Saturday, July 17, 2010

Finding a balance

Genesis 18:1-10a
Luke 10:38-42

When Dave and I were young, we had the chore of doing the dishes every night. Sometimes we had a dishwasher, but mostly, we didn’t. I washed, and Dave dried. For some reason, it seemed like Dave always had to go to the bathroom while we were supposed to be doing the dishes.
I noticed that although I had plenty of work to do, by the time Dave made it back from the bathroom, the dishes, which I had rinsed in very hot water, were dry enough to put away. It didn’t seem fair that I was slaving away, and he wasn’t. So, I kept the dishes wet for him.
About 20 years later, my grandmother lived with us. She liked to get the kitchen work done, so she could go back to her book. But the rest of us were accustomed to lingering at the table with our coffee and conversation. We learned that if we didn’t want Nana to take away our cups, we had to hang onto them. Otherwise, she would whisk them off the table and into the dishwasher before we could finish our coffee.
We don’t know, from the story, but I have a hunch Martha wanted to get done sooner, so she could listen, too. I understand Martha’s dilemma in this short story in Luke’s gospel. It’s not fair, and it seems that by now, Martha knows that Jesus likes life to be fair, just, for all. So she appeals to him to help her. But, instead of helping her, and sending Mary to the kitchen, he invites Martha to join the group in the living room. We don’t need a fancy meal; we’ll be fine with some hummus and bread, and some sliced vegetables. Leave the kitchen, leave the dishes, you can clean up later.
Jesus continues to challenge the social rules, as he invites women to be equal partners with men in learning and discussing what God wants us to know. It was customary for women to not be part of discussions such as Jesus and the disciples were having. As in Abraham and Sarah’s time, women listened from behind the walls, beyond the curtain.
They would never sit at the feet of a male speaker; especially they would not sit there with other men. Women passed on to their daughters their own traditions like lighting the Sabbath candles and keeping the meat and milk dishes separate. They learned from the men in their lives what the men thought they needed to know about Torah. Jesus, by inviting Martha to join Mary at his feet, says that women are equal to men, and deserve to be there to hear whatever he has to say.
Often, we are torn between two main parts of our lives. In Michigan, I made phone calls to five or six young families who had not been at church for a while, but members told me they used to be active. The families mostly said both parents worked 6 days a week, and had youth in sports or other activities, and Sunday was their only day to get the laundry, shopping, and cleaning done. The time attending Sunday school and church took left them with not enough time for the chores.
It can be a serious challenge to find enough time each week, much less each day, for prayer and worship, but I think that is what Jesus is really saying to Martha. We should not let ourselves be so distracted by our to-do lists, or our spouses’ honey-do lists, that we don’t have time left over for God.  
Some people simply have to mark on their calendars to take time for prayer, because if it isn’t blocked out, it gets used for other stuff. Other people find they need to pray before they get out of bed, or they never take the time. Those who have busy days may find time at bedtime to give thanks for the day and turn their worries over to God for the night.
There are many ways to pray. When we pray, we can tell God what is on our minds and hearts; and we can listen for what is on God’s mind and heart. Hearing what God is saying to us is at least as important as what we are saying to God. We need a balance between speaking and listening when we communicate with God.
We can pray with words, using our own words, or we can use traditional words. Martin Luther prayed the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer each day. Many people find the simple prayers of the Rosary to be helpful, to put their mind at one with God’s, if only for a few moments. We can study scripture, alone and with others. Jesus encourages us to do both, I believe. He knew the Torah well, but also invited the disciples and others – like Mary and Martha – to join him in discussing it.
We can sing our prayers, or dance them, or draw them. We can put our words to the rhythms of poetry. We can pray while we walk. I know some folks who pray as they drive, but I don’t think that’s the best idea, since our attention is divided between God and the road. Now, you could pray about driving, that God will protect you from those who are not paying attention to their driving. J
We can meditate as we pray. We can begin with a Bible passage and put ourselves into the story, and wait to discover what God is saying to us through the passage. There may be no words to our prayers, simply a time out with God as our focus.
And we can serve as we pray, using our hands and feet to love God by loving others. Hope does a great job of serving others. The newly-formed Martha Circle does exactly that. Each month, in addition to the great work of making quilts, they assemble shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, put together kits for Lutheran World Relief, and so forth. This is how Martha was praying – serving Jesus by feeding him and the disciples.
It’s important to have a balance in our prayer lives and in our daily lives. I loved this story from The Lutheran. One year, some men were talking. They wanted to make some gifts for Christmas, and decided to work together to make some wooden crosses. As they thought about a name for their group, they said, “Women have circles, so maybe we can have a square.” Their group is named “Joseph’s Square” after Jesus’ carpenter father.
Although they planned to meet for only a short time, they kept getting requests for their crosses, so now they meet monthly to make crosses and other objects out of wood. They give away everything they make, and have been blessed by God in their serving. Once, they were wondering how to get more wood, and someone was looking for a place to donate a garage full of hardwood. It took several trips and pick-up loads, and they had plenty of wood for a long time.
Joseph’s Square normally begins with devotions, but one day they had a lot to do, so they skipped the devotions. That day, the machines didn’t work as well as usual, and they had to throw away most of what they made. They forgot to keep the balance; some time for God, some time for being busy.
It used to be easier to find a balance. It used to be that stores and gas stations were closed on Sundays, so it was a lot easier to attend worship and Sunday school in the morning, and stay home and rest, be with family, study and discuss the Bible for the rest of the day, with another worship service in the evening. Beyond taking care of the animals, it was a day one could devote to God and prayer.
But, life has changed. Many stores are open every day, and some all night. Our cars and highways take us far and wide, and our society expects our worship patterns to bend around all the other demands on our time and energy.
It’s harder than it used to be, but we can do it. We can challenge ourselves to keep a balance between those activities that take us away from God, and those activities that bring us closer to God. Whether we pray with our words, our music, our silence, or our hands, let us remember to put some time in each day to pray, to communicate with God. Pay attention this week: how balanced is your life? Does God bet a fair amount or your time and attention? Is God calling you to give more time to prayer?
Please pray with me: Lord, you called Martha away from her business to spend some time with you. Call out to us as well, when we need to be more balanced. We know you are with us always; help us to remember you are as close to us as our hearts, if we’ll only pay attention. Amen