Readings: Psalm 52, Luke 10:38-42
Prayer: Grant O God that our words, our thoughts be to your purpose, our hands and hearts be as Christ showed, our understandings and responses be guided by your Spirit. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Well, Mary and Martha today – another very well known Bible story! Mary the listener/dreamer and Martha the worker. Which one are you or rather which one do you identify with? It seems that, as I have talked this story through with people (including at Parish Council) that many hold out some sympathy for Martha and her seemingly unfair critiquing at the hands of Jesus for working hard at providing hospitality. And I get that. There is nothing that sets many of us more on our soapbox that having people sitting around when there is work to be done, especially when it involves offering hospitality. The work must be done, the meal cooked, the drinks refreshed, the people made feel welcome. It is a core part of who we are and how we cherish those who come into our home. This community, for instance, is renowned for its hospitality, both in the church and in homes.
But I believe this story invites us further in.
First of all this conflict between things to do and things we want to do but don’t quite get there. Martha may well have wanted the luxury of sitting listening to Jesus but there was too much to do. And isn’t this something that we all wrestle with – I know I do. One insightful parishioner pointed out that this is exactly my dilemma at the moment as I bemoan spending more time on paperwork/things to do than on pastoral/reflective space. What is it about a list of tasks that seems to have higher priority than the listening/dreaming part of our selves? Why, for many of us, does our Mary self get sidelined? I couldn’t help thinking of Albert Moore and his nigh on 40 years of bible study here in this church– I really hope that no-one missed out on that because they felt they had to be doing something else first, like getting a cuppa ready or racing home to get a meal on the table when you really wanted to stay. And I want to say something here – it is with great appreciation that we see folks on tea duty leaving before the service is ended so that the cuppa can be ready – but don’t ever feel you have to do that – the rest of us can probably wait a few minutes so that you can listen and be part of the whole service. I hope that this doesn’t puts real stress on those serving morning tea this morning – sorry folks – but this is about giving permission to stay for those who want to remain listening for just a little longer.
But here comes the hard part - Jesus was saying more than that Martha needed to put down her teatowel and spend some time listening. He actually suggests that Mary not only had chosen the better part, but in fact it was the only part needed.
Why – Jesus a very good reason for this - for is it not the listening that informs our doing? If you don’t listen, learn then you may well end up doing as Martha - listen closely to Luke– ‘but Martha became distracted by her many tasks’. There is a distinct feeling that she had lost her perspective, was so immersed in her things to do that she couldn’t see how to stop, where to stop and so lashed out at the one whom she loved, at Mary, when probably all she wanted to do was sink down to the floor beside her sister and hear the teaching of her Lord. It was as if the tasks were in control of Martha, not the other way round. We all know times of becoming so full on in a particular aspect of our lives that we get out of sync with other areas. Working so hard that we have forgotten to play, stressed so we have forgotten to relax, fixated on something so that we have shut out all else. And that is when we lose our perspective, become worried and distracted, lose our direction and our intentions. But when we take time to listen first the work, in hospitality, in seeking justice, in caring for others is always strongly informed and anchored in that teaching.
Maybe, in the context of Bible Sunday, some thoughts on why we being anchored in the Word is so integral to who we are as Christ followers.
It encourages us to break with conventions that discriminate. In this story itself there is a breathtaking challenge to the establishment - Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus – where the disciples sit, where they learn and are taught, where they become stronger in faith and learned in law. Mary, a woman, is sitting where few women would be welcomed. This was a strong statement of welcome to all people, to the disenfranchised and the sidelined. How do we share the word, the good news? Do we make it hard for some people to hear? Do we think that people should come to church to know what Christ is all about or are we prepared to make spaces in the rest of our lives for opening up those conversations and listening to the concerns and understandings of others with respect.
Jesus also points us to the dangers of actions without learning – of taking responsibility for our own faith so that we can be aware when our actions no longer reflect the teaching. There are so many ways that this shows through. For instance, on Thursday night a number of us met at Salmond College Chapel, along with some of the students which was just great, for worship and we talked about what it means to be church, what puts us off and what we appreciate. And there was one comment – that the word ‘church’ has a number of subtexts – one is the organisation, another building, another worship and another the body of people that are one community in Christ. I wonder if sometimes the increasing layers of complexity in the organisation, the financially dominant role of buildings and the preoccupation with numbers in Worship can take on that role of Martha - our distraction from being the body of Christ.
And where better have we seen the incredible divergence of Christ’s teaching and so called Christian action than in the stories of blatant injustice that have come out of America just recently – where laws encourage the right to defend property over a right to life, where the justice system acquits a man who shoots an unarmed black boy and jails for 20 years a woman who discharges a shotgun over the head (over the head mind you) of her abusive husband. When are the Christ follower throughout the world, because this is not just America, when are we all going to challenge the conventions that discriminate, oppress, maim and support injustice.
So - it’s not that Jesus is encouraging us to lay down all tools and be listeners only – never that – but rather he is reminding us how important it is for us to first listen to his word for us– so that our actions have purpose and heart for God. Amen