Distractions From Faith – July 25, 2010

Proverbs 2:1-10, Luke 10:38-42

July 25, 2010

We live in a world of distractions. What meets our senses every day is a dizzying series of images and ideas, facts and fantasies, sights, smells, and sensations. It’s no wonder that sometimes it takes us a while to “unwind” at the end of a day. We’ve been so “pumped up” all day long by the busyness and intensity of our lives, and the messages of so many of the sirens of our age, that it’s no wonder that sleep aids are among the three most widely used medications in this country! (The other two are anti-depressants and stomach acid blockers!) It is a world of distractions!

At the same time, we sometimes see the word “distraction” as a positive thing. We use it to describe a “change of scenery” or “time away” from all the busyness. We call those things “distractions. And most of the time, or at least some of the time, we’re sensible enough to know we need such distractions, because life can be crazy! The demands on our time and energy are constant and sometimes overwhelming! And sometimes it’s good for us to retreat into those “distractions.”

Unfortunately, when life is the most hectic, too often the one thing that I believe can help us make sense of it all – our faith – gets lost in the confusion. And if that happens often enough, we can end up forgetting our faith entirely, and then we find ourselves wondering what ever became of it. In the end, I suspect that a large number of the people who lose their faith do not do so because they’ve abandoned it, but because they have become distracted from it. They haven’t rejected God, they’ve simply forgotten him – they’ve lost the very thought of him among all the many other thoughts that occupy their minds!

Sometimes we think in the church that we must try to compete with the sensationalism of our media driven world. But I think if we’re realistic, we quickly find we cannot. Sure, there are some techniques and technologies we can use – and I think we should. But we cannot compete on the same par with the vast number of highly skilled people who are trained to drive that media intensity!

The more I think about all this, the more I’m convinced that we need to have times when we distance ourselves from all of those distractions. Sometimes I think maybe the monks who live in seclusion from the world may have had it right after all. Regardless of whether or not they do, it is plain that we need to find ways to slow down, to step back from the world. And we need to rediscover how to spend time concentrating on our faith, or our faith doesn’t have a chance! So how do we do that?

We have in our scripture lesson the story of Martha and Mary. And in a way, theirs is the very struggle I’m talking about here. Theirs is the struggle between the busyness of this world, and the quiet contemplative time of sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening!

Our world doesn’t allow for that, you know. Besides the general “busyness,” we also have those “busy people” of the world who wouldn’t want us to do that! In our world, “Workaholism” is rewarded in people, not “balance!” Martha was “distracted with much serving.” But the real problem was that she was annoyed with her sister! She railed at her, saying, “How can you spend ‘down time’ when there is so much to be done?” Like Mary, we are made to feel guilty when it’s time to take a break. Martha went to Jesus and she didn’t say, “Why do I have so much to do?” She said, “Lord, make my sister work!”

In all of this, we forget this important concept bequeathed to us by our Jewish brothers and sisters – this thing called “Sabbath.” And we forget that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around! We also forget that Jesus was part of the process of creation, and he knows us better than we know ourselves. And he knows that there’s something in our brains that is made for that Sabbath – that “distraction.” And now I’m talking about the good kind of distraction, not the kind that takes us away from our faith! Do you see the positive and negative connotations of that word? We need “distractions” from all the “distractions!” And I believe God made us that way! That’s the way we’re “wired!”

Do you ever do crossword puzzles? I used to, but I haven’t for a number of years now. When I did, I would often get frustrated over them, and because of that I used to call them my “curse-word puzzles!” Well, in that time, I discovered one of the most useful tools for finishing them. Do you know what that was? It wasn’t a dictionary. It wasn’t a Thesaurus. It wasn’t even “Google!” The most effective tool in doing and completing puzzles for me was taking a break! I can’t tell you how many times I was stymied by a puzzle, and I set it down for a couple of hours. Then, when I picked it up again, I would see almost immediately, staring me in the face, a major answer to a key clue or set of clues! Before that, my brain had been in a “locked mode.” It needed a “Sabbath of the mind” to figure it all out.

