Tag Archive: Listening


My sermon from Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday, preached at Community Lutheran Church

I love mountains.  You could probably even say it’s in my blood since my maiden name is actually Peake!  On my dad’s side are Scots and English folk who settled in the mountains of western North Carolina, probably because it reminded them a bit of the old country.  Almost every year growing up, we’d travel to western North Carolina to visit the land grandparents and great-grandparents called home.  It’s on the side of Roan Mountain where there’s a wonderful Rhododendron festival every year.  I love that land.  I love hiking around it.  And I love the connection to the past I feel there.

It also holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my Grandpa is buried.  And it was at his funeral that I first really heard the Gospel and tried to mumble along as best I could with the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  On a sunny day, on a mountainside in North Carolina, I encountered Christ and had my own mountaintop moment.

My family's land in North Carolina

My family’s land in North Carolina

The festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord comes at the end of the season of Epiphany.  It comes at the end of the season of light as we’ve been hearing about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry to Jews and Gentiles alike.  The season where Jesus has been revealed through not only his words, but in his actions.  And now, we find ourselves on a high mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John.

They’re just hanging out and all of a sudden, Jesus is transformed before their eyes, shining in dazzling white clothing – clothes so white, no one on earth could bleach them that white.  This is not only an Oxyclean moment, rather the Gospel is getting at the fact that Jesus was divinely transformed, what we call the Transfiguration.  He’s shining brilliantly in glory and not only that, but Moses and Elijah, two figures who represent the law and the prophets are chatting with him.  Looking at Moses and Elijah, people thought to come before the Messiah, the disciples are terrified.  And poor Peter, in his shock and terror, stammers out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He’s trying to be productive and helpful, but he’s missing the point.  Jesus is revealed in divine light and radiance and Peter wants to start a construction project.

Then, suddenly, a cloud overshadows them and a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  And before they know it, Peter, James and John are alone again with Jesus on a high mountain.  They’re confused and wondering about what they’ve just experienced when Jesus tells them not to say a word about this until he’s risen from the dead.  Well, that should help clarify things! If we keep reading, we’d find that the next verse says, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”  These poor guys have just seen something crazy and wonderful and now they’re baffled about what rising from the dead means.

In Mark’s Gospel, there are three major events that occur: Jesus’ baptism, his transfiguration and the crucifixion.  At each of these moments, Jesus is identified as the Son of God.  In between, Jesus keeps telling people and unclean spirits to be quiet about his identity.  However, at the Transfiguration, Jesus is transformed so that the disciples can catch even a fleeting glimpse of him in glory – a preview of the resurrected and victorious Christ.  They don’t understand what it means at the moment, but after the resurrection, they will.

Maybe you’ve had a moment when you’ve encountered a glimpse of the glory of God.  Maybe it was very clear that it was God at work.  Or maybe it was baffling and confusing and you found yourself questioning what happened.  Maybe you wanted to share it, but didn’t know how.  Maybe you can’t think of a time when you’ve had such an encounter.

Whatever the case may be, mountaintop experiences can be beautiful, terrifying, inspiring and confusing.  But we are doing ourselves a grave disservice if we live searching for these experiences.  The reading for today shows that as quickly as this amazing event happened, it was over, and it was time to go back down into the valleys and wildernesses of everyday life.

I know that I have had some mountaintop encounters in my life and I long to experience those things again.  But as wonderful as those moments are, I know that the more important question is how do I live in the every day? The struggle is, how do I continue to be faithful in the meantime when things aren’t so clear? The Transfiguration shows us that Jesus walks with us in the valleys of our lives, too, and not just on the mountaintops.  Jesus does not abandon the disciples for glory or to keep chatting with Moses and Elijah, but comes down off of the mountain to live with them in the difficulties of the world.  He descends in order to go all the way to the cross – the place where the love of God and the brutality of the world collide.  While glory is alluring, the way of God is a downward path – it’s not the climb up the mountain, but the one down to which we should pay attention.  In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul.”  Christ lays aside his crown, comes down off of the mountain, and walks with us.

