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There's Magic In The Moment
July 23, 1995

LUKE 10:38-42

During the Junior High swim party last Thursday, Gwen Marshall shared a story about a young man who impressed the foreman of a logging crew with his ability to swing an axe. He was hired on Monday, but fired on Friday. The young man protested, "I'm the hardest worker you have. I arrive first. I leave last. I even work through my coffee breaks." The foreman thought for a minute, and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your axe?" The young man replied, "I've been working too hard to take the time." He was so busy chopping, he neglected what was most important!

In our Scripture lesson this morning, Jesus reprimanded Martha for being so busy she missed what was important. Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and resentful of Mary who just sat there at Jesus' feet listening! Jesus said, "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." The question is: what is the better part? What did Jesus mean? The traditional interpretation of this conversation is that the contemplative life is more important than activism, that prayer is more important than doing. But, certainly what Martha was doing was important. Jesus would have had nothing to eat if Martha hadn't cooked and served. Besides, can't you pray while you are cooking? Doesn't being spiritual include active serving? Surely, being spiritual doesn't only mean introspection, contemplation, and quiet time.

Jesus reprimanded Martha for being distracted. Perhaps the better part Martha was missing was the magic of the moment. Martha was so busy doing things she missed seeing the larger picture. It was not Martha's commitment to serving her guests that Jesus criticized, it was her shallow perception of the moment. She chose shallow perception over deep vision. And, she missed the magic of the moment. She missed seeing and experiencing all that was there. She was in the presence of Jesus, but was only able to see what she had to do.

Have you seen and been hypnotized yet by the Magic Eye books? There is sometimes a display at the Mall. At first sight, there is nothing to see but a series of dots and colors. But, when you develop depth perception, you begin to see meaning, and highly focused three-dimensional images materialize out of abstract, seemingly chaotic fields of color and random lines. Once you get it, once you see it, a whole new world of experience opens to you. There's magic in the moment. No matter what you think you're seeing or how well you think you're seeing, there is more to be revealed.

There is a lot more to our lives than most of us realize. Like the two brick layers: one was laying bricks, the other was building a cathedral. One had shallow perception seeing only what he was doing by himself; the other had deep vision, and saw the finished product, saw the goal, saw a cathedral.

Martha's distraction was not her busy-ness in the kitchen, but her single vision about what she was doing and the singular importance of her frenetic serving activity. She did not bring the physical and spiritual into focus together. How about you? Do you see the spiritual dimension in the physical? When you see Yosemite Falls, do you see water falling, or do you see the grandeur of God? Some people with shallow perception look at church budgets, see deficits, and complain, "All the church does is ask for money." Those with deep vision look at church budgets and see children laughing, singing, learning the Bible; they see youth discussing, stretching, growing, having fun water rafting; they see people in Africa hearing the word of God; they see the sick being treated and healed in mission hospitals.

Another problem for Martha was her inability to juggle. She had difficulty doing several things at once, and still keep focused on the magic of the moment. Jesus told her, "There is need of only one thing." It is especially important for us in this busy, hectic age in which we live to juggle and focus at the same time, to keep the physical and the spiritual in balance. Martha was distracted, rather than focused. Jesus, on the other hand, was able to juggle, and keep focused on what was important.

In the midst of serving an anxious, pressing crowd, Jesus could feel the touch of a hemorrhaging woman and focus on her needs. He stopped and asked, "Who touched me?" In the midst of teaching his chosen disciples, Jesus could connect with the tiny children running underfoot and focus on their needs. In the midst of preaching to and healing a huge throng of people, Jesus could hear the hungry rumblings of empty stomachs and focus on their need to eat. He then fed them with five loaves and two fish. An effective hostess knows how to juggle and focus at the same time. She walks a fine line between serving a perfect dinner, and enabling her guests to have a good time. There comes a time in every good party when you just have to let the dishes stack up, the coffee get cold and the butter melt, so that everyone may simply talk around the table.

"Martha, Martha," Jesus lamented, "you are worried and distracted by many things." Martha, you are missing so much. You are missing the big picture. You are missing the presence of Jesus. You are not focused on what is important. You see a flower but you do not perceive the beauty. You see a bird but you do not hear the singing. You see your neighbor but you don't experience God in your neighbor. You are distracted. You have shallow perception.

I wonder if Martha changed? Did Martha learn? We don't know. There are only two other references to Martha. One is the occasion when Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Martha ran out to meet Jesus, to tell him Lazarus had died, and to ask his help. Mary, as usual, was sitting in the house! On the other occasion where Martha is mentioned, she is again the hostess. Jesus is the guest, but it is Mary who anoints his feet and washes them in expensive perfume. Did Martha again miss the magic of the moment?

I wish Jesus would have told Martha how to do it. Don't you wish Martha would have asked, "Lord, how do I change? How do I keep from being distracted? How do I sense the magic of the moment?" But, if Martha did ask Jesus, both her question and Jesus' answer have been lost.

Let's conjecture. I suspect Jesus would have told Martha to open her eyes to what is happening around her. Siddhartha Guatama was once asked, "What are you? Are you a god?" Guatama answered, "No." They persisted, "Are you an angel? Are you a saint?" Each time Guatama answered, "No." Finally, they asked, "Then what are you?" He answered, "I am aware." The holy man, now known as Buddha, expressed the essence of Buddha: to be aware. How much of life goes on around us and we are not aware? How many are in need and we are not aware? How much beauty are we missing because we are not aware? How many blessings are we missing because we are not aware?

Be aware, be open to the moment, constantly asking, "Is there more?" In other words, be in a constant state of prayer. Prayer is an attitude, as well as words. Prayer is an attitude of openness to God. Pray constantly, "Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Let me be sensitive. Let me be open to needs. Let me see beauty. Let me see the larger picture" Prayer is the giving of your full attention. Like looking at a Magic Eye picture, stare and stare, give it your full attention, until suddenly it all comes clear. Distraction is when your energy is dissipated in many directions. But, when you give your full attention--even though juggling; when you center your energy and are totally present to the situation, focus happens. Then, there is magic in the moment.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris