Born Again, parts 3 & 4: Break Open and Pay Attention

Sermon for Sunday, July 17, 2016 || Proper 11C || Luke 10:38-42

bornagain34During the summer, I am preaching without a text, so what follows is an edited transcript of what I said Sunday morning at the 8 a.m. service at St. Mark’s.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a four part sermon series that was to culminate this morning. Last week, I paused during the series to talk about the events of the previous days, the violence in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas. I still want to say what I was going to say last week, but instead of preaching a double length sermon because it’s pretty hot in here I’m going to try to condense them and do a couple minutes on for last Sunday and today.

Quick recap: talking about being born again into the new life of Jesus Christ. As Episcopalians, we’re looking for some nuance in this understanding of being born again. Not just as signing on the dotting line, “Now I am a Christian,” but what does it really mean to live into this new life that Jesus invites us into. So in the second week, we talked about going out into the world to see, bear witness to, and name God’s presence in the world around us. That’s the first two weeks very quickly.

Last week, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan and focused on it through the lens of race relations in the United States. But now I want to focus on the understanding of the new heart that we have when we are born again as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m going to do this quickly, so if it seems like I’m skipping things come ask me about it when I get back from vacation.

To get serious for a moment, in our world right now there is so much tragedy. Every day in the news there is just one more thing for us to cry about. We had the shootings of the black men that I mentioned last week. Then there was a reciprocal shooting, an unconscionable shooting of Dallas police officers. And the Dallas police force is the one of the ones on the forefront of addressing the problem of racial profiling. And yet their officers, who were helping a peaceful protest were gunned down: Lorne, Brent, Michael, Michael, and Patrick. We mourn their loss and our hearts break for their families. Then we read about the shooting in Nice, France and our hearts break again. Or a coup in Turkey that leaves 200 plus people dead, and our hearts break again. Or flooding in West Virginia, or an earthquake in Ecuador, or just the daily tragedy that happens in this world. Our hearts break again and again.

But we have a choice when our hearts break. We can choose for them to break apart; that is to shatter into a million pieces. Or, like the Good Samaritan, we choose not for them to break apart, but for our hearts to break open. We can choose with God’s help for our hearts to break open. Think of a seed growing in the ground. How does it start to germinate? It cracks open and a little green shoot searches its way to the surface and starts stretching its way towards the sun. We do the same, except we stretch towards the Son, the Son of God in whose life we are born again.

So we can allow our hearts to break apart or with God’s help we can let our hearts break open so they grow and germinate to the broken heart of God. Because in the moment of creation, God’s heart broke and creation spilled forth in light and life and goodness. And because we live in a place of freedom, this creation also came with separation, domination, greed, and sin. That’s why our hearts break. But when we have these new hearts in the new life of Jesus, we can allow them to break open and start to germinate towards God’s heart.

When I go and pray with someone in the hospital or in the nursing home; when I lay my hands on the person and bless them, I always start the prayer in the same way. I say, “I lay my hands upon you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I lift you up from my heart to the heart of God.” I start the prayer that way every single time, and I do that because I’m trying to remember for myself and to remind this person that all of our hearts find their rest in the broken heart of God. That’s where we find this newness once again.

That was going to be the sermon last week. So let’s move now to today: new sustenance, new vitality, new energy. Let’s look for a moment at the story of Martha and Mary. This is one of those stories in the Gospel that gets people really charged up and debate with each other. So here’s the story: “Jesus goes to their house. Martha is busy, gets distracted. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha complains, ‘You gotta come help me!’ And Jesus says, ‘No, no. She’s doing the right thing.'” That’s the story right?

Depends on if you’re a first child or a second child. First children are on Martha’s side. Second children, like myself, are on Mary’s side. But there really aren’t sides here, and let me explain. The newness here is something very important, and it ties all the way back through the sermon series. Let’s examine what Jesus says in response to Martha’s question. It’s very important to see that Jesus doesn’t address what she asks. Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

The Lord says, “Martha, Martha” (insert obligatory Brady Brunch reference here) “you are worried and distracted by many things.” That’s how he responds to her. He’s not saying that her work has no merit. He’s saying that she is distracted even in the midst of her work. Martha was “distracted” by her many tasks. So what Jesus is saying is not “you need to come sit by my feet” but “you need to be paying attention like Mary is paying attention. You need to focus like Mary is focusing.” Mary has chosen the better part, and that better part is focus, as opposed to anxiety and distraction.

I’d like to read to a you a couple paragraphs because Gunilla Norris says this way better than I can.

If we count up the hours we make beds, was dishes, run the vacuum or the lawn mower, pay bills, shop for groceries and cook, we will realize that we have spent not just days, but months and years in these activities. Every day we have a choice to just get through our daily round, or to live and savor the gift of it. This choice, however, takes deep awareness.

When we’ve been away either traveling or in the hospital, most of us realize that coming home feels precious. We are happy to be back with our routines, their familiarity, and at first, at least, we take them up as if reuniting with dear old friend. It is a great relief to have a daily rhythm and daily tasks.

When we truly focus on one thing we “must do” we can decide to let the task center us and give us dignity. Instead of complaining, why not be glad that we are able to do it at all? As inescapable tasks become more and more occasions for gratitude, we will know there is no place and no task where God is not…

God is always present in the smallest of details. It matters how we do the humble things of daily living. They can be occasions of burden or of praise. With awareness we can choose which it will be for us. *

With awareness, we can choose which it will be for us, either burden or praise. So what Jesus is calling Martha into is this awareness, this deep focus on her daily tasks so that she can find the gratitude and God-centeredness of it. That is where we find our daily bread, our new sustenance: in the focus of our daily lives. We can get worried and distracted by so many things going here and here and all over the place that we lose this ability to pay attention.

That’s a curious phrase: “pay attention.” I would submit to you that paying attention is the cost of this new life of Jesus Christ. The cost is to pay our attention. There is a cost there: the cost is our attention, our focus. When we focus our new eyes and new hearts on this new life of Jesus, and we are fed by this new sustenance, we truly do have that life for ourselves, and we can bring it out to those we meet. So that when they see us, they say, “You’re…I don’t know…How do you do what you do?…How are you calm?…Or how do you take joy?…or how do you not yell at…?”

And you say, “This is who I am. I’m focused on the life of Jesus Christ within me. And yes, I have a broken heart, but it breaks open and rises to God, and I bring those I pray for into the heart of God. I have new eyes to see God’s presence in the world about me. And I have a new life…would you like to share that life with me?”

* Norris, Gunilla. Simple Ways: Towards the Sacred. New York: Blue Bridge 121

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