painting of medieval church in summer

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This turned out to be a big day in “ordinary time” in more than one way.

A friend of ours talks about our “all day church.” “We can’t play bridge on Sunday because you all have all day church.” But we don’t have all day church, really, most days, just all morning church.

This week, however, the Session came a little closer to all day church, because they scheduled a special meeting following worship and fellowship and the education hour, to discuss next steps in the transition process from one regular pastor to another with our Executive Presbyter.

So to sustain the folks who were seriously going to be having closer to “all day church” the Session members brought extra food to fellowship, so we ended up with a mini pitch-in for fellowship time.

Which meant that we could literally invite the people who were travelling on to Tennessee who stopped in to see if anyone had gas money to stay for lunch, and give them some food for the road, which we wouldn’t always be able to do, or not as well.

And we had a wonderful sermon into the bargain, on that perennially troublesome passage about Mary and Martha.

The Presbyterians are on the cerebral side of the Christian world, it seems fair to say, but even so the Presbyterians I know are definitely “Marthas.” That is to say, we’re the kind of people who run around a lot doing things, like making food to bring to the pitch in and staying after to clean up and practicing music for the worship service and organizing the people to help out with Sunday school and taking the recycling and ordering paper for the office and those kinds of constant and necessary tasks, not to mention various more newsworthy activities like Crop Walking or Repair or local food pantry stocking and so on.

So every three years, when the Revised Common Lectionary gets around to the story of Mary and Martha [Luke 10:38-42], lots of Presbyterians, especially women, have a lot of “well, what was Martha supposed to do in that situation, huh? Tell Everyone to go make themselves a sandwich?? And what do you suppose Everyone would have said then???” And feel the Bible has kind of turned against them and isn’t really being properly sympathetic just for those verses.

So it was a genuine gift and breath of fresh air, at least for me but I think for others as well, to hear the sermon we heard this Sunday. Which reminded us that Jesus seems to have been travelling with at least 70 disciples (if we glance back at the first part of the chapter), so that Martha was genuinely pulling off a major act of first century Mediterranean world hospitality, most likely, which would indeed have been the social expectation. And which pointed out that Jesus is not criticizing Martha for working, either, which is a way we often read this text.

He is pointing out that she is distracted.

Distracted, in particular, from the one thing “that is in all things,” which is paying attention to Christ.

She shared with us something another speaker had shared with a program she’d attended many years ago. A mnemonic, if you will. The speaker had written on the board the words One Thing – Everything – Some Things.

One Thing is “paying attention.” These days we would probably call it “mindfulness.” Noticing who you are with and what is going on and being there with that, and in particular being aware of the presence and the call of Christ in that present.

Everything is really everything: getting up in the morning and brushing teeth and washing dishes and walking the dog and driving to work and answering the phone and composing email and sitting in the meetings and going to class [I translate – because it’s whatever everything is, the stuff of our daily lives].

There’s a quality of attention that we can bring to everything that is the opposite of distraction, and that has to do with who and what all the Everything is for.

Some Things are things Christians or The Church has found helpful over time to get people’s orientation back to Christ, things like prayer and reading the Bible and coming to worship and fasting and stained glass windows and icons and WWJD bracelets [again, I translate] … we have found them beneficial, or even indispensable; but even Some Things can become distractions and even obstacles, if they divert us from the One Thing …

If we are too distracted to listen to Christ, we are too distracted.

It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. Or not doing.

[Work can be prayer. Prayer can be not, really. Again, I translate.]

I have been through a lot of Year Cs, but I have never heard it quite like that before.

I was glad, this Year C, I finally did.

Flemish Baroque peasants doing summer work in a field with a church in the background
“Summer” – Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Paying attention to Jesus is SFW.

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