SERMON: Theme: Choosing the better part: One Thing instead of many things. Luke 10:38-42
Physics has a wonderful term called degrees of freedom. What it means is that an object that is free to move in one dimension has one degree of freedom. It can move back and forth in a straight line. But this is all it can do.
If an object can move in two dimensions. For example, in the directions of a flat page, it has 2 degrees of freedom. If you think about the movement of physical bodies, we have three degrees of freedom. We can walk around on the floor, but we can also climb a hill and jump up in the air.
However, many times we are restricted to one or two degrees of freedom. For example, when we are driving in the lane along a road, we have one degree of freedom. And sometimes no degrees of freedom if we are hemmed in and not moving.
We can apply this concept of degrees of freedom to our spiritual journey. We can have a certain perception of our lives where we often feel restricted and trapped by our circumstances: our degree of freedom limited!
For example: Many of us experience our finances to be a source of limitation of our freedom. So we can feel restricted by our bank balance or by the financial cost of certain things. Many of us feel caught.
As we age, we can start feeling restricted by our bodies that we don’t have the same freedom of movement and strength to carry us around. When we were younger.
At an emotional level, we can feel caught by people’s expectations of us or the role that society, or feel trapped in our own inner chaos.
I’ve been hearing more and more people who feel trapped in their lives in some way, restricted by heavy work pressures, family expectations, or just perceptions of expectations that are projected onto others.
We even tend to do this with God; projecting onto God all sorts of heavy demands on us, and this adds to the limitation on our degrees of freedom.
I believe that the freedom that Jesus spoke of in his spiritual teaching is a new degree of freedom and an added Depth Dimension that brings a greater sense of spaciousness, freedom, more options to respond, ease of movement, rootedness, connectedness, safety to our lives.
This does not necessarily mean that the surface issues are resolved. It is a much deeper and therefore, more powerful, lasting inner Freedom, the kind of Freedom, which allowed Paul referred to: “I have learned the secret to being content whenever in plenty or in need.
Imagine the timeline from your birth to your death. This represents the horizontal dimension of your chronological life with all the events that you experienced along the way, period. At each moment on this timeline, there is a depth dimension that can only be accessed in the present moment. You can not access the depth dimension of something in the past or an event in the future. In this depth dimension, we live from this Union with God and the abundance given at this moment. Our capacity to experience this is infinitely deep.
Thomas Merton also says that life has an interior dimension of depth and awareness, and an outside dimension around it. Real life and freedom begin when you open up to the Inner Dimension and you live in communion with God as the ground of your being.
There is always the possibility and temptation to systematically block the Inner Richness by our habitual way of life concentrated on externals. It is a poverty of life fragmented and dispersed onto many things
Our lives will be wrecked if it is completely taken up with externals and has no grasp on the inner dimension of life. That is when a flood of fear, anxiety and meaningless action follows.
James Finley asks two very important questions:
- Why do I spend so much of my life trapped on the outer circumference of the inner richness of my own life?
- Why do I spend so much of my time unaware of that which alone can fulfill my heart?
The result of being trapped in the outer circumference is that you are totally left to your own superficial devices and cut off from the deep recourses of the Depth Dimension!
‘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.’ Luke 10:42
These well-known words come from Jesus to his dear friend, Martha. He is the house guest of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha, as the owner of the house, is doing the reasonable, hospitable thing—rushing around, fixing, preparing, and as the text brilliantly says, “distracted with all the serving.”
Martha is busy getting everything ready for her guest. But her heart’s not in the right place as she’s doing it. Which is why Jesus says to Martha that you’re worried and distracted by many things. He doesn’t tell her that she can’t be a good host and possibly prepare a meal for him. Somebody had to do some tasks and hospitality was huge in their culture. So Jesus doesn’t condemn Martha for doing the things that made someone a good host.
It is very very important to notice Jesus does not say that Mary’s hospitality is the wrong thing to do! Just the previous passage in Luke wat that of the Good Samaritan! You need to love and serve your neighbor!
