I was vaguely aware of the Pokemon Go phenomenon for a few weeks, but it lurked on the edges of my awareness. The app mixes the popular video game with an augmented reality form of geocaching. You travel around in the real world, trying to catch little cartoon figures called Pokemon that show up on your smartphone. I don’t really play games on my phone very often, so I only half-listened when my children started talking about how cool the whole Pokemon Go thing was. Ok, right, new smartphone app, very popular, big splash….
Then on Tuesday of this week, a clergy colleague of mine posted an article on Facebook entitled “8 Ways Churches can Capitalize on Pokemon Go.”
Uh-oh. My fight or flight reflexes kicked in. I broke out into a cold sweat. Several thoughts lurched into my mind all at once, all equally threatening to my ego.
Train of thought #1: I am hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. My ministry is irrelevant. God is done with me. I’m a failure.
Train of thought #2: I am going to have to make time to figure this out – download it, play it, respond to it. I am already busy and now my plans for the week go cafluey. Thanks a lot, Nintendo.
Train of thought #3: Other churches are already way ahead of us in dealing with this. It’s too late. We loose. I’m a loser.
Train of thought #4: I don’t want people to find the church because of a game. I want them to come here because of the God-shaped hole in their hearts, yearning to sit at the feet of Jesus and be transformed by grace. What is the world coming to?
All of this happened before I had even read the article.
It is so easy to go down the long, deep rabbit hole of worry. Pokemon Go is pretty light- weight, of course, compared to other phenomena and events we find ourselves trying to respond to these days. What a hard time it is in our nation and our world. How inadequate we feel in the face of the hardness of heart and depth of human need we see and hear and feel in the news and sometimes in our own communities or families.
How can we not be frantic or paralyzed by the news of the day and the state of the world?In the words of the beautiful old hymn, “Sometimes we feel discouraged and think our work’s in vain.” Today’s gospel offers us some balm for our sin-sick souls.
Jesus has come to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is working hard to set a feast. She is offering good and holy labor, in the tradition of Abraham and Sarah, who entertained angels unawares.She is offering holy labor in the tradition of the Good Samaritan, in the tradition of Lady Wisdom who lays a feast and the Lord who is my Shepherd, who spreads a table before me in the face of my enemies.
Hospitality is a central calling of the people of God, from Genesis to Revelation, and Martha is all about that. From the placement of this story in Luke’s gospel, it seems it is the Feast of Tabernacles, and she is doing what every woman she knows has done and their mothers before them.
Mary is not working. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Martha asks Jesus to tell her sister to get up off the floor and help her. Jesus says no. Why?
The problem is not that Martha is working hard or that she is serving others. Problem is that she is “distracted” and “worried.” The word for “distracted” here is made from the prefix “peri”, which means around, and the stem “spao” which means to break. It is the stem for the English words ‘spasm’ and ‘spastic.’ Biblical scholar Mark Davis suggests that what Luke is conveying is that ‘Martha was totally spazed with all work she had to do.’ “The emphasis would not be on the industry or Martha’s work itself, but on how it has discombobulated her.”
Martha is experiencing radical anxiety, not just the usual busyness of hospitality. It could be that it’s just because there’s a lot to do. Or it could be more. Maybe Martha and Mary had been present when Jesus told his disciples about his upcoming death. Maybe she is heart-sick about that, and her mind is spinning as she worries about the future without her beloved rabbi.
We don’t really know much about Mary & Martha’s history or relationship. Maybe Mary is also a hard worker, but took a break to refresh. Maybe Mary was intentionally doing prophetic work by daring to sit at the feet of the rabbi — a position normally occupied by men. That Jesus doesn’t scold Mary for being there is, in and of itself, an extraordinary aspect of this story. Everyone is called to this spot before Jesus — everyone needs to be there and is welcomed there.
There are lots of “maybe’s” here about what’s causing Martha to be so anxious. But somehow fear has taken up residence in her heart. Note that Jesus does not say that she is irrational or wrong-headed. He merely says that he will not stop Mary from her sitting and hearing.
Martha is feeding Jesus, but Mary is being fed by Jesus. She is letting herself be nourished by the words and presence of the one who is her strength and her hope. She is being refreshed for the journey ahead by abiding with Jesus in whom, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church.”
Jesus invites Martha – and us – to come to him with our fear. Yes, the world is full of horrors. Yes, we can make a list so long it would go down this aisle and out the door of all the challenges to health, hope, and human dignity that need addressing. Yes, the loudest voices in the media spew a toxic mix that encourages us to be afraid and to be passive in the face of it all.
And, in the face of it all, Christ invites us – urges us – to remember who we are: beloved children of God, equipped with memory, reason, and skill and part of a community of love and spirit that extends through history.
We need the nourishment that comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus so that we can go out to do the hard work set for us, not in a spirit of fear, resentment, or self-righteousness – but from a place of inner clarity and in a spirit of love. We need to stay clear that God loves all that God has created and never gives up on anyone. If not, we will be part of the problem rather than the solution. We return to God to be reminded of God’s being as love and all of creation as an outpouring of that love.
All of us – of all genders and all ages, all abilities and all political leanings – are invited to sit at the feet of Jesus. It is not ground reserved just for monks and nuns, or just for scholars and preachers.
After you take communion today, before returning to your seat, I invite you to spend a little time with Jesus. We have several images of Jesus here in this space: The crucifix behind the altar; the good shepherd icon; the icon of Christ at the back of the church. We have Christ present in the bread and the wine, and so we’re going to set up a table where you can sit with that presence as well.
I’ve also set out a few wooden crosses from Bethlehem, which can be held. In the week ahead, when you are tempted to go down the rabbit hole of worry, bring back to your heart the image of Christ. And remember that you are part of the life of Christ. I will not admonish you to “be not afraid.” But rather “Be not twisted with worry.” And let the peace of Christ enfold, uplift, and empower you for the work of love in this world.
And for those of you playing Pokemon Go – Yes, this church is a Pokestop. And that’s fine with me.