Blessed Interruption

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 11/Year C: July 17, 2022
Luke 10:38-42

As a seminarian I had the privilege of serving alongside my mentor, the Rev. Canon Angela Ifill, who was at that time a missioner based at the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York. I quietly observed Canon Angela manage the endless demands of her national and international ministry, while navigating the critical relational aspects of “the office,” homebase, seemingly without overwhelm. It appeared to me that every time my mentor found time to focus on her work, which, by the way, was burdened with deadlines, a colleague would knock on her door asking, “Is this a good time?” or “Did I catch you at a good time?”

Time after time, Angela would stop what she was doing; turn her chair around; and give her full attention to the person standing before her. I shared with her that I did not know how she ever got anything done with the constant interruptions. Canon Angela responded that she perceived interruptions as vehicles for the gifts of stopping her current activity, forcing her to reset and refocus. Think about that. An interruption has the innate power to stop whatever is already in motion and “reset” and “refocus” one’s attention. Canon Angela’s response was a pearl of wisdom that I carry with me, and admittedly struggle to practice with intention. It is with this perspective of the interruption as a gift-bearer that we enter into our gospel passage in the tenth chapter of Luke.

As Martha welcomed Jesus, and his disciples, into her home, she continued to go about her many household tasks, unwilling to be interrupted by the presence of her guests. Martha’s sister, Mary, a much-needed help to her sister, chose to sit at the Lord’s feet. Notice that the gospel writer positions women in ways that Jewish culture would have never allowed. We know that this message is one of discipleship because it depicts Mary in the exceptional position as a disciple who sits at the feet of their teacher. Notice, also, that Mary does not speak in this text. She sits and listens attentively. Jesus’ interruption into a household’s routines bore the gift of Jesus himself—his presence and wisdom—to Mary, the sister who chose to be present with him.

When Martha demanded that Jesus tell her sister to help her with her tasks, Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Essentially, Jesus was saying to Martha that her many tasks, and her worry about what Mary was or was not doing, took the focus off of her and what she should have been doing. In Martha’s home and sitting with Mary at his feet was the image of the invisible God, through whom and for whom all things have been created. And yet, one sister’s soul was drawn toward divine being, and chose to be present with Him, while the other sister, also in the presence of divine being chose to remain busy with her earthly priorities. When Jesus told Martha that, “Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her,” he was urging Martha to discover, by her sister’s example, that one thing—him—standing in her presence and speaking to her.

This passage is not about condemning Martha for going about her daily tasks and praising Mary for choosing to be with Jesus while he was with them. On any given day, any one of us is Martha—checking off the “to do” list, getting through the day and trying to tell Jesus what to do, for us, so that our load might be lightened.

And, on any given day, we are Mary, choosing to stop the world around us—to disconnect—in order to enter into the intimate, listening space of the soul when Jesus shows up to teach. Of the many things that could have distracted Mary from the limited, precious time with Jesus, Mary chose to sit with Jesus and Martha chose to manage her tasks.

We too, must choose. Every day we must choose to be fully present with Jesus; It is a choice and a discipline to engage personal spiritual formation through regular corporate worship, private prayer, scripture study and one that is very difficult for many—solitude. Throughout the gospels Jesus intentionally leaves his disciples to go to places of solitude so that he might pray to His Father. And, in the midst of a home with other people and activities happening around them, Mary created a place of solitude where she was able to block out the “noise” and focus on her Lord.

Christians are formed in our faith communities. Most recognizably, the Church’s season of Lent calls us to practice repentance—which requires the discipline of turning away from those things that distract from Jesus and turning toward him. We are spiritually formed to spend time with Jesus and to be present to him in all things and in all times—not only when the fragile things of this world—and the structures of the world itself—crumble around us.

This congregation continues to grow into God’s call to be His instrument that shares the message with those who do not yet know Christ, and reminds those who already do, that while we may be worried and distracted at times by many things, as those baptized into Christ, Christ calls us to choose the better part, which will not be taken away from us, and to interrupt patterns of behavior that distract from our purpose of being Christ to each other and to the world “out there.”

The Church doesn’t always get it right. The “to do” list for church planting and church nurturing seems like it repopulates itself by the minute. But the discipline of our faith, and how we model our faith for others, manifests in our choosing to focus on Christ when we are being tugged to focus otherwise. The Church does not always get it right, and that is okay, as long as our intent is to get it right. We can hold each other accountable to keeping our eyes on Jesus, who is steadfast, and resist being led by, or distracted by, human behavior, so easily tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14), lest we, the church, like Martha, become worried and distracted by many things.

There is a sign placed at the entrance of our church as worshipers enter from the parking lot. The message is this: “Welcome. You are entering sacred space. Disconnect from the World out there and connect to the Holy in here.” This message is more than a note to turn off your cellphone. The message speaks to the temporal and the eternal. Connect to the Holy in this temporal worship space and connect to the Holy, who dwells within your soul.

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed with the burdens of this human experience, remember that it is good, and necessary, self-care to go off to a place of solitude and to live into your position as Jesus’ disciple, called to sit at the feet of your teacher. Choose to be present with Jesus and choose to sink into His eternal presence. There, may you experience the peace of Christ which passes all understanding.