luke 12:22-31 (slightly off-lectionary)
Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
We spent a lot of time talking about worrying, how some folks seem more “anxious” than others, and how most of us can hardly imagine what it must be like to truly worry about basic necessities like food and clothing. We also wondered if Jesus is really being fair here, asking us not to worry. Great, first I’m worried, then I’m worried about being worried because Jesus says don’t be worried! Ultimately we decided worry here has less to do with a feeling and more to do with our actions. (The Bible is usually more interested in what we do than what we think or feel.) So the issue is not whether or not you feel anxious. The issue is how you act, what you do, despite (or with) that anxiety. Bottom line: spend your time striving for God’s kingdom rather than striving for self-preservation (which is where so much of our anxiety comes from). If we act out of a basic trust in the provisions of God, rather than fear, then everything else will fall into place (or so the text promises).
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Oh how the lectionary study group struggled with this text! Of course it’s Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (we’re more familiar with Matthew’s version), along with some teaching about perseverance in prayer. We spent a lot of time discussing the reality of unanswered prayer: someone who prays with perseverance but the hoped for result does not come. To the great dissatisfaction of everyone, we didn’t make much progress in cracking this conundrum. (Of course people have been working on that one for thousands of years.) Our attention was drawn to the “corporate” dimensions of the prayer: Our Father (not “my” Father). This is not a private prayer. It’s a prayer we pray with others—and not just the people sitting around us, but all of God’s children in need of daily bread—and that means everything in all creation! We recalled that for the people who first prayed this prayer, it was more of a life-or-death matter for them. They really prayed for daily bread because they couldn’t just run to the store and buy some. Most of us in our more settled and fortunate existence cannot imagine that kind of utter dependence and uncertainty. So, as we pray for our daily bread, we’re praying for and on behalf of all those folks for whom daily bread is in doubt. And, as we pray, we are making ourselves available to God to BE the answer to this prayer for others.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
Teri preached on this text a few weeks ago and said everything that needs to be said, so this should be a short sermon! Lots of sermons on this text focus on what the women are doing, with the implication that Mary’s choice to “listen”, to “be” with Jesus is superior to Martha’s choice. And given our culture’s obsession with accomplishment (with “doing”), that’s a pretty good message for us to hear. But I’m drawn to something else. I think the issue is not what they do; the issue is why they do it. Notice Jesus says that Martha is “worried and distracted.” This suggests to me that she’s doing what she’s doing for the wrong reasons. She’s doing it because she has to, because (in her culture) it’s her “job” as a woman to feed the others. Maybe Martha’s doing it to win approval from the others. Who knows? Mary is doing what she’s doing out of love. In fact, Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus as a disciple shows that her love for Jesus has set her free from social norms—instead of being in the kitchen with Martha (the cultural norm) she’s at Jesus’ feet as a man would be. The point is: Mary’s love has set her free; Martha is still trapped by roles and expectations. If she had prepared the meal out of love for the others, I think Jesus would have blessed her for it. And if Mary had sat at Jesus’ feet purely out of obligation, duty, expectation (with resentment, etc.), that would have been condemned. It’s not the choice of what they do so much as why they do it that counts.