He gently points out that she’s worried and distracted and being a resentful host because she’s mad at her sister. And how could anyone not feel that?
It’s like when someone prepares a meal for you and you can just feel their love in the food. And we can sometimes feel when somebody hasn’t or they’re too stressed out to focus on the person right in front of them.
Martha was everything good and right, but crucial one thing she was not: She was at that moment not present and connected with Jesus as the Source of Life, the depth dimension. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.
Jesus affirms Mary, “who sat at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10: 39), in precisely the same way: how she is doing the moment. Mary knows how to be present to him and, presumably, to herself. She understands the one thing that makes all other things happen at a deeper and healing level. “Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says.
Mary chose the connection to God. The point is that Mary is connecting with Jesus at this moment and Martha is too distracted to connect with him. Mary is at his feet, listening and learning.
So the story of Mary and Martha isn’t about action versus contemplation and contemplation wins. Fr. Richard Rohr is right—we need contemplation in action in order to be whole and healthy people in this world. It’s a story about how we connect to God, and a gentle reminder to not let distractions weigh us down and make us resentful of those we love. .
Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.”
The ONE NEED in life is to open up to the inner freedom and vision which is found in our relatedness to God in us. Our real journey is interior. It is a matter of growth, deepening and an ever-greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. It is an inner experience about living life, fully awake and aware of the presence of God.
Our external behavior needs to be connected to and supported by inner connection and inner guidance.
Otherwise, you feel trapped and cut off from the depth dimension! Martha was worried, anxious, angry, unhappy, frustrated, and filled with envy!
The one thing that is needed is the first part of Jesus’ answer to the Laywer:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ It is not just about the second part. The second part without the first is hollow!
So much of religion involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to salvation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: our connection with and presence to God. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. This is so important that Jesus was willing to challenge and upset his hostess and make use of a teachable moment—in the very moment.
Fr. Richard founded his Spiritual Center in New Mexico and intentionally named it The Center for Action and Contemplation. Here’s how their history is described, “We believed that action and contemplation, once thought of as mutually exclusive, must be brought together or neither one would make sense. We wanted to be radical in both senses of the word, simultaneously rooted in, and connected to, and supported by, the inner guidance of the presence of God as well as extensive inclusivity, bridging gaps within the spiritual and justice communities. The power to be truly radical comes from trusting entirely in God’s grace and that such trust is the most radical action possible.”
It’s good to keep in mind this connection between action and contemplation when we hear the story of Mary and Martha in our text from Luke’s Gospel today. At the outset, it seems that contemplation wins. But it is much more than just a choice between the two. It is about Contemplation in Action!
When we live from the Depth Dimension with its inner freedom, we do not feel trapped by our bank balance or by our life circumstances. It is a freedom that releases us from emotional restrictions we feel about social expectations or materialism or what others think of us because we have an inner source of our identity that is rooted and established in God.
This brings a whole new degree of freedom, a freedom of movement in the inner sense that releases us from the constriction of the old limiting system of our usual automatic mode or knee-jerk cravings, defenses, and reactions, which operate at the lower dimension of degrees of freedom.
We are being offered a much more expansive view of our lives from the perspective that the Spirit brings, which yields a much greater inner freedom and spaciousness that frees us from old restrictions that we have placed on ourselves. These no longer need to restrict our inner sense of abundance, well-being, and freedom.
The awareness of the Depth Dimension can be developed! Contemplative Spirituality focuses on God’s presence through receptive listening, surrendering, silence, yielding, meditating, resting in God and letting go. On July 31st at 4 pm I will be presenting an introduction to Contemplative Spirituality.
We need to learn to become present and let go of the narrative that we play in our minds because otherwise, we will keep projecting all of our inner restrictions and stuckness unto God.
When we start to recognize and let go of the virtual reality spun by our minds and start to make room for the spacious, accepting, utterly unconditional loving presence of God.
