C.S. Lewis was an apologist of the Christian faith . . . a defender of the faith. For many he is the author of the Narnia Chronicles—popular books written for children, but for others he wrote many spiritual classics. Among the greatest of his spiritual classics is the Screwtape Letters. I know that I have mentioned this book many times, but I think that is the mark of a classic . . . it gets shared over and over again.
Simply put this is a book about a junior devil sent to earth on his first assignment. He job is to keep his person from converting over to the “enemy”—the enemy in this case is Jesus. Because this is his first assignment he relies heavily upon his mentor who happens to be his uncle . . . the uncle’s name is Screwtape. With each new situation that he encounters in trying to keep his person from converting to Jesus, the junior devil writes his uncle. The book is the answers to those queries. Screwtape gives his nephew all sorts of advice, but the greatest advice he gives is that of distraction. Screwtape advises his nephew to keep his person distracted . . . if the person is distracted he will be too busy with everything else to focus on Jesus.
The definition of distraction is the “divided attention of an individual or group from a chosen object or goal.” Distraction is not good. Most accidents happen when people are distracted, thus in this technological age we hear more and more warnings about not texting or taking cell phone calls while driving. When we learn to drive we are taught that we are to keep our eyes and minds on the road . . . cell phones, radios, and even DVD players in our cars can keep us from doing that. I am always amazed at the number of accidents and deaths on the highways that are caused by distractions.
Jesus addresses the issue of distraction this morning in our scripture reading. This morning we hear the story of Mary and Martha throwing a dinner party for Jesus. This is a big deal for Martha to host this rising star in her house and she wants to make sure everything is perfect, after all, she wants to make a good impression not only with her guests but all the people watching. So Martha keeps herself busy making sure everything is just right . . .
While Martha is busy making sure she is doing her best Martha Stewart, her sister is all ga-ga over Jesus and sits at his feet hanging onto ever word he speaks. Meanwhile, Martha is busting her butt . . . at least for a while she is . . . until the frustration hits. Now it was probably a combination of the frustration of doing all the work and sibling rivalry that makes Martha bold enough to approach Jesus and complain. And, complain she does . . . she wants her sister to quit goofing off and start helping . . . she wants Jesus to tell her to knock it off and get to work.
But, Jesus does the opposite. He reprimands Martha . . . tells her that she is too distracted to see what is really important here . . . that she needs to chill because Mary gets it while she does not. Distraction has gotten Martha off course, while Mary has embraced that which is important. Jesus tells Martha, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now, Martha is not the “bad guy” in this story . . . no, far from it. Martha is you and me . . . Martha is you and me because, like Martha, we are easily distracted while living our lives to really see what is important. Trust me, I know. Especially right now as we enter into the final stretch of our youngest child’s wedding preparations. Wedding preparations are not good for husbands and wives . . . I wonder if they have ever done a study to see how many marriages have broken up after doing a wedding for one of the children . . . I’d be curious to know. In this final week of preparations, the wife and I are in the Mary and Martha story . . . I am Mary, she is Martha . . . and at times we both need to be reminded about what is important.
Maybe it is because I am male, but I can honestly say that I cannot remember much about the previous wedding we were involved in as parents—our daughter’s several years ago. I cannot tell what color the flowers were, what the table decorations were, what people were wearing . . . but I can tell you how happy my daughter was . . . how much love was there . . . how wonderful it was to share that time with family and friends . . . to experience the love. Those are the things that are important, and those are the things that I keep reminding, Martha . . . I mean, the wife, about as we enter into the final stretch this next week. It is not about the things, it is about the people. These are the things that won’t ever be taken away.
How often we allow our distractions to divert us from that which is important in our lives? Probably more than we want to admit, but we do admit that it happens. And, if it happens in our lives it is surely happening in our faith and in our church. If it is happening in our faith and our church, well then, old Screwtape was right . . . we are too busy to see and live that which is the most important . . . doing God’s will and being a faithful follower of Jesus. If that is the case, evil wins because we are too busy with the stuff that really doesn’t matter.
That is the greatest argument facing the church today . . . that it is not focusing on that which is important. That the church too involved in making sure it looks good, sounds good . . . doing all the things that make it a good product . . . worrying about what others and the world might think of it. It is too self-centered. People are leaving the church in droves because they are not getting what they see as the more important thing . . . mainline denominations are declining at a stupendous rate and there are predictions out there that those denominations will be gone in another twenty-five years. The church, as we know it, has been distracted . . . and, in its distraction it has lost that which was important . . . doing God’s will with the emphasis on doing.
The faith of those who follow Jesus is not passive . . . it is active. It is active in loving God with one’s whole being . . . it is active in loving others as we love ourselves. It is focused on God and doing God’s will . . . it is focused on helping others in their times of need, bringing peace, seeking justice, and establishing God’s kingdom. This was the business of Jesus and it is to be our business too . . . as long as we don’t get distracted.
Distraction is tough and all of us are easily led down bunny trails that get us nowhere. It was a big deal for Mary and Martha to host Jesus, but it was not the meal that was important . . . it was the fellowship that mattered the most. Mary chose relationship over impression . . . relationships are the things that we remember most, everything else is of secondary importance. Distraction takes us away from that which is important. As the followers of we must remember that which is important . . . our relationship with God through Jesus and how we live our lives for God. Everything else is secondary including the church.
Steve Maraboli, a minister, put it this way: “The world is my church. My actions are my prayer. My behavior is my creed.” When we get distracted we lose sight of what is important. And, when we lose sight of what is important, we lose everything. Don’t be a Martha . . . Amen.