Blocking Out Distractions

Luke 10:38-42
David A. Davis
March 24, 2019
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Jesus does not often call people by name. When you stop and think about, it is actually very rare in the four gospels, a rare occasion Jesus calls someone by name. You will remember that when Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus, Jesus said “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). That is in John’s Gospel. It’s also in John’s gospel when Jesus calls the dead man out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” And then there is that unforgettable resurrection morning scene inside the tomb when the Risen Jesus calls her by name. “Mary”. That’s also in John.

Here in Luke, it happens even less. Jesus calling someone by name. Yes, many of the people who encounter Jesus along the way, the ones Jesus heals, those he teaches, the folks who call out it or talk to him, they are most often nameless. And maybe the oral traditions of antiquity and those first scribes, maybe the use of a name was just not all that conventional in reporting dialogue. I don’t know. But I do know that it just doesn’t happen very often. Jesus calling someone by name. Jesus using someone’s name. There was the short guy up in the tree. “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down”, Jesus said as he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. That’s in Luke. One time in Luke when Jesus was in a Pharisee’s house, a woman labeled in the gospel as a sinner bathed Jesus feet with ointment and her tears. The Pharisee, the owner of the house, was not pleased and said out loud that Jesus should have known better, known better than to have a woman “like her” touch him. Jesus said “Simon, I have something to say to you.” The Pharisee’s name was Simon and Jesus went on to tell Simon that she, as opposed to Simon, had shown great love and that any sins of hers were forgiven.

That last night, the last night Jesus was with his disciples, not surprisingly, a few more names come from the lips of Jesus. “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” And the exchange with Peter about his upcoming, three-peat denial, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me”, that exchange begins with what is a strong and often forgotten word of encouragement from Jesus to Peter: “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when you have turned back, you strengthen your brothers.” Simon, Simon. Jesus doesn’t use names all that often and here, only in Luke, Jesus repeats Simon Peter’s name twice. That’s not a rebuke, it’s a word of encouragement. It’s a promise. It’s a plea. Simon, Simon.

“Martha, Martha”, Jesus said. “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.” Martha, Martha. It’s a word of encouragement. It’s a promise. It’s a plea. Martha, Martha.

I have told the congregation before and it has been shared a few times in the children’s time that I have used the same study bible for my preaching life my entire ministry. I’ve had to get a new one a few times, for wear and tear and when the New Revised Version came out. But these three, exact same bibles have been it. Of course I use all kinds of resources, read other versions, and email bible scholar Nassau members on a regular basis. My own living breathing library as it were. But I am here to tell you that it may be time for this creature of habit to make a change. This one footnote that I am about to read to you from my study bible might just drive this preacher to make a change after more than 30 years.

Footnote, verse 42; the verse that begins “Martha, Martha”. “With delegate ambiguity Jesus rebuked Martha’s choice of values; a simple meal (one dish) is sufficient for hospitality. Jesus approved Mary’s preference for listening to his teaching contrasted with Martha’s unneeded acts of hospitality (the more usual woman’s role).” Let me be more precise regarding Jesus’ response earlier in Luke to Simon the Pharisee concerning the woman who anointed his feet. “Turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with anointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”  Jesus had to have known that Martha, with her hospitality, was showing him just as much love as Mary. It’s not a rebuke. It’s a word of encouragement. It’s a promise. It’s a plea. Martha, Martha.

My current study published in 1991 lists more than 30 current contributors, including those who contributed to prior edition. In that list of more than 30 biblical scholars there are two women (and I checked on Leslie, Carey, Pheme and Burke). 2 out of 30. 1991. And if there was someone of color, I would be surprised. So yes, that footnote was written by a man. That footnote that illustrates the lasting domination on biblical scholarship of people who look and identify like me. People who from their perspective and innate bias decided and pretty much convinced readers of the New Testament ever since that Jesus rebuked Martha and her “choice of values”.  It’s not a rebuke. It’s a word of encouragement. It’s a promise. It’s a plea. Martha, Martha.

In her 2002 book on prayer, Anne Lamott writes this: “…the breath, the glory, the goodness of God- [are] given. Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds….Sometimes- oh, just once in a blue moon—I resist being receptive to God’s generosity, because I’m busy with a project and trying to manipulate Him or Her into helping me with it, or with getting my toys fixed or any major discomfort to pass. But God is not a banker or a bean counter. God gives us even more, which is so subversive. God gives, to us, to you and me, I mean, look at us! Yikes. God keeps giving, forgiving, and inviting us back. My friend Tom says this is a scandal and that God has no common sense.”

