Discerning our Spiritual Gifts
Today’s scripture sets us at Martha’s home. Jesus had been traveling and I imagine must have felt exhausted. Martha approaches Jesus and invites her into her home. She spends the afternoon cooking and cleaning so that Jesus may enjoy a delicious, nourishing meal. Martha’s sister, Mary, however, sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to him. Neither one of them offered to help Martha. I, too, would be filled with resentment and would march over to Jesus and say “Do you not care I have been left to do all the work by myself? Tell my sister to help me.”
I must confess, every time I hear Jesus’s response, I feel a little salty, a little irked. Well, Jesus, you tell me: “Jaz, Jaz, 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,” but what I REALLY want to say back is, “Jesus, Jesus, how do you think this home is cleaned? How do you think my wife and I rent this apartment? Pay for the food, cook the food, serve you…It is great that my fellow sister is sitting with you and listening to you, but someone has to make things happen…”
I have only been a part of this loving community for about five months now…but I feel really confident in saying that there are a wholeeeee lot of Marthas here. Am I right?
I see you. All of you. I see how much you do for this community. Even when your lives are filled with work, with school, with caring for family members, for friends…you still make substantial time for this community.
When I imagine this situation, I see Martha overworking herself, so much so, she becomes resentful… I sympathize with her. I have been there. My wife can testify big time to that. One of the biggest learning curves for me in our relationship has been to state my needs. Objectively, this feels really easy, but in the moment, not so much.
Before we were married, we lived in New York. I can recall one time when we went back to my apartment after a long trip. We both laid down to take a nap and we realized we still needed to cook our dinner for the week. Jackie offered and I told her no, I know you have a harder week than I do. She asked me a few times, are you sure? And I said yes. So I went ahead and cooked while Jackie took a nap.
I was just about done with dinner when I dropped some food on the ground. That’s alllllll it took to let the monster of resentment in me came out full force. “I am tired, too! I did not know that it would take me two hours to make ALL this food! I’m glad you got to take a nap.”
That was REALLY unfair. I totally recognize that.
She responded super frustrated, rightfully so… saying, I asked you three times if you were sure… how many times do I have to tell you to just ask me for help? To just tell me what you need.
This is starting to feel like another confession…like the public one I made in Dinner Church on Thursday night...
I can imagine that something similar is happening here in our scripture today. Martha has taken on more than she can handle.
I do want to pause here for a moment.
I want to acknowledge that there are structures in place that force us to be Marthas. When someone in the family falls ill, health insurance does not cover it, you have to take on an extra job, or work extra hours at the job you have.
When I was living in NY, a good friend of mine who is a single mom and at the time her daughter was a teenager. My friend worked Nordstrom Rack in the morning, then in the housing department with me during the day, then tutored in the evening. Even with all those jobs, she could only afford to co-rent a two bedroom apartment. She gave the one bedroom that was theirs to her daughter and for many years slept on the couch at night in the living room. She had no choice, but to be a Martha to put a roof over their head, pay for school and put food in front of them.
And yet…she made time to be Mary, as well…. in the midst of all of this, she made time for long morning walks. Walks that restored her spiritually, physically and mentally. When I would see her in the morning, she would show me pictures she took on her morning walks. She found nourishment in stopping and in soaking in bits of nature (standing and admiring, taking a picture) in the middle of a busy city.
Even when I asked her if I could share some of her story with you all today, she sent me a beautiful video she took of the New York City skyline at sunrise.
I share all of this because I want to be careful to not put blame on Martha. It is not her fault that she is overworking or that she is in a situation where she has to overwork.
I am confident in saying that Jesus is also not placing blame on her. I am confident in this interpretation because the parable of the Good Samaritan immediately precedes this story.
A few weeks ago our youth re-enacted the parable of the Good Samaritan with us---a person was on their way to a women’s march and his car broke down. In their depiction, both our Senior Pastor and a very important congregant member passed him by, but a Samaritan, who was heading to the same women's protest, but to protest against it, stopped to help him. (We knew where they stood on the women’s protest based on the bumper stickers on their cars.) The Samaritan who stopped to help him even paid for a night at a hotel so that he could rest.
In this parable, Jesus is honoring hospitality. He is not advocating for us to stop and be still, but to act… to act and help one another… to act and serve one another.
