You Got Time ~ August 1
Many of you have heard some of the stories about my first pastoral charge as a young minister, Harrington Harbour. I served three villages on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 500km from the nearest road. People travelled between villages by boat in summer, ski-doo in the winter and helicopter in fall and spring.
As a young minister, I tended to try and fill my schedule so I would feel I was getting lots done, but Coast folk didn’t run by schedules. They knew better. The wind, the rain and the tides could wreck the best laid plans.
So they took each day, each hour as it came. And whenever I would try to rush from one visit to another they would just smile and say, “you got time maid, you got time.” They always had time for another cup of tea, time to share a meal, time to help a neighbour. Why rush? You got time.
I always think of them when I read this story of Mary & Martha. It's a story that has fascinated me since I was a child. I love the way the relationship between the sisters is described, and I love their friendship with Jesus.
We can see that easy relationship in the way they interact. Mary feels comfortable enough to set aside all the tasks a woman should be doing, and to just sit by him and talk. Martha feels comfortable enough to tell him what she really thinks, no pussyfooting around for Martha! “Jesus, tell Mary she should be in here helping me!”
If Martha lived on the Coast, people would say to her, “relax Martha, you got time maid.” Jesus' response is similar, but also more pointed-- “Martha, Martha, you are worried & distracted by many things.”
I think that’s a state of being many of us can relate to, especially right now. Under normal circumstances many of us feel worried and distracted on a regular basis. We're balancing work, family, home and church, doing community volunteer work and social activities, plus helping out neighbors and looking after kids or grand kids or going on trips to see family and friends.
And then came Covid, which forced many of us to slow down, whether we wanted to or not. The greater the restrictions, the quieter our lives – no trips, no gatherings and events, fewer meetings and almost no activities.
Of course, it was very different for different people. If you're a teacher or a health care worker, life got much more stressful. If you're an office worker who ended up working at home, or you're retired, things got quieter.
Many people for whom life got quieter commented on how after awhile they started to actually enjoy it. They realized it wasn't so bad to not be so busy, to have time to enjoy things like walking, reading, sitting in gardens or parks. They said they had more time for prayer, for just being.
But then a month ago many restrictions lifted, and life is getting busier and busier. Groups are meeting in person, plans are being made for events and trips and gatherings. Our church is busy getting ready to open for in person worship and a return to life in the church building in the fall.
It's exciting, yet it brings a whole slew of worries of its own, doesn't it. I don't know about you, but I'm still feeling apprehensive about the lowered restrictions. I feel nervous in a room full of people, especially unmasked people. I'm not sure I'm ready to hug anyone outside of my family. I'm worried about the Delta variant and how it will impact BC and Canada. I'm always wondering, Is what I'm doing okay, is it safe? When I'm trying to make plans I wonder, Will this be okay next month?
There's also the whole issue of losing all that we gained in terms of slowing our lives down, taking pleasure in each moment, being mindful. Do we just leap back into being busy? Do we try to be more discerning?
All of this is stressful, I know I haven't been as focused as usual, I've had trouble concentrating. I forgot the UCW yard sale the other week, Hope and I missed putting a prayer in Ted's service, I forgot the eggs when I made muffins. It's like my Covid brain has gotten worse, not better.
So when I read the story for today where Jesus says, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted about many things,” I thought, it's not just Martha who's feeling that way! I think many of us are feeling worried and distracted these days.
I have to say, at first glance Jesus' next line is not necessarily helpful. He says, “There is need of only one thing, Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I don't know what it's like for men, but many women hear that line and think, that's easy for Jesus to say, but someone had to prepare that meal! If Martha didn’t do it, they would have starved that night because no one else would have cooked!
In the same way, it's easy to hear this story and think ~ sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t pay the bills or look after the grandkids, it doesn't keep the church running or get through the backlog at work or support other vital volunteer work.
In Covid terms, it's easy to think ~ the quiet time of Covid was nice for some, but continuing the quiet life won't get the church up and running, it won't get other groups going, it won't connect people who have felt isolated or deal with so many other issues Covid created.
And yet if we look more closely at the story, Jesus is not necessarily saying that it's better to sit at his feet than it is to get work done. The issue is with Martha’s distraction, not with the actual tasks she’s doing.
In that moment, Martha's many tasks, which she may have usually enjoyed doing, weren't giving her any joy. We get the feeling what she really wanted to do was listen to Jesus. But she held on to her tasks, which distracted her from Jesus, and then got mad at Mary for not doing the same.