Peter says, “it is good for us to be here.”   And it is good for us to be here in worship and in the church, but how do we come down from the worship high of Sunday morning and go back to living in the mundane and weary world?  The disciples hear the voice of God speaking from within the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  This command to listen has the sense of, “keep on listening” or “continue listening.”  It’s as if God is saying, as you go down into the valleys, away from the brilliant glory you’ve experienced on this mountaintop, keep on listening for Jesus’ voice.  Don’t stop listening.  Remember what you’ve experienced and keep on listening.

So how do we listen in the middle of our overflowing days and weeks? One way of listening for God is keeping Sabbath or finding ways “live Sabbathly” throughout the day.  Our Lenten series this year will look at what it means to observe and keep the Sabbath, especially in the middle of our jam-packed lives.  What does it mean to slow down and to spend time simply delighting in God? Peter, rather than taking in the glory of God and rejoicing in the moment, tried to capture it – to spend time building dwellings.  Part of living Sabbathly is not trying to commoditize everything, but to appreciate work and play, rest and delight in the goodness of God.

Another way to keep listening is to be mindful of the ways that God’s light is shining around us, even in the most difficult of situations.  I will be the first to admit that it’s sometimes really hard to see God’s light while navigating crowded roadways with crazy drivers, or dealing with bureaucracy, or in difficult relationships.  But I am often surprised and amazed at where and how I encounter Christ.  In a child reaching out for bread at Communion.  In my dog as she reminds me to slow down and take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.  In laughter and teasing over a family meal.  And, often, in pain and suffering.

In moments when I’ve felt most isolated and troubled in my own life, I have experienced more clearly Christ’s comfort and love.  And I’ve encountered this in others as well.  Once, I saw it in the beautiful way a man in hospice looked at his death and trusted heaven to be the most incredible and unimaginable surprise.  Lately, I’ve been reading about Christ present in the lives of every day Rwandans who, after the horrific genocide, practiced unfathomable forgiveness and reconciliation.

And this week, I see Christ’s light shining through the life of twenty-six year-old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS while trying to assist refugees escaping the war in Syria.  While it is still unclear how she died, it is clear that even in captivity, in the valley of the shadow of death, she reflected the light of Christ.  In a letter to her family, she wrote, “And by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.  I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison, one can be free.  I am grateful.”  In another letter, she wrote, “I find God in suffering.  I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”  She also explained how she was even trying to teach the guards how to make origami peace cranes.

We may have wonderful mountaintop experiences that move us, confuse us, and cause us to reflect.  But our Gospel reading reminds us that we always come down from the mountain, and more importantly, that Christ comes with us.  We are never left to fend for ourselves in the difficult, messy and sticky parts of our lives.  No, Christ is always there.  And along the way, we catch glimpses of his glory in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  We are recipients of Christ’s glorious light as it shines through others, but we are also called to reflect and shine God’s resplendent light in our lives.  And in this process, we, too, are transformed and transfigured.  As we go out into the world, may we continue listening for God in our lives and paying attention to the way we encounter Christ, not only on the mountaintops, but in the highways, valleys and wildernesses of our lives.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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God’s Wild Kingdom

This past Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

 

ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν… The kingdom of heaven is like a pastor who stepped into the pulpit one Sunday speaking foreign words. The listeners were confused and unsettled, wondering how they could interpret what she was saying.

Yes, like foreign words heard early in the morning, the kingdom of God is surprising, baffling and catches us off-guard – making us sit up and pay attention. Oh, and by the way, those words, ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν…,mean “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Now you can rest easy – I promise I won’t use anymore Greek today!

There are basically six different parables in this week’s Gospel – six! It seems as if Jesus is trying every possible way to get the disciples to grasp what he is speaking about. He’s already told them the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the weeds. And now we hear these other parables about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. At the end, Jesus even asks them “have you understood all this?” They answer “yes,” but I’m wondering if they actually did understand or if they just needed to get past the parables!

