The Rev. Stephen Norris preached this sermon for St. Andrew’s on July 21, 2013

The Better Path
Luke 10:38-42

Not too long ago, I woke-up on a warm, sunny Saturday morning with a head-full of worries and distractions.  Saturday (Sabbath) is meant to be a day of enjoyment and rest, a day for spending time enjoying God’s creation and those we love.  But on this particular Saturday, I was having a terrible time letting go of my worries and preoccupations-so much so that the time was steadily slipping away.

It was around noon when I found myself in a distracted state which prevented me from really being in the present, enjoying all of God’s gifts of life and love.  In fact, I realized that in my distraction, we had skipped our family prayers.  Upon my remembrance that we had, I immediately stopped worrying and gathered the family so that we could pray.  After praying, something miraculous happened.  Immediately, all of my worries cleared up, like the sky on an early summer afternoon just after a thundershower.  I again sensed that no matter what adversities came my way, I sat at the feet of the one who gives life.  God’s love and mercy once again surrounded me like my grandmother’s warm quilt on a bitterly cold, childhood day.

I immediately realized that the better path for my soul’s sake was to tune in to God pronouncing his words of love over me, which earlier I was unable to hear because I was too distracted.  I was not in tune.  I found myself lost and in need of experiencing God in my body, mind and spirit.

I received a spiritual gift that day.  We all loaded up our bikes and drove to our favorite state park to spend the rest of the day biking and enjoying the outdoors.  Being in God’s creation is one the ways I experience God’s peace.  Glimpsing God’s glory in the great blue sky and witnessing his continuing care for creation helps me experience true life.

Luke the evangelist craftily places today’s story of Martha and Mary between the story of the Good Samaritan and the story of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan that we heard last week, Jesus defines discipleship as learning how to love our neighbors.  But in today’s story of Martha and Mary, discipleship is also defined as learning how to actively sit at Jesus’ feet-in order to experience his words of life and light for the nourishment of our souls.

Martha was doing very necessary work in today’s story.  She was tending to the needs of her guests by showing hospitality to her neighbors.  By cooking and cleaning and tending to their temporal affairs, Martha was doing what her faith required.  But in all of her doing, Jesus finds her confused and distracted.  It’s as if Jesus peers directly into her troubled heart and finds what it is that prevents her from being present with him.  He tells her that she remains worried and distracted by many things.  Jesus proceeds to tell her that she really needs only one thing.  And her sister Mary can be the great exemplar for her in finding that which can never be taken away-which is to experience her worth and being in God’s love alone.

It’s not that our doing is unimportant.  In fact, the opposite is really the truth.  Mary and Martha are equally important models for learning to live the spiritual life.  In order to be whole, our doing and our being must find its genesis in the spirituality of body, mind and soul.  So this isn’t so much a story for justifying one human temperament over and against another.  For we need contemplatives and we need workers.  Instead, it is really a story that points to the necessity of keeping the dual commandment of Jesus which is to about both.  Our service for Holy Eucharist, Rite One puts it this way: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it:  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Is there anything standing in our way of keeping this dual commandment?   Are there distractions or worries preventing us from loving God with all our hearts, souls and minds, or our neighbors, maybe even ourselves?  Is there something we need to do so that we can be set free to experience true life in this place, in this particular moment in time?

In a news release a few weeks ago, Pope Francis expressed his desire to not let the pomp and circumstance, the grandeur and glory, the separate-ness of the Papal life prevent or distract him from experiencing the life-giving Word with those for whom God in Christ died.  Pope Francis said that it was for this reason that he chooses to live outside of the confounds of the Papal Palace, in a simple Vatican Hotel across the way.  In other words, he wants to stay grounded in the practice he has kept up for so long as a Franciscan Priest, which is to experience true life by being with the people who reside outside the gate of privilege and prominence.  He believes that it is important that he remains spiritually grounded in the most important, singular purpose for which he was called and consecrated Pope– to live as a symbol of Christ’s immanent presence with all.

No matter where we find ourselves in this life, Jesus calls us to release every worry and distraction.  He asks us to simply sit at his feet and thereby discover and experience his closeness, his love.  And through experiencing his closeness and love we are given true life, which we receive by being with him.   May we discover and experience ourselves anew, this morning, as sons and daughters of the one who receives us and is with us, bringing us life.  And in doing so, may we understand the wisdom of tending to our souls—which Jesus says is the better path that no one can take away.  AMEN.