October 25, 2020 Sermon
“The Forest For the Trees: Busy-ness”
Scripture Reading – Luke 10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
“The Forest for the Trees: Busy-ness”
“I’m too busy!”
I wonder how many times I’ve uttered these words during the course of my life? I know I’d be a very rich man if I had five or ten dollars for every time I’ve uttered these words:
- I’m too busy to do something with my kids.
- I’m too busy to do something with Susan.
- I’m too busy to take a day off from work or to go on vacation.
- I’m too busy to take a nap when I’m tired.
- I’m too busy to stop and enjoy each bite of my food – I choose instead to rush through meals instead of enjoying the flavors and textures of each bite.
- I’m too busy to stop and enjoy God’s creation placed before me.
- When I’m on a road trip, I’m too busy trying to get to my destination to stop and enjoy interesting things along the way – I imagine I’ll get a chance to get back to them…someday.
- I’m too busy to pray.
- I’m too busy to read scripture.
- I’m too busy to sing songs of praise.
As I look at the list, one thing stands out; it seems the things I’m “too busy” to do are ALSO the things in life that are MOST worth doing. I mean, at the end of my life, I can’t imagine looking back and saying to myself, “I sure wish I would have spent more time working….or washing clothes…or paying bills…or doing yardwork…or doing taxes” …or pretty much ANYthing else that causes me to exclaim, “I’m too busy!”
Today is the fourth Sunday of a 7-week long sermon series entitled “forest for the trees.” Throughout my ministry, it has been very easy to feel like we in Christ’s Universal Church struggle with seeing the forest for the trees. So, God has directed me to offer a sermon series to help you – help us – wrestle with this issue, to help you – help us – prayerfully seek discernment about what constitutes the forest and what constitutes the trees…at this moment in human history.
You might recall that what I’ll refer to as “the forest” during this series is what Jesus was primarily about and so what God calls Christ’s Church to primarily be about…which is communicating the gospel of God’s grace, communicating the message that God offers us life when we by our sins deserve death. And I’ve told you that another way to state Jesus’ primary purpose is in terms of ushering in God’s kingdom here on earth, God’s kingdom, of course, being the place where everyone does the will of our God who is graceful.
Presently, we’re in the midst of looking at some of the trees that get in the way of our focusing on that amazing forest of God’s grace. In these sermons, we’re looking at the trees God identified in the scriptures, particularly looking at how these trees manifest themselves today, how they distract us from our primary purpose in this time and place. AND, we’ll be looking to see what we can learn from the scriptures about how to overcome the distractions, how to look past the trees and get our focus back on the forest, back on our primary purpose.
Today’s tree is busy-ness.
In our gospel reading, Martha was too busy. The gospel writer Luke tells us “Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” That’s what this is about. Martha’s busy-ness distracted her…kept her from seeing the forest. Martha’s busy-ness, her attempt to focus on her many tasks, prevented Martha from seeing the forest of God’s grace…in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ…who was RIGHT in front of her. Can you imagine having Jesus right in front of you but being too busy to spend time with him? We likely all think we would make the choice of Mary…but I wonder.
We don’t really know what Martha’s many tasks were – Luke doesn’t tell us. But we can guess. Since Jesus was a guest in her home, and since Martha seems to be portrayed as a good person of God, her tasks PROBABLY related to things she thought God wanted her to do, things related to what we today call biblical hospitality, things like:
- Cooking a meal. Since Martha didn’t have an electric or even gas oven or a microwave…and since Martha couldn’t pick up ready-to-cook packaged food from her local supermarket, this cooking task was probably much more involved and time-consuming than it is today.
- Setting the table. Jesus was quite an honored guest, so we can imagine Martha getting out whatever the equivalent of the “good china”, the best candles, and other decor that would befit the presence of the Messiah around her table.
- Preparing the elements of ritual cleansing. Remember, indoor plumbing wasn’t a thing in that time and place, so Martha didn’t have running water accessible in her home. But ritual handwashing WAS a thing, so someone needed to get some water – which is quite a task when there’s no running water in the house, procure a proper pitcher, and prepare other elements of the ritual ceremony.
- Maybe even clean the house. Can you imagine if the Messiah happened to be in town today, so you invited him over to your home. Even if you keep your house pretty clean, if the Messiah is in the house you just might want things to be perfect. So imagine the state of your home, as you left it to come to worship today. If Jesus entered your house – as it is RIGHT NOW – might you be tempted to tidy up a bit in the midst of all the other preparations you are making?
