Saturday, 20 July 2013

Extreme hospitality

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, 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.”

A couple of nights ago, I went down to the beach to watch the sun set.
I'm sure lots of you have witnessed the nightly spectacle this week.
And, if you've been too busy this week, there must be very few people who can't conjure up a time when they've been captivated by the beauty of the setting sun.
The beach and the prom was busy that night.
There were even some folk still in the water, taking the opportunity to cool down after a scorching day.
There were many folk with cameras, some set up on tripods to capture this marvellous sight that we see played out time and time again, through all the seasons.
But what struck me most that evening was the way a kind of hush descended on the prom, a stillness.
Folk stopped.
And, at that point where the sun makes its final drop behind the hills, there was a kind of collective sigh.
Before folk moved on again.
Being the preacher that I am, I wondered just how many of those folk, stopped in their tracks by God's handiwork sensed the divine presence.
Whatever the motivation or the meaning we import to them, it is good to have moments that stop us in our tracks.
Moments that divert us from our daily round, give us breathing space and pause for thought.

In the story of Martha and Mary, we encounter two Jewish women, well versed in the social norms of their day and, in particular the expectations on their ethos of hospitality.
When a guest entered a home, all the stops were pulled out, nothing was too good, nothing too much effort for the one being entertained.
Great value was placed on the culture of extreme hospitality.
So, Martha was doing all that was expected of her, a shining example of a proper Jewish hostess.
Attending to her guest's every need.
There was, however, little sense of fulfilment in her service
She didn't see those gifts that she offered as valuable, as vital in the everyday round.
She was, quite simply, frazzled by her service and couldn't see any other way to give that didn't result in her feeling overwhelmed.
So, when Martha implored Jesus to tell her sister Mary to help her, Jesus helps Martha to see her predicament - to name what's going on.
He's not, by any measure, saying that what she is doing is wrong.
Rather, he is empathising with her in how difficult it is to provide the kind of welcome that she is trying to provide.
He notices that she is worn out by her efforts.
For a man in Jesus position to notice the cost to a woman of extending hospitality was earth shattering.
Jesus not only notices, but helps her to name her feelings and encourages her to seek healing and rest.

It's easy to see, in Jesus response to Martha, a note of censure.
And often this gospel has been interpreted as an admonishment to those who busy themselves with work like Martha did.
Perhaps that's because so many of us today identify with Martha.
It seems we have so much to do and are constantly worried and distracted as Martha was.
And, if we ever feel like we're getting anywhere near the end of our to do list, all we're fit for is collapsing in a heap, ready to begin the relentless round again.
Jesus is not diminishing that role.
Nor is he advocating that we should all let the work go so that we can indulge in the luxury that Mary had, sitting at Jesus feet, absorbing all that Jesus said.
It's not the absorption that Jesus holds up as desirable.
It is the focus.
The ability to focus on one thing and to do it well rather than being distracted by the enormity of the tasks we see in front of us.
Sometimes that will involve pitching right in.
Other times, it involves taking time to listen and discern what God's Spirit is saying.
Always, it involves us listening carefully to God in our midst.
In our work and in our resting.
Catching the Spirit of God.

In this gospel for today, Jesus acknowledges the hard work that it is to welcome others, be they strangers or friends.
He acknowledges the vitality of that work.
And invites us to find some balance in our service.
So that we don't come to resent the task of making space.
Jesus invites us, in our making space for others, to find also space for ourselves.
Space in which to encounter the divine.

Hospitality is an important feature of our life together.
Making space for each other and for those we have not yet met.
Building up and creating space in this community of faith where all will feel welcome and valued.
Jesus invites us to find a way of doing that without becoming worn out, without feeling isolated or out on a limb.
Jesus invites us to find meaning in the work of building a welcoming community together.
And to take that meaning into all of life, whether gathered together or in our individual lives.
If our gathering here on a Sunday morning has no effect on the rest of our week.
If our service, be it welcoming a stranger or greeting our neighbour makes us worried and anxious, we've lost something in the giving.
If our service does not bring us closer to those we serve, we've missed the point of our time together.
The learning and the serving that we undertake here enrich our whole lives and the lives of those we encounter every day.
Jesus invites us, in all that we do, in all that we are, to discern the presence of God.
To be stopped in our tracks.
And to focus on the perspective gained from encountering the Divine in every part of life,
Seeing God in all of life affects our whole being.
Jesus tells us today: you need only one thing.
Lets endeavour to see the presence of God in every thing.
And, from that perspective, encounter God in each other.
Then we will have chosen the better part.
And it will not be taken away from us.
Thanks be to God.

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