Published on Sun, 21 Jul 2019 13:00

(The text of Mike's sermon preached in Brampton on Sunday 21st June)


I’m sure many of us will have had an experience like this. You are hosting a party or event of some kind. You are constantly ensuring that everyone has a full glass. There are things in the oven to keep an eye on. Tidy up as you go! Do I need to get a few more bottles of wine out of the oven? Don’t forget to introduce Andy to Becky…
By the time the evening finishes you’re exhausted and then you realise that you didn’t even have a moment to hear anything your guest of honour said because you were doing a quick bit of washing up.

In today’s Gospel reading just 5 verses captures much of the human condition and the nature of the Gospel. Let’s hear it again, this time from the Message. As you listen try to place yourself in the scene. Who do you see yourself in?

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said.

But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”

41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Is anyone else with me in really feeling for Martha? Her plea for help is kindly, but firmly, rebuffed. Let’s take a little look at the character of Martha.
It is she who “welcomes Jesus into her home”. Martha is clearly the head of the household and a woman of some calibre. This isn’t the first time we hear of Jesus receiving the hospitality of women – Luke 8 tells of several wealthy women who use their resources to support Jesus’ ministry.

Martha is busy. She takes the initiative. She welcomes Jesus in. She prepares things for him and wants to make sure that her honoured guest is comfortable.
In many ways, Martha is a model of the servant leadership that Jesus commends elsewhere. She is active in service and generous in hospitality. If we were to be able to wind back the clock again and hear that passage for the first time I think all of us would probably expect Jesus to say: “Yes Martha, you’re quite right. Up you get Mary; tea with milk for me, please”.
But he doesn’t say that; does he?

Before we get to what  Jesus says, let’s notice another thing he doesn’t say.
Does Jesus criticise any of the things Martha is doing? No. Does he say anything negative about the service and generosity she has shown him? No.
It’s really important to recognise that all of the many things that Martha is doing are good, worthwhile and well-intentioned. She’s not doing anything wrong. Her service is not, in itself, a bad thing.

What does Jesus say? Martha, dear Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. In your busyness, attending to all your tasks, you’ve missed your main task. All of your jobs have made the good the enemy of the best.

Throughout the entire scene, Mary is silent. She doesn’t welcome Jesus. She doesn’t offer any hospitality. All she does is sit at his feet and listen to what he’s saying. And she is commended for it. The joy of sitting at the master’s feet will not be taken away from her.

At its heart this passage has a very simple message. Listening to Jesus takes priority over all else.

Let’s be clear. This is not a mandate for idleness. We cannot say, let us spend all our days in quiet contemplation and not be distracted by the inconvenience of work or service.

When some Christians in Thessalonica tried to pull this stunt Paul was quite clear: Keep away from brothers and sisters living in idleness… anyone unwilling to work should not eat”.

Work is good. Service is good. Action is good. We are called to be generous and visible in service and action for Jesus.
However, the risk that I think many of us run is thinking that all of our busyness and activity must be good because we are so busy and active. 
If we never sit and listen to Jesus, we can become people so busy counting basketball passes that we miss the man in the gorilla suit.

In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis records the advice of a senior devil (Wormwood) to his nephew. In the letters all of the tips and tricks for taking people away from are passed down to the next generation.

To paraphrase one of the letters, Wormwood explains how one of the most effective ways to keep a Christian off track is to make them busy with Christian service. Encourage them to sign up to the coffee rota, the PCC, the visiting team. Make sure they are always popping in to help out the needy. This way, they’ll be so busy thinking they are serving God that they’ll forget to actually find time to listen to God!

So where does that leave us today? Don’t think for a moment that today’s sermon is a license to come off the cleaning rota, or to decide not to stand for the PCC after all. Quite the opposite. Come and serve with joy!

However, what I do urge and exhort you to do is to make time and space for prayer and reading the Bible.

The first and most obvious way you can do this is to come here regularly on a Sunday morning. Part of the reason we commit to meeting together regularly is to make a communal space to listen to God.

Another good way is to join a home group. These smaller groups are intended to be ways we can come together regularly to study God’s word and listen for where the Spirit might be at work in our lives.
You could commit to meet a friend once a week / fortnight / month, to read a chapter of aa gospel together and think about how it sheds light on your life.

It’s good to try to build a private routine where you can. If your house is generally peaceful in the mornings, why not try to spend 10 minutes at the start of every day, sitting in the same chair every day, with a cup of tea or coffee, and reading a bit of the Gospel each day with time for silence and listening to God.

Last Wednesday I spent a day at Ferrar House in Little Gidding. Just getting 15 miles away for the day feels like another world and it creates space to listen to God. Book a day. Take a Bible. Take some light reading (I can give you some if you need it). I usually go from 10am to 4pm, they’ll give you a light lunch and tea and coffee and cake. I guarantee it’ll be £21 well spent and will give you space to reflect and listen and rest.

I deliberately chose two songs about service this morning because I wanted to emphasise that Martha’s instinct to serve is noble and good. But listen again to the final line of the Servant King: For it is Christ we’re serving.
When we serve and welcome others, it is Christ we are serving. But we can’t fully serve him unless we listen to him.

Make time to listen.

Amen.

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