Sunday, July 17, 2016

Martha, Mary, and Mindfulness

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 17, 2016

Year C, Proper 11: The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Martha, Mary, and Mindfulness
            Many of you know that each morning, Monday through Saturday, I try to post on Facebook a Scripture verse or a quote from some holy woman or man as a little bit of inspiration to help people get through the day.
            Not on Sunday! You’re supposed to come to church on Sunday for your inspiration!
            The other day I posted a quote from a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who I respect and admire very much, Thich Nhat Hanh. Maybe some of you have heard of him.
            The quote was his Buddhist reflection on our Christian Eucharist.
            Here’s what he had to say:
            "The practice of the Eucharist is a practice of awareness. When Jesus broke the bread and shared it with his disciples, he said, 'Eat this. This is my flesh.' He knew that if his disciples would eat one piece of bread with mindfulness, they would have real life. In their daily lives, they may have eaten their bread in forgetfulness, so the bread was not bread at all; it was a ghost. In our daily lives, we may see the people around us, but if we lack mindfulness, they are just phantoms, not real people, and we ourselves are also ghosts. Practicing mindfulness enables us to become a real person. When we are a real person, we see real people around us, and life is present in all its richness.”
            Beautiful, right?
            Now, he’s a Buddhist and so what he has to say isn’t quite orthodox Christian teaching, but I like his point that eating the Body of Christ is a call to mindfulness, to eat and live with more awareness than we usually do, to really pay attention.
            And that’s more important than ever because the truth is that most of the time most of us don’t pay much attention at all.
            A couple of weeks ago I told you about my walks around the neighborhood.
            One of the things I’ve observed is that as people walk or drive around so many of them are cocooned in our own worlds, listening to whatever is pumping into their heads from their earbuds, looking intently at their cellphone screens, and now trying to catch a Pokemon, including right here outside church.
            People are texting as they’re walking, sometimes stepping out into the street front of cars driven by people who, yes, are also texting.
            Not paying attention, not very mindful, and very dangerous.
            And then there’s the reality, much older than earbuds, texting, and Pokemon:  many of us don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around us, aren’t very mindful, because we have a lot on our plate.
            Most of the year kids have plenty of schoolwork to do plus have to deal with all the challenges of growing up, especially growing up in the city with so many dangers and temptations all around.
            Parents have the responsibility of raising their children, working so hard to pay the rent, keep food in the fridge, figure out childcare, get kids to practices and rehearsals, worry, worry, worry, trying so hard to provide a better life to the next generation.
            Those of us who are older may regret choices we’ve made, wonder if we should’ve gone left instead of right, fear for our health and well-being, or the wellness of those we love.
            And, all of us, I think, even those of us who turn the channel when the news comes on, are preoccupied with the mess of our world and the mess of our country.
            We were all horrified but, sadly, not shocked by the latest terror attack – this time, once again, in France - as another apparently angry and hateful, and, yes, Muslim, man intent on killing as many people as possible plowed a truck into a large crowd in Nice simply enjoying fireworks on Bastille Day.
            And, our country. Our country.
            We’re still staggering from the massacre in the Orlando nightclub, the recent alleged police brutality, the executions of the five officers in Dallas, and the everyday bloodshed that has become part of the backdrop of American life.
            We’re in the midst of a dreadful presidential election, somehow saddled with two candidates that most people don’t trust or like very much, two candidates who most people recognize won’t be able to tackle the enormous challenges we face, aren’t able to bridge our ever-deepening divisions.
            How did we end up like this? How has this happened?
            Many of you know that this summer some of us have been reading The New Jim Crow, which is about the mass incarceration of black men in our country, dating back to the War on Drugs that really got underway back in the ‘80s.
            Last week I was reading this sad, terrible, infuriating story of people of color rounded up, usually for minor drug offenses, lives permanently ruined by a criminal record while drugs remain readily available on the street, I was reading this just as the stories of roadside stops gone bad and the massacre in Dallas played out in the news, I kept asking myself, I was pretty much grown up in the 80s and certainly since then, so how come I was only vaguely aware of all of this? How come I didn’t really notice the magnitude of the “new Jim Crow”? How did this happen? How did we let this happen?
            The answer of course is that, first I’m a white man and second, along with lots of other people of all different races, I was wrapped up in my own stuff, wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t mindful – didn’t really see the people around me right here in Jersey City as real people but instead, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, as phantoms, as ghosts.
            And, finally, worst of all, I think it’s safe to say, with all of this going on, many of us haven’t been mindful, haven’t been paying attention, to God’s presence, God’s work in our lives.
            Which brings us at last to today’s gospel lesson.
            Jesus and his disciples are still on their way to Jerusalem when we’re told they enter a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home.
            In our own culture we’ve lost some of this, but in most times and places hospitality was and is very highly valued.
            So, we can easily imagine – and sympathize with – Martha who’s quite frazzled as she prepared for, welcomed, and served her honored guest and his disciples. We’re not told how many are there, but probably at least the twelve, right? A big deal. A lot of work.
            Notice that Martha is doing all the right things, she’s not on her cellphone checking Facebook, she’s not out hunting for Pokemon while the bread burns in the oven. No, she’s hard at work, offering hospitality, doing her best to be a gracious and welcoming host.
            Meanwhile, her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what he was saying.
            Martha gets fed up, as we would, and asks Jesus – and, if you notice, actually commands Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her then to help me.”
            Jesus replies, “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.”
            We’re not told Martha’s reaction to this - which is probably for the best, right?
            So, here’s the thing: Martha is doing everything right but since she’s absorbed in her many tasks and focused on her very real troubles and grievances, she’s not really mindful of what’s happening right there in her own home: Jesus is under her roof – Jesus, in the words of our second lesson, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” Jesus is right there!
            Mary gets that the “one thing,” “the better part,” is to be mindful and pay attention to Jesus.
            So, for Martha, and definitely for us, it’s time to start paying attention, time to be mindful.
            And, maybe we can follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s insight and begin our mindfulness right here at the Lord’s Table as we take that little sliver of bread, bread that is so much more than bread, into our bodies and into our souls.
            And, with God’s help, as we head out onto the streets of Jersey City, let’s walk, ride, and drive mindfully, really seeing the people around us not as ghosts but as beloved children of God, carrying around burdens that we probably can’t even begin to imagine, sorely in need of love and peace.
            And, as we live our lives with all of our tasks and challenges, let’s carve out even just a little bit of space to be mindful of God, to sit at the feet of Jesus, Jesus who’s right here in our home.