Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tyranny of the Urgent

As I was finishing my senior year at Birmingham-Southern, I was offered a job at the Cathedral Church of the Advent. I had already begun the discernment process, and, although I hadn't figured out for sure whether seminary was in my future, I was glad to have the chance to work at a church for a year while I sorted things out.

It was a great job. It was only 15 hours a week, but I loved every minute. Mainly, that's because I had the chance to work for and with a wise woman. The Rev. Canon Marcia Wilkinson was the "canon missioner" at the Cathedral, and, since I was an outreach assistant (whatever that was), she was my boss and mentor and eventually became my friend. One day, while describing her work to me and the care with which she told some people who came to the church seeking financial assistance "no," she used a phrase that I go back to over and over. I've preached on it before, and I might be tempted to preach on it again this Sunday. It's a phrase that guides not only my work in outreach but also in pastoral care, business questions, family relationships, and just about everything else I can think of. 

"Don't fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent."

In other words, when someone knocks on your door with a problem that to them feels like the end of the world, don't forget that it isn't always the end of the world. I see many, many people who come into with an overdue power bill and a disconnect notice for later that day. If I let the urgency of their problem dictate my response, I would never be able to focus on the bigger picture. Just because the deadline for your problems is now doesn't mean I should drop everything to fix it. I should be just as able to say "no" to someone with an urgent need as I do to someone whose deadline is still off in the distance.

In Sunday's gospel, Martha gets distracted by the work at hand. She is pulled about in many directions with the duties of preparing for and serving a guest. When a visitor comes over, it feels right to drop everything and get the job of welcoming them into your house done. But Mary isn't bothered by that urgency. She isn't persuaded by the demands of the moment. She sits and waits and listens. And she chooses the better portion.

How many things in your life feel like they have to be taken care of right now? Jesus' criticism of Martha--his gentle, "Martha, Martha" admonition--isn't about her desire to serve or the work she is doing. He's critical of the urgency with which she buzzes about the house. If I fall victim to the tyranny of the moment--of whatever problem walks through my door--I'll never have time for Jesus. 

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