The Time Barrier (The Art of Neighboring)

These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, January 20, 2019. This message was based upon a reading from Luke 10:38-42.  This  message is part of a series, based upon the book, The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon,
     I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.

Technology boomed in the mid-20th century.  Advances were being made to “make life more simple.”  There was optimism that with such advances the modern human would only have to work only a few hours a day.  Futurists predicted that with more free-time people would have more time to pursue the arts and education.

This McClary Kitchen ad from 1952 is a perfect example of our naïve assumption that, in the future, we’ll have more time:

“McClary appliances are designed to reduce work–to give you more free time–to bring you more beauty–more convenience. The wonderful new McClary refrigerator…available in 9.1 cu. ft. and 7.2 cu. ft. sizes… And the McClary automatic electric range with two ovens… Then there are the ’27’ Feature McClary washers…all designed to make life easier for you.”

In the over 65 years that have passed since this ad, I think it is absolutely certain that these “technological marvels” and the countless others that have followed have made life more convenient.  Food doesn’t spoil so fast any more.  My clothes not only wash and dry with very little input from me, but I can even get a machine to fold them if I so desire.  No one in my house has to spend all day cooking dinner for our family of six; I can, typically, cook everything in an hour or less (and most people don’t even spend that much time in the kitchen preparing their evening meal).  Communications advancements allow me to carry a wealth of knowledge—unfathomable in previous generations—in my hip pocket.  I think there is no doubt that the McClary ad was right in that life has gotten easier, or at the very least more convenient.  But, for all the convenience, are we really saving ourselves more time?  Has the convenience really given us more free time? or has it simply given us more time to fill?

Think about it [write Pathak and Runyon in The Art of Neighboring]. Even [21] years ago, you’d never have dreamed that in the future you’d be able to:

Make phone calls while riding in your car.

Send mail electronically while riding in your car, while you are making phone calls.

Own a machine that allows you to record your favorite shows so you can watch them whenever it’s convenient for you—and you can even fast-forward through the commercials.

Turn on your computer [or a wireless cellphone] and be able to see on the screen the people you’re talking to.  There’s no longer a need to travel for meetings.

Your reaction most likely would have been, “Wow! What am I going to do with all of my free time?”  Maybe you would have started dreaming about a four-hour workweek [and what you would have done with all that time off]…

The fact is that’s what technology could have enabled us to do.  But instead of having more free time, we’ve added more things into our already crammed lives.  Even though we get more and more done, we still pile up the tasks.  Our calendars continuously satay full, no matter how many time-saving devices are invented.[1]


Why do we find ourselves so busy when, compared to generations past, we have so many conveniences that save us time?  Why do we keep ourselves so busy?

Pathak and Runyon suggest, and I think they are right, that most of us have bought into three lies.  For many, if not most of us, these lies have been taught us from an early age.

1) Things will settle down someday…

2) More will be enough…

3) Everybody lives like this…[2]

With these three lies seared into our psyche, we forge through our hurried daily lives with little thought of how, in our hurriedness, we may be jeopardizing the relationships that matter most.

In our hurried lives do we really give God and neighbor the focus they deserve—assuming Jesus was right that all the law and prophets depend on these two commands, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind and you must love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:37-40).

Just as an aside, we don’t have enough time (ironic, right?) to talk about how our hurried lives keep us from connecting deeply with our loved ones (spouses, children, close friends, etc.) or even how our hurried and harried lives leave little room for Sabbath and self-care.

The reality, for most of us, is that in the hustle, God and neighbor often gets the shift.  We justify not meeting our neighbor or spending extended time with God and neighbor because, well, God will understand.

In our reading for today, Jesus wanders into a village and meets a woman named Martha who, it says, “welcomed him into her home” (Luke 10:38, New Revised Standard Version).  Martha busies herself with the tasks of entertaining.  Her sister, Mary, sat like a slouch at the feet of Jesus.  Martha gets upset at Mary’s apparent laziness and complains to Jesus.  He replies, “Martha, Martha, Martha.”  No that’s the Brady Bunch (OK, I know its “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” but I couldn’t resist).  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:41-42, New Revised Standard Version).

Martha was, Luke tells us, “distracted by her many tasks” (Luke 10:40, New Revised Standard Version).  She was so busy with her to-do list that she failed to actually tend the people that were around her.  She allowed what she thought should be done to keep her from the one thing any of us are actually called to do.  She failed to relate to Divine and human relationships that were right in front of her.  She allowed her busy-ness to keep her from staring into the very face of God and she was bitter about the fact that her sister wasn’t as busy as she was.  She was doing and not minding her relationships with God and neighbor; and that relating—loving God and neighbors—is the only thing needful everything else is just busywork. 

“Martha’s busyness causes her to miss out on an opportunity to be with Jesus and the others.”[3]

I wish Jesus would have given Martha some practical advice for how to drop the busyness; but, he doesn’t.  And, I think that might be intentional; because at the end of the day the only way not to busy oneself is to be intentional about not doing so.  “Sometimes we have to learn how to say no to good things to focus on what’s most important.”[4]

How do you overcome the time barrier?

By taking the hard, calendar-breaking, to-do list jarring step of being intentional about spending time with God and others. We need to stop letting how much we accomplish on a to-do list dictate how productive our day has been; and, learn to be content making sure that we have/are relating well to those closest to us–the God who promised to always be with us and our neighbors.

[1] Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2012), p44-45

[2] Pathak and Runyon¸ The Art of Neighboring, p45-46.

[3] Ibid., p52.

[4] Ibid.