What Really Matters — July 17 2016

Today I think of air Captain Chesley Sullenberger III.  Born in 1951 in Denison, Texas, He was a faithful member of his Methodist Church and an excellent student. By January 15 2009 he had been a pilot for 30 years, with 20,000 hours of flying experience.  He had been a fighter jet pilot, a member of national air safety boards and air accident investigations.

On that day in January 2009, his civilian Airbus A320 airplane took off from La Guardia Airport with 155 people on board; then it struck a flock of birds and lost both engines.  He was over the Bronx or northern Manhattan with a fully fueled widebodied airplane, so untold disaster loomed.  Not distracted or paralyzed by fear, with vast skill, experience, and focus, he brought his plane safely to an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All souls were safely evacuated.  It is about to appear as a movie titled “Sully”, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney.
The message to me is this: focus on God’s calling to you, not being distracted by anything. (Sullenberger is the author of the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins.)  Focus, without distraction, is what our readings are about today.

Today’s gospel reading on Martha and Mary, from Luke chapter 10 verse 38-42, concludes that chapter.  That chapter 10 began with the mission of the seventy, which refers to the mission of all of us who follow Christ.  The chapter continued with the summary of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  That is the core value that all of us who follow the one God hold and share with the world.  The chapter continues with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which directs us, on our life of mission in the name of Jesus, to cross ethnic and all social boundaries in the whole world, and to care for the suffering person irrespective of how different they may be from us.

Finally, that chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel ends with this story of Mary and Martha.  Here, Martha is distracted with many activities, while Mary has chosen the single good or spiritual portion of listening to Jesus.  The thrust of this gospel reading is this: That, on our mission we should be focused on God’s call to us in our life.  We should not be distracted by fear and anxiety; and we should not be distracted by the things of this world.

There is an echo here of the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary the mother of Jesus, about thirty years before, early in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus’ mother Mary responded with the words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: be it unto me according to God’s word.”  Here is Luke again and again emphasizing the role of women, and emphasizing Jesus as the example that we can and should emulate.  As Jesus is focused on God, so we must focus on Jesus.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us appears in the other readings for today, in Genesis 18, of Abraham meeting the three angelic beings at Mamre.  Abraham was still learning to follow the covenant that God made with him in Genesis chapter 15, that he would be the father in faith to countless numbers of people in the future.  He was still learning to focus on and believe in God’s call to him, and not be distracted by anything else.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us is the subject of our Psalm 15 today.  The author does not want to be distracted by enemies, by money, or by anything else.

In our reading from Colossians 1, we learn that the whole universe, that all things, are held together by Jesus Christ.  That the secret of the ages has been revealed: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  When we focus on Jesus, we are focusing on reality, on what holds the universe together.

This idea of focus, and of not being distracted appears in different ways in more recent times:

Last Monday, July 11, we remembered Benedict of Nursia of approximately 540 A.D./ C.E.  The Episcopal Church rests upon Benedictine spirituality, for example, in sanctifying time.  Every day begins and ends with prayer, and there is prayer during the hours of the day.  During each hour there are designated activities.  Whether the activity is menial or great, it is to further God’s reign.  There is the sanctifying of material goods.  Each implement, like a shovel, must be seen as a divine thing, like the world itself, and must be treated with respect.  So the whole of time and matter is offered to the call of God.  Benedict’s Rule begins with the word, “Listen”, or “Obey”.  We must be focused on God’s call and not distracted.

In my own life I remember the eight years of studying for my doctorate in the New Testament.  For those eight years, all done part time with three children, there were an average of three hours of study and research before breakfast each morning.  I knew what it was to be focused on a goal and a calling, despite any distraction which might appear.

Last week we heard of the death of Edmond Browning, who was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1986 onward for 12 years.  His great focus, theme and calling was this: There will be no outcasts in the church.  With that rallying call, ‘No outcasts’, he led us through the AIDS pandemic which began in 1984.  He taught us not to be afraid, and to care for each other even in the face of death.

For days, weeks, months and years now we have been surrounded by violence around the world,  There is no one cause.  It’s not only extreme religious groups,  Its not only gun laws,  Its not any particular ethnic or racial group.  It not only homophobia.  It has occurred in many countries and continents.  Politicians at times rant and rave and yet achieve very little.

In the midst of all this, Jesus’ call to us is the same as it has always been:  to listen to God’s call to us; to not be distracted by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world.

Are you caught up by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world?  The gospel today calls you back to your true identity of God’s call to you.  Listen to God.  Love and obey God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

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