And so when I look back at what Jesus says to Martha, I am not convinced that he is condemning her hospitality or her work. Jesus values hospitality immensely.
I do think that Jesus is calling Martha to cultivate some of Mary in herself. That is - carve out some time for sitting, for listening. Knowing there is a time for acting and there is a time for resting.
Because the truth is, we need both Martha AND Mary.
And I believe we can experience God’s love through Mary (in the quiet, in the silence) and through Martha (through action).
When we experience God’s love through action, it may be through a kind interaction with a person we do not know. A few years ago I lost my license in New York City. I knew that I dropped it somewhere and lost hope that I would ever find it again. On Christmas Eve, I received a card in the mail. Inside the card was my license and a beautiful Christmas note.
We can also experience God’s love through silence. I have felt God’s love through a friend’s presence when I was going through a hard time. It was after I moved here from New York and I was really missing my family. I had never lived this far from them before. She did not do anything. She did not “fix” anything. She simply just sat by my side and experienced my feelings with me.
I know that for many of us Marthas, finding time to cultivate the Mary inside us can be hard and can sometimes feel impossible, especially during busy weeks when we are just trying to get by.
Especially because our culture seduces us into being Marthas. Many of us experience high demand in our jobs – to do more, do better… OR to just take on more jobs like my friend…
and with all these external demands, we begin to internalize them, telling ourselves you need to do more, you need to do better.
It is ironic, isn’t it? Times when we are struggling—we have so much on our plate—are often the times when our spiritual practices go out the window. I know that for me, it does. When, ironically, it is the time when I need prayer the most.
In one of her stand ups, Here and Now, Ellen DeGeneres comments on how busy we are. She says, you know, we even have go-gurt, yogurt on the go, because eating a yogurt from a cup and a spoon is too time consuming.
When I am at my best, when I am less busy, I wake up early, I light a candle and I pray. When I am tired, behind at school, my work, I skip my morning prayer. I notice that it does have a big impact on the rest of my day—I feel less centered, less calm.
Now that I am half way through my semester, I am inevitably behind on my school work, SO, I have been trying something new. As I go about my day, I talk to God. If I am feeling stressed or tired, or if I am feeling excited, I share that. For a few minutes, I try to still my mind and heart and listen. I do this as I am walking to my next class or when I am taking a break before my next thing. The more I do this, the more I realize I need this. Even if it is just for a few minutes, it gives me the energy I need to continue about my day and to continue with a perspective that has God at the center.
Martin Luther, upon being asked one time by a friend what his plans were for the following day, replied, "Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer" (I am not as good as Martin Luther).
When we make the time, even for a few minutes, we are cultivating the Mary inside of us.
After worship today, we will talk about our spiritual gifts in our Lenten discernment study groups, which I encourage anyone who is interested in spiritual deepening to attend. The study will be held in the Lindsay room today. 20s/30s we will be upstairs in room 205. We also have take home questions, which you can find in your bulletin, prayer partners (which you can sign up for online), and Dinner Church which is held on Thursdays during Lent. Service there starts at 6:15. If you have any questions at all about these opportunities, please do not hesitate to come to talk to Kent, Amy, me and I am going to ask people from deepening and discernment to raise their hands… (phew I got that all in…)
Today, is the day in our Lenten series when we focus on spiritual gifts. Paul’s first letters to the early churches of Corinth (the other scripture from the Epistles we read together today) reminds us that as a community, collectively we represent a vast number of gifts.. gifts of healing, teaching, accounting, cooking, mechanics, photography, and so much more, but that we are all part of the same Spirit. Many gifts coming together is what makes a community come to life. Makes a community of faith that with the help of God can make a difference in this world.
I think we can use our scripture readings today as a guide as we think and talk about the coronavirus. (I know that coronavirus in most of our minds right now). Our situation right now is an example that shows the importance of a community with many gifts coming together. And honestly, it is already happening.
When I was reading my emails yesterday, I saw how on top of it this community was, through a text change with our operations team who ensured this church would be thoroughly disinfected, through conversations in meetings this past week.