These parables may seem disparate, but each one of them offers a glimpse into a different aspect of God’s kingdom – like facets on a diamond. The first speaks of God’s kingdom as one that begins small, spreads like a wild and invasive weed, and becomes a tree – a welcoming place where birds, symbolizing the people of many nations, make their home.

The second parable offers that the kingdom is like a tiny bit of yeast that permeates, lightens and expands our entire world. The next two parables describe the kingdom like a priceless treasure or pearl for which someone sacrifices and gives up everything in order to keep the newfound treasure.

The fifth parable reminds us that there is both good and bad within the kingdom, since it’s like an abundant catch of fish that needs to be sorted onshore. And Jesus’ final parable tells us that the kingdom is like the head of the house who not only brings out new treasures, but refurbishes the old to make it new again.

We speak about the kingdom of God and being a part of it by serving God and others. We even pray that it will come every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But I find that it’s easy to forget what the words “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” really mean. These parables help to present a fuller picture and call us to reexamine our thoughts and beliefs about God’s kingdom. They declare that the kingdom is priceless, powerful and grows in amazing, often unseen ways.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking in the shadow of the Roman Empire. This was an incredibly powerful and unforgiving empire, ruling the lives of not only Roman citizens, but also slaves and conquered peoples, crushing rebellions and dissenters underfoot. Speaking of the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the kingdom of Rome was radical and dangerous. Remember, part of Jesus’ sentence leading to the crucifixion dealt with him being a king and having a kingdom – something seen as a direct threat to Rome.

But I think we forget that we, too, have kingdoms and empires –we have things that rule over us and our lives. In some places, perhaps it is an oppressive government. But we cannot forget all of the other things that we allow to rule us – money, anger, fear, prejudice, material goods, gossip, anxiety, ourselves… The list could go on and on. And how often are we content to live under these rulers!

It is striking that Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven as something that people rush out and sacrifice all they have had previously to obtain. This sounds like a terrible maneuver or investment strategy to our ears, but it means putting our trust solely in God. And the people in these parables don’t grudgingly sacrifice their things or their old way of life to follow God. No, they do it with joy: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” They are excited and brimming with joy because they know the kingdom of heaven is better than anything else. So what sacrifices have you made for God’s kingdom? And where does your allegiance lie – with the kingdoms and mindsets of this world or with the kingdom of heaven and God’s ways?

It is downright scary to ask these questions of ourselves because it means going against much of what society teaches us. Asking about what we can sacrifice for the idealistic and nearly impossible sounding kingdom of heaven flies in the face of what many would call common sense. And yet, that is our call as disciples of Christ – to live as God calls us to live, not as the world does. It makes us confront the prevailing storyline that there’s not enough to go around and that we therefore can never truly help those in need. Or that those who appear different than we are for one reason or another do not have the same hopes, dreams and needs as we do. It makes us confront the ideas that forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking are weak or foolish endeavors. It calls us to be people of radical hospitality and generosity.

The kingdom of heaven is beautiful and glorious, foreign and surprising given what we know of the world. To describe it using events of our own time, “The kingdom of heaven is like a beautiful land where the homeless and refugee feast at the table of God alongside the rich and well-connected. Where Palestinians and Jews see one another as brothers and sisters.   Where the boundaries of ethnicity, economic status, background, sexual orientation, and class melt away so that we finally see one another as fellow children of God.”

The kingdom of God is unexpected, mysterious and not yet fully established. And it can be incredibly difficult to keep faith and hope when there is so much around us that tells us so glaringly that there is pain, injustice and evil in the world.   But Christ is calling us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace God’s wild kingdom. To see glimpses of it breaking in. And it is breaking in.

Can you see it? It’s where Rwandan students like George and Bosco are receiving an education that will help them continue the transformation of their country. It’s in the smiles of children singing VBS songs and learning about God’s love. It’s breaking through when a Muslim professor in Iraq sacrifices his life in order to speak out against the persecution and murder of his Christian neighbors. It’s forgiveness and love instead of revenge and bitterness. It’s where someone generously and humbly offers the gifts they’ve been given to help others. And it is found in bread broken and wine shared among a diverse group of people.

