Sermons from St Faith's

Martha and Mary
Revd Denise, 18th July, 2010

I’m not going to-  but it did cross my mind to leave a questionnaire for you to fill in at the end of today’s service asking questions such as,

Did you hear the message in today’s sermon; if so what was it?
Did you let your mind wander at any time during the sermon about what you still need to prepare or even what you still need to go out and buy for  dinner?
Will your thoughts go to the painting, the wall papering, the housework, the gardening or any of those tasks that you know you need to get round to doing?

I am in no doubt whatsoever that the Lord could call each one of us by name just as he called Martha saying, ‘you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need only of one thing.

You are probably all familiar with the famous story in today’s gospel, Mary and Martha, two very different characters with two very different temperaments. One active, the other passive; one busy doing, the other seemingly not busy but listening.

The scene will be familiar to us all; having visitors means getting the house clean and tidy and looking it’s best, preparing food that is perhaps more special than you would normally serve and generally paying more attention to the finer details. And yes human nature being what it is we can lose patience with those who are seemingly not pulling their weight. Those who know Bruce and I will know that is sometimes the case in our house when Bruce is out playing golf yet again or has become engrossed in another football match on the T.V. Dinners do not cook themselves and yes I have been known to get exasperated but for Mary and Martha this was not the whole story and the message was not about their frustrations.

Jesus had arrived at the house of friends on his way to Jerusalem for the last time and Mary may well have sensed his anxiety and his need to talk with someone he knew he could trust. Of course Mary understood the importance of hospitality as much as her sister but she was so intent on listening to Jesus that any hostess duties just disappeared. So Martha was left with all the preparations; she felt put upon, taken for granted and her indignation and annoyance led to her rather frustrated outburst.

But Jesus responded gently because he had great affection for Martha; he recognised her practical skills as being absolutely necessary, that is providing they didn’t become compulsive. If our lives are made up only of constant activity, ceaseless labour and the hugely amplified sounds which make up our modern world then we lose our soul and lose our spiritual life. Those who managed to finish the Lent book ‘Our Sound Is Our Wound’ would probably recognise that this was part of the message that Lucy Winkett was making.  Noises within us come from the clamour of pressures and compulsions. The consumeristic ethic trains us to turn every desire into a compulsion and every want into a need and there is little space in our lives for reflection and prayer often gets neglected or choked out. The material rewards in the 21st century are many but spiritually most of us are hopelessly impoverished. We are in danger losing sight of the overall purpose of life and the fact that that there is so much more to life than our outward busyness and material possessions. 

The voice of Jesus tells us, ‘Few things are needed, indeed only one.’
Of course we can also fall into the trap when we think that we are listening and being attentive but really our minds are elsewhere and therefore putting us in danger of missing the real message.

This reminds me of the story of the little boy who went running to his mum and dad, mum, mum.... dad, dad ....... he kept calling to them but dad was busy on the computer and mum cooking the meal; he was insistent that they should listen to him but they failed to give him their attention.  He gave up trying and wandered away somewhat dejected wondering who would look at the washing machine that was overflowing! We’ve all been in similar situations but hopefully without the dramatic consequences.

So while Martha fussed around busying herself preparing the meal Mary responded to Jesus’ need by sitting at his feet and listening. She is a visible reminder to us what our lives require, stillness, calm and an attentive heart and mind. It appears that Mary and Martha might represent 2 sides of a single person; there will probably be shades of Mary and Martha in all our personalities and it is not a question of one being right and the other  wrong but that they work in harmony with each other. We must not allow the active to choke out the contemplative otherwise we will struggle to have a meaningful prayer life and a deepening relationship with God. So we must take time out to focus on prayer which doesn’t mean rushing to God with our own shopping list of requests; it means listening attentively with our hearts to discover God’s plans for us. We need as Psalm 46 says to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ Listen first to the very gentle sounds of nature that are around, bird song, trees rustling, rain against the window and then become aware of the rhythm of your breathing and your heartbeat. These are so much more important than the countless anxieties and worries which demand our attention every day. When God enters into our lives, the one thing necessary in that precious moment is to know how to listen and receive God’s gift.
So yes the gospel does invite us to step back and be still but it also instructs us to show genuine hospitality to the stranger and those in need. We heard in our first reading how Abraham’s enthusiastic and extravagant display of hospitality to the three strangers was rewarded by God; and we must always be mindful of the fact that Jesus often comes among his people in the guise of a stranger.

Jesus did more work for God than anyone else could possibly accomplish, even when he was lost in the temple as a child he told his parents that he was about his Father’s business; but he always knew when it was time to withdraw from the crowds to spend quality time alone with his Father. I pray that we too will offer generosity of spirit and a warm welcome to all as well as learning to give our undivided attention to God and He will bless us and show us his grace and mercy.
Yes, there are certainly shades of both personalities in our make-up and I would like to finish with a poem by Kate McIlhagga

I am Mary and I am Martha

Lord of earth and sky,
as Martha did
I welcome you into the house of my heart;
as Mary did
I welcome you into the home of my thoughts:
In service,
in listening,
I welcome you.

Like Martha, I’m distracted;
so many calls on my time...
I run here and there,
starting this and that,
never spending long enough,
giving people the impression
that I’m too busy for them.

Like Mary, I choose:
choose to slow down,
choose to sit at your feet,
choose to offer you
my ministry of listening.
Save me from feeling guilty
about the kitchens of the world;
the hot spots, the action areas
and help me to identify with your compassion
and your presence —
there as everywhere.

Welcomed and welcoming Christ,
may all sisters come together
into your presence
and together eat at your table
the meal you have prepared for us;
that from the kitchen of your suffering
a banquet may be prepared
for all to eat.


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