Being and Doing

Luke 10:38-42
Psalm 52:9
Erica Schemper
Fox Valley Presbyterian Church
It is important that I begin this sermon with a confession.

I have not been practicing what I am about to preach…I’m home for one week after 3 weeks of traveling, and I leave at about 6:00am tomorrow on another youth trip. in a sermon about doing and being, about taking time to sit contemplatively at the feet of Jesus, I will be quoting other people frequently. Because I had a week of very busy doing–faxing forms and sending e-mails, organizing and filing, unpacking and cleaning and repacking, preparing for the trip, not to mention dealing with the demands of a 3 year old who is coming off a few disruptive weeks…a whole lot of doing, not leaving much time for being.

I am by no means an expert on being. I’m muddling through this with the rest of you who get busy and forget to sit and be quiet and listen.

And maybe that’s the way it should be for the preacher this week…in order to address the problem, I’ve been living it more than thinking about it!

We are, says author Wayne Muller,
enthralled in the trance of our work. It is all important, it must be done right away, it won’t get done without me, I cannot stop or it will all fall apart, it is all up to me, terrible things will happen if I do not get this done. I have to keep working because there are I have things to buy and there are bills to pay for those things and I have to buy faster computers and more expensive telephones to help me get more done so I can keep up and make money to pay the bills for the things I need to buy to help me get these things done…..There are always a million good reasons to keep on going, and never a good enough reason to stop.

I find that to be a frighteningly accurate description of our relationship to work, whether that work be in an office, from our home, in schools, in factories, in fields. We live by the clock, by our calendars and schedules, and we are always trying to cram in more and more efficient use of time and energy. We’ve even seen some creep of this mentality into the work of raising children: calculations of the monetary worth of a stay at home parent’s tasks, and suggested child-rearing practices that are centered more on the clock than the needs of the individual child.

In spite of technologies that are supposed to make us more efficient and leave us with more time for leisure, we find that we are increasingly tied to e-mail, phones, computers, employers, and efficient achievement and consumption.

And we even tie our children into this schedule. I am not making a value judgment here, simply observing that only a few decades ago, children’s and teen’s leisure time was less scheduled and more open…and, we adults all seemed to turn out OK. I suspect that most of us actually would prefer that sort of free-form experience of childhood we had for our own kids, but we are pushed and tugged by our schedules, the expectations of friends and neighbors, the desires of our kids, until even our children get sucked into
the great hamster wheel that that is middle class life in North America.

Even our sense of leisure has become quantified. In the 1970s, an economist named Stefan Linder wrote a book called (I love this title) The Harried Leisure Class. He wrote:

We had always expected one of the beneficient results of economic affluence to be a tranquil and harmonius manner of life…what has happened is the exact opposite. The pace is quickening, and our lives in fact are becoming more hectic.

Linder’s theory was that as labor was more and more specialized and productive, there was an increase in the monetary value of each worker’s hours, and thus an increase not just in the value of work time, but in the value of non-work time(from Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World, p. 21-22). So, think about it, that means that even the hours you have for leisure: vacation, hobbies, work around the home, even those hours suddenly have a high monetary value.

For instance, here’s my own (somewhat faulty) logic about this: I love to sew and knit. So do many of the other women in my family history. My grandmother talks about her older sister Kay’s skill in taking the coats of the older children in the family and recutting and retailoring them into smaller coats for her. That was a necessary skill for a farm family in the 1930s, but knew Auntie Kay and I knew her work, and I know she sewed and knit not just out of necessity but because it was an activity she loved, a source of beauty, creativity, and leisure beyond her factory job as a young woman.

But there are times when I begin to think about an sewing project, and discard the idea because I begin to calculate in my head what the cost would be, not just of materials, but also of labor, and I figure that my hours are worth enough that I would be better off “splurging” on the purchase of a pre-made dress or coat. With 8 years of post-high school education, my labor hours are worth more than Auntie Kay’s were. (And, stated that way, it chokes me a bit even to say it, because the truth is that in our family today, a pair of slippers knit by Auntie Kay is an incalculable treasure…)

Even our leisure is quantified. How many us get back from a vacation and find we are exhausted because we tried to do too much, to get the full value out of that time away?

Put simply, we need more rest. Both the kind associated with sleep and the kind associated with Sabbath. One of the early Christian monks was once asked by younger monks what they ought to do when the monk next to them fell asleep during longer prayers and liturgies. He answered: “For my part, when I see a brother who is dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.” (A Sourcebook About Sunday, p.148)

Yes we need that kind of rest: file away this idea in your head: there’s a writer who recently decided for the season of Lent, instead of giving something up, she was simply going to get more sleep. I might do that some year, although, since I will have a one month old infant by the time lent hits in 2011, this might not be the year.

But we also need more Sabbath rest. The word in Hebrew for this kind of rest is menuha. Abraham Heschel, one of the great rabbis of the 20th century, describes it this way:

[It] means more that withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain, or activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept, but something real and intrisically positive…to the bibilcal mind, menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony….it is the state wherein humans lie still, where in the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and distrust. The essence of good life is menuha.”

(from Sunday Sourcebook, p. 161-162)

And there’s one more thing Heschel says about menuha. The ancient rabbis thought that, since it was not a negative concept, not an absence, but a presence, it had in fact taken God work to create it. That the seventh day of creation what not an absence of God’s creative power, but in fact the action of God creating rest, stillness, menuha as a good for God and for all of creation.

I think that tells us this: Sabbath rest doesn’t just happen. There is an active component to carving out, to prioritizing, to creating, the time and space to be still. It is not simply there for the taking. We know all too well that we do not live in a time or a place that supports our creation of rest.

We have to make a choice to do it, whether we can do it for a whole day once a week. Whether we can only catch it in snatches here and there.

But there must, for our spiritual health and well-being, be some pattern to our lives, where we stop, where we rest.

I’ve been talking in concepts, heady quotes, through most of this sermon. I only think it’s fair to leave you with pictures.

Psalm 52 is the Psalm the lectionary gives us for today. I can’t figure out what it has to do with Mary and Martha, and I’ve decided not to read you the whole thing, because it has its own issues and tricky bits. It starts with a condemnation of people who are wicked, who put their trust in things other than God. It’s pretty harsh.

But near the end, it gives us this picture:

Psalm 52:8

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.

There it is: a green tree in courts of the Lord, fed and nourished by the water of life. trusting in the forever and forever love of God. The love of God that is unbounded by time and space, but schedules and value of work hours.

Can you picture yourself as that tree? Happy and content simply to BE in the house of God, rooted down, stretching up. And simply by being the tree you are supposed to be, the things that you do: growing green leaves and flowering, and swelling olive fruit.

And think of Mary and Martha, then. Of Martha, hurrying and distracted by the schedule, by the calendar, by the expectation of what she ought to DO. Asking Jesus to give her some relief by reminding Mary to get up and get busy.

Maybe what Jesus says to her is not critical, but said in love for her as much as for Mary. “ Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but there is need of only one thing.”

We don’t know what happens next, but I’d like to think that Martha wipes her hands on the kitchen towel, and sits down next to Mary, next to Jesus. That the bread comes out of the oven a bit too brown and there are some dishes that don’t get washed as quickly as they should. That the neighbors notice that no one is taking care of the kitchen…
But that Mary and Martha both get some menuha. And are able not just to do, but to be.

May we all be the tree, rooted in the good soil of the word. Nourished in the water of baptism, growing toward the blessing of God’s rest.

And my we all be Mary and Martha, stopping to rest, finding time
in the middle of what we have to do
to simply be in the presence of Jesus Christ.