The kingdom of heaven is popping up here and now in little and marvelous ways all over the world.  And maybe we can’t always see it because the bad and horrific news gets so much air time, but maybe we can take a page out of Solomon’s book and pray for an understanding mind – literally a listening heart – that will be able to see both the good and evil and discern God in the midst of it all.

And we can remember that no matter what happens, God is bringing this kingdom about.  Paul talks about this beautifully in his letter to the Romans when he says that nothing, including other kingdoms, empires, rulers, or even angels, can separate us from God’s incredible love.  Hearing that just makes me feel lighter somehow. No matter what hardship there is in our lives or in the world – no matter what horrors we hear about or experience – we are firmly embraced in God’s love. Knowing we are secure in Christ’s love, now and always – that is freedom to live and work for God’s kingdom.

There are so many kingdoms and rulers in our lives – so many things we can choose to serve. So who will we serve? Will we listen to Christ’s call to joyously be a part of God’s wild and growing kingdom, even if it involves hardship and sacrifice? Or will we be content to dwell in the kingdoms of this world?

I’d like to close with the words of a Taizé chant that have been echoing in my heart this week: “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.” Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The sermon from last Sunday at Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA!

On January 12 of this year, Jeff and I found ourselves standing with approximately 40 others around Jacob’s well. We had driven into the West Bank that morning, leaving Israel behind for a time and entering the Palestinian Territories. We were driving through the crowded city of Nablus, thought to be Biblical city of Shechem or Sychar as it’s called in the Gospel. Our bus driver pulled over to the side of the road for us to get out, and looking up, I noticed that we were at a walled monastery. Upon entering, we saw gardens and cats – there are lots of cats in the Holy Land – and a fairly large church, with statues and mosaics. We entered the church, gazing at the gorgeous iconography and proceeded to the front of the sanctuary. From there, we headed down stairs, toward the crypt, where Jacob’s well is.

Once at the well, being a good tourist, I took out my camera, but was promptly told that we weren’t allowed to take photos there. As we squished in the room, located beneath an altar in the church, our guide lowered a bucket into the well. When it reached the end of the rope, he began the task of cranking it back up, bit by bit, creaking, creaking, creaking, until it reached the top, some 135 feet later. At that time, one of our fellow travelers, a pastor from Maryland read the passage of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

As she read, those closest to the bucket, grabbed some of the tin cups sitting nearby and ladled out water. They drank and passed the cups around our group, some drinking out of the cups, others cupping their hands to receive the water. We each drank, listening to the story, feeling the cold water against our lips, refreshing us and quenching our thirst in a dry land. And even more than that, it felt like communion – none of us took the water for ourselves, but rather received it from others, sharing what was given to us by passing it along to the next person.

The story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well is a wonderful one. A woman makes her way to the well at noon, hoping to draw enough water for her needs and she ends up getting way more than she bargained for. But who is this woman? She is clearly not integrated into her town social network because she’s coming to the well at the hottest part of the day – at high noon – to draw water. The well was the hang out spot for women, but this woman comes alone. So she’s isolated and outcast, living on the margins and hoping for life-giving water so she can just make it through her day-to-day life.

But she arrives at the well to find a Jew there. She must have been thinking, “oh give me a break! I just wanted my water and now I have to deal with this guy?!” And what’s worse is that Jesus asks for a drink. He breaks the silence and steps across the barrier between Samaritans and Jews, asking for some water. This, of course, sparks the now famous conversation at the well. It’s two thousand year-old water cooler chat!

But what I find most intriguing is how this conversation ends. There is a turning point in which they discuss the woman’s marital history and current living arrangement. And I’d like to point out that Jesus does not pass any kind of judgment upon this woman, but rather shows that he knows her. He knows about her life and he knows why people in town whisper about her. He reveals that he understands her deeply – far more deeply than anyone in her village. And then they begin to talk theology. They talk about who God is, and when the Messiah will come, and then Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah.

