Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Paying Attention - First Sunday at St. John's

17 July 2016
Proper 11C
First Sunday at St. John’s 

I am excited to be with you all here this morning. Excited, nervous, blessed, joyful, just a few of the words that describe how I am feeling right now.  This opportunity, to be with you, as priest and fellow follower of Jesus, is a dream come true for me in many ways. 
I was very glad also when I saw what the gospel passage for this morning is the classic Martha and Mary story. In some ways this passage was always hard for me to understand. I was the oldest child in my family with two younger brothers, and no sisters. And neither of my brothers were ever going to volunteer in the kitchen... nor were they the types to sit around with guests and listen to them. 
The standard interpretation of this passage has to do with contemplation and action... sisters focused on different things. "The two have often been contrasted, contemplation versus action, prayer versus deeds." About whether in our lives we are Martha, worried about the presentation, worried about the work, or whether we are Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. "But this is a false dichotomy.  They are not really opposed; after all they are sisters.  Some spiritual guides try to connect the two by saying that what we plant in the ground of contemplation, we reap in the harvest of action," such as Meister Eckhart. But sisters, no matter how far apart they are in personality and practice, are sisters, and they are usually closer together in some ways than to anyone outside of the family. Contemplation and action are sisters and they are sisters that go hand in hand together. 
There is of course another dichotomy here, one between anxiety and peace. Martha is anxious and distracted while Mary is at peace in this scene. But in our world today, we need to focus less on the dichotomies, the differences between each of us, and more on the similarities. Our country, our world, is being pulled apart by the focus on the differences between us, race, gender, nationality, ability, and so on, but I want to focus instead on our commonalities. 
You may be wondering what similarity there is between Martha and Mary, they seem to be focused on such different things! The similarity between Mary and Martha in this passage is that they are both paying great attention. Martha is paying great attention to the details of offering Jesus and his friends hospitality and Mary is paying great attention to the overarching goal of hospitality. Both details and the overarching goal are necessary. The people do need to have a clean and properly prepared place and food to eat and Martha is making sure that will happen. Mary is making sure that Jesus and his disciples feel accepted and attended to by listening to them. They are both paying attention and being mindful of different aspects of hospitality. 
I do not want to judge either aspect of their attention. But it is only when Martha turns away from her details, notices something beyond her details of hospitality, does she complain. Jesus offers what sounds like a judgment and we are quick to jump on that train. We like when others are judged... because we want to judge and be judged (granted, we want to be judged well, to be noted for doing the right things, but that is still judgment). Martha knows what needs to be done, and there is ALWAYS work to be done. It never ends. There are always more things that can be done. And yet there are some things that really need our focus. Jesus highlights one of the essential notes of hospitality, to pay attention to another. 
Here at St. John's, There are details to be taken care of, but we need to spend some time together at the feet of Jesus – because that is the core of who we are and we won’t be able to get anything done together if we are not grounded in who we are in Christ. We come together here to focus on the things which will not be taken away from us – which are the things of God.
First, to remember who we are and who's we are. We are God's beloved children. The people God sent his Son into this messy world to save because he loves us so much. Second, to remember the mission to which we have been called. Our mission is to love and serve the world around us, to share God's light in the world. We sit at the feet of someone who has faced down evil, suffering, and death, and has triumphed over all of them through his resurrection. This is the light that we are to share with the world, especially after the past few weeks of world suffering. 
I hope that we will move forward in peace and not in anxiety. Anxiety takes us away from what we are doing and Jesus teaches us to focus on what we are doing, who we are doing it with, and where God is in that activity. I mean, we don’t want to miss where God is at work in our lives!
The world is a confusing hard place. That is why we all need to spend some time focusing on Jesus, whether it is in an active way or a contemplative way or some other way. We have a journey together before us, and I am so glad that our gospel passage today leads us to the feet of Jesus. We shall start at the feet of Jesus and pay attention to what he is teaching us. 
There are transitions going on in the world, in Franklin, and in the community at St. John's. When in transition it is easy to become distracted and anxious. We want to focus on paying attention. Paying attention to the details and the overarching goals. My start here is not the beginning - I have come in on the middle of the story here at St. John's. It will be the start of something slightly new. You cannot add a person into a community, especially a new leader, without changing the dynamics a little. But the journey ahead of us is still long and while there is much to be done together, in prayer and service, contemplation and action, I want us to start by paying attention. Paying attention to where Jesus is already at work in our community. Paying attention to what we are working on and how it fits into the building up of the Kingdom of God. I want us to pay attention to what is leaking, what has holes in it, what is going well and growing, in hospitality, in ministry, in spirituality, in worship, in evangelism, in our relationships, and our leadership. God has offered us a new call to work together in love and we need to pay attention to where God is calling us to move forward. We are all in this together. I believe that we are interconnected beings. God is calling all of us to pay attention and move forward together.