I believe that’s the way we’re made, my friends. I feel very strongly about this! And the God who made us knows it, too! We are not perpetual motion machines! We need down time! No matter what the expectations of the world around us, we need to take time to “chill,” and to “shut things down.” And we definitely need to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus! Mary was right after all!

So, do we do that? And let’s first be honest with ourselves! Do you have any kind of Sabbath in your life? Do you set aside time to think, to meditate, even to pray? Do you have those Sabbath times, those times that lead to a sense of renewal and even rejuvenation? Or do they come too few and far between? I know there are times I forget that! There are definitely times when I get caught up in all the busyness. There are times I let the things of the world distract me from my faith. There are times I have to make a conscious effort to sit and listen.

Maybe some of you remember Pope John. He was the one who called together that famous Church council known as “Vatican II.” It’s interesting because the church first elected him, thinking he would be sort of an “interim leader,” one that wouldn’t do anything “controversial” in the radical times of the 1970’s. They found they were wrong when he called for that now famous earthshaking conference! Well, Pope John also had a great sense of humor! Once when he was asked how many people worked in the Vatican, his reply was, “About half of them!” Then at another time, he was asked what he would tell the Church today if he found out that Christ’s return would be tomorrow. And his answer has a lot to do with what we’re talking about. His answer was, “Look busy!”

Sometimes I think that joke is on us! Look busy! Look like you’re working hard, because that is the god of our age! And believe me, there are people in the Church who would rather have us skip this page in the Bible we read today! Like Martha, they would frown on the Marys who would choose to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen!

Now, I’m not talking about laziness here! Don’t get me wrong! If my kids were here, they would tell you what I used to tell them. When they were tired, or resting in their rooms, or sleeping late, etc… and it seemed excessive, I would say, “It’s ok to be tired. But it’s not ok to be lazy.” I’m not talking about laziness here! I’m talking about Sabbath! I’m talking about the rest that restores and re-energizes! Unfortunately our world doesn’t often know the difference! As God’s people, we should. We should be because we know the one who made us the way we are! (We should be like someone who knows a particular system best because we know the designer!)

The other part of this is that we need to learn from Jesus! I remember when I was in college I had a friend who never went to one particular class. And I remember saying, “How do you expect to pass the class?” And my friend said, “It’s no big deal. The professor tests straight from the book.” But then I said, “Ok, but how do you expect to learn from him?” I didn’t realize how profound I was being at the time! But I was! We can read about Jesus, and that’s great! We can read what other people have said about Jesus, and that’s great too! But our aim is not just to acquire knowledge about him. It’s not just to “pass the course.” Our aim is to learn from him! Our aim is to learn to listen to his voice! And we can only do that in his presence!

So I urge you to do that. I urge you to spend time in the presence of Jesus, to learn his ways, to “take his yoke upon you.” And remember that the “yoke” was the rabbi’s teaching! Remember, it is the goal of every Christian to be… like Christ! How can we do that if we don’t get to know him? How can we do that if we don’t take time to learn what he’s like? Yes, we can do some of that through reading, but some of it – a lot of it – is only learned through first hand experience.

One way I would suggest for doing that is through “active listening.” That is, spending intentional time, with God, in silence, listening, and expecting to hear. Maybe we won’t hear audibly. Maybe we won’t even know it at the time. But we will know him better when we are open to his presence.

Another way you might try this is to read the Bible stories and use your “active imagination” to put yourself into those stories. Try to imagine yourself one of those in the crowd, and thereby place yourself in Jesus’ presence.

Still another way is the WWJD experience. Before you act in any circumstance, stop and think, “What would Jesus do?” And then try thinking, “What would Jesus have me do?” That makes us think of Jesus in the present, doesn’t it?!

Those are all good ways of putting ourselves into a place where we can be in his presence, and think, and hear, and learn. But they all mean that we must take that break from the craziness, and take that “Sabbath of the mind,” if not an actual Sabbath. Are we willing to do that? Will it mean changing the way we think or act? Will it take being intentional in seeking and finding? Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better…” Will it be for us?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, help us to seek your presence. Help us to learn from you. Help us to know more and more of what you are like. Teach us the discipline of quietness. Help us to know your presence when we call upon you. Help us to know the peace that only you can give. For we pray in your name, Amen.

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