Beeing Focused

A sermon by Pastor Teddie McConnell for July 17, 2022

Are you a human being or a human doing?
This week’s reading from Luke follows right after the lesson from last week and is closely related to it. The story of the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” coupled with the parable of the good Samaritan reminded us that the commandments can be distilled into these two: Love God with your whole being – your mind, heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. These are the principles that God gave us to guide our lives, and we’re all better off when we follow them. Jesus then told the lawyer to go and help those who need it, regardless of their social or religious status. This is the DOING side of life.
This week’s story of Mary and Martha is about how we keep our attention, our focus on loving God and Christ, on Jesus’s words and example, before we engage in the doing piece. This is the BEING side of life.
Our lives can be full of distractions and chores, some of which arise from following the commandment to love each other. Martha started out by trying to act in loving service to Jesus and his followers, opening her home to them, giving them food and lodging. Her attention was constantly shifting between tasks. She was worried about making sure it all went smoothly so they would feel welcome and at home, maybe even compliment her hard work. Unfortunately, she missed the point of obedience, concentrating on what she was doing more than why she was doing it. She was sinning by taking pride in doing a good job of serving, of putting on a fancy spread, rather than focusing on the service itself as a gift for our Savior. She was too upset to consider that Mary needed what Jesus was providing, and that her own work was making that blessing possible for Mary. I think she was also jealous of her sister monopolizing Jesus’ attention while she was working away and being ignored. She felt like a victim and wanted Jesus to fix it, rather than taking a moment to pray and look within for why she was so upset. Watch out when you start thinking, “But what about ME?”
Evangelist Joyce Meyer does a bit about our sin nature, a self-centered little robot. “What about me? What about me? What about me?”
Going to the gym really brings  that out in me. I see people who sit at the machine I want to use next, not using it just sitting on it playing on their cell phones and I think, “Don’t you know that’s against the rules? What if that’s the last exercise on my list and I have to wait for you? I need to get going! What about me? What about me?”
Mary, on the other hand, was courageous enough to behave in a way that went against the entire culture because she knew that listening to Jesus was the most important thing. Not only was she taking the place of a man by sitting at Jesus’ feet, something that was simple NOT DONE according to rabbinic law, but she was also risking censure for doing this instead of carrying out the usual role of women by helping her sister with her many tasks.
You can tell that Martha was feeling overwhelmed and grumpy. She actually ordered Jesus to tell Mary to help her and accused him of not caring whether she was overworked. But Jesus wasn’t packed for that guilt trip. He called her by her name twice, which implies deep caring and sympathy. He reminded her in a simple and tender way of what’s really important. Yes, eating, sleeping and working are important on a day-to-day basis, but in the big picture, we’d all skip these things or accept a simple meal of leftovers for the chance to listen to Jesus.
Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to talk to Jesus in the flesh, live and in person? Sit at his feet and hear his wisdom? Me, too! So what are we waiting for? He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and is right here with us, ready to impart the wisdom we need, the love we want from God, the fellowship and communion that can only come through prayer. We have Jesus’ words in our Bibles, and devotionals and commentaries to help us understand them. Jesus is right here, and we need to take time to just BE with him, Just be human beings.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about the importance of keeping loyalty to Jesus their top priority. The God who made heaven and earth made people to be God’s own. The Colossians were under Roman rule, and there were images of the Emperor everywhere on statues and building decorations, even on the money. Caesar considered himself a son of the gods, if not a god himself. He thought he should be revered over any lesser man, if not worshiped. He enforced his power with torture, jail, and routine execution on crosses, something the one true God used to rescue the world and reconcile us to God.
Most politicians still tend to think they’re better than other people. But no mere human being deserves our worship. That’s idolatry.
There’s nothing wrong with a little national pride, interest in belonging to a political party or to other groups of people. Following local laws is important to keeping our families and our communities safe, unless that law is violating our values based on Christ’s teachings. Then we need to pray for discernment and follow the example of people like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take a non-violent stand and voice our objections that are based on God’s truth, even at great personal risk.
Our ultimate loyalty and our worship belong to Christ. As Paul said, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”
It’s so easy in this hurried and entertainment-oriented culture of ours to whittle our time away instead of spending it in the presence of Jesus. Distractions are everywhere. You’ve heard the expression, “Busy as a bee.” Even honeybees sleep 6-8 hours a night and rest during the winter. We’re really good at telling ourselves that we’re spending enough time with God, fooling ourselves into thinking our busyness is the same as righteousness.
God told us to keep the Sabbath, to rest and spend time with God on a weekly basis for a whole day. Orthodox Jews do all their work on the other six days in order to rejoice in God’s presence and provision together. We don’t usually spend all of Sunday with God, but we can spend one seventh of the total week in worship, prayer and Bible study. If we’re awake for 16 hours a day, that’s about 2½ hours per day. Seems like a lot, but if you spread it through the week and balance it with Sunday worship and fellowship, it’s doable. Time with fellow Christians discussing our beliefs counts, too. Any time you turn your focus away from your everyday life and toward God is sabbath.
There are many examples in the gospels of how Jesus prayed, even when he was exhausted, even when he was grieving his friend, Lazarus, even when he was about to be whipped and crucified. He lived a life dependent on God, in communion with and in submission to God. This is where his power came from. We need to be plugged in, too.
A woman who’d recently been through a divorce asked her pastor, Trevor Hudson, how to forgive her ex. She knew that Jesus wanted her to forgive him, but she was too angry to do that with any sincerity. He suggested that she pray those Psalms about enemies and anger that tend to make us modern folks uncomfortable. The woman did this over a long period of time, and found that the Spirit gradually redirected her prayers, first to an emotionally neutral place and eventually to a place of simple blessing toward him. This practice saved her from dwelling on her bitterness to the point of being detached from God’s power and direction.
The more we engage in time for the presence of God, the more we’ll enjoy the love, joy and peace that outshine all others, and the more of it we’ll want. We’ll know the beauty  and grace that come from being focused on what’s important. God understands when you can’t do it consistently and loves you still and all. If you fall asleep while saying your bedtime prayers, know that God will tuck you in and kiss you goodnight.

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