What is the purpose of a vehicle? Is it not, to get us from point A to point B? It seems every year car manufacturers come out with more bells and whistles. We need to keep our kids distracted while driving from point A to point B so we throw a movie into the DVD player. We need to keep ourselves distracted from interstate traffic so we have satellite radio and Bluetooth audio.
I was travelling with a group coming back from a meeting when we decided to have some fun with the guy in the passenger seat. He had never ridden in a car with heated seats. Without him noticing, we turned the knob to full heat and watched as he wiggled and shifted. He kept asking, “Is anyone else hot?” while requesting the A/C to be turned up.
We can all enjoy the benefits of a vehicle with all the bells and whistles but now that I have child that is getting close to driving, I would rather him not have all those distractions. I want him to focus on getting safely from point A to point B with as less distractions as possible. According to the NHTSA, in 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed. 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. They define distracted driving with any activity that diverts attention from driving, including texting, eating, messing with the radio, etc. It is anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
Driving distracted is not our only threat in life. Our daily lives are filled with distractions. Information comes at us faster, louder, and brighter than ever before. Everyone is begging for our attention. Our phones stay in front of our eyes. More wealth brings more stuff which equals more clutter. Each distraction comes with the goal of gaining control of our attention and resources.
What is your biggest distraction? What is keeping you from reaching your potential? What is keeping you driving through life distracted?
Most of us can name our distractions. We know we spend too much time on Facebook or on our phone. We know we watch too much Netflix or spend too much time on the internet.
But there are other distractions that are more difficult to see. They are difficult because it seems like good work. Distracted not by laziness but through busyness. At work we find ourselves working on projects that don’t really have any benefit but make us look busy. Parents do this with their children. They sign their children up for every sport and every club. They come to define busyness with successful parenting. Busy work doesn’t always translate into important work. Busyness can be a distraction from the important.
In the bible we have a story of where busyness becomes a distraction from the important. It is the story of two sisters. It is a story of both doing good. It is the story of one doing important work but not seeing the heart behind it all. In the story Jesus visits the home of Martha where she lives with her sister, Mary.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-42
Let’s start by talking about what this story is not telling us. It is not saying we must choose between serving and sitting at the feet of Jesus. As far as Jesus’ own culture was concerned, Martha was in the right. According to the scripture, it was her house. She was the host. She had the responsibility to serve her guest. Culturally speaking, she also understood her place in a patriarchal society was in a role of service. Her place was in the kitchen preparing a meal for her guest. When she asks Jesus to rebuke her sister it is not just that her sister is being lazy but that her sister has forgotten her place in society. Sitting at the feet of a rabbi and learning from him was not the place of a woman. This is a story about the fact that even Mary, even those who are considered outside of God’s grace can imagine themselves as disciples. Placing herself at the feet of Jesus allows her to see herself as God sees her and better positions her to serve from a place where she is grounded in God’s image.
When Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha……..” it is not from a position of rebuke more than it is an invitation for her to see herself as God sees her. What this story is telling us is that serving without grounding ourselves in our identity as disciples of Jesus leads to anxiety. We can all identify with Martha. She is trying to respond well to her position as a host. She seeks to provide a welcoming environment. We want to provide for our families, we want to give our children every opportunity, we want to be a good neighbor and lend a hand when needed, we want to be a faithful church member and volunteer when asked. What is our motivation? What drives our activity?
Activity as competition, activity as striving to meet expectations, activity in response to a scarcity mentality can all drive us to a life of distraction. Activity without centeredness on Jesus drives us to a distracted life. Martha’s distracted busyness prevented her from being truly present with Jesus. It caused a wedge to be driven between her and her sister. If we are not careful, our distracted busyness can also drive a wedge between us and the people we love.
In Matthew 6:25-27 Jesus says, “I tell you not to worry about your life……Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds? Can worry make you live longer?”
And we are like, “I don’t know let me busy myself or my family with distractions and see if it makes me live longer.” It doesn’t. It won’t.
How do we keep from living a life of distracted busyness? We discover it in Jesus’ response. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” What is the one thing needed? What was Martha missing?
The 1991 movie “City Slickers” is about three friends who are approaching mid-life. The plot of the movie revolves around their decision to spend vacation together going on a cattle drive. They would travel across the West on horseback with some cowboys in the hopes that in the process they might discover something about themselves and the meaning of life.
The boss of this cattle drive is a leathery old cowboy named Curly, who lives up to all of our stereotypes about cowboys. He’s mean and he’s tough, and he can do anything with a rope or a whip or a knife. But in his tough and rugged way he’s also very wise.
Against the backdrop of an open sky and big mountains and clear streams, Billy Crystal’s character turns to Curly and says with longing, “Your life makes sense to you.” To which Curly replies: “You city folk. You worry a lot. How old are you? 38?”
“39,” the man says.
“You all come up here about the same age. You spend fifty weeks getting knots in your rope and you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it.”
He pauses a minute and then he goes on, “You know what the secret to life is?”
“No, what?” says the man.
And then Curly says, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don’t mean nothing.”
“That’s great,” says his companion, “but what’s the one thing?” Curly looks at him for a minute, and says, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
Like Curly, Jesus’ response is open-ended. What is the one thing that Mary has chosen that makes it the right thing? Some of you are going to leave hear thinking Jesus said, “I don’t have to clean my house anymore. I just got to go to a bunch of bible studies.” Or, “I don’t have to love my neighbor. I just have to go to church and pray.”
The issue is not between serving and sitting. It is between the many things and the one thing. If we are going to ensure that our life doesn’t get distracted by busyness and filled with anxiety, we need to ask the question, “What is the one thing that holds everything together?” When it comes to my career, “what is the one thing that holds everything together?” It could be integrity, professionalism, or vision. When it comes to my marriage, “What is the one thing that holds everything together?” It could be honesty or selfless love. When it comes to being a parent, “What is the one thing that holds everything together?” It could be being authentic or vulnerable. When it comes to being a good citizen, “What is the one thing that holds everything together?” It could be volunteering. The one thing is different for different people. The important thing is to take the time to pray through what is the one thing that holds everything together?
The Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:17 says of Jesus, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” When you place yourself at the feet of Jesus you are placing yourself at the feet of the one who holds all of life together. The one thing needed for Martha was for her to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear that she is valued not for what she does or how well she does it, but for who she is as a child of God. This is the one thing we all need to do. This is the one thing that will hold everything together for you as a parent, as a spouse, in your career, in your place as a student, as a friend, and as a good neighbor.
You are going to leave here and what you are going to hear is your worth can only be found in the value you bring to society. If we let that voice drive us it will drive us to a place of distracted busyness trying to find our worth in what we do and how well we do it. This is why placing ourselves in worship, taking up the spiritual disciplines of prayer and scripture reading are so important. When we place ourselves at the feet of Jesus we hear that our value is found in being a child of God. This is the difference between eating the bread of anxiety and the bread of heaven. This is the difference between serving the bread of anxiety and serving the bread of heaven. Jesus simply wanted Martha to find her value in him so that she could go back in serving not out of a place of anxiety and worry but from a place of peace and grace. Jesus wants the same for us. Jesus is the one thing that holds everything together. Chose the one thing today. Amen.
Sermon preached on Sunday, April 22, 2018 at Gainesville First UMC, Gainesville, Ga. Go to gfumc.com for more info.