An image that I have been finding helpful as an analogy of that depth dimension is one of being in the sea with the wild waves breaking over me. It can feel absolutely overwhelming if one stays on the surface level of the waves. But one can dive deeper beneath the waves. Down there below the crashing surface of the water, if you go deep enough, everything is peaceful and quiet and the waves lose their threat.
The process of diving deeper is our inner journey into God, where we discover the vastness and spaciousness of God where we know, we are held, loved, and ultimately secure, and through this, we find the freedom of deep contentment and well-being. No matter what the surface restrictions of our lives are.
This movement has been described as falling through your life circumstances into your life. Your actual life, who you are in God, is so very much vaster than your life circumstances, so are trapped by them.
The German Mystic Meister, Eckhart wrote. “I am as sure as I live, that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.” God breathes with our breath and flows through our veins, whether we are aware of it or not.
There is a deep well inside all of us. And in it dwells God. Sometimes we are present to that Depth Dimension and the freedom it brings. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. – (Ety Hillesum)
Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. The Depth Dimension defines who you really are!
Discovering God in our depths is a discovery that we can slip into God, and relax into this Presence at the center of our being. Our spiritual exercises are the path to the depth dimension into God.
The deeper, we sink our roots into the source of life the more we clear the grit and the stones of our own head-noise and self-constructed identity out of the way. The more we can become channels of life to flow through us…serving in the kitchen, serving on hospitality, education, buildings and grounds, or any other ministry! Are we performing our daily tasks and church ministry out of love or duty?
If we are motivated by external motivation without the depth dimension, fear, anxiety and frustration will appear.
What motivates to look after the earth? Abiding in God and Love, or just obligation and survival?
What motivates most to do social justice? Abiding in God and Love, or just obligation?
What motivates most to confront gender and racial justice? Abiding in God’s inclusive Love, or just obligation?
What is the One Thing? Presence and surrendering to God, that is Love, that is Connection!
Our external behavior will then be connected to and supported by the Depth Dimension. How we think, talk, and behave out in the world. Everything becomes sacred!
“Now Is the Time” – Hafiz
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live
My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Votum (Zeph 3:17) & Salutation (Rom 15:13)
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
Summary of Law
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
PRAYER Before Scripture reading
God of mercy, grant that the Word you speak this day may take root in our hearts, and bear fruit to your honor and glory, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Most amazing God, the mystery of your radiance surrounds us.
Like the disciples of Jesus,
we confess our unease with transcendent mystery.
Faced with your splendor, we do not take time
for attentive silence as Jesus did,
but we evade the holy with stammering and busyness— anything to avoid your power.
We also confess those times when we are at ease with holiness, absorbed in prayer and thought but so in love with your love that we neglect those in need.
As Jesus descended into the valley
to work among the poor of the earth,
so direct us to our responsibilities.
Such is the mystery of your love, O God,
which both overwhelms and attracts us.
Have mercy upon us and forgive us.
Free us to love and serve in equal measure.
In the busyness of this day
grant me a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of my heart
grant me a calmness of hearing.
Let my seeing and hearing
my words and my actions
be rooted in a silent certainty of your presence.
Let my passions for life
and the longings for justice that stir within me
be grounded in the experience of your stillness….
God of transfiguration,
you meet us in the ordinary
as well as the extraordinary moments of life.
We seek you in the valleys and on the mountaintops.
Yet we admit that too often our eyes are blind to your presence, too often our ears are deaf to your call.
When you reach out to us
through the cries of the hungry and homeless,
too often our hearts shrink from your touch.
Forgive us, we pray,
and set us free to love and serve.
- Hear us as we pray for…. (SITING IN SILENCE AT YOUR FEET)
- We pray this in the Name of JC who taught us to pray saying in one voice
The Lord is before you to show you the way.
God is behind you to encourage you
God is beneath you to support you,
God is beside you to embrace you.
God is above you to bless you,
God is within you to give you everlasting joy.
May the blessing of God Almighty, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you.