The One Thing by Vicar Atticus
Proper 11C 2019
In the name of God, Amen.
Good morning St Luke’s! I am so happy to be here with you this morning. This is our first Sunday together, and my heart is full of hope and excitement and gratitude for the coming year.
As some of you probably know, I am engaged, and right now, my fiancée Emily and I are in the thick of preparations ahead of our wedding in September. In June, my closest friends decided to throw me a “stag party.” Nine of us rented this awesome country house with a swimming pool and grill in Woodstock, NY, where Emily and I actually had our first weekend together, and we literally just hung out all weekend. We swam, ate delicious food, told stories... and had a few drinks!
When we all arrived, my sister, Zed, started to unload her car. Load after load kept coming, and my eyes kept widening. She brought everything- food for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, snacks, garnishes, candles, tools for grilling. Bug spray, soap, sponges, paper towels, laundry detergent. Anything you could think of that you *might* need on such a weekend!
Once we all got settled, Zed’s job began. All weekend, my sister labored in the kitchen to cook us gourmet meals--they were scrumptious and everything that came out of the kitchen was presented with such beauty and artistry. She made us cocktails that none of us had ever heard of but that made us feel like we were movie stars. We were all in awe, time and again. Zed didn’t leave the kitchen a whole lot, since her work was so intensive, but many of us would meander into the kitchen, offer to help out for a while, and chat and joke with her while her masterpiece was unfolding.
It was so fun, such an amazing time, and we all just couldn’t stop saying Thank you.
Martha knows what it’s like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In the Jesus movement, we know that Jesus and his disciples went from house to house, and relied on the generosity of friends and strangers, to provide for them. There, he would teach about the urgency of the coming of the kindom of Heaven, proclaiming forgiveness of sins and salvation for all.
People typically read the passage from today as pitting Martha and Mary against each other, or as demonstrating right action from wrong action--but I see something else happening.
Here we have two disciples of Jesus: Mary and Martha. Martha is offering table service and food preparation. Mary is listening to the Lord in quiet contemplation, and taking it all in. We might hear in Jesus’ voice chastisement of Martha’s busyness, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. Jesus isn’t saying that it’s better to listen and study and pray than it is to serve. Remember last week, the last words from Jesus after telling the story of the Good Samaritan? “Go and do likewise,” he said. And later, Jesus identifies himself as “the one who serves.” Jesus valued service perhaps more highly than any other form of ministry. It’s not about what either sister is doing. It’s how they’re doing it.
Jesus can see that Martha is distracted. He is just trying to get Martha to wake up from her stupor of busyness to see “the one thing”-- which is: the presence of God in our lives.
At the end of my bachelor weekend, I found myself alone with my sister, and trying the best I could to articulate my deep thankfulness for all her labor. She said she was happy to do it, and that she could see how much we all appreciated it. Then she said, “You know, I think I’ve discovered that that’s my love language. Cooking for people and making them feel cared for and attended to. That’s how I show my love.”
In the early 1990s, scholar and Baptist minister Gary Chapman came up with a way to understand the different ways that people express love, and he discerned five of them. Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gift-Giving, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. We all lean more towards one or two of them when we give love, and we have one or two in which we like to receive love. For me, I like to show love in giving gifts and physical touch. And I like to receive love in quality time and acts of service. I encourage you to think about which are your languages of love- and to ask your intimates about theirs- it can be eye-opening.
But the thing about each language, is that the message, the “I love you,” simply does not get across if it lacks one vital component: attention. If we spend time with someone but are somewhere else in our minds; if when we hug someone, yet lack feeling; if we compulsively buy gifts or flowers without focusing on the reason we do it; if we dole out compliments without truly seeing the person; and... if we cook and prepare a meal for guests while being consumed with our own worries and distractions… we’re not communicating love, because we’re not paying attention.
So what is the “one thing” that Jesus says there’s need of? I think we find out what that is when we’re paying attention. When we’re paying attention, we find out that who we’re spending time with, who we’re hugging, who we’re offering gifts to, who we’re affirming, who we’re cooking for, is GOD. We are loving Jesus in each other, and God is there witnessing all of it.
Maybe that’s why Simone Weil once said, “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”
We’re all busy, there’s a lot that competes for our attention each day. We all can be like Martha. I know I can get trapped in loops of errands and tasks, and distract myself with my phone or computer, from the present moment. All that distraction? It’s meant to carry us away from what's most important.
And the thing is, sometimes, it’s tough to pay attention. Because what’s going on in our personal lives or in the life of our community is hard, and painful. I haven’t walked through this with you, but I know that you have been through a lot this year. You’ve lost your pastor, and that is a tough thing to go through… I know you have worked through a lot, and there may be more to process. Please don’t think you have to work through it alone.
It can hurt to pay attention when what’s present is grief and sadness. And we know, it must have hurt for the disciples to pay attention when Jesus told them he was going to die. There might be a temptation in times of grief and sadness to find distractions. But here, Jesus is telling us, “Pay attention. Pay attention to me, and pay attention to each other.”
At St. Luke’s, people have different roles: I know there’s Sharing Supper, Clothing Closet, Music and Worship ministry, Acolytes, Home visits, Card ministry, I’m sure I’ll learn about more, and maybe we’ll build more together! However you are serving, whether in an official ministry of the church, or in your ministry of daily life, every once in a while, maybe stop, take a breath, and ask, “Where is my attention?”
To close, I want to lead you in a short exercise. I want you to turn and find a neighbor... If you don’t find someone, you can look at me. Once you’ve found your person, meet them with your eyes. Just look. I don’t want you to say anything, I don’t even want you to smile. Just look. And now take a deep breath.
There it is, the reign of heaven.
And that is what we’re missing when we don’t pay attention.