“The still point of the turning world” 03/05/2017 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Psalm 23 and Luke 10: 38-42

Our faith makes an amazing claim.  And that is that God is not a distant, detached entity that we can know only at the end of time.   Instead our faith teaches us that God is with us in the midst of our lives; that there really is not difference between the sacred and the profane, that all of creation — all of life is sacramental. And that means that God can be encountered whether we are quietly sitting in prayer, or chopping carrots in the kitchen.

But before we go any further, let us pray:

 Holy one, be with us in this time together that we may be wholly present to your word for us.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

It is common to read our Gospel passage this morning and too hear judgment in Jesus words.  We hear Mary is better than Martha.  Mary is doing it right.  Martha is doing it wrong, because it is better to focus on God than on the tasks at hand.

And what happens when we read the passage in this way is that we then look at our own lives and feel deflated right? Because, let’s face it.  It is impossible to be spend our days sitting at Jesus feet.  If we are sitting around at Jesus feet, who is going to dash off to the school, when the nurse calls and says our child is running a fever and needs to be picked up right away?  If we are sitting at Jesus feet, who is going to go to work to earn what is needed to keep the family afloat? If we are sitting at Jesus feet all day, who is going to cook the meal for the friend who is recovering from major surgery. You name it, life presses in and claims our time and attention.  Don’t we count ourselves lucky if we are able to get one hour on Sunday morning to rest a bit with God?

So it is troubling to think that in this passage Jesus is setting as a standard something that is completely unattainable.

That makes me think that something very different is going on here in this passage.

I think, Jesus is not so much making a judgment on how we are to spend our time, but is instead showing us something very profound about how we are to think about and understand the nature of time itself.

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In the Biblical witness, there are two distinct concepts of time.  The first is this the most familiar and that is this horizontal,  march of time from one moment to the next that is called called Chronos time. And our experience of and  language about chronos time is marked by scarcity and feelings of being out of control. We say:  “There is just not enough time.”  “Time is running out.” “Where has the time gone?”  “I don’t have time for ….”

In chronos time, we spend a lot of energy trying to be sure things are happening “on time,” and in the “nick of time.”  Being in church it turns out is not an exception at all to this pervasive awareness of the press of the passing of time.  Why do you think that our founders but that big clock on the back wall?  To keep all of us leading worship on time.  Right?

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But now and again, we topple into, quite by accident usually, a transcendent space where “time stands still.”  This is the experience of Kairos time.  We stumble upon something that awakens awe and wonder in us and “loose track of time.”    We find ourselves suddenly as Kathy described so beautifully in the children’s time last week, holding a baby pig that has fallen asleep in our arms and we suddenly have “all the time in the world.” Kairos time is not the horizontal march of time, but instead is a kind of time out of time.  It is a propitioius moment, a ripeness, fullness of the moment, a space pregnant with possibility.  Paul Tillich, a Christian philosopher and theologian calls Kairos time, the “Eternal Now” where something breaks into the horizontal march of time and transforms it.

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Understanding these two concepts of time, has helped me to see the cross, that symbol of our Christian faith, in a new way.  I have come to see in it the place where Chronos time and Kairos time intersection.  And this intersection of Chronos and Kairos time is a profound and grace filled space, it is to borrow words from T.S. Eliot to have found the “still place of the turning world”.

It is at this intersection of Chronos time and Kairos time and Chronos that Jesus lived his life.  He was not distant nor was he detached from people’s concrete needs and the geopolitical drama of his day.  Instead he drew the divine right into the midst of where he people were at.  He was 100% present to them.  To be with Jesus was to feel, as I believe Mary did, that there was all the time in the world.  He had a quality of presence about him that was not only captivating but that was liberating.  Jesus did a lot in his short life.  He healed and taught, and fed.  But I think what was at the heart of his whole life and ministry was to show us the power and presence of living at the intersection of Chronos and Kairos time.  To show us that each and every moment contains the eternal within it.  I think that is what Jesus meant when he said over and over again “The kingdom of God has drawn near.”  “The kingdom of God is among you.” Jesus came to deliver us into a deeper and wider and fuller way of being in the world.

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So how do we do that?  How do we move from being overwhelmed by our days to moving through them with a heart wide open to the fullness that each moment within them may contain?  How do we live at the intersection of Chronos and Kairos time to be liberated from our anxieties so we can be free to life the full, abundant life that God wants us to live?

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There is a wonderful little book called “Practicing the Presence of God.”  It is a collection of letters that a 15th century monk named Brother Lawrence wrote to someone seeking his counsel.  Brother Lawrence was a simple monk.  Not particularly well educated or accomplished but he was a prayerful man, who knew what it was to pay attention and to listen deeply.   His job at the monastery was as cook and he ran the kitchen but it was this serene quality of presence that Brother Lawrence had about him, that drew people to him.  And it was this quality of presence that this unknown person came seeking Brother Lawrence’s counsel.  And what Brother says to this “student” is basically that we are to do all that we do for one reason alone and that is for the love of God.  It does not matter what our task may be, what matters is that it is done in love.  When you chop a carrot, chop that carrot with love.  Bring love to all you do, he insists, and life will take on a richness and depth and beauty that one did not think possible.

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And that brings us back to Martha.  What the Gospel passage is showing us, I believe, is that Martha’s problem is not that she is in the kitchen instead of being at Jesus feet.  The problem is that she is distracted.  The text introduces Martha by telling us that she was “distracted by her many tasks” and then when Jesus speaks he says.” “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” She is living and seeing the world only through the prism of chronos time and is not seeing the Kairos moment right in front of her.

Jesus is not asking us to retreat from our responsibilities.  Jesus is not telling Martha that her tending to the needs of the household do not matter.  What Jesus is pointing out is that it is the manner in which she is engaged in what she is doing that is problematic.  The space between her and what she is doing is not filled with love.  It is filled with anxiety, anger, and resentment.  And because of that she is missing out completely in the Kairos moment that is before her.

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It is so easy to get swept away by all we have to do.  It is so easy to feel burdened by the march of time, caught up with the scarcity of it. Rushing around full of worry and distraction.  But I wonder how our experience of our lives would change if we began to shift our perception of time, to see it and live in it as Jesus saw and lived – to see that by offering all we do in Love we too may begin to encounter God in the midst of whatever it is that we are doing be that chopping carrots or quietly sitting at Jesus feet.

So I have a proposal for you.  We have entered the season of Lent, this intentional walk of preparation and self-examination.  What if during this time we tried to live as Brother Lawrence suggests. What if we tried to offer all that we do and all that we are as a gift of Love to God.  What if we, like him, were to be prayerful, and mindfulness and listen deeply.  To practice being fully present to whatever it is that we are doing and to do it all in love.   I wonder what  spaciousness and stillness may open up for us right in the very midst of the busyness of our lives?

I believe Jesus looked on Martha so long ago and looks upon us today not with judgment but with compassion.  I believe Jesus came to show us and invites all of us into the timelessness of God’s love and presence that is here now, within the march of the clock and the turning of our days.  For ours is not a distant God but one that is with us now in this moment and the next and the next, and the next and the next….   Amen.