Martha was so busy with her many tasks – whatever they may have been – that she was DISTRACTED. And this story of Martha’s distractedness, it offers two very important things we can glean about this busy-ness tree as it relates to us.
The first thing we can glean from the story has to do with the word that gets translated as “distracted.” This word literally means “to be drawn away”. So, Jesus was telling Martha that her busyness led to her being DRAWN AWAY from something…and that something was JESUS! Her focus on these many small tasks, whatever they were, led to her being drawn away from a more important thing.
This is an important thing to glean about this busy-ness thing; it doesn’t JUST cause us to spend time on relatively meaningless things – in the big picture of life, which would be bad enough, but it ALSO draws our focus AWAY from that which really matters. It’s like a double bad kind of thing.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Y’all, the one thing Martha was drawn away from is Jesus. I realize this one thing is actually a WHOLE BUNCH of things – it’s everything that Jesus was about. Which is to say, it’s the GOSPEL, it’s the kingdom of God, it’s the forest we’ve been talking about. And it’s the very same thing that WE are drawn away from. Too often we allow the busy-ness of worldly stuff distract us from the BETTER PART of gospel stuff. I can scarcely remember times when people have said they’re too busy focusing on a Godly thing to partake of a worldly thing; I’m sure it happens…but it doesn’t happen MUCH.
There’s something related to this distractedness thing that’s worth mentioning: getting rid of some of the busy-ness of life won’t make much difference if we simply replace that busy-ness with MORE busy-ness. We must, instead, replace the worldly busy-ness with something or some things that MATTER. We must replace worldly busy-ness with the one thing that matters. If you do anything else – if you replace hours a day scrolling through your Facebook feed with hours a day scrolling through your Instagram feed, for example – you’re just replacing busy-ness with busy-ness.
Jesus made it clear to Martha that the “BETTER PART’ wasn’t some other form of busy-ness but was rather drawing near to one specific thing, that being Jesus.
As I thought about this distractedness aspect of the tree of busy-ness, I thought about stories I’ve heard from people who were at the end of their lives, people who look back with some regret, wishing they had lived differently. Remember what I said before – that I can’t imagine at the end of my life having wished I had spent more time working or paying bills or doing taxes or doing yardwork – well, it turns out I’ve heard many times from people at the end of their lives tell me what they wished they had spent more time focusing on…and it wasn’t their jobs or their yards or their taxes. Recalling these stories, I did some research this week to try to figure out what kinds of things larger groups of people have said they wished they had spent more time doing and focusing on as they neared the end of life…and I’ve tried to translate the answers in terms of busy-ness. And what I learned is that people do, INDEED, regret allowing busyness distract them from more important things, the kinds of things Jesus came to direct us toward. Here’s some of what I found:
- People wish they had been more loving to the people who matter the most. This one’s pretty easy to understand in terms of busy-ness. Intentionally spending time with those we love, intentionally performing acts of love and caring, intentionally seeking to heal relational wounds – these things require our time and attention, time and attention we too often give to the busy-ness. And these loving relational things are EXACTLY the kinds of things Jesus directed us toward in life, the kind of things he directed Martha toward in our story.
- People wish they hadn’t spent so much time working. I know; I get it. When we’re working , it seems like the most important thing in the world. It’s tied to our identity and sense of self-worth; it’s tied to our ability to make money and provide for our family. And it’s one of the biggest things that distracts us from what matters most…God, Jesus, love, relationships.
- They wish they had lived their dream. It’s pretty difficult to live your dream when you’re bogged down by busy-ness, right? But when you look past the tasks of busy-ness and focus on one or a few big picture dreams – hopefully the big picture dreams given to you by God, and do the things that lead to their fulfillment, you – we – all of us can live our dream, live into WHO and WHAT God has made us to be.
- They wish they had done more for others. Wow! This one is all about busy-ness. The main thing that gets in the way of ME doing more for others is my sense of busy-ness, all the little tasks I’ve got to do for me to get through a day that THEN have the impact of exhausting me to the point I’ve got nothing left to give to others, nothing left for my true purpose in life.