There in the book Anne Lamott shares one of her own prayers. “Hi God, I am just a mess. It is all hopeless. What else is new? I would be sick of me, if I were you, but miraculously You are not. I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet, I believe that if I accept this and surrender, You will meet me wherever I am. Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this afternoon, say two-ish? Thank You in advance for Your company and your blessings. You have never let me down. Amen.”

Martha, Martha.

On Thursday, the second week of Lent, our Nassau Lenten devotional was written by a church member who is now many weeks into his inpatient treatment for leukemia at the Cancer Institute at Robert Wood Johnson. The devotionals were written and turned in a long time ago. In this case, before his diagnosis. His devotional was on Psalm 27:13, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the lord in the land of the living.” “This verse strike s me as entirely appropriate for the world in which we live”, he writes. “As we move through our days that are filled with conflict and vitriol on so many levels, it can be easy to lose sight of our continual need to seek, find, and enjoy the goodness of the Lord….Sometimes, we need to be reminded to slow down and be patient as we “wait for the Lord”. If we do, wonderful things are possible and our faith will be rewarded….Help us, Lord, as we seek the peace only you can provide. Help us to be patient an to see your goodness in the land of the living. Amen.”

Martha, Martha.

In her short novel “Gilead”, Marilynne Robinson writes of a Presbyterian minister, John Ames and a letter he wrote to his son as he knew his own life was coming to end. “Today was the Lord’s Supper, and I preached on Mark 14:22….Normally I would not preach on the Words of Institution themselves when the sacrament is the most beautiful illumination of them there could be. But I have been thinking a great deal about the body these last weeks. Blessed and broken…I wanted to talk about the gift of physical particularity and how blessing and sacraments are mediated through it. I have been thinking lately how I have loved my physical life. In any case, and you may remember this, when almost everyone had left and the elements were still on the table and the candles were still burning, your mother brought you up the aisle and said, ‘you ought to give him some of that.’ You’re too young [right now] but she was completely right. Body of Christ, broken for you. Blood of Christ, shed for you. Your solemn and beautiful child face lifted up to receive these mysteries at my hands. They are the most wonderful mystery, body and blood.”

Martha, Martha.

Just Monday of this week I attended a funeral at the Jewish Center of Princeton officiated by my friend Rabbi Feldman. The funeral was for the father of a very close friend of our 25 year old son, Ben. Mike was my age and died very suddenly in Florida. He was a father of four, really loved, and well known in town. He had run half marathon not long ago. There were so many people at the service. Tons of young adults. Friends of the four kids. Friends from growing up, friends from college, friends from work. And lots of parents of those friends too. As I sat and listened to each of the four kids speak through their grief and tell everyone how much they loved their dad and how certain they were of their father’s love for them, I thought to myself: every father around my age in this room is thinking just like me. We were all thinking of our own mortality and what our children would say about us.

Martha. Martha.

Thursday I had a particularly long day. I had a bit of time before the Session meeting so I went from my office down to Niles Chapel determined to remember a song I learned to play and sing when I was in high school. It is the song I played and sang at my wife Cathy’s ordination to Word and Sacrament. I’ve long since lost the music and I mostly play by ear anyway. But for several years I would sit down at the piano and only get part way through. It took me a few tries, more than a few tries, but I finally got it. I finally remembered it; both the piano part and the words. If you’ve never had the chance to sit in Niles Chapel all by yourself, you ought to try it one day. The song goes like this, “Slow down, slow down, be still, Be still and hear God’s voice. Be still and know that God is God.”

Martha, Martha.

The rock, blues singer Van Morrison has a song called “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God.”

You brought it to my attention
That everything that was made in God
Down through centuries of great writings and paintings
Everything was in God
Seen through architecture of great cathedrals
Down through the history of time
Is and was in the beginning and evermore
Shall ever be


When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?


And up on the hillside it’s quiet
Where the shepherd is tending his sheep
And over the mountains and the valleys
And the countryside is so green
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder
You can see everything is made in God
Head back down the roadside
And give thanks for it all


When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?


Martha, Martha. It’s not a rebuke. It never was. In Luke, Jesus only rebukes demons and evil spirits. Demons, evil spirits, and James and John when they wanted to rain fire down on the Samaritans. Demons, evil spirits, James and John. Not Martha.

Martha, Martha.  It’s a word of encouragement. It’s a promise. It’s a plea. For Martha and for you and for me.