Sermon for Sunday 17th July 2022

Luke 10.38 – 42

I wonder if you have a hobby? Or maybe you used to have a hobby that you really miss.

Recently one of our national newspapers published a list of the top ten hobbies in the UK. I wonder if you can guess what the top three were?

At number 3? Gardening

Number 2? Reading

And taking the top spot at number 1? Walking

Like many of you, I have and have had all sorts of hobbies –  cross stitch, model railways and making jigsaws to name but a few.

I’ve sometimes had a go at some hobbies like researching my family tree or writing stories for children, but that takes focus and those of you who know me well will know that I’m not great at staying focussed for longer periods of time, preferring to flit from one activity to the next. The other day, I sat down to write. And . . . oops.. I’d left my cup of tea in the kitchen; it’s cold—needs reheating. Back I come, fingers poised over the keyboard. And all I can think of is everything I forgot to add to my to-do list. The friend I promised to meet for coffee; the laundry I need to hang on the line, etc, etc.

Distraction is the name of the game. If there were a flesh and blood Devil, I’d see him grinning as he tossed all these diversions my way. I remember when I was a brand-new deacon, nervous and wanting to be perfect at everything. Standing to read the Gospel, I worried that my voice wouldn’t be heard—as if I hadn’t been in a career that was all about talking to large groups of people – albeit rather shorter people! I worried about setting up the altar just right – suppose I put the chalice where the paten was supposed to go?

It took a while – and a lot of patience on the part the clergy team I trained with – but I learned something important.

What counted was not reading or setting the table itself: it was that those actions had the deeper purpose of helping everyone to be fed, fed by the Word and the bread.

I learned to gather up all my worries and offer them to Jesus. When I did that, I calmed down and all was well.

The broader lesson is to focus not so much on actions, as on their meaning. So, let’s try to do that right now by focusing on the meaning of our reading from Luke.

I’d like you to imagine something uncomfortable. Imagine, that you are in a group where you simply don’t feel welcome. It’s happened to me, and I imagine to just about everybody.

Worst of all is when this happens at church. You feel as if you’re sitting in someone’s seat or wearing the wrong clothes; perhaps you are not ‘in the know’ with the order of service or maybe you even speak a different language. The list is endless. (And, by the way everyone is welcome here in this church, no matter where they sit, what they wear or where they have come from)!

Anyway, begin by putting yourself in Mary’s shoes. Remember—she is a woman, and according to the “rules” at that time (notice I said “at that time”!), she belongs in the kitchen. She is not supposed to be in a room full of men learning life lessons from a well-known teacher. In the accepted social framework of the day, she cannot be a disciple, since women were not thought to have the intellectual ability to understand preaching and teaching.

And yet, she can’t help it. There is Jesus, and she is mesmerised by his words. So, she quietly draws closer and closer. I’d guess that some frowned and looked the other way. What I hope is that at least a few never even noticed her because they were paying such close attention to what Jesus was saying.

Now, put yourself in Martha’s shoes. Imagine what the situation is like for her – a house overflowing with guests, food to prepare and serve. And then, on top of it all, she is admonished by Jesus that Mary, who looks as if she is sitting, doing nothing, is in fact doing the right thing.

For centuries commentators have struggled with this passage and I am not going to attempt to solve the many issues that have arisen, but here’s what I think.

I think Martha is like her sister Mary, who breaks a major cultural rule. In fact, they are both like Jesus, who himself is a rule-breaker. To begin with, Martha is a widow. That means there is no husband to back her up, just her brother Lazarus. And yet that doesn’t stop her from inviting an itinerant preacher and his whole entourage into her house. And in so doing, she performs a dangerous act, since Jesus is himself at risk. Martha breaks a cultural rule so that she can keep a moral one: she goes out of her way to practice hospitality.

But then, not surprisingly, with all of those people to take care of, she is overcome by distraction.

And Martha is clearly annoyed with Mary! There Martha is, with the pot of soup boiling over, the bread ready to be shaped, the salad waiting to be washed and the dishes to be wiped. And where’s her sister?

You can just imagine Martha, holding a dishcloth in one hand, her apron still on, marching into the room full of men. She knows that her sister will ignore her, so she goes directly to the heart of the problem. “Lord,” she says plainly to Jesus, “do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!”

Listen closely to what she’s really saying. She feels forgotten, rejected – if Jesus cared about her, surely he’d send Mary into the kitchen. In effect, she orders him, who is her guest, to embarrass her sister! She orders him to conform to social expectations.

But Jesus doesn’t do that. I imagine him settling back and looking deeply into Martha’s eyes. He doesn’t take either of the sisters to task – in fact, since Jesus knows that he is about to speak a hard lesson for Martha, he begins in what would have been seen in those days – and today, too – as a gentle way. He uses her name twice.

“Martha, Martha,” he says, as if to be sure of her attention. And I think he must have looked at her with compassion and perhaps shaken his head slightly as if to say, “My dear, you don’t understand. Here’s the point . . .”

Focus. Focus on what is important. That’s what he’s telling her. He’s not saying—”we’re hungry, where’s dinner?” He’s not saying, “you shouldn’t be here in this room.”

No. He says this: “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” That is what he says not just to Martha but to all of us too. There really is only one “better part,” so to speak.

And so we need to focus. To choose to listen. To choose to be a disciple. No matter how we serve, whether it is by rolling up our sleeves and working, or sitting quietly in worship, we need to focus on the reason for doing it.

Martha has taken the first step in opening her home; now she needs to open her heart, her mind and her soul. And there’s no doubt that that means taking a risk. It means breaking rules. It will certainly mean a major life change.

Choosing the better part means that I, that you, that all of us need to focus on the message of Jesus Christ, no matter what we are doing, no matter where we are.

And then what? Choosing the better part means, quite simply, that we will love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul, and that we must welcome and love our neighbours as ourselves.

Fr Simon

One thought on “Sermon for Sunday 17th July 2022

  1. Lovely sermon, for all people go on about the men/women aspects of the bibleJesus obviously understood women. Blessings Liz

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

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