May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Before the pandemic, before it was cool to do loads of services and talks on the internet, I was investigating how we might share the faith with those who would never come to church. Then I saw in the local Sunderland newspaper, that google were opening a pop up training shop in the town. It looked really cool, with bean bags instead of chairs, and hip people being hip in it. I felt, when I visited, like I should be skateboarding in, the newest mobile phone in one hand and a Grande mocha choca americano vegan latte coffee from Starbucks or costa or whatever in the other hand. I felt like I was in an iPhone ad. They were offering free courses around use of the internet, so I signed up to one, particularly internet marketing and social media. I had signed up at the time, because I reckoned that if a total gooseberry like Donald Trump could use social media to spread his nonsense to the point of being elected as President, well, maybe if I learnt how to use social media well, perhaps I could share the Good News in Sunderland a bit better too.
Anyway, this course was fascinating, a fascinating insight into how modern society works. These tech giants really know how to get under our skins and everything that is produced on the internet, from adverts to articles is deliberately designed to produce an emotional response. This was why trump was so good at influencing people. His hate filled tweets produced, deliberately, emotional responses in people. He’s not too bothered how as long as the positive responses outweigh the negative in his voters. It is the response that he is interested in. It makes people give an emotional response and kept trump in the headlines. The reason politicians are now so visceral and awful is that it gets people’s attention and that is what makes the difference, in a world where everything grabs for our attention.
According the google expert at this session, research shows that the average person is bombarded with 4000 to 10000 marketing messages every single day. Because of this, the average attention span has dropped now to a mere 4 seconds. Everywhere we turn, we are being asked to give our attention to something, and the competition in our society is fierce. Our attention is the commodity that is running the modern economic and governmental spheres. The intelligent, sensible and good has lost to the intriguing the beguiling and the vulgar in our world. We live in a world that has changed drastically over the last 10 years, and that change is accelerating. We live in a world dominated by distraction.
In this new world of lives consumed by busyness and distraction our gospel reading provides a healthy reminder of where our focus needs to be.
Jesus is visiting Mary and Martha. Mary sits at the Lords feet and listens to what He is saying. Martha of course is distracted by the chores and gets rather upset that her sister isn’t helping.
Jesus simply says ‘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.’
This often-quoted story in the bible brings to my mind two questions, that I think we all need to consider in our own walk with God.
The first is that question of distraction. Most of us live in homes where radios or TVs or smart phones are always on, always waiting to take our attention. We live lives dominated by our duties. Our duties to our families, to our workplace to our home upkeep, to our social calendars, to our clubs or societies or even our church. We live lives dominated by toil, and most of us are addicted to it. don’t think you are addicted? Try doing nothing in silence for 1 hour. Bet you can’t do it. None of those things, duties, TV and other distractions are necessarily bad are they? But when we look back on our lives, what is it that we value most? What is it that we hold dear?
On funeral visits when we have the great privilege of hearing about a person’s life. We often hear what TV they liked, or what work they did or what their hobbies were. But those are the side notes largely to a life. It is really about the love the person had, the time they spent together with their family, the interactions they nurtured with those around them. Those are the things we hold dear, that mean the most. We don’t light candles for cancelled TV shows but we often light them in memory of the people we love yet see no longer.
So what is the problem? I think when we hear Jesus rebuke Martha, He is really asking her to get here priorities right. Housework or chores are fine and they need to be done. TV’s, smart phones, chores and hobbies are fine too. But they should not be on top of our list of priorities. Relationship, love, grace, those things should be on the top of the list and for many of us they are not. When Jesus points Martha to Mary, He is saying ‘prioritise that which is most important’. It is no mistake, that communion, meeting Jesus, spending time with Jesus in the bread and the wine form the centre of Christian worship. It brings us with the saints in glory into communion, into fellowship with God. The most important thing we do is fellowship. Its not the act, it’s the relationship.
Fellowship with God and fellowship with fellow images of God, the people in our family and the people outside the family. Fellowship harbours love and love harbours life. Jesus is pointing Martha and us to that which gives life. That which gives life is fellowship with God and with each other. I know I need to get better at this. What distracts you from receiving more life and love from God? The distractions will be different for all of us. Can I encourage you to let go of your distraction and spend time with your loving heavenly Father and your lovely earthly friends and family made in the Fathers image?
Second, we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, simply receiving from Him. She is not doing she is being. Being with God, receiving true joy and love and wisdom. For Mary, she sits at the feet of Jesus and she sees God. When we give up our distractions the next challenge is to sit at the feet of Jesus. That is easier said than done.
It may not surprise you to hear that one of my key skills is to open my mouth and insert my foot often. On one memorable occasion while training a bishop was telling me about doing a 30 day silent retreat. I said, “my goodness that’s a long time, I could never be silent for that long.” Woops. He called over the guy responsible for training, pointed to me and said “send him on a 8 day silent retreat to St Beuno’s”. So, six months later, off I trotted to north wales to start 8 days of awful silence. I was going to go mad. During the retreat, I had to pray for about 5 hours each day, by myself. I met once a day with a spiritual director to get my next prayer task or bible reading. Much to my surprise, it was one of the most powerful experiences of God I have ever had. Instead of being dreadful it was utterly wonderful, a time filled with love from God. If I could go again I would at the drop of a hat. Why is being in silence often a very useful way of communing with God? It is not some strange form of punishment only reserved for monks, nuns and nutters. No it is a tool that is useful because it removes distraction and allows you to come into the presence of your heavenly Father and receive His love. No barriers, no distractions, just you and Him. In that space you find love. This should be our priority.
One of the hard balancing acts we need to get right here, is to make sure that we don’t let too much activity get in the way of simply being the family of God. I am utterly convinced that if we concentrate on being the family of God, rather than doing, we will be blessed. That is why what we do in church must always be a blessing a never a burden.
We live in a world full to the brim of nonsense. We as Christians are invited to be in the world but not of it. we need to look at the nonsense of the world and walk another path, a path paved with truth, a path paved with light and a path that leads us to sit at the feet of Jesus. Ask those questions, what is it in my life that distracts me from what is most important? Can I reprioritise to dedicate myself to spending more time with others, particularly with God? Can I find my way of sitting at God’s feet and can I keep practicing it?
These questions are ones we all need to keep asking and answering. If we can move ourselves away from distraction and prioritise time with our Creator, sitting at His feet, we will find ourselves growing into the people God called us to be, and a blessing to all those around us. That is the only way we can fight all the nonsense of our world, by spending as much time being the people of God, with God and not distracted by the fallen world all around us, clamouring for attention.