Enter the disciples. They come traipsing to the well and they see their teacher chit-chatting with a Samaritan. And not just any Samaritan, but a woman! “I mean, come on, Teacher, we all know Isaac and Moses met their wives at wells, what’s going on here?!” But they don’t say anything, and the woman runs back to the village, leaving her water jar by the well.

Back in the village, this woman who no one liked – whom everyone regarded as separate – as an outsider – bursts onto the scene shouting about her encounter with this strange Jewish man at the well. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”This exchange is shocking to me because why does she think that all of a sudden these people who have so disregarded her would listen? And yet, she goes. Becoming vulnerable with this group of people in order to invite them to “come and see” and to share the experience she has had.

And what’s even more shocking is that they respond. Not by mocking her or telling her she’s out of her mind, but by listening and suspending their disbelief. They, too, become vulnerable, dropping their guard and heading to the well in order to share in the encounter with this bizarre interloper. John’s Gospel tells us that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…” And that, “when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” This woman’s story caused some to believe and brought many people, quite literally, to Jesus. And from there, they were able to have their own personal interactions with the Messiah. After two days, these villagers are able to say to this bold woman, “‘it is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’” We don’t believe just because of what you’ve said, but also because we’ve had our own face-to-face interactions and experiences with this person. What started as a conversation between two people at a well, became a movement in the Samaritan village.

The Samaritan woman’s life was changed by an encounter she had with Jesus. And once she had that encounter, she wanted to share it with people – even those who didn’t normally want anything to do with her. She went and invited others to “come and see” and to be in conversation with her about who this man was and whether or not he could be the Messiah.

We, too, have had encounters with Jesus. Or, if we haven’t, maybe we are looking to have one. Maybe we’re wondering what such an encounter with God would look like. Or maybe we’re struggling to figure out how God is speaking to us. These are the things that keep us coming back week after week, listening to God’s Word, receiving forgiveness, and tasting bread and wine.

But we, like the Samaritan woman, cannot remain at the well, but we are called to go and tell others what we’ve experienced. We’re called to invite others to “come and see,” but how often do we remain silent, keeping our faith neatly hidden away?

Many of you know that I did not grow up going to church. I became a Christian in middle school, and for many years, my faith was something that I kept to myself. I became even more quiet about it after having a negative experience with a very conservative evangelical church in high school where the emphasis was largely on converting people.

And yet, I knew that followers of Christ were called to speak about Christ with others. But what would people say? Would they think me foolish or childish for believing in God or miracles? I’m sorry to say it, but I was ashamed of my faith and nervous, really, really nervous, about sharing it in a public sphere. That began to change, however, when I went to church in Germany and spoke with Pastor Christof Schorling.

When I talked with him about the struggle I was having, he told me this which has stuck with me, and shaped my views on evangelism. He said: “Our never-ending task is this: to seek ways to ‘really’ witness to our faith.  By ‘really’ I mean that we remain true to ourselves – that we do not disguise ourselves or simply repeat something we’ve learned by rote.  That we learn to say what God means to us, where He is important, and how He helps us.  When we practice that, we will notice that we are not laughed at.”

There was so much grace in his words. They showed me that it wasn’t so much about having the right words, or the most articulate theology, or even being able to answer all the questions someone might ask of us. It was about sharing our experiences of God by being our authentic selves. By bearing witness to God’s action in our lives by being the people we were created to be and trusting that the Holy Spirit was at work in the midst of it all.

Sharing our faith with others means being honest about who God is and what God means to us. It means listening to others’ experiences and questions about God and life, and being open to what they have to say. It means being able to say “come and see” and leaving people free to respond to the invitation. We cannot control how people respond, but when we can speak truthfully and humbly about what God means to us, and maybe that will speak to them.

And maybe they’ll be like the Samaritan villagers, accepting the invitation only to have their own encounters with the Jewish man at the well. The one who is not so fond of societal barriers. Faith is deeply personal. That’s true. But it is also public. We gather in community. We confess together belief in a God who lived, taught and was crucified in the public sphere. A God who was also raised from the dead, appeared to many, and is at work in the church – the body of Christ.

