Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon: Only One Thing

Sermon for Pentecost IX - Proper 11C

St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, July 21, 2013

Lectionary readings for the day, click here
Sermon based on Gospel According to Luke 10:38-42
I speak to you in the name of ONE God+. Amen.

In the 1991 movie City Slickers,
there is a touching scene between the gruff and leathery
cowboy “Curly” and
clean-under-the-fingernails city slicker “Mitch,”
The two are riding their horses side by side and
although these two had clashed for most of the movie,
riding along together they connect over
a conversation about life. 

Suddenly, Curly reins his horse to a stop
and turns in the saddle to face Mitch. 
Curly asks, “Do you know what the secret of life is?”
Mitch replies, “No.”
Curly smiles and says, “This (holding up one finger).”
Mitch says, “Your finger?”
Curly explains, “One thing.  Just one thing.   
You stick to that and everything else don’t mean *bleep*.”
Mitch says, “That’s great but what is the one thing?”
Curly says, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”[1]

That “ONE-thing moment” inspired the recent
NY Times best selling book The ONE Thing[2]. 
The book says that by focusing on ONE thing,
you can achieve extraordinary results. 

I think this is what Jesus had in mind when he said to Martha,
“you are worried and distracted by many things;
there is need of only ONE thing.” 

You may remember last week’s Gospel where
the lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And after some prompting, the lawyer recalls
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But “who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks.
In reply, Jesus tells about the Good Samaritan and
reiterates, “Go and do likewise.” 

The question “and how shall I love the Lord my God?”
hangs in the air. Part 2 of this story starts here.
Today, we enter a story of a woman who breaks the rules
by listening to Jesus’ teachings while her sister
works in the kitchen…
Neither the lawyer in the first story nor Martha in today’s story
understands Jesus.
It is the two stories together that illustrate the scandal
that radical obedience to Jesus requires[3] and
what it means to be a disciple.

As Jesus and his disciples continue
on their dusty journey to Jerusalem,
Martha and Mary invite them to their house,
to take off their sandals and rest awhile. 
Martha was faithful to the tradition of hospitality
begun long ago with Abraham as read in Genesis. 

When three angels of the Lord showed up in Abraham’s tent,
he offered them hospitality and turned
to Sarah for her to help,
just as Martha turned to her sister Mary to help.

However, when Jesus arrives,
Mary simply plops herself down on the rug at Jesus’ feet. 
Who could blame Martha for chopping the vegetables loudly,
banging a few pots in the cupboard
and putting the plates on the table with a thump
so that Mary would get up and help? 

Mary was sitting at J’s feet –
acting like a male disciple,
neglecting her duties
and bringing shame on the house.
Mary did not fill the role as that society prescribed.

Martha’s protest is justifiable;
the tasks needed to prepare the meal distract her
from why she is offering hospitality at all.

And her sister Mary’s odd behavior puts her on edge.
Although Martha is filling the role that society prescribed,
Her many tasks distract her from hearing the word of God.

In spite of all the changes between then and now, 
sometimes our many tasks distract us from hearing the word of God 
or from noticing when the Divine draws near..

*sigh* It just seems like there is so much to do –
taking care of our family, pets, the household;
holding down a job and engaging in ministries –
helping with the food pantry,
caring for the poor,
standing up for justice.
Sometimes, doesn’t it seem we are too busy doing God’s work 
to think about where God is in the midst of it?

Yet, our roles prescribed by society / our culture seem
to draw us into a habit of
doing more, pleasing more, serving more.

And, for all the good we get from technology,
it doesn’t help us in this area. 

Linda Stone,[4] a thought leader in innovation
researches the physiology of our relationship with technology.
She reports something called “email apnea” –
how some people actually stop breathing when reading emails.

Stone says that our downfall is not necessarily multi-tasking; 
the problem is [...] technology-enabled
“continuous partial attention.”

Continuous partial attention.

See, when we multi-task, we want to be more productive,
doing as many things at the same time as we can.

When we pay continuous partial attention,
we scan vigilantly for any way to be connected, which means 
we are alive, recognized and that we matter.

Stone emphasizes her ONE thing: Attention.
Attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit” and 
when we offer continuous partial attention, we are distracted.

How is it that our many tasks distract us
from loving God first and foremost in all that we do?
And I’m speaking for me, here, too.
How many times did I check Facebook
when working on this sermon?

Hospitality that is anxious and troubled loses interest
in Jesus, Lord and Guest.

So Jesus, Lord and Guest, answered Martha,
“…There is need of only ONE thing.”

That ONE thing is God’s love,
freely and graciously poured out
in Jesus’ rapt attention.  
* * * *
He says, “Mary has chosen the better part,”
and we note that Jesus chose, too.

Jesus embodied God’s ONE thing: Love. 

Jesus restored focus for Martha and pulled Mary near,
calling them both into discipleship.
God’s love, in Jesus, sustained that household –
in BOTH service AND devotion. 

In both:
care for Jesus as neighbor and
devotion to his word,
Martha and Mary were transformed by grace and love.

Jesus showed that to
“…love God with all your heart and
love your neighbor as yourself”
meant rejecting society’s culturally-defined roles
in favor of how God’s kingdom works. 

Jesus showed Martha
that living into her narrowly-defined role
distracted her from recognizing God. 
Jesus affirmed Mary’s role-breaking move because
Love was her ONE thing.
Jesus promised that sacred, divine Love
would not be taken away from either of them.

Jesus shows us how our roles can distract us
from recognizing God. 
Jesus affirms us in breaking society-defined roles when
Love is our ONE thing.
Jesus promises that sacred, divine Love
will not be taken away from us, even when many tasks distract.

In fact, we are here today because of ONE thing.
The radical love of God in Jesus. 
Jesus pulls us here, just as he pulled Mary near. 
We are here today at Jesus’ feet
to love God.

Even with our many tasks done with
continuous partial attention,
Jesus calls us home .
Jesus chooses us for love.
Jesus maintains full rapt attention on us. 

And our response?
To love back – with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. 

When we position ourselves at Christ’s feet,
then even the distractions of our lives
resound with good news.
“The greatest gift we can give each other
is rapt attention to one another…”[5]

There is need of only ONE thing, Jesus says. 

And so, a closing poem.
Christian Wiman[6] is a poet who writes about
the hunger and challenge of faith.

In a radio interview, he shared about growing up
and attending (with his family) First Baptist Church in Dallas.
At the end of the services, they would offer a call
for people to be saved and
folks would flood the aisles.

One day when Wiman was six or seven years old,
he left his family and ran down the aisle.
His family thought he was going to get saved,
but he just handed the pastor a poem he had written.

Here is that poem,

"I love the Lord and the Lord loves me,
I will not forget and neither will He."

My sisters and brothers,
the radical love of Jesus Christ is our ONE thing.

Through this love, because of this love,
we serve ONE Lord,
we proclaim ONE faith,
we are saved by ONE baptism. 
We are all part of the ONE body of Christ.

The radical love of Jesus Christ is our ONE thing.


[1] Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, (Austin (TX), Bard Press, 2012)
[2] See also the website: cited on July 20, 2013
[3] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Luke (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995) p.226
[4] Website at cited on July 19, 2013
[5] cited on July 17, 2013 – quote by Activist and poet Sue Atchley Ebaugh at
[6] cited on July 15, 2013

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