I have been so moved when I hear people already thinking about how to support and care for those who are at high risk in our community and for those who may fall ill and need to stay home, but that staying home means that they may not be able to make rent. People with many gifts and big hearts coming together to think through all of this and how we can be a community that makes a difference right here, in this very place.
As we all think about your spiritual gifts and coming together as a community, I encourage all of us to also think about what it makes it possible for us to tap into those gifts, what makes it possible for us to also be Marys. What gives you life? Is it a walk like my friend? Is it talks with God? Is it sharing a pot of tea with a friend?
We need both Mary and Martha for those gifts to shine. I like to think about Mary and Martha like I think about breathing. We need to be active/engaged, and we need to rest. When we inhale, we also need to exhale. We need to recharge. Recharge our faith, our hope and so that we can continue to work with God to create an earth like it is in heaven.
Discernment: Finding Clarity in the Chaos
Week 2: Discerning our Spiritual Gifts
These are some questions and ideas for you to reflect further on today’s worship and to join us in our collective Lenten study of Discernment.
In today’s Gospel story (Luke 10:38-42), we heard about two sisters showing two distinct kinds of gifts.
Do you identify more with Mary or Martha?
Who are the Marys and Marthas in your life?
What are the strengths of each of the sisters’ gifts?
What are the drawbacks or “blind sides” of their gifts?
How might you benefit to adapt or recognize the gifts of the sister with whom you least identify?
We also read 1 Corinthians 12 in worship.
What phrases in this scripture jumped out at you? Why?
What gifts have others affirmed in you?
What are gifts you have (or that others notice in you) that you take for granted?
What gifts do you admire in other people? Why?
Is there someone in particular who represents those gifts for you?
Where did your gifts come from? Were they handed down or cultivated by your parents, teachers, family members? How and where did you cultivate them on your own?
What role did God have in your gifts?
For further inquiry, you can take a spiritual gifts assessment at ministrymatters.com
Some suggested practices for the week ahead
These are some easy-to-try spiritual practices that can help you as you launch into a season of discernment. By no means do you need to try all at once. We invite you to try them out as you see fit, see how they feel and then report back to us next week. You are welcome to join us in study groups after Sunday worship in Lent or other times. Check out the homepage link at the bottom of the page.
Spiritual Examen: a practice to try this week
A spiritual practice derived from St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish Basque Catholic priest and theologian, who gave up a life of nobility and co-founded the religious order called the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in the 16th century. The examen was developed in the 1500s as a core practice and is used to this day by Jesuits and other religious groups.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to spend about 10 minutes at the end of each day this week:
Give thanks for all God’s gifts and benefits
Ask for light/God’s presence
Review the day: thoughts, words, deeds, desires, consolations, desolations
Express gratitude, sorrow or purpose of amendment
Ask for the graces you desire for tomorrow
You can make it as long or short as you want. Try repeating the practice throughout the week.
Another practice is to name and write down three specific things each day for which you are thankful. It could be anything: time with a loved one, a delicious meal, an unexpected break in your day, a kind exchange with a stranger, something in nature.
The point is to make it specific, and spend some time in your mind reliving the experience, savoring the feelings and thoughts they brought up in you.
This is a core practice that neuroscientists suggest in helping change some of our brain patterns from our predetermined negative, anxious bias to a cultivated, more positive, hopeful outlook.
We welcome EVERYONE at United Parish to try having a prayer partner in Lent.
You may think that you are not that spiritual, or that you don’t know how to pray, or even if you do, you don’t want to share that with someone else, that it’s private. That’s OK. Just give it a try.
It’s a holy experiment, basically committing to having a spiritual buddy in the congregation with whom you talk for 5-15 minutes each week from now through Easter (April 12).
You can sign up at unitedparishbrookline.org/prayer-partners-during-lent
An online “data-driven” daily discernment practice
Methodist colleagues at the Harvard-Epworth Church in Cambridge have created a daily discernment opportunity, in which they email you a question each day to answer as part of your own private discernment practice. You can check it out and sign up at 40form.org/signup
Scripture for your week ahead
Look again at the passage from 1 Corinthians 12.
Take a few minutes to read and reread it during the week, paying attention to how it lands with you at different times and in different situations. How do you notice those gifts in yourself? In those around you?
For more information, check out unitedparishbrookline.org/news/opportunities-during-lent.