Rev. Teri Peterson|
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
26 February 2012, Lent 1B (off lectionary: Heart and Seek)
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But 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.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Last summer there was an article in the LA Times whose headline I have borrowed for my sermon title. The article was about the value of doing nothing—the argument was that idleness feeds our creativity and gives our brains room to have new ideas. In addition to the scientific evidence there was the anecdotal evidence of writers, musicians, and artists of all types. To do nothing, to just “stand there,” is an important practice without which we become cogs in the world’s often unjust machine.
The article didn’t touch on spirituality, but I think it applies there too. Without some space that looks suspiciously like just standing there, doing nothing, our spirits wither just as surely as our creative energy does. In fact, I would suggest the two are related, or even one and the same. Without time doing nothing, without mental and spiritual space, we find ourselves simply going around doing things, often mindlessly or simply because they are expected of us, or worse because we believe we can rely only on ourselves, and after a while that can pull us off our foundation—and, as Jesus says, if we haven’t built our lives on a strong foundation, when the storm comes we’ll be tossed around and feel abandoned.
This story of Mary and Martha is one that drives many good Presbyterians bonkers, because it implies that sitting around is better than doing tasks. Many Presbyterians are do-ers, we like to get to work and get things done, to not just stand there but to do something...sometimes it almost feels as if we can save the world with our to-do lists. And if either mindless doing or saving the world is behind our work, then we are definitely reading this story right, and it should make us uncomfortable—because compared to that kind of doing, it really is high time that we learned to sit at the feet of Jesus and just listen.
And in fact, I think it’s true—it’s time that we take some Sabbath, that we rest and remind ourselves that God made the world and continues to care, and our work is not going to save the world—Jesus is busy with that task himself. It’s okay to leave some things undone in order to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen and absorb and be Centered on the One, to learn to rely on God...
I Meant To Do My Work Today
We are so prone to concentrate on what we are doing or not doing. Please hear me—what we do and don’t do are important. But even more important is to remember in our doing that it's not all about us, but about God. It's about what God is doing and has done not only here and now, but in times long ago and in a future we cannot even dimly see.1
Taking some time to just be in the presence of God, without any tangible results, is a big focus for the season of Lent. Lent is a time of examination and of turning back to God. We take time to intentionally, and with our whole selves—mind, body, heart, spirit—look for what God is doing in our midst. Often we church people engage in that seeking by having more events during Lent, but this year we’re trying something different—we’re having fewer events, hoping that a change in our usual way of doing things will offer space for the Spirit to enter and move, space for us to wander through thoughts and hear the call of silence, space to see and feel and hear and know God more deeply. We’re going to try a season of just standing there, and see what we notice around us. We hope you’ll share where you notice God moving in your own life and in the church—what is the Spirit saying to the church in this time and place?
As we practice this not-doing, this meditation and prayer, this listening, this sitting at the feet of Jesus, the ultimate goal is not to become a church full of people who do nothing but sit around. The purpose of this kind of practice is to learn to take the presence of God, the stillness, the peace, the joy with us into our tasks. So we aren’t simply doing things because it’s what we’re supposed to do, we aren’t resentful about the enormity of the tasks, we aren’t worried and distracted by many things—instead, we are focused and real, knowing that the things we do are what God calls us to do, for the glory of God and not the glory of ourselves. Because it’s true that dinner needs to be on the table, the laundry needs to be done, and the report completed. It’s true that the hungry need to be fed, the earth cleaned up, and justice done. But we want to learn to become a Mary-Martha hybrid. Not Martha who’s constantly thinking of all the things she has to do, and how little help she has, and going through the motions of what is simply expected—no matter who is in the house—while her mind races a mile a minute. Nor can we go on forever as Mary. But remember who IS in the house—not just anyone, but Jesus. God is in their midst, and while Martha misses it, Mary has the sense to focus her attention where it belongs. Can we take that focus, that mindfulness, into every task we have to do? Not if we don’t try out being Mary for a while. And when we do...
Holy As A Day Is Spent...
As we make some space for the Spirit to move, removing ourselves from at least some of our usual routines, for moments or for months, that change in routine and that space in the schedule can shift the way we see, give us new perspective. We begin to see our God-infused world, and our tasks as sacraments and prayers. And that new perspective is exactly what we’re going to need if we’re going to seek God—who is often hidden in plain sight, if only we would open our eyes to see.
May it be so. Amen.
1 adapted from Kate Huey’s Sermon Seeds (UCC) for February 26.