Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

July 18, 2010, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

Sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, Sunday 18th July 2010

The link between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel is fairly straightforward. Both passages are about hospitality shown to the Lord in his visitation. Abraham welcomed the three mysterious strangers, and as a result received the promise that he would have a son to carry on his line. Martha too welcomed the Lord into her house. But the Gospel explores a further question: what kind of hospitality is most pleasing to the Lord? Is it the very active and busy hospitality of Martha, or the quiet and thoughtful hospitality of Mary? Both are good, but which is better?

Martha’s attention was divided among many things, each one undoubtedly having its own particular value: the cleanness of the house, the preparation of the meal, laying the table and so on. All very necessary to give the Lord the welcome Martha wanted to give him. But was it the welcome our Lord wanted? He had come to Bethany, on the way to Jerusalem, as he had done many times before. (Luke does not say so, but John makes clear that our Lord visited Jerusalem regularly.) I expect he was tired, and did appreciate a nice meal, and a comfortable chair: but most of all he wanted to be with his friends and enjoy their company. Mary saw the point and sat and listened.

Do we get the point? In today’s Epistle, St Paul tells the Christians of Colossae about his responsibility for delivering God’s message to them. He says it is a message hidden for ages and ages, but now revealed. What is this mystery? It is “Christ among you, your hope of glory.” Another translation is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” At the heart of our Christian spirituality is the belief that Christ is among us and within us. “I am with you always, to the end of time.” Those are our Lord’s last words to his disciples as recorded by Matthew. St John reports his words at the Last Supper: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you.”

This means that each and every one of us, if will just be still and listen, can know that we are in the presence of Christ our Lord. The busier we are, the more our minds are set on outward things, the harder it is to hear his voice. That means we must be quite practical in organising our prayer time. We need time, and we need space. As to time, it may be as little as fifteen minutes a day, or perhaps a little longer each time, but less frequently. As to place, it is good to have a “prayer corner” somewhere in the house, furnished with a crucifix or an icon or whatever, where one can sit quietly for prayer. Quietness is the key. Remember that we are always present to Christ, even if he does not seem present to us. The rosary can be a good way of praying quietly and meditatively. Time and space- it does not need much. It can be like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, much bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside.

The important thing is not exactly what we do with our quiet time in God’s presence, but that we have a regular quiet time in God’s presence. Luke tells us twice that our Lady kept all the things that God had done for her in her heart, and pondered them. We should follow her example. When St Francis was founding his Order, he made special provision for friars who felt called to a life of contemplation. He said that they should form very small communities- three or four members at most- of whom some should live the life of Martha, taking care of the material needs of the community, while the others should live the life of Mary, devoted to prayer and contemplation. But- and this was important- he said that every so often the two groups should change places, the Marthas becoming Marys and the Marys Marthas. The same rule applies to us all as individuals- sometimes (probably most of the time) we have to be Marthas, but sometimes we should be Marys. The Martha in us must not grudge the Mary in us her time with the Lord. In fact, the life of Martha would have little point, if it were not in the service of Marys time with the Lord. Mary has the better part, and it should not be taken from her.


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