Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11C)
July 21, 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Raise your hand if this situation sounds familiar to you. You have some time off from work. So, you’re out and about, getting things done and running errands. Maybe you’re at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon buying groceries for the week ahead or you’re at the pharmacy filling a prescription. You happen to see someone you know. Maybe you haven’t seen this person in a long time or maybe they’re a close friend and you’re just happy to see them. You go up to this person and they ask you, “Hey! How are you?” You look at them and respond with a smile, “I’m good! Just busy!”
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I catch myself saying it all the time. “I’m good! Just busy!” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would much rather be busy getting things done than spending most of my time sitting around doing nothing, but, as a society, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that “busy” has generally become the “go-to” answer we use at any given moment to describe our state of being. Staying busy has become our way of life, and resting from our work has become the exception. Rest has become a commodity, something we only do if we have extra time to spare in our busy schedules.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a really hard time allowing myself to rest. I rarely take time off from doing work. In fact, The thought of allowing myself to rest and leaving work behind that isn’t complete actually causes me to stress out. Even when I have special time set apart for rest, like going on vacation for a week, I manage to find ways to avoid it. It usually takes me a couple of days before I can finally relax and allow myself to enjoy the time off. I’ve gotten better about it over the years, but it’s still something I struggle with.
Several years ago, I came across an article entitled, “Busy is a Sickness.” The title immediately caught my attention because I knew it was something I should probably read and take to heart. Drawing from a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, the author of the article wrote that most Americans recognize the need to reduce the amount of stress in their lives but that they’re too busy to address the problem. According to the author, there are two forms of busyness that cause stress. The first is “busyness without control.” This is the type of busyness that’s created for us, the type that most often affects the working poor, those who are forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. Then, there’s the type of stress that most of us experience, “busyness with control.” This is the type of busyness that we create for ourselves. You might call it “self-created stress.”
The interesting thing about “self-created stress” is that it often feels like something we can’t live without. Our society teaches us that busyness leads to success, and we convince ourselves that if we’re not constantly working or doing something productive, we’re being lazy or wasting valuable time. I’m very familiar with this type of stress. If you’re like me, you wear it like a badge of honor, but the problem with this way of thinking is that we need time to rest from our labors. We need moments of escape from the busyness of our everyday lives in order to be renewed and to give thanks for all the many blessings that God has given us. These precious moments of rest provide us with the opportunity to reconnect with who we are and to find comfort in the presence of God.
In our lesson this morning from the Gospel of Luke, we’re introduced to Mary and Martha, sisters from the village of Bethany. Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her home. Although it isn’t clearly stated in the Gospel passage, it’s likely that Martha was busy cleaning her house and preparing a meal in order to show hospitality to Jesus and his friends. Mary, on the other hand, decides to skip out on the chores. She rests at the feet of Jesus and listens to what he has to say.
There are a lot of gaps in this story. For instance, we don’t know how Jesus and his disciples ended up in Martha’s home. Did she hear rumors that Jesus was approaching? Did she go into the village to try and invite him over for a meal? We don’t know what Jesus said that was so captivating. Perhaps he was sharing with them stories of his travels or teaching them about the Kingdom of God. We don’t know what Mary was up to before Jesus and his friends arrived. Perhaps she was just as busy as Martha and then decided to stop working once Jesus arrived. We don’t know a lot of the details, but what we do know is the most important part of the story.
Martha complains to Jesus that she’s been left all alone to do the work, and Jesus says to 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.”
By saying this, Jesus acknowledges the need for rest, not only physical rest but also spiritual rest. He acknowledges that there’s a time and place for work to be done and a time and place to rest in the comfort and peace of God.
There’s wisdom and grace in the ability to recognize the need for rest. Rest is a gift given to us by God in creation. At the beginning of the book of Genesis, God completed his work of creation on the seventh day, and on that day, God created menuha.
In English, the word menuha means, “rest,” but in Hebrew, this word means much more than simply physical rest. According to Rabbi Abraham Heschel, it’s the same as “happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony.” Menuha is the “essence of good life” and the word used to describe the life of the world to come. On the seventh day, God consecrated the Sabbath and created menuha. God created time for us to be still in God’s presence and to give thanks for the gifts we’ve been given.
Imagine what it would be like if we recognized the gift of rest as something more than a commodity. What if we recognized it as a necessity? What if we took the time to stop what we’re doing in order to simply enjoy the gift of our being?
I wonder what that would look like for you.
Sabbath time is sacred time. It’s time for renewing the body and refreshing the soul. It’s difficult to define and will look different for most people. Perhaps, the most helpful way for us to describe what our Sabbath time will look like is to describe what it won’t look like. For you, Sabbath might be time away from checking e-mail or taking work-related phone calls. Maybe it’ll be time away from the noise of the television or the constant need to update your Facebook status. Sabbath time might also be time away from the endless chores that need to be done around the house or anything else that might cause us to be distracted from our rest. According to one author, Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time,” set apart for us to experience the fullness of God’s love.
In the midst of our relentlessly busy lives, we can’t expect Sabbath time to happen without being intentional. It requires discipline, and it’s our responsibility to set aside the time we need in order to make it happen. No one else will do it for us. Mary, in our Gospel lesson for today, recognized the importance of setting apart time to rest in the presence of God. She resisted being consumed with the busyness of work and instead focused on what truly mattered in that moment, sitting at the feet of Jesus. In our own lives, may we be like Mary and have the wisdom to do the same. Amen.