As we have our thirst quenched here week after week, how can we invite others to the well to encounter the living God? To come and receive living water? Who else is thirsty and might be longing to receive a drink? How can we be so filled with excitement about what God is doing in our lives and here at Community that we want to run and tell others about it?

At Jacob’s well in January, our tour group shared water together in community. And what began as a conversation between Jesus and one woman in that place has become an experience and an encounter that affects many. There’s no longer one marginalized outsider at the well, but a global community drawn together by living water. Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

This is the sermon I preached this morning on the fantastic story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42:

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Martha and Mary.  Two of the Bible’s more famous siblings.  I love this story.  First of all, I have two brothers, so when Martha gets a little whiny about Mary just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, I totally hear the sibling rivalry coming through.  In my head, it always sounds like, “Jesus, tell Mary to help!”  I don’t know what Martha actually sounded like, but that’s what it sounds like in my head.

Second, this story is one that could easily fit into our day.  Let’s see… Martha and Mary are at home and they receive a knock at the door – Jesus is here!  If this story were taking place today, I’d imagine that Martha had been preparing on Pinterest, the social networking site for DIY projects, crafts, cooking, and saving and sharing all of your favorite things.  No, I’m not addicted at all! Anyway, Martha, who had been busily pinning and saving all of the most amazing Mediterranean dishes she could find, is now busily whipping them up in the kitchen while Jesus is out in the living room talking with Mary.

Running back and forth, Martha catches sight of her sister just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.  Martha stops in her tracks thinking, “oh not she’s not!”  Her face begins to flush red and she hurries over to Jesus, eager for a righteous third party to play judge over this dispute.  But she doesn’t get what she’s looking for and Mary ends up being praised for listening to Jesus.

Now at this point, if I were Martha, I’d be frustrated and angry that my work was under-appreciated and that I wasn’t going to get any help.  I’d also be embarrassed that my esteemed guest had told me I was wrong in front of my sister.

We don’t know if Mary and Martha gave each other a hard time after this visit, but we do know a couple of things about these women.  For starters, it is crucial that we don’t look at this text as denigrating service or action, because Martha was doing exactly what was expected of her.  She opened up her home to Jesus and welcomed him in generously.  And in a culture where hospitality of the stranger was expected and treasured, Martha’s welcome of Jesus and the way in which she sought to serve him was admirable.

Besides, the story immediately preceding this one in Luke’s Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan – a person whose loving service is lifted up as an example.  Jesus says at the end of that memorable story to “go and do likewise.”  So what’s going on here?

This is where looking at the text is really helpful in understanding a bit better what was taking place.  It’s not just that Martha was distracted by her serving and couldn’t really focus on her guest – the word used is even stronger than that.  It actually says she was being “overburdened” or “being pulled” or “being dragged from all around.”  She was being dragged away from the very one she was seeking to welcome and to graciously host in her home.

And when Jesus responds to her, he says that she’s continuing to be anxious or “unduly concerned” as well as “distracted” and “troubled.”  I don’t know about you, but none of those words or phrases has a positive connotation for me!  Martha is stressed out, overburdened, anxious, troubled, and being dragged away from Jesus.

My heart goes out to Martha.  No, even more than that – I believe I have been Martha at various points in my life.  Seeking to do all the right things and overextending myself in various activities, even “good” activities.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off, feeling exhausted and zapped of my creativity and energy.  I hear Martha’s story and I completely get it.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.  In a 2012 New York Times Opinion Column, Tim Kreider wrote about “The Busy Trap.”  He writes: “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are.  It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.  It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

Now, those are some harsh words, but after I read that article last year, I began paying attention to how others answered the questions “how are you?” and “what are you up to?”  More importantly, I started paying attention to my own answers to those questions, which were almost always some variation on “I’m good.  Busy, but good!”

