Contributed by Bill King, Lutheran Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
When you have an important school assignment to finish, what distractions are hardest for you to resist? Why?
Driven to Distraction
If you have watched a basketball game on television you have seen rabid fans seated behind the goal trying to distract an opposing team’s free throw shooter. “Shirtless” Bill Sproat, a student at Utah State has taken distraction to a new level, making it an art form. Sproat says that he actually hates basketball, calling it a “worthless” sport, but he loves finding new ways to get in the heads of opposing players. At Aggies’ home games you can find him behind the goal dressed as a snorkeler, Chippendale, or cupid. He tries to match his character to the opponent; for example, he showed for a game against the University of Hawaii dressed as a hula dancer. But his signature move comes in the second half of the game; he strips off his top and lets his ample torso undulate behind the backboard.
There is some debate in basketball circles over whether the antics of fans like Shirtless Bill actually make any difference. Top players say that if you are properly focused on the rim you do not even see the fans. But Bill has his own focus, “If I can get them to laugh then I can get them to miss. If I get them to look at me, they’re in big trouble.”
- How do you react to “Shirtless” Bill Sproat? Do you find him admirable for his passion or a bit desperate in his desire for attention?
- What do you think motivates someone like Bill, who regularly shows up to watch a game he hates?
- Fans’ efforts to distract players are perfectly acceptable at a basketball game but are grounds for ejection at a tennis match or on a golf course. Why?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 18, 2010 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
It’s tempting to choose sides. In this week’s lesson Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and we recognize sibling dynamics of many homes. There is Martha—dutiful, responsible, eager to follow the rules. She works hard and expects others to do the same. You want her in charge of your project. But she is rather high strung and prone to act like a martyr. Mary, in contrast, takes life as it comes. Sensitive and solicitous, she’ll drop everything if you call her up with a problem. She is light and breezy, often artistic, easy to be with—and absolutely maddening if you need her to act on a tight schedule. Mary and Martha love each other, but you know they drive each other crazy.
Most of us identify with either Martha or Mary, so it’s hard to avoid choosing sides in their little domestic tiff. We tend to read this story through the lens of our own experience. If little brother has just trashed our room—yet again—we weigh in on Martha’s side, “Yeah Lord, why shouldn’t Mary do her part instead of sitting on her duff?” But if our daily experience is being compared to a “perfect” but rather joyless sibling sister we can see why Mary opts out of the hospitality competition. Still, if we get too caught up in identifying with one sister or the other, we miss the point of the story.
Jesus gently rebukes Martha, not for being who she is, but for allowing herself to be distracted from what is most important. The hospitality Martha offers is praiseworthy, but in her worrying about all the little tasks of entertaining, she has ignored her guest. She has forgotten that the issue is not what she can give Jesus but what he can give her, if she will take time to listen. The good has become the enemy of the best.
A defining characteristic of modern life is the lack of silence. From morning to night we envelop ourselves in a blanket of distraction; there is no moment when we are not texting, tweeting, talking, or pumping tunes into our ears. Before we can follow Jesus we have to discipline ourselves to stop and listen for his voice. The challenge for good church folk is sometimes distinguishing being busy from being faithful. Can you slow down and listen today?
- Where do you find yourself in this story of Mary, Martha, and Jesus?
- Why do you think we tend to fill our day with unceasing sound?
- What “good” things occupy your time which might be distracting you from hearing Jesus?
- Jesus tells Martha she is busy with many things, but has lost sight of what is most important. What IS most important to you, so important that you will sacrifice everything else to have it?
- Make a list of everything you did in the last 24 hours. Think about how much time you spent in each activity; was it a good use of your time? Think about how your choices support or undermine your ability to follow Jesus. Share your list and thoughts with someone in your group.
- In the next week, do a “cyber-fast” for one whole day. Turn off your phone and computer—no texting, e-mails, calls, Facebook, Web browsing, etc. At the end of that time think about how your day was different from normal. What was uncomfortable? What was good about being disconnected? Talk about the experience in your group next week.
Lord, the alarm just went off and the race is on. There are so many things I need to do, so many demands on my time, so many people’s expectations to meet. Help me to take a deep breath, still my racing heart, and listen for your voice amid the noise of this day. Give me the wisdom to distinguish the urgent from the important, that I may rest in your love and live only for you. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.