Human Doing? Or Human Being?
Well, we're going to begin this morning with a little bit of show and tell. This poster hangs over in our Friendship Hall. It says “Beyond Sunday Morning,” and it lists all of our outreach groups or mission groups. We here at Douglas UCC call them our spiritually active groups, and we have seven of them. I'm so proud of these groups, and all of you who are part of these groups, for all of the work that you are doing out in the community, to care for the environment, to work for social justice, and to help our neighbors who are in need.
And makes me so proud to see a church that really puts its faith into action. I'm so proud that our church has really become known in the community at large. People say, “Oh, yeah, Douglas UCC, that is the environmental church. Or they say, that's the social justice church, or that's the church that welcomes the LGBTQ community.
And they know those things, not because we advertise them or because we speak them from the pulpit. They know because they see what we're doing in the community, they see our actions. So they see us facilitating highway cleanups and beach cleanups and recycling events in the community. And they see us organizing marches and vigils and protests for social justice issues. And they see us welcoming and supporting LGBTQ events in our community.
And I'm happy to report that just in the past year or so, a few other local churches have started to follow our lead. And they are taking up the same causes. It's so wonderful for us to see people putting their faith into action.
But yet, in the Gospel reading today, for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus seems to be cautioning us from doing too much action. As we heard the story of Martha and Mary, they've invited Jesus over to their home for a meal, and Martha is so busy! There's so much to do, there's a table to set, there's a meal to prepare, so much doing, doing, doing. And she's resentful, because Mary is just sitting there at the foot of Jesus, doing nothing.
And so she says to Jesus, “Jesus, tell my sister to help me.” And notice, Jesus doesn't side with Martha. He shakes his head and says her name twice, “Martha, Martha, you are distracted and worried about so many things. Mary has chosen the better part.”
Mary's chosen the better part. That is such an important lesson for all of us in the modern world. You know, this story is only told to us in Luke's gospel, and it's one of the shortest stories in the whole Bible. It's only six sentences long. But it's an important one, especially for us as modern-day Americans.
Because most of us grew up with this Puritan work ethic. This American work ethic. Oh, it's always about doing, doing, doing. You know, some of us heard growing up, “Idle hands are the devil's playground.” We always have to be doing something, we always have to be productive.
Now, if you've traveled abroad, you know that people in other countries have a more balanced way of life. People in other countries take siestas! Businesses actually close in the middle of the workday for a few hours so that people could go home and take naps. And where we in America, are lucky maybe to get a week's vacation, people in many other countries get month-long paid vacations. Now those things – siestas, closing up my business in the middle of the day, taking a whole month off. That seems crazy to us. Because we've been raised that we always have to be productive. We admire people who are multitaskers like “Wow, can you believe how many things she can do in a day? She's amazing!” And we feel guilty if we're doing nothing. What happens to us is we can end up like Martha – worried, distracted, and resentful.
So Jesus is really saying here what I've shared with you before. I don't know who said this quote, I think it may have been Deepak Chopra, but I love it. It says, “We are not human doings. We're human beings.” We're not human doings. We're human beings. But it's hard for us to be like Mary to just Be, because we live in a Martha world, a 24/7 world Busy, busy, busy. We've got 24/7, cable news channels, we have social media, and we're always plugged into something, we've got our cell phone with us at all times. We're always plugged into some device, our minds are always going.
Jesus is cautioning us of this, of saying that if our minds are constantly going, if we're always doing, we're going to burn out. Silence is important. But you know, the Christian church hasn't really done a very good job at giving us the tools to be silent.
I love that the Christian church is a church of action, doing so many things in the world. You look at all the missions around the world, the Christian church is building schools and orphanages, and they have soup kitchens, and they're helping the poor and the hungry. It's wonderful.
But the church doesn't really teach us how to be still and quiet. You know, other faith traditions do this so much better. Our Eastern faith traditions, for example, Buddhism and Hinduism. If this morning you went to a Buddhist temple, or a Hindu ashram for a service, it would mostly be in silence. There's a little talk. They call it a Dharma talk or a Satsangh. But most of the service is in silence.
We in the Christian church, though, we have to fill our service with words. We've got hymns, we've got prayers, we've got readings, we have sermons. Talking, talking talking! Words, words, words! Can you imagine if this morning, I said – my Homily is usually 15 minutes. So what we're going to do is we're just going to for 15 minutes, sit in silence.
Now some of you would love it. But others of you would say I can't do that. I can't just sit in silence for 15 minutes, my mind is going to constantly be going. Some of you may see it as a complete waste of time. Because we always have to be filling in the silences.
Jesus is saying we need periods of silence.
