Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus and realize this is the most important thing we do here at Trinity.  To be a focused disciple, and a focused church, is to prioritize an experience of Jesus Christ in worship.

Because here’s the thing. Sitting at Jesus’s feet like Mary, the living Word that speaks to us forms us and shapes us to be the hands and feet of Christ’s hospitality and welcome in the world.  The living Word that speaks fills us and sends us into the world as the living hands and feet and body of Christ as a people of hospitality, especially for the poor, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner, the stranger and any and all in need.

Focused like Mary on the teachings of Christ, we are sent like Martha (minus the judgment of her sister), and like Abraham and Sarah, to be people of focused hospitality.

The Good News we celebrate today is the focused life of Christ.

Though we are far too often Martha’s – distracted by many things … Christ remains focused on us.

In the promises of baptism, and in the real presence of Christ in the meal, Christ announces his focus on us, Martha’s that we are, forgiving our sins, healing our hurts, inviting us to life lived in the Word of God. Here today, Christ promises that Christ remains focused on each of us, having named us, claimed us, and chosen us a full members of the communion of saints.

This is the Word that faith focuses on today. The unconditional grace and mercy of Christ poured out freely upon each of us. Focused like Mary on the passionate love of Christ, we sent forth like Martha in the private and personal actions of our lives, and in the public policies of our communities and nation, to reflect Christ’s compassion, to be the hospitality of Christ that gives life and healing to the world.

May the Holy Spirit focus you today.

Focused in faith like Mary, may you be bold to sit, listen, and receive the Word of God.

Focused in faith, may you join Martha and Abraham and Sarah in demonstrating compassioniate hospitality to all.

Thanks be to God.