There are many more of these kinds of things, but I hope you can see how our busy-ness draws us away from the things most PEOPLE find to truly be important in life, the kinds of things for which we are made.
OK – onto the second thing we’ll glean from our story today about this tree of busy-ness: like Martha, we have a tendency to justify our own distractedness, our own focus on this tree instead of the forest, as the good, right and just thing to do (even to the point of suggesting there’s something WRONG with the people who are focusing on the right stuff, on the forest.)
In our scripture reading, Martha thought she was RIGHT in being distracted; she even complained to Jesus, thinking he would be on her side, tried to get Jesus to rebuke Mary! “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
We do this, too, don’t we?
- We justify why we work so much. We’re spending so much time away from our family FOR our family, and we get frustrated with them when they don’t understand. We even complain about the people who don’t work so much and who find other things in life to be more important.
- We justify why we can’t help someone in need due to our busy-ness. Surely, someone who has less to do will come along who can help.
- We justify why we don’t have time to pray or read scripture or worship – surely God wants us to enjoy this life and so will not only understand but would encourage us to skip our time with God just this one time…and the next time…and the time after that…and so on.
We justify our decisions to succumb to the busy-ness; we even EXPECT God to be on our side. And when we expect God to be on our side, like Martha, we often also expect God to REBUKE those who do something different, those who actually do what is right. But we know from our scripture reading that God is NOT on our side when it comes to succumbing to the busy-ness of the world. In fact, God, through Jesus, made it perfectly clear that the BETTER PART, the thing that will not be taken away because it endures, has to do with love, with relationships, with the kinds of things Jesus was about…not our busy-ness.
Jesus told us exactly what these studies about people regretting things at the end of life have revealed: being busy with things of the world is hardly justifiable; it is NOT the better part.
Hopefully you’ll agree that busyness is a tree, a tree that gets in the way of our focus on what Jesu was about. But, what can we do about it?
As was the case with the previous trees we’ve discussed, the solution is simple – not necessarily easy…because it requires quite a lot of intentionality and will-power…but it is simple.
While I’m sure there are other things you could do to get past, to see past, this tree of busyness, I will name just one thing that I’m certain will work. I’m certain it will work because it’s based on Jesus’ advice in our scripture reading. Jesus essentially told Martha to STOP doing all the busy work and focus on him, focus on what’s most important. That’s what we’ve got to do.
A good way to do that involves adding one little thing to your daily routine at the beginning and end of every day. At the beginning of each day, remind yourself of your purpose. It might even be a good idea to have some kind of statement of the gospel written down for you to look at. And at the beginning of each day ask God to show you what it would like for you to live a purposeful day, what things you can do THAT VERY DAY to live a purposeful day for the gospel.
- Maybe God will direct you to read a chapter of the Bible;
- Maybe God will direct you to participate in worship of some kind – even listen to some Christian music or watch a worship service on television or YouTube;
- Maybe God will direct you to find and meet a need of someone in your community;
- Maybe God will direct you to go up to participate in a ministry of First Christian Church;
- Maybe God will direct you to call up a friend or relative;
- Maybe God will direct you to perform an act of love or kindness for someone;
- Maybe God will direct you to talk about faith, about God, about Jesus, with someone;
- Maybe God will direct you to reconcile with someone;
Whatever purposeful thing or things God reveals to you as being part of a purposeful day for that day, WRITE THEM DOWN. Then, even more important than writing them down, DO THOSE THINGS.
Which brings me to the end of your day. At the end of each day, ask God to help you go back through your day, focusing on each and every item God revealed to you as being part of your purposeful day. For those purposeful tasks you completed, ask God to help you understand how your completion of these tasks impacted the ushering in of God’s kingdom and your presence in God’s kingdom. Ask God to help you understand how your completion of these tasks made a positive impact. Write down your feelings, so you won’t ever forget. And for those purposeful tasks that you did not attempt or complete, ask God to help you understand why you didn’t complete them. Ask God for the strength to NOT justify your failure to attempt or complete them but instead to look to God for God’s future desires with regard to those tasks. At the end of this review process, give God thanks and praise.
Each and every day, undertake this process…and your life WILL change; your life WILL become more purposeful; your life WILL come to resemble the kingdom of God here on earth; and you will know the meaning of what Jesus called “the better part”. Best of all, at the end of your days on earth, you will have no regrets; you will have lived purposefully.