Now some of you came along with me a few years ago, 20 of us from Douglas UCC, we went to New Mexico together, and we visited a place that was founded by Father Richard Rohr, who we got to meet when we were there. And the name of the center is called the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Action and Contemplation.
And the mission statement for the Center that Father Rohr helped craft reads, in part, “We need to have a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action.”
So like the front cover of your bulletin today, it's about the word and the work. Now, the word what is that? You know, if you ask most Christians today about the word, they think the word means the Bible. They think the word means actual words, like letters on a page, an alphabet. The word has nothing to do with words. It's not a book, it's not a letter. In Scripture, it says, In the beginning, was the Word. In the beginning, before anything was created, was the Word. It says In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.
In the beginning, was the light, the life, the power and the presence of God, that created everything. That's the Word. We need to attune ourselves to the Word. Before we go about doing the work. In other words we need to go within, before we go without.
We know, Scripture tells us, there's a still, small voice that is within us. We need to be contemplatives, we need to get silent, so that we can hear that voice atune ourselves to the word, so that we can then be about the work.
So it's word and work.
And it's Martha and Mary, I want to be clear about that. Jesus is not saying that Martha is bad, and that we should all be like Mary. Jesus's point is that we need both. We need to be people of action, but we also need to be people of contemplation as well. Jesus was a man of action. When you see Jesus in the gospels, he's out there, he's going from town to town. He's teaching and preaching and healing and working miracles. But we also see him throughout the Gospels, going off by himself, going out into the desert, out into the wilderness, up to a mountain top alone by himself, to pray. To be still. He knew that he couldn't do the work without attuning himself to the Word.
So we have here at our church, every Thursday, from 5pm to 6pm, we have a contemplation hour. And we're so grateful to Paul Burdick, who's in the friendship hall this morning, and Dan Mack for facilitating that for us each week. It's an hour of silence here in the church.
But you know, not many people come to that, just a small handful. Because most of us are Marthas, I can't come to the church and sit for an hour at five o'clock I have work to do. I've got dinner to prepare. It's the summer, I'm doing something social. Or we say I couldn't sit for an hour, an hour in the silence just sitting here. My mind is going to constantly be going. And, and I can't do that.
I hear from a lot of congregants that they don't know how to meditate. And it's a question I get a lot. How do you meditate? How do you do that? They say, “Pastor Sal, I've tried. I've tried to meditate, but I just can't do it.” Well, guess what? Next Sunday, the Gospel reading is the one in which the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” And Jesus gives them the instructions for doing so. So this is a little commercial for next Sunday. Come back next Sunday, because we are going to be going through the instructions for how to meditate and how to pray. How to be still. How to calm the mind. I hear from some of you who say, I go hiking, that's my meditation, or I knit, that's my meditation. And that's really good. But you're still doing something. Your hands are still moving, your feet are still moving. It's about being still, doing nothing. And we're gonna get into that next Sunday.
But what I want to encourage you to do between now and next Sunday, is find at least five minutes. Come on, everybody can do this. Find five minutes each day to do absolutely nothing.
Not drink a cup of tea, not have music playing in the background. Five minutes of just sitting in silence, connecting with that still small voice within you. The Sufi poet Rumi says, “There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen to it.”
Find time each day this week to do just that, to do as Mary did, just for five minutes a day. Sit at the feet of Jesus. Be present in the presence, capital P. Be still and Know.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Bishop John Shelby Spong
The attitude of Jesus toward women is shown in several Gospel passages. One is told only by Luke in today’s Gospel story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Martha is busily engaged in the kitchen preparing to serve her guest. She was doing the tasks associated with the role of women in that culture. However, her sister Mary had positioned herself at the feet of Jesus the teacher, assuming the role of a pupil, a learner, perhaps even a rabbinic student. In the process she was redefining the woman’s place in that society. Martha, irritated that her sister was not doing her share of the ‘women’s work,’ demanded that Jesus force Mary to abandon the inappropriate posture of a pupil and return to her proper place in the kitchen. Jesus refused to do so and defends Mary’s choice with the words, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” This can only be read, I believe, as a radical assault on the patriarchal value system of his day. Jesus appears to be a feminist! The church, however, that grew from this Jesus all but universally opposed the feminist revolution that occurred in the 20th century. The sexism in the Christian church is far removed from the ideals and passions of Jesus, its feminist founder. If the church had listened to, observed and learned from the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth about women in both church and society, then the church would have led this fight rather than being dragged screaming and kicking into this new day. If, as John suggests, Jesus’ purpose is that all might have abundant life, then equality and respect for 50% of the human race becomes a compelling Christian necessity.
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