We live in a society that preaches, “time is money.”  Our success is often gauged by overtime, productivity output, and how full our planners, Blackberries, iPhones or Google Calendars are.  It’s so easy to feel like we have to be on the move, doing something in order to know that we are worth something – that we are busy, important people.  In some ways, it feels good to be able to rattle off all of the many important tasks we have before us, or even better, that we just recently checked off of our to-do lists.

But I wonder if it’s not more than that.  Are we afraid of not being busy?  Are we afraid that sitting and resting, or reflecting or praying makes us unproductive members of society? Or are we afraid of what God might call us to do if we ever settled down enough to listen?

I sort through all of these questions and it seems like it is so hard to be still and to listen.  And it is.  But there is also amazing hope.   Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, in the role of a disciple, listening deeply, drinking in his words, and spending time with this guest to her home.  While Martha is being dragged away and overburdened by all of her tasks, Mary literally “takes her place beside” Jesus.  And Jesus says that this attentive time spent with him is the better part – the good portion.  But he goes even further.  He doesn’t just focus on Mary and leave Martha to run around, stress herself out or exhaust herself.  Instead, he tenderly calls “Martha, Martha,” urging her to leave her frantic rushing about and graciously inviting her to spend time with God.

And just as he called to Martha, he continues to call to us today.  Jesus calls us gently, “Come, sit at my feet.  Spend time in my presence, listening deeply to my voice.  Rest, learn and be refreshed.  Come to the waters and remember you are forgiven.  Come to my table and be strengthened by the food I offer.  Come and hear my word.  Come study it and let it take hold in your heart.  And I will send you into the world alive and centered in me.”

I think that’s why we come back each Sunday.  We need this every week – to be refreshed and strengthened in community.  We need to be reminded of that one thing that is necessary, that is really and truly useful – spending time dwelling in the presence of Christ and letting his love for us work in our hearts that we might better love ourselves, each other and all of creation.  We need to be reminded that God loves us and desires to spend time with us, not because we’re busy, important, or successful people, but because God is loving and faithful.

This story happens in Martha and Mary’s home.  Jesus encountered these two sisters in the middle of normal life.  And Jesus meets us in the midst of our everyday lives – breaking in and calling us to take time out of our busy schedules to spend in worship, thanksgiving and praise.  It doesn’t have to be a full-blown worship service, but how can you practice hospitality and invite Christ into your everyday life?  How could you make a space to encounter Christ and spend time in the presence of God?

Maybe you could pause for a few moments of quiet and prayer in your cubicle, office or even in the car as you commute – and please, keep your eyes open and on the road!  Or you could read a brief devotion in the morning, over your lunch break or before bed.  Maybe you love singing and hymnody, so taking time to sing a hymn that is near and dear to you could be a great way of making space.  What about the arts or crafting?  Perhaps your craft time is a place to invite God in and to listen for that still small voice?

The irony of this is that it takes some work to practice being still and listening.  I know I have felt overburdened and dragged all around like Martha, feeling like there’s no way I can possibly squeeze in prayer or devotion on top of everything else.  However, I have repeatedly been amazed at how much sitting in quiet prayer with God has refreshed me and brought things back into focus.  It’s in those quiet times that I remember that life is a gift to be enjoyed, not worried about.  I remember that it’s not about my never-ending to-do list, but about being attentive to what I am being called to do in that moment.  How might making space to listen for the voice of God and to make God the goal bring all other things into focus in your life?

It’s not that service or action is a bad thing.  Rather, it’s when that service obscures or takes the place of God that there is a problem.  When we’re distracted from God and hearing God’s call in our lives because we’re so busy serving or being active, that’s when Jesus gently calls us back, reminding us that a life lived as disciples learning at Jesus’ feet is the better part – the part that will never be taken away from us.  AMEN.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Babbling On

Our ancestors in faith were in exile
in distant Babylon,
this is undeniably true.
But am I also in exile,
when I babble on,
separating myself from you?

May I spend quiet time with you,
to listen deeply
to what you have to say.
Refresh me with your Spirit anew –
May I spend time in silence,
hearing how to follow on the way.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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