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


Martha and Mary
July 18, 2016, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 17th July 2016

Sacred Heart Icon(Col 1.15-28; Lk 10.38-42)

What a contrast there seems to be, between the Christ of the Epistle, “The image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation…”, and the Jesus of the Gospel, the humble rabbi sitting in the house of Martha and Mary and listening to the petty complaints of one against the other. And yet, both these pictures are true. The man who walked the roads of Galilee two thousand years ago, who received hospitality from ordinary human beings with all their faults and failings, who was rejected and put to death because small-minded people could not accept his message, and put their trust in human politics: this man was in very truth the Image of the God we cannot see, the Creator of the world, the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and who by his very death on the Cross has brought about the reconciliation of the world to God, and the peace that passes understanding.

In the light of the terrible events in France on Thursday- and of equally terrible events in France and elsewhere that seem to be unending, how can we believe that Christ has already brought about peace and reconciliation? The short answer is, of course, that he has not yet brought it about, he has only opened the possibility for it to come about, and he has commissioned his Church- which means you and me, not Popes and Archbishops and Bishops- to continue his work, even if at times we suffer the same misunderstanding, rejection and suffering that he did.

Look again at the domestic picture of Jesus in the house of his friends. Luke does not explain that this house was at Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. He does not connect it with the events of Holy Week, when Jesus lodged there immediately before his Passion. We can assume, then, that this was at some other time, and that Jesus frequently stayed there. Maybe this was his first visit- who knows? Anyway, the story is familiar. Martha is busy in the kitchen, Mary sits on the floor at Jesus’ feet, fascinated by his teaching. Martha is understandably annoyed at being left to do all the serving herself. It is interesting that she does not speak to Mary directly, though: she speaks to Jesus. “Master, don’t you care…? Tell her…” It is almost as if she thinks it is Jesus’ fault that Mary is so fascinated by him! He is the one who should have realised how over-worked Martha is, he is the one who should have told Mary to get up off the floor and go and help her sister! How often do we blame the Lord for letting this happen! But there is something very affectionate in the way Jesus calls her twice by name, “Martha, Martha!” Yes, I can see that you have such a lot to do, but I haven’t come here simply for food and lodging, but to be with my friends! The dinner can wait, come and sit with me and let us talk.

Jesus is the Peacemaker. Even in little domestic squabbles, he seeks to reconcile. He reconciles by inviting those complaining to listen to him, to sit with him and pay attention to his teaching. Our job now is to go on inviting people to listen to Jesus, rather than trying to sort out the world’s troubles without him. The reason is this, that Jesus, this very human Jesus, is indeed the central figure in all Creation, the One in whom the Creator himself has come to visit us (just as he visited Martha and Mary). That is what Christianity is about, God-with-us, Emmanuel, in Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminded us time and again that we all have One Father in heaven, and that all human beings are brothers and sisters. No one is a stranger, a foreigner, an alien. And what we do to one another, we do to Jesus in whose image we are made. Somehow we must convince the world, and especially the people of violence, the terrorists (of whatever ideology) that this is so.

Theresa May very eloquently expressed her desire to build a society in which old and young, rich and poor, the sick and the healthy, and whatever other contrasts you can think of, are equally cared for. That is a wonderful ideal, but I believe it will only become a reality when we remember that we are (or should be) a Christian nation in which the fundamental truths and values exemplified in the life of Jesus are the bedrock of our beliefs. We are frail human beings, and we often fail to live up to our ideals, but we must not give up on them. When we pray for our daily bread, we must remember to share it fairly with those who lack it. When we pray for forgiveness, we must offer it to those who offend us. When we hear of terrible events, we must not give way to despair or to retaliation. By the blood of his cross Christ saved us, and all other bloodshed is a